You might have every reason to hate the person you think God to be, but is that ĎGodí real? Your anger feels justified, even though we can understand infinite wisdom no more than a babe understands its mother. What if your resentment toward God is like that of a desperately sick child who bites his doctor, imagining the caring doctor to be the cause of his torment, rather than his only hope of recovery? What a tragedy if we let the simple fact that we donít have infinite IQ rob us of our greatest source of comfort. |
I encourage you to reject God if he wants people to suffer or if you could be a better God than him. I urge you to lay it on the line with such a beast, telling him:
God of the Bible, I donít even know if you exist or whether I am talking to myself, but even if you do exist, if you are a God who is unfair or delights in people suffering, I want nothing to do with you. Iíd rather be tortured forever in hell than serve you if you are cold and heartless or selfish or arrogant.
What if no one in a lifetime has been so spurned, so misunderstood, so much hated without cause as God is every moment of every day by millions of people, each of whom he loves more than we could conceive? No one would be as aware of the full extent of suffering humanity as God is. What if no one loves with the intensity that God loves? No one would be touched as deeply by humanityís anguish as its Creator. And your own pain would intensify his pain.
What if, even when the cause seems beyond human influence, all heartache can be traced not to Godís will, but to rebellion against Godís will. Many things are murky or unknown to us Ė the view from eternity, the non-physical realm, the intricate chain reaction set off from person to person and generation to generation whenever anything happens. Relative to the all-knowing Lord, we are as short-sighted as King Midas, who discovered too late that having everything he touches turn to gold was not the great idea he thought it was. We might be exceedingly smarter than Midas, but we still lack the capacity to know the full consequences of our wishes coming true.
We vainly pit our puny intellect against the Infinite Mind, using brain cells he gave us to try to out-think him. If Godís ways donít always make sense to us it merely confirms that our combined brain power couldnít light a single galaxy. And too often we confuse a good life with a soft life. Too often virtue slips in our priorities. Of necessity, Godís love must be like that of a wise parent, focusing on long-term good, even at the price of tearing his own heart by infuriating the tiny minds of people he loves. His goal is the highest good for all humanity, not some short-term gain that fizzles or ends up robbing others.
The rantings of arm-chair philosophers differ markedly from the findings of people with the deepest experience of both God and suffering. The apostle Paul, one of the most qualified persons ever to broach this subject (reasons), discovered that no tragedy could Ďseparate us from the love of Godí (Romans 8:35-39). For nearly 2,000 years this hard-won insight has been put to the test by the torment of thousands of Christian martyrs who have agonized in triumph, rejoicing in the goodness of God.
Include all types of affliction, and it is no exaggeration to say that multiplied millions of people have suffered without it diminishing their devotion to Jesus. On the contrary, they insist it was Godís comfort, love and inspiration that empowered them to endure.
It was once claimed that by the laws of aerodynamics bumble-bees cannot fly. But people who know bumble-bees could not be hoodwinked. A scientific explanation might elude them, but they know bumble-bees fly. Similarly, people who really know God, even those who have suffered as much as is humanly possible, know what they know: Godís love is as mind-boggling as his power. Gaining insight in this matter might not be scientifically satisfying, but it is truth proven by cold reality.
ĎWhen you know God,í breathed a Nazi concentration camp inmate, Ďyou donít need to know why.í The hearts of thousands leap in agreement.
Although we can gain a little insight into Godís wisdom, were all our attempts to fail utterly, we have the security of knowing that our sorrow plunges a knife into the heart of the all-powerful Lord. Thatís the ultimate proof that secreted within the stupendous intellect of Almighty God is an ingenious, love-filled reason for allowing it.
ĎNo loving God would let a bystander be maimed by a drunk driverí
What alternative can you suggest? If God enslaved the human will, squelching wrongdoing by forcibly preventing us from indulging in our favorite sins, weíd be the first to shake our fists at him.
A God of love wants the whole world to operate in love, but could you force someone to love you? An involuntary act can have no moral value. Itís slavery. Where would the virtue be in any action if it were impossible not to be virtuous? All of life would become meaningless.
It would be the height of hypocrisy to dare criticize God for not always interfering when tragedy looms. Time after time we have each proved by our actions that we donít want his love and wisdom cramping our style.
We say there is no hell and set new records in suicide rates. We call Godís morality old-fashioned and suddenly itís old-fashioned not to know the latest AIDS statistics. We fill our hospitals with bodies ravaged by promiscuity and substance abuse. Try calculating even the dollar cost of divorce, fraud, laziness, irresponsible driving, theft, vandalism, prisons, judicial system, and police. One wonders how our economy has survived this long. Incalculable misery is inevitable whenever Godís laws are regarded as oppressive restrictions rather than loving expressions of divine wisdom.
We spurn Godís laws, hurt each other, and then have the audacity to blame God for the resulting disaster. All suffering can be tracked back to human wrong-doing Ė not necessarily the action of anyone presently alive, but to someoneís deliberate disregard of God and his ways. (There is even a human link to natural disasters.) And why didnít God strike that person dead before others could be hurt? Because to be fair he should do the same to you and me.
No clever argument, however, and no spiritual experience can hide one unavoidable fact: a holy God would yearn to wipe out every cause of pain. And if he eradicated everyone who has ever caused pain by selfishness, cheating, lying, gossiping or hurtful remarks, who would be left?
Only a maniac or an ego-maniac would dare demand justice from God. Though we are too blinded by our own mud to have a hope of seeing ourselves as we really are, if we could peer through our own muck a little, we would realize we have each added to humanityís pain.
Many of us would go to any lengths Ė even to accusing our Judge of injustice Ė in an unconscious attempt to push the spotlight away from the recesses of a dirty conscience. If only we could smear God, narrowing the gap between his perfection and our shabby behavior, weíd feel better.
ĎSuffering is Godís fault!í we sneer, conveniently forgetting times our anger, greed and lies hurt others. Naturally, there is a degree of hurt we deem excusable, and for some suspicious reason the hurt we have inflicted happens to fall within the standard we arbitrarily set. It is like failing an exam and then moving the pass mark to make our score look good. A holy God could not be partner to such hypocrisy. To wipe out some people who cause suffering and spare you and me would make God guilty of gross injustice. We have each chosen to reject Godís loving ways and have contributed to humanityís pain. If there is a God of love, the people he loves and longs to place in a pain-free world are the very ones who cause humanityís suffering.
ĎIf there really were a God of love, the innocent wouldnít sufferí
Brilliant minds have reached this conclusion. Itís a time-bomb set to explode in Christiansí faces the moment they encounter personal tragedy.
When we stop to carefully examine reality, however, we are forced to the conclusion that only one innocent ever suffered! Few of us can face this reality, until Jesus cleanses our deeply suppressed but dirty conscience. Only after that spiritual miracle dare we relax our frantic attempts to conceal and excuse and push from our minds the extent of our depravity. It is a devastating experience to have oneís supposed goodness exposed by Godís blinding purity. With every shred of pride within them shrieking in protest, Christians feel driven to a crushing conclusion: the moral gap between them and a serial killer is invisible, compared to the gulf separating even their best efforts from the terrifying holiness of God.
We must move on, but we canít question why the innocent suffer without facing the issue of innocence. Astoundingly, we are so far from being innocent that even babies owe their very existence to sin. If, for example, we traced our family tree far enough, we would probably each find an ancestor born as a result of sin Ė rape, unlawful incest, a despised pregnancy, and the like. The divine dilemma is that had God already done what he longs to do Ė remove all evil from this planet Ė we would not even have been born.
Nevertheless, having consigned everyone to the sin bin, Christians back flip, seizing the pretentious assertions of a man renowned for humility. Christ claimed an existence independent of human ancestry (John 8:56-59; 17:5). If true, and if he subsequently lived a perfect life, he alone could be innocent in every conceivable sense. And we know this man suffered.
He appeared as the uniquely perfect human who preached impossibly high standards, claimed they were Godís requirements and actually lived them. Turning the cheek, loving his enemies, just as he had preached, he yielded to abuse and torture, somehow absorbing within his mangled body the horrific consequences of all humanityís sin.
Humanity can boast one perfect Person (proof). We killed him. Yet our only Innocent gladly suffered the injustice to free the guilty from suffering eternal justice. In this cataclysmic exchange, the Innocent and the guilty traded places, making it spiritually legal for his suffering to end your suffering. As incredible as it seems, this has ushered us to the brink of a new world where the longing deep within us will be met Ė deceit, abuse, and hurtful actions will be swallowed by goodness; misery will dissolve in endless joy.
Nevertheless, temporary earthly pain continues for a wonderful reason. A paradise of harmony, trust, openness and love would quickly spoil if just one of its citizens acted remotely like we presently behave. To enter a perfect world without shattering its perfection, would require a personality transformation more radical than ever seen on earth. Through Jesusí intervention, God can perform this miracle and make us fit for such a world, but he wonít abuse us by forcing a personality change upon us against our will. We must be willing to let God take our pet sins from us and let him, in his unlimited wisdom and love, rule every part of our lives.
But there must be a Day of reckoning. All evil must be removed. Even the self-righteous have been demanding it for millennia, though they have no idea what they are asking. Our response before that terrifying moment will determine whether weíll be around to enjoy an evil-free environment.
The suffering of humanityís only innocent (Jesus) blazed the way for the total removal of all suffering and when he re-visits this planet he will complete his mission. But how, without unprincipled favoritism, could he eradicate all evil without destroying you and me? Only by us letting him wrench our darling sins from us, and trusting him to have taken their horrific consequences upon himself. Then we will be spared and no one can accuse God of injustice or favoritism. He has borne the penalty himself.
Humanity quivers on the brink of extinction, mesmerized by sin like serpentís prey. Each moment that God suppresses his explosive urge to extinguish evil, is a moment in which billions of us have yet another chance to come to our senses and let Jesus deliver us from our infatuation with sin. But the end of this period of grace is hurtling toward us. Soon all suffering will cease. All wrongdoing will be destroyed, along with everyone still caught in its deadly embrace.
Try this daring experiment:
I believe I am right to have very serious doubts about you, God, but here I am talking about my belief when I am well aware that beliefs can be wrong. If you do exist, then because you are infinite, you are difficult to know. And if there are also evil, though lesser, spiritual beings, I guess it is theoretically possible that I have somehow got my wires crossed in trying to figure you out. If I have been blaming you for things that break your own heart; if you are actually utterly unselfish and good and fair and wise and truly have my best interest at heart, then perhaps it would be worth my while to know. It seems beyond belief, but if you are a God of tender compassion who feels my pain and longs to use your stupendous power and wisdom to bless me; if serving you is the greatest thing that could ever happen to me, causing me to rise to my highest potential and filling me with eternal fulfillment; and if my whole eternity hinges on me making this magnificent discovery, then not only do I need to know, I want to know.
Since I canít see into the spiritual realm, Iím dependent upon you revealing yourself. If you are God, you are so superior to me that I cannot put demands on you. Anything you choose to show me must be on your terms Ė your time and your method. If I dig my heels in, refusing to believe unless you move Mount Everest or some such thing, youíll see right through me and know Iím not sincere. And why should you bother showing yourself to anyone who would continue to ignore you even after you revealed yourself? So letís do a deal. If the truth is that you are not worthy of my love, I will reject you for all eternity, no matter how much that costs me. For as long as it takes, however, I will remain open to you showing me the truth about yourself.
I know I canít fool you. I canít expect a defiant Ďprove yourself to me or elseí to move you, but if you are good, a sincere desire for truth on my part will touch you. If you somehow get through to me that you are a God whose love and wisdom is utterly trustworthy; that you are the God who made me and wants the best for me, I will give you your rightful place as God of my life. And if you show me that I need to trust Jesus alone for the purification necessary to relate to a holy God of perfection, then I will do this.
You have commenced an exciting adventure if you really mean that prayer and stay open to God revealing to you his true nature. Donít expect much, however, if itís a shallow prayer that you hardly mean or quickly forget.
ĎGod is Egotisticalí
If God were so mind-bogglingly loving that it were really true to say ĎGod is love' Ė as the Bible asserts Ė then anything God asks you to do would be because it is in your very best interest. Godís blueprint for your life would focus on your endless happiness and fulfillment. This is not to be confused with short term ease and bliss that ultimately wears thin and crumbles. Like little children who think happiness means having no rules and an endless supply of candy, we still have a lot of growing up to do before we understand what is truly in our best interest. Much of what we presently clamor for we will eventually discover is not what we really want after all. In contrast, the infinite knowledge and intelligence of God focuses on things we will be eternally thrilled about. That often puts our priorities at odds with Godís priorities, even though both he and us seek our happiness.
Some people who havenít thought it through imagine God is egocentric because he asks us to praise and worship him. What we hold highest in life sets the ceiling for personal growth, achievement and honor. And being preoccupied with oneself makes oneís personality shrivel. Thatís why our loving Lord wants you to be God-centered. The Lordís only wish is that we act as wisely and unselfishly as him. Like the Perfect Leader that he is, he asks nothing of us that he would not do himself. It is the very nature of love Ė and hence the nature of God Ė to focus on the beloved. Just as he wants you to be God-centered, his plans focus on you as if you were the center of the universe.
Your love means infinitely more to God than all the diamonds in myriads of galaxies. And praise is a natural expression of love. Lovers find praises effortlessly flowing from their lips as they praise their belovedís looks, abilities, and so on.
If God wanted slaves he could in an instant create too many to cram on to every planet in the universe. The All-powerful, Self-Sufficient Lord of the Universe craves your praise only because he is love and is rapt in you.
As an oyster, instead of ejecting a detested irritant, transforms it into an exquisite pearl, the infinitely good Lord takes acts he despises and, in staggering patience and breath-taking genius, fashions them into love-filled masterpieces of divine beauty. We end up so awestruck by the finished masterpiece that it is hard to realize that the initial elements were not acts of God but satanically-inspired manifestations of ugliness that crushed Godís heart and repulsed him. We must recognize the process, lest in our confusion we defame our Lord by supposing he instigated things that were utterly contrary to the perfection of his love and goodness. On the other extreme, evil is so obvious early on, that one can mistakenly suppose the good Lord is nowhere to be found. Faith in Godís goodness is the one thing that will save us from the danger of seeing only the obvious and being thrown by circumstances.
God & Suffering
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