Wed July 4th, 2018
The Bible tells us that we were created by a loving God who cares for us and wants to walk with us through life.
So where is God in life? Where is God when people lose their new wife to cancer, their little child to a heart condition, their father when they are so young they barely remember him, or when they lose the use of their legs, their sight or suffer a catastrophic accident or are victims of violent crime. What about when they are kidnapped and sold for sex or just held underground in a bunker for years or perhaps just starved to death in the dark.
What about people who are struck down by mysterious diseases or have a genetic defect that causes them to waste away.
Never mind the fatal stuff, but what about people who just suffer chronic joint pain, who have a continual buzzing in their ears or have such poor balance they fall over and injure themselves.
What about people who get behind with payments, who are out of work for a while and just never recover financially, they lose their house and car. What about the anxious ones, those with agoraphobia and those who struggle to mix socially – even in the workplace - Isn’t life hard?
Some people like to accuse God of being an absentee landlord – that he made the earth and then left us to it, or even that he can’t possibly exist or otherwise he cannot be a loving God and witness all that he sees go wrong for his creation.
In “The Brothers Karamazov” the final novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, published in 1879, the author discusses some of these issues. In the story an eight year old boy throws a stone that allegedly makes the General’s favourite dog lame. In punishment he is stripped naked and forced to run, as a pack of hunting dogs chases him down and tears him apart in front of his mother in the mud. Ivan Karamazov enters a major discourse regarding the injustice of this great evil. That a child should suffer and be taken this way is incomprehensible and he declares:
‘I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child’.
Ivan also declares prayer to be a waste of time, even prayer that is fired by tears and decries a God who is an ‘architect’ who has ordained ‘inevitable... torture’.
Ivan cannot detect a purpose in innocent suffering and so refuses to support such a God. Seeing the corpses of the dead as individuals who have endured pointless suffering, Ivan will no longer accept a divine composting plan that uses them to simply ‘enrich the soil for the harmony of the future’. A promise to redeem our pain at some future point may be the belief of some, but it doesn’t look like a good deal when your loved one is taken away.
Ivan does not have an intellectual problem with theism. Ivan’s problem is that he cannot accept a God who is believed to have a plan that results in the suffering of children; even if there is some beneficial process taking place in the soul from which will be derived a future benefit in the eschaton, when the great torturers plan will be revealed. Ivan can no longer trust God, because he believes him to be the invisible pickpocket who sneaks-up behind and takes away your wallet.
I’m not surprised by Ivan’s view – I don’t think I would want to believe in a God like that either.
The problem with much of his argument is that he sees God from a ‘primitive’ mindset – as deterministic God – one who is so in control that nothing happens without his direct involvement.
Primitive religions are basically deterministic. If you can imagine a primitive society whose crops are wiped out by terrible storms, their default position is to seek to placate the ‘god’ of storms to stop him being mad with them.
Some modern religions are deterministic. I was visiting a children’s cancer unit when a Muslim man was praying in the corner of the room for his wonderful son who had been battling cancer for a long time. A nurse came in and spoke to him. He looked at me and said ‘it was the will of Allah’ and went to the bed side of his now dead son.
Some Christians are deterministic. Ignoring the instruction of Jesus to pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done’, they believe that His will is always done, so that when everything goes wrong in their lives, they believe it is trouble sent from God.
However, this is not the evident teaching of the Bible.
The kingdom of God hasn’t come yet – we live in a tension between the promise and our present reality. The Bible describes God as being ‘love’ and as being relational and yet some people still see him more like Zeus – a man with a long white beard and a lightning bolt in his hand.
God did a couple of things in the creation account that are the most significant.
He made man to rule:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Gen 1:26 NIV
He also saw that it was all good:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Gen 1:31 NIV
Clearly this has much to say about man’s free will and that much of what happens on our planet is more to do with us than it is with God. Remember that:
The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man. Ps 115:16 NIV
It is also clear that all is not good and so all is not as it was then. That change is the ‘fall of man’. In Genesis 3, man rebels against God leaving a huge impact on our planet – and we still feel the ripples of that impact today! Man who was given charge over this world submits to Satan and hands over his mastery to the most truly evil person in the universe – someone who hates God and hates his creation too – mankind. The reason there is so much trouble is nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the devil and a certain rebellious race, the sons and daughters of Adam.
Because of the devil and our rebellion the world is not as it was first made to be. Sickness, pain, loss and death are now the norm for all creatures. So life is ruined, the earth is ruined – what is the point in carrying on? The point is the plan that God had to put things right again. Jesus!
One sinful man ruined everything. One sinless man put things right. Adam messed up, but Jesus cleaned up.
1 Cor 15: 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. 22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.(HCSB)
The idea of God entering into our fallen world, experiencing pain, death and walking with us through our suffering reveals a very different God to the one perceived by Ivan. The reality is that God is relational and loving and is revealed as the God of all comfort.
2 Cor 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (HCSB)
The unique point about the Christian God is that he has done everything necessary to undo the effects of the fall on our lives but that we have to approach him and ask for help.
Luke 11:9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. NIV
Heb 4:16 So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.(Message)
Christianity is inclusive – the answer to life’s pain is available to all – we just have to call out to Jesus, turn away from our naturally desire to rebel and follow Jesus. For that we have the one answer to everything walking by our side. This is a great result. It may not be the way our minds would think of, and it is so simple that anyone can be saved, there is no elite in the church!
1 Cor 1:18 For to those who are perishing the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is God's power. 19 For it is written:
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and I will set aside the understanding of the experts.
20 Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn't God made the world's wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God's wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom, 25 because God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
I am so grateful that you don’t have to be clever, to be rich, to be born into the right family or race, but that God is reaching out to all people everywhere, and I am so glad that I have responded to him and that he walks with me everyday.