If there is a God… why does he allow evil things to happen?

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I hear this question a lot. I’ve even wrestled with the “why God?” question myself.

This morning, while reading St. James I had a thought about this matter.

Let me show you what I read and then I’ll share the thought:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

So here’s what I thought…

When we ask the “Why does God let this happen?” question we make one or more assumptions:

  1. This life/world is all there is.
  2. I’m as good as I can get.

Let’s break them down.

This life/world is all there is.

The “why God” question works if this life and this world is it… beginning and end. “Why would you let my one shot at life be this awful?” is a fair question if this is all there is.

However, Christians, and other faiths, believe that this life/world is NOT all there is! There is something after this life: experiences to be had, relationships to be enjoyed, and rewards to be received. The opposite of these is true as well. In short, the Scriptures teach us that there is more after this life.

Christians live our lives in this world with the hope that this is NOT all there is! There is more, and that faith helps us navigate suffering, evil, and death. While we grieve and feel pain we are never without hope… because we know there is more.

The pain, suffering, and evil in this world is in direct correlation to the abuse of our free will (but that is a subject for another day). The good news is that regardless of what it looks like here, there is another place… another set of experiences waiting to be had… and that knowledge gives us hope.
This optimism allows us to fully enjoy the good times and courageously navigate the hard times in this world.
And now the second assumption, the one that was highlighted in St. James letter…

I’m as good as I can get.

St. James teaches us that suffering and hard times make us stronger. Anyone who goes to the gym understands this. In fact, we’ve immortalized this idea with a slogan: “No pain, no gain!”

Once again, we see that what is true in the gym is also true in life! Pain makes us stronger… at least it has the potential too if we navigate it well.

For those who say “Why God?” may I suggest that this pain may in fact be your path to a better you? Pain is the flashing light on the dashboard of our lives that finally gets our attention!

C.S. Lewis famously said:

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As I was processing these thoughts this morning I spent some time journaling and ended with this note:

Suffering, pain, and even evil may actually be the doorway through which we pass into eternal life or a better life.

So, I think that both of these assumptions are wrong: this life/world is all there is, and/or  I am as good as I can be.

I believe, on the other hand that…

This life/world is NOT the end for us. There is something else… so an end here is the first step into there.

I am NOT as good as I can be. I need to get better… and then do it again which means I will need pain and suffering… often delivered in the hands of evil.

If you are in that place… suffering… St. James tells us what to do in the sentences immediately proceeding his instruction on suffering. He writes:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. (James 1:5-8 NLT)

I hope you’re not suffering, but if you are I hope you give some thought to these two ideas, and then shoot me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

Stop punishing yourself

justiceRecently I sat with a man who simply could not accept forgiveness… be it divine or human… he simply could not accept forgiveness. 

He wanted to. He needed to. He believed it for others, but could not accept it for himself.

With this conversation fresh on my mind I stopped in my tracks when I read this from Don Miguel Ruiz (author of The Four Agreements):

“True justice is paying only once for each mistake. True injustice is paying more than once for each mistake.”

I realized that my friend is living with a terrible sense of injustice. His “god” is an unjust one. He is a victim of his twisted sense of justice.

As a Christian I believe what the Bible says about my God… that He is a just God who both loves and rules with justice.

For instance: “For the LORD is righteous, and he loves justice. Those who do what is right will see his face” (Psalm 11:7 NLT).

As I ponder my friend’s plight, the words of Ruiz, and the teaching of Scripture, I realize that many people’s theology may have led them to a place of personal and repeated persecution… a prison in which they are both the warden and the prisoner.

There is an escape. It’s called justice!

The penalty has been paid for each mistake/sin I, you, and my friend have committed and may commit. This is how St. Paul explains it:

God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight– not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago.  22 We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.  23 For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  24 Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.  25 For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. (Romans 3:21-25 NLT)

Jesus took the beating for my sin. God graciously offered Him and accepts Him as the sacrifice for my sin. He took my punishment! Justice has been served! When I believe this I am forgiven… and there’s no need to keep punishing myself for something that has already been atoned for!

Stop punishing yourself! Stop living in injustice! Set yourself free from the prison you are guarding with old memories!

Sure you sinned. You messed up. You did “stupid” with the best of them! BUT justice has been served. The wrong is forgiven… you are free!

“Instead”

This morning I was thinking about “grace”. Honestly I felt a bit like an ignorant beggar… I know so little about something I need so much.

One of the most famous “grace” scriptures is found in Ephesians 2:1-10 so I went there to read and linger.

I read these words from “The Message” (a version of the Bible):

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

As I read these verses one word arrested my attention:

It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.

“Instead.”

I rolled this word around in my mind for a while then looked up the definition: In the place of something previously mentioned; as a substitute or an equivalent.

It didn’t take me long as I thought back over my days to realize that it is a wonder that God didn’t lose His temper with me and do away with me. Seriously, I’ve lost my temper with my children for less and sent them away from me (e.g. to their room) for infractions much less damaging than ones I’ve committed.

I’ve done much worse than anything my children have done so I wouldn’t blame God if He sent me away. But grace assumed its stance and “instead” took over!

Instead of sending me away or doing away with me God, “immense in mercy and with an incredible love, embraced [me].”

Instead of what was previously mentioned (being done away with) I got something unexpected and new… an embrace from my God.

That’s grace… and I’m grateful for it.

Now I want to go hug my kids.

Thoughts on the incarnation (1)

With the help of Thomas Oden and his wonderful interactions with the early church fathers, I am reflecting on the incarnation of Christ.

This morning I read this from St. Augustine (as quoted by Oden):

“Let us grant that God can do something which we confess we cannot fathom. In such matters the whole explanation of the deed is in the power of the Doer.”

The incarnation (aka God becoming man) is certainly one of those things which I “cannot fathom.” My intellect and words fall far short of what would be required to adequately explain this divine-but-necessary-for-salvation miracle.

What is true is that history has confirmed this event and the personal experiences of millions across the centuries stand witness to the veracity of the claims of Scripture that God became a man and his name was Jesus.

Thank you God for sending us your Son, Jesus.

God’s way is the only way

Reading from E. Stanley Jones book, “Is the Kingdom of God Realism?” I came across a thoughtful quote from JohnMacMurray.

Read it slowly. Process it and then let me know what you think.

When men set out to achieve an intention which is contrary to the divine intention, they do not achieve it. They achieve something they do not intend…. There is no need for an intervention of God to frustrate the purposes of men who are in opposition to Him, since they cannot be in opposition to Him without being in opposition to themselves. They themselves are, after all, God’s act, and His intention is embodied in their nature. To act in defiance of the will of God is to attempt the impossible. But that does not mean that we have achieved nothing. On the contrary, we have achieved something which we did not intend. The situation we have produced is not determined by our intention. It is determined by the nature of reality, by the nature of our own reality, which we are negating. Then whether our intention conforms to the purpose of God or opposes it, we cannot achieve anything but the purpose of God.

As you consider this premise, reflect on this verse of Scripture:

“The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil.” (Proverbs 10:29 NIV)

The God with a date

Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, quotes Dorothy Sayers who writes of Jesus,

He is the only God who has a date in history…. There is no more collocation of phrases than that which, in the Nicene Creed, sets these two statements flatly side by side: ‘Very God of Very God… He suffered under Pontius Pilate.’

All over the world, thousands of times a day, Christians recite the name of a rather undistinguished Roman proconsul… merely because that name fixes within a few years the date of the death of God.

God came into our world. We called Him Jesus.

He lived a perfect life and died an undeserved death as a substitute for my imperfect life and deserved punishment by death.

Three days after his death He was raised from the dead. Alive.

Many have contested this assertion, but none have disproved it. It could be disproved rather simply… show me the body. Show me the body of Jesus and you shut the mouths of Christians around the world.

None have. None will. Ever.

He was and is alive and His life is the source of my hope, strength, and courage for today.

I am proud to be a Christian.

Rant over.

How should we live?

Last Sunday I taught from Matthew 3. Two key sets of verses in this teaching:

  • Matthew 3:13-15 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John.  14 But John didn’t want to baptize him. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”  15 But Jesus said, “It must be done, because we must do everything that is right.
  • Matthew 3:16-17   After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.  17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him.”

The bottom line of the teaching was this…

Jesus did everything God wants, and I get credit for it when I trust Him.

This idea comes from such Scriptures as these:

  • Philippians 3:8-9  NIV I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
  • Romans 5:18-19 NLT  Yes, Adam’s one sin brought condemnation upon everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness makes all people right in God’s sight and gives them life.  19 Because one person disobeyed God, many people became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many people will be made right in God’s sight.

This is crazy! Jesus did everything God wants and I get credit for it when I trust Him? What’s that leave for me to do?

St. Paul answers that question in Romans 6.

Grace is amazing, and when you consider it from afar it might seem easily abused, but when you experience it up close and personal you cannot imagine abusing it but only embracing the gift with thankfulness and living with loyalty to the One who extended the gift to you.