Sunday, February 1, 2015

Not Worth Comparing

Recently I saw a video of Stephen Fry, an atheist, answering a question about what he would say to God if it turns out He is in fact real.

His answer is the classic, a God that allows the kind of pain and suffering we experience on this earth ("bone cancer in children, what's that about?) cannot be good. If he is all-powerful then He could make all of the bad things not be. The fact that he doesn't means he is either not all-powerful (i.e. not really God) or not good (and therefore why would we bother with Him).

As a Christian, that sort of thing tends to make me a tad angry because it so misses the point. As a Christian who came to faith late in life, it is quickly replaced by sadness. I was there once. I remember having that same point of view. I remember the agonizing days and weeks and months and years spent pondering how anything matters in a world so marked by suffering and evil. But dismissing God and trying to go about as if this life is the only one that matters doesn't cut it either. There's no incentive for goodness. There is only the utter selfishness that leads to the pain and suffering we inflict on each other, which is just as horrendous as the circumstantial ones of cancer and accidents, if not more so because they are intentional. The abuse and torture we inflict on each other makes us as mean spirited as Stephen Fry claims an all-powerful God who doesn't intervene is.

But then that is of course what atheists are looking for - the same lie that entrapped Satan and with which he entrapped Adam and Eve - we can be like God, knowing good and evil and we will of course, somehow naturally choose good if only we had the power. But whose good? I took an entire philosophy course in college that was essentially on how do you define good in any kind of absolute terms. You can't with logic alone. There has to be some reference point or its all relative and then you get existentialism.

What I know from my own journey from Stephen Fry's point of view to becoming a Christian is that human beings generally crave goodness, for ourselves and for others. That can be perverted when we become convinced we aren't getting it and can't get it and then we seek to deprive it of anyone we perceive to have it. But goodness is what we are seeking. So when confronted with the perversion of it in the form of pain and suffering, we naturally recoil from it and seek to control it, to restore it to something good. And we are angry and disheartened when we can't. But surely a perfect, all-powerful God can and would? The leap of faith comes in when we realize that expecting God to right every wrong and painful thing in the world right now is making God too small. We want a God who thinks like us, sees like us but has more power than us to do what we want but cannot do. But see that's where we miss it - if He is more powerful than us, there is a really good chance He doesn't think like us and an even better chance that He sees what we don't see and that is why He doesn't act like we want Him to act in the pain and suffering we see. We want a powerful God who looks at things from our perspective not the perspective of His power. We want His power but not His perspective.

I came to understand this while a good friend was dealing with the revelation that her husband had molested their daughters and the struggle to keep them safe as she divorced him and made a new life. My heart cried out to God, "how could you let this happen?" I was brought to Romans 8:18...
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us "
All of a sudden it hit me, if our present sufferings (which are beyond horrible and immense and stupid and overwhelming) are not worth comparing with the glory to come, then how great is that glory?

I can't even imagine anything that would make what my friend and her daughters suffered not worth comparing. I know that Christians tend to respond to the "problem of pain" argument made by people like Stephen Fry with the parents let their children fall while they are learning to walk and God is doing the same with us argument. But that doesn't cut it because the distance between the value of walking and the pain of a wobbly fall is too short. What could possibly make the suffering of sexual abuse by someone on whom you were completely dependent equivalent to a wobbly fall while learning to walk? Oh we rush in to say oh nothing could. That's why God can't be good, why He should intervene to prevent it from happening. But what if there is something? Think. About. That. For. A. Moment. Try to wrap your brain around that for Just. One. Moment. What if there exists something so good, so glorious that it would make the bone cancer in children, torture, rape, stillbirth, and on and on not worth comparing?

We don't want to know what might be being weaved by something that we have judged as unacceptably painful. We don't want to experience the pain or watch others experience the pain. We want it to not ever happen or to be over now. Pain and suffering and injustice and misery is wrong ("utterly, utterly evil") and a good God would not allow that, right?

What if He is in fact, right now, in the process of ending all suffering just like we want Him to? He went to the cross for us. Our choice to try to be like Him (get his power without His perspective) separated us from Him and sent us into a world of pain and suffering and He refused to leave us there. He could have. It was our choice. But His love for us made it impossible. He suffered and died and went to Hell so we would know He has looked at the world from our perspective. He understands suffering because He chose to enter into it out of love when He didn't "have" to. He was powerful enough to not have to endure it for Himself but He chose to endure it for us because He knew He was the only one who was powerful enough to redeem it. What if that is what He is doing to end our misery once for all? He knows exactly what we are going through and He has made a way for us to not suffer the consequence of our choice, to restore us not only to our former position but to His position as His have His perspective at last.

Once I realized this, I released the "problem of pain" as a barrier between me and God. It really wasn't too long after that I accepted Christ as my savior. I still cry out to God "why?" over suffering and evil in the world. A friend who lost a husband and is left with two young children. Two mothers who have lost their children to brain cancer. Another whose baby died at 12 days old. People who behead other people. Bombs that go off in public places. Girls who are kidnapped for going to school. And the list goes on. I choose to believe that there is absolute goodness that will end misery once and for all for all eternity.
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4).
Our good and powerful God IS doing something about pain and misery and suffering. You don't like His terms, Stephen Fry. I get that. I have to say I wouldn't pick them either if I had the power. I'd choose for us to have never left the garden. But we don't know His perspective. You think it's the same as yours (or mine or anyone else's) and it's not. It's. Just. Not. Your god is too small and it is right that you reject that too small god. I reject that god. But the God of the Universe? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The God who became flesh and took on ALL of the suffering you demand not exist to make it possible for ALL of the misery to end FOREVER? That God I humbly embrace. That God has a glory that trumps all of the evil that has ever existed or ever will exist waiting for those who will simply receive it. Don't have to earn it. Don't need to be perfect. Just walk through the gates and say "thank you." And I am counting on it bringing me to my knees in gratitude and worship 'cause I have high expectations for it. I'm putting all of the suffering I witness up against it and expecting God to make it not worth comparing. Have no idea how that is even possible but I am betting that He is going to transform it and it will be made right.
"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Just because there is misery and suffering in the world doesn't mean God isn't doing anything about it. Right. Now. Just because there is misery and suffering the world doesn't mean God isn't good. I have a sneaky suspicion that in order to have good, evil as its opposite, has to get a ride too. I don't know how you can create good without simultaneously introducing the possibility of its opposite. I suspect that free will is part of the equation in the ultimate destruction of evil. We'd like to think that an all-powerful God can create good without its opposite. Then it's His fault for evil and suffering - He created it. He created our free will to choose it in the garden. He is to blame. He shouldn't have done it that way. We wouldn't have done it that way if we had the power. See we are back to our perspective not His perspective.

Choosing not to believe in God and His son isn't going to end the problem of pain in the world. It just takes away any hope that it will ever actually truly come to an end. Believe in God now and what He did through the death and resurrection of His son and you gain the peace and hope that Someone who is powerful and good is on the job and has in fact made a way to release this world from it's pain and suffering.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Our human minds do the spiritual math and add up our accomplishments, skills, talents, or at least the wrongs not done in an attempt to make ourselves worthy of the prize - eternal life in paradise, the paradise we gave up because we wanted more than all that had been freely given us.

None of what we had in Eden was earned by us or deserved. It was all a gift. But when it was pointed out that one gift was withheld, we reached out to take it so as to make the spiritual equation come out equal, as if that would make us whole and right, when we were already right with God. Indeed it was that act of taking that which was withheld which actually put things out of balance and the Creator had to put into action the plan to make things right again.

Yet, we still miss it. Now, we just as often go to the other extreme - we think our sin makes us unworthy of fulfilling God's purpose for us - to love God and to love others. We insist on waiting until we are worthy - thinner, more successful, kinder. We think we are protecting God and others from our unworthiness, our sinfulness. Just as Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden, we seek to hide from our purpose to simply love God and love others. It is a self protective measure to keep us from being emptied of our love and to receive nothing in return.

But when we focus on His grace and revel in His assessment that we are worthy because He made us,then we receive the measure that makes the equation balance, makes us whole. His grace plus our gratitude equals love flowing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tangled Tapestry

A new song from Laura Story called "Blessings" has recently captured my attention as I continue to seek out why this life is full of so much pain and heartbreak for so many.

Then on the anniversary of Chrissie's homecoming, her mother wrote this post. This passage really struck me:
I know that God is weaving a beautiful tapestry, but I'm totally stuck on the back side of that tapestry.  I'm tangled among all of the other strings, in knots, where nothing looks pretty or organized or predictable, no matter what angle I look at it.  But to those standing on the other side of the tapestry, they stand in awe of the beauty that exists on the other side.  Right now, I think the other side of the tapestry is heaven.  I'm not sure I'll ever see the beauty of this tapestry here on earth, but what a glorious day it will be to actually see the tapestry and appreciate its beauty.
I read that and I thought "That's it! That's a perfect way to explain all this mess and pain and suffering here on earth." I cross-stitch every now and then so I totally get the analogy. The front looks great but the back is a mess of strings and knots and crossed colors. I've tried to stitch in a way to make the back look as good as the front by not taking shortcuts and such but eventually came to realize there are times when you just can't get the design on the front to look the way it's supposed to be unless there is some mess on the back.
Could it be the same for God? Could it be that He is weaving something beautiful on the other side out of the mess on this side? I'm not suggesting that He is sacrificing us to get the results. But like Laura Story's song suggests that even with the greatest of care, sometimes we can't get to the blessings, to the beauty, to the glory, without first getting tangled and knotted and crossed. Could it be He is stitching Himself into our lives as we face the trials and difficulties so that when we get to the other side, we are entwined with Him in an unbreakable, forever way? Is every knot in our life really a foothold on the rope to eternity, allowing us to climb a little farther, get a little closer? Are they really blessings that help us on the way, if we will just see the truth about them?

If so, I don't think that it lessens the pain any, but I do think it provides hope that the pain is not all there is. There is a reason to press on, to keep climbing, to keep drawing closer to the One who loves us enough to redeem us from the pit.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. - Romans 8:19-21
Someday, we will see how these knots and tangles have transformed us into something unutterably beautiful.