Faith in God vs. the Problem of Suffering (part 3)

The gospels have more to say about terrorism and tsunamis than we might imagine…. They tell how all the varied forces of evil are involved in putting Jesus on the cross. The gospels tell the story of the downward spiral of evil. One thing leads to another; the remedy against evil has itself the germ of evil within it, so that the attempts to put things right merely produces second-order evil. Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial are simply final twists of this story, with the casual injustice of Caiaphas and Pilate and the mocking of the words at the cross tying all ends together.

The death of Jesus is the result both of the major political evil of the world, the power games that the world still plays, and of the dark, accusing forces that stand behind those human and societal structures.

The gospels don’t offer a philosophical explanation of evil–what it is or why it’s here–but the story of an EVENT in which the living God DEALS with it.

He has done so THROUGH the suffering of Israel’s representative, the Messiah. God chose the appropriate and necessarily deeply ambiguous route of acting from WITHIN his creation, from WITHIN His chosen people, to take the full force of evil upon Himself and so exhaust it.

He has taken the weight of the world’s evil on His own shoulders. This is not an explanation. It is not a philosophical conclusion. It is an event, in which, as we gaze in horror, we may perhaps glimpse God’s presence in the deepest darkness of our world, God’s strange unlooked-for victory over evil of our world; then, and only then, we may glimpse God’s vocation for us to work with Him on a solution to the new problem of evil.

1969 IHOP Commercial

As the son of an IHOP owner (now retired) and a former PT employee, too, I now see why corporate planning was light years behind companies like…say…MCDONALD’S! Check out this campy (disturbing?) commercial from 1969. I remember the blue roof, sign, and waitress uniforms. I always loved the food. But who got Alvin (or was it Simon or Theodore) to sing this ridiculous song?

Faith in God vs. the Problem of Suffering (part 2)

Besides Job, which is most often used, we can look at other parts of the Bible to find help resolving this issue.

God calls Abraham and declares that in him all the world will be blessed. The curse of evil at every level is to be undone.

The prophets speak of evil at different levels. The wicked nations oppressing God’s people. The failure of humans in general, and of Israel more specifically. They spoke of evil in both the individual and society as a problem infecting all, including God’s people.

From within the story we already know that this is going to be a costly exercise to God. The loneliness of God looking for Adam/Eve; the grief of God before the flood; the exasperation of God at Babel–to name a few. It’s not a matter of God as a puppet master, pulling the strings from afar. Rather God loves His world so much that, faced with evil within it, He works within the world, despite the horrible ambiguities that result.

At the heart of Isaiah we find two things at once: the suffering servant represents Israel within the purposes of God, and he embodies God’s rescue operation for Israel and the world. Indeed, it is immediately after his suffering and death in chapter 53 that we have the word of a new covenant in 54 and a new creation in 55. Somehow, the prophet is saying, the people of Israel, the bearers of the solution, have become part of the problem, but as God had determined to work from within His world to rescue His world by calling Israel in the first place, so He has determined to work from within Israel to rescue Israel by calling this royal yet suffering figure, by equipping him with His own spirit and allowing the worst the world can do to fall upon him. If you want to understand God’s justice in an unjust world, says Isaiah, this is where you must look.

Somehow Isaiah has so redefined the broader problem of suffering and evil that we now see it not as a philosopher’s puzzle requiring explanation but as the tragedy of creation requiring a fresh intervention from the sovereign creator God. To our amazement and horror, we see this come into focus in the suffering and death of the servant. The servant bears the sin of the many. He embodies the covenant faithfulness and restorative justice of the sovereign God, and by his stripes we are healed.

This leads us to the heart of the matter. The story of Gethsemane and the cross present themselves in the New Testament as the strange, dark conclusion to the story of what God does against evil, of what happens to God’s justice when it takes human flesh, and when it gets its hands bloody on the cross. The multiple ambiguities of God’s actions in the world come together in the story of Jesus.

The Inflection in God’s Voice

When God created the world He merely “spoke” it in to existence. I wonder what the inflection was in His voice? I bet we would detect JOY!

Making everything was not a chore but a labor of love. It had to be great fun for God.  You can almost hear Him laugh and sing as He spins the stars like a top in the Milky Way and paints the rings around Saturn.