Faith in God vs. the Problem of Suffering (part 4)

The call of the Gospel is for the Church to IMPLEMENT the victory of God in the world. The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice. It is the start of the process of redemption in which suffering and martyrdom are the paradoxical means by which a victory is won. The suffering love of God, lived out again and again by the Spirit in the lives of God’s people, is the God-given answer to the evils of the world

But what if the people who now bear the solution becomes themselves part of the problem, as happened before? Yes that is a danger. In particular, it is a problem when Christians seek to impose its will on the world by labelling other parts of the world evil while seeing itself as the avenging army of God.

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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.

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.

Faith in God vs. the Problem of Suffering/Evil (part 1)

It’s amazing how many people in our modern day have turned away from the faith because of the problem of suffering.

  1. We ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face.
  2. We are surprised by evil when it does. We are shocked by death and suffering again and again even though life spans are longer and people live, generally speaking, more comfortably than ever before.
  3. As a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways.

The Western World hasn’t been able to cope with evil within its modernistic beliefs. Postmodernity doesn’t help as it flows into deconstructive language and ultimately turns nihilistic.

So when it comes to the problem of evil or suffering, we need to acknowledge 3 things:

  1. There are no easy answers. If we think we’ve completely solved it, that shows we haven’t understood it.
  2. The line between good and evil doesn’t lie between “us” and “them.” It runs down through each of us. That is not to say that all people are equally good or bad but that we all are capable of monstrous evil under the right circumstances.
  3. Despite the evil acts that people commit against each other, no human was responsible for tsunamis or earthquakes.

What help can we find in the Bible?

I’ll write more on this topic next week.

Sin is a State of the Heart

Sin is not something which began on earth. Before the Fall there had been a previous fall. Satan was a perfect, bright, angelic being dwelling in the heavens and he fell before the Fall.

It is fallacious to think of sin only in terms of actions. Sin is essentially a disposition. It is a state of the heart. Sin is ultimately self-worship and the terrifying thing is that it rears its ugly head even as we try to worship or pray to God (see Matthew 5). So even sometimes people may be persuading themselves that they are worshiping God, but actually worshiping themselves and doing nothing more.

Why Should We Have to Pray to a Loving and Merciful God?

Prayer is a mystery and an effort.  So many petitions seem to remain unanswered.  The most disheartening barrier lies in the moral difficulty: Why should we have to pray to a loving and merciful God?  A parent doesn’t wait until a child is lying on a bed of pain crying out for his sympathy and healing.  When our poor human hearts love, they do not wait to be begged that they may supply the needs of those they love.  Why should prayer on our part be the indispensable condition of the working of God?

First, prayer makes us more deeply conscious of God.  In the rush and stress of life we tend to lose a sure and clear consciousness of God.  In the busy world, the mind is filled every morning with all of the news to the ends of the world.  If we will not sometimes think of God, He will merely become a name to us.  It is in prayer that we have the sure consciousness of God.

Second, prayer helps us to see through God’s eyes.  It’s sad how most evils go unnoticed, wrongs unremedied, poor unpitied and unhelped, miseries uncomforted, not because we don’t know, but because we do not sympathize.  We haven’t looked at the world through God’s eyes.

Third, prayer surrenders us to the energy of God.  The highest attitude in prayer is not desire or praise.  It is surrender.  In surrender we open our whole being to God as a flower opens itself to the sun, and we are filled up to our measure with His divine energy.

God has chosen people as a means of His power and grace in the world.  And if people will not work the works of God, the works of God remain undone.  We limit God by our prayerlessness.  Because we are not surrendered to God in prayer, the might of His energy does not pass into us.