PART 5 OF “OUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT GOD”
March 13, 2010
By Kevin M
“There are starving children in the world, so how can there be a God?”.
Have you ever heard that question, or a variation of it? Have you maybe wondered about it yourself?
If you’re not a believer, rest assured that even believers wrestle with this question. We see the same injustice and human misery that everyone else does, and yes, we struggle to come to terms with the existence of a loving God in the midst of it. But while as believers we may not fully understand what often looks from a human standpoint to be an apparent contradiction, we don’t allow it to be an obstacle to faith either.
That faith isn’t an abdication of rational thinking, but a willingness to accept some self-evident truths, including this one:
A true God does not exist to serve man
If you’re a believer, that’s a foundational concept. If you think that the proper behavior for an omnipotent God is to please us and make sure we’re always happy, then you seek that which can never be found within the scope of logic.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God addresses the Apostle Paul by saying, “…my power is made perfect in weakness”. Ouch! The human side of me, the side that demands earthly justice, doesn’t like that verse one bit! But as the du jour but redundant saying goes, “it is what it is”. I’m not God, I don’t make the rules, but I have to live within them nonetheless.
Some of the apparent conflict in this thinking is that non-believers don’t fully comprehend the concept of “salvation”. In the case of Christianity, salvation is other-worldly, referring to the spiritual saving of the believer for eternal existence with God.
That’s the very definition of faith, believing what you do not see. Most people have such faith in areas other than religion–think about the unbacked currency sitting in your wallet as an example, or our willingness to get into our cars and head for public roads where we’ll risk accidents, injuries or even death. Why do we do it? Because we have some sort of faith that it will be OK.
But back to God and weakness…if as Christianity tells us, that God is seeking man, why must he do it through human tragedy? I would submit that we only “see” God when we’re in a state of weakness and ready to bow down and to accept the unequal nature of the relationship. When we’re doing well, when we feel strong and self-sufficient, we only see ourselves.
When things are going our way, we even develop a heightened sense of our own goodness. How does God see this? Jesus gives us a clue in Luke 18:9-14:
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13″But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Do you see the consistency of this passage with the concept of human weakness? Only in humility can we even dare to come before God. Against the backdrop of this connection, human tragedy and suffering begin to look more consistent with the idea of a loving God. His purpose is to bring us to him, not to alleviate our suffering and to fix our problems, and it’s through that suffering that we can even begin to perceive him.
Jesus was not an earthly king
None of us can claim that Christianity has disappointed us by somehow not living up to its promise, because in truth it never promised us anything in this world beyond redemption in eternity. The perception that God exists primarily to solve the worlds problems is a man-made concept that isn’t born out in Scripture.
In the exchange between Jesus and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, the Apostle John records that Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus’ response: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:33-36). I think that this exchange gives us a clear idea why the world functions as it does, and why it can even within the existence of a Sovereign God.
Jesus didn’t come to fix the world, to deliver us from our troubles, or even to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men (the popular Christmas season phrase from Luke 2:14 is cut short, substantially changing its original meaning). Jesus came to reconcile men to God, that “…whoever believes in him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life.”—John 3:16.
We don’t and can’t know the mind of God, but if we did we might come to realize why this is entirely necessary. Understand, I’m not saying that human misery will ever be OK—the Bible even says that God himself grieves over it—but we would come to accept it.
Jesus instructed his disciples that they would face persecution and death for his name’s sake, and yet none of them left the faith in favor of preserving their own lives. What hope was he offering them that kept them from deserting, even after Jesus himself faced public execution by the unspeakable sentence of crucifixion? What would motivate a group of people to face persecution and death for the purpose of advancing a new way of thinking?
A resurrection might do it.
If Jesus had power over death, and God promises us that hope through Jesus, is the human condition the real story, or is there something bigger in motion here?
The Utopian “faith”
The idea of a world without suffering is actually Utopianism. Dictionary.com defines utopian as 1. of, pertaining to, or resembling Utopia. 2. (usually lowercase ) founded upon or involving idealized perfection. 3. (usually lowercase ) given to impractical or unrealistic schemes of such perfection
Religions of all stripes, and Christianity in particular, have had to exist and even compete with Utopian ideas for thousands of years. It isn’t a true competition of course, because Utopianism is based on the notion of a perfect world. Christianity holds that the world isn’t perfect and never will be, and it is precisely this condition that Jesus came to deliver us from.
The job of the Christian is to seek a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, to bring other people into that relationship, with the alleviation of suffering as an effort that flows out of that relationship, not as a stand alone effort. Christianity’s primary purpose isn’t to address the human condition.
If that sounds hypocritical–and I’ll admit that if you’re a non-believer that might seem to be the case at some level–it’s also worth pointing out that no secular efforts have succeeded in alleviating suffering either. In fact, many of history’s most brutal dictators were worldly reformers bent on creating a more perfect world at any price, including human blood. Who can forget Hitler’s infamous claims of developing a “master race”, or the determination of the dictators of the old Soviet Union of engineering a “workers paradise”? Utopian dreams know no limits, and are doomed to fail because that isn’t the world we live in.
Humanity hasn’t done a very good job of alleviating suffering through secular channels, despite many public pronouncements and programs aimed at doing just that. Against that backdrop, faith at least offers hope to the downtrodden in a world that cannot save them. Would it be better to deny them that hope? Is anyone certain that hope isn’t real? What’s the evolutionary purpose of hope at all and why do we have it? Why do only humans have hope? Perhaps it’s because as the Bible tells us, we were made in God’s image.
Do we need a perfect world in order to believe in God?
There are basically two things we can do in regard to human suffering:
1) Pray that God will have mercy on the afflicted, and
2) Do what we can to help in the effort
On a personal note, I’ve found that the world is a better place and life is lived with more peace when we abandon the self-imposed fantasy requirement of a perfect world. Once we ditch our perfect world desires, we can see human misery for what it is, and within it perhaps we see the presence of an Almighty God.
I see the power of God in a world that often seems as if it’s descended into chaos. How is it that the human race, and even life itself, can survive our vast miscalculations, purges and boondoggles? We make much of the concept of synergy—the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts—but does humanity really operate synergistically, or does humanity live in competition with itself? The evidence for competition is all around us, so how have we survived “survival of the fittest”?
Clearly a Higher Power is holding this ship afloat.