Why God? (Living in painful ignorance)

The broken hearted usually cry out for an answer to one question — Why God?

Why God do I have cancer?

Why God did our child die?

Why God do the wicked prosper and the godly suffer?

When God remains silent, where do we turn? If we turn to the Psalms, we learn that God’s people throughout history have shared our confusion. “Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hid your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14) Suffering doesn’t make any sense sometimes. Only God knows the reasons. We hope that, one day, all the pieces will fit together like they did for Joseph (Genesis 37-50). But we have no promises that such insight will be given in this life. As happened with Job, God may never give us an explanation.

How, then, shall we live in our painful ignorance?

  1. Trust God because of Jesus: When we cannot know God’s reason, we can know His character. The unique hope of Christianity is that God has invaded human history and revealed himself to us. We are not left to our vain imaginations. When we see Jesus, we see God. We know God weeps with those who suffer. We see Jesus provide relief and healing. In Jesus, we have proof that God cares and He plans to end all suffering someday. Until then, we see God shares our suffering. Jesus knows pain and loss — personally and extensively. God sympathizes with our suffering, walks with us through it, and promises to never leave us.
  2. Know Your Limitations: Gottfried Leibniz coined the word theodicy meaning literally a justification of God’s ways to human beings. Tim Keller explains, “A theodicy attempts to reveal the reasons and purposes of God for suffering so listeners will be satisfied that his actions regarding evil and suffering are justified…The various theodicies can account for a great deal of human suffering — each theodicy provides some plausible explanations for some of the evil in the world — but they always fall short, in the end, of explaining all suffering. It is very hard to insist that any of them show convincingly how God would be fully justified in permitting all the evil we see in the world.”¹ Alvin Plantinga makes a distinction between theodicies and a defense. He argues that a theodicy sets a very high bar and warns that, according to the book of Job, it seems both futile and inappropriate to assume that any human mind could comprehend the reasons God may have for any instance of suffering. The Bible seems to warn against constructing a “water tight” argument for why God allows what he allows. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) As Evelyn Underhill said, “If God were small enough to be understood, he wouldn’t be big enough to be worshipped.” We may never know why God allows certain instances of evil and suffering. But, that does not mean God doesn’t have a good reason which we cannot know.
  3. Embrace the Possibilities: Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) It’s understandable that Jesus’ followers, who heard his desperate cry, lost hope. Their hero, beaten beyond recognition and hung up to die, was completely forsaken by God. Most of the disciples fled the scene because they were unable to summon enough courage to watch until the bitter end. But, when the resurrected Jesus appears three days later, he conquers their despair by showing them his pierced hands, feet and side. Why did the resurrected Jesus still carry scars? Those scars proved how the suffering and evil that Jesus endured had been transformed. They served as a sign and seal of complete victory. If God can turn the darkest moment in all of human history (the cross of Jesus Christ) into a victory; can you imagine what possibilities exist for your darkest days. How might God transform your deadly scars into something that ushers in new life?
  4. Imagine God’s Glorious Resolution: The resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. It means death will die, sin has been paid for, evil will be defeated, and eternal life is real. It means that heaven is not merely a consolation prize, but a restoration of all that was lost. We receive new bodies in a new cosmos! Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption.” (Romans 8:18,19,21)

While we may never know the exact reason we suffer, we already know what we need to know. So we can endure our painful ignorance with resolved hope.

¹ Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (Riverhead books, 2013), pp. 89,95.

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A Small Faith That Gives Big Hope

I recently finished reading Kisses from Katie, a New York Times Best Seller. Katie Davis Majors became Glamour Magazine’s 2012 woman of the year after she moved to Uganda to help the poor. Her passion for Jesus confused family and friends, who expected her to follow the normal path to adulthood — go to college, get a job, get married, and then start a family. Instead, she moved to Uganda after high school, not even speaking the language and adopted 13 daughters. She founded a ministry called Amazima that currently feeds, educates and provides medical care for over 700 children.

Katie writes, “People tell me I am brave. People tell me I am strong. People tell me good job. Well here is the truth of it. I am really not that brave, I am not really that strong, and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am just doing what God called me to do as a follower of Him. Feed His sheep, do unto the least of His people.”

I appreciate Katie’s humility, but honestly I am tempted to think, “Yeah, right! I could never have that kind of faith.” It’s easy for me to believe that certain people are made of extra special stuff because then I can let myself off the hook.

How about you? Do you assume you simply can’t trust God enough to take a big risk or endure a long hardship? If so, let me comfort you and then challenge you.

First, take heart! You’re not that different from Katie Davis Majors. What mattered was the object of their faith, not the purity of their faith. If you place your faith in a strong object, then you will have a strong faith. People with strong faith don’t rely on their faith. They rely on their Savior.

Second, stop making excuses. Jesus said, “Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.” Don’t place faith in your faith. Instead place your faith in Jesus and if you don’t have the faith you need, ask him for it. He will give it to you.

When my dad was dying of stage 4 pancreatic cancer earlier this year, I read a book call Joy in the Journey by Steve and Sharon Hayner. Steve battled the same cancer as my dad. The day before he died, his wife, Sharon shared an excerpt from theologian Henri Nouwen.

“The flying Rodleighs are trapeze artists who perform in the German circus Simoneit-Barum. When the circus came to Freiburg two years ago, my friends Franz and Reny invited me and my father to see the show. I will never forget how enraptured I became when I first saw the Rodleighs move through the air, flying and catching as elegant dancers. The next day, I returned to the circus to see them again and introduced myself to them as one of their great fans. They invited me to attend their practice session, gave me free tickets, and asked me to dinner, and suggested I travel with them for a week in the near future. I did, and we became good friends.

One day, I was sitting with Rodleigh, the leader of the group, in his caravan, talking about flying. He said, “As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher. The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of the air as I come to him in the long jump.” “How does it work?” I asked. “The secret,” Rodleigh said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me and pull me safely over the apron behind the catch bar.

“You did nothing!” I said, surprised. “Nothing,” Rodleigh repeated. “The worst thing a flyer can do is to try and catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me. If I grabbed Joe’s wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.” (Hayner. Joy in the Journey. 128-129.)

I have always been amazed by the resilient hope of people like Katie Davis Majors. It’s quite beautiful to watch them fly with hope even under very challenging circumstances. I always assumed it was because such people were made of extra special stuff — an innate personality that lent itself toward optimism. But, I’ve discovered, again and again, that wasn’t the case. More often than not, such hope builders did nothing — nothing except stretch their arms and hands to God and wait for him to catch them.

Remember that the next time your tempted to think, “I could never have such faith!” because even faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.

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