Monday, June 5, 2017

So Many Questions, So Few Answers

My cousin posted this video and very kindly asked me to answer it.  I appreciate the sincerity in the question and the honor in requesting my opinion, so I want to give the same sincerity and honor in my answers, but it is so packed!  Years of writings, debate, and study have been done by hundreds and thousands of Christians smarter than I, but rather than stick to their conclusions (which do not all agree), I'm going to share my own journey as I wrestled with these own questions through my faith.

So please understand, I don't share to persuade or convince (though I hope I make sense), and I will not give my sincere but short answer...faith.

So first, what are the claims of the video?  I'm not going to address them all, but the 3 biggest ones.

There cannot be an all-powerful and loving God when all these awful things happen in the world that kill thousands and harm thousands and particularly thousands of children.

A loving God would not let anyone suffer in hell, especially those who never even heard of Him.

Christianity is a disgusting religion that rejoices in human sacrifice--and not just any sacrifice, but sacrifice of the most perfect, holy person for others.

I won't be able to address them completely even in a blog post, and the English major in me wants to address them point by point, but the answers overlap.  So here goes.

Basic Christianity--across most denominations--are built on the premise that God is Holy, cannot abide sin, wants a relationship with us, so His son took our payment for us by death and resurrection on the cross, and through belief in that we can be reconciled with Him.

Christianity is so very simple, but it does give answers to the very complex, too.  However, many Christians (particularly Christians who have themselves lived a fairly not complex life) often sit in the simple and call it child-like faith not seeing how it isn't just "lack of faith" that make people want answers to the complex and yes, how harmful it can be to hand an anemic answer to a bleeding person.  There is amazing community available in Christian fellowship, but also nothing so lonely as to feel you are the only one struggling, doubting, and questioning "How can a loving God?"

When I was a child, I believed like a child.  But my life was not perfect.  At 15, my mom died, and while my sister chose to at that point be so angry at God as to not be a Christian for 20 years, He was the only thing that kept me moving forward.  And I said, okay.  God, if He is all powerful, He could have prevented that.  (There are variations on theology here, but that is my thought pattern.)  He did not.  Why?  My aunt said I should blame my mother not God as she was experimenting with her medication, etc.  But an all powerful God let me mom have scarlet fever as a child, let her heart be damaged, let her get pregnant with her 3rd child which damaged her heart even further, let her die.

So first partial answer-- God chooses to limit His power because He wants people that worship Him of their own free will.  That means that when bad things happen sometimes the reason is the choices we made (or in this case my mom).   I can be angry at God because He can handle it; doesn't phase Him; and in that anger and crying He comforts me.  Not just in my mother's death with some of the good things that came from that, but example after example.

BUT what about others?!? I understand, truly.  My faith cannot bring them comfort.

So then I get to college.  My sister is having a very difficult time in life, and I am loving my life debating Socrates and the Bible and words like sanctification and justification.  But I start to wonder.

How on earth can You (God) set up a system where people end up in hell?  I get the free will worship, but oh, the cruelty towards that don't choose you!  This is a 6 month process I'm going to condense to a paragraph.  I started feeling so much sorrow for my sister that at some point I told God...I want to give my place in Heaven to her.  I actually tried to not be a Christian but I didn't know how to not pray!  I could not give God the silent treatment I was trying to do.  I wept many a tear just for my sister.  And one day God whispered to my soul...

"You see those tears?  That is how I feel about every single person I created.  Every single one.  I don't want a single one to perish, but I had to give them choice.  I will do EVERYTHING to work in their life to bring them to know me, but some will still say no.  And for every tear you cry, I cry thousands.  Hell is not there to punish those who reject me.  ALL have sinned and need Christ.  I sent my son to rescue as many as I could from hell so that they will be with Me."

(There is some debate on whether hell is a lake of fire for all time or for a time and then oblivion and if Heaven is presence with God do all want to be with Him?)

Sure. but did you forget about all those people who never heard of Jesus?  Not fair.  I spent quite a bit of time on this too, let's see if I can sum it up quickly.  The Bible gives me evidence that people are responsible for what they know and that faith that leads to heaven is written on the heart.  I believe creation can write Jesus on the hearts of those who have never heard of Him and they can be worshiping in faith without knowing it.  This is a simplistic answer and dangerously close to all are saved which I'd like to believe but do not.  But I do know that God is Just. I wait to see how His justice will play out.  Once again my answer becomes faith.  

But not just my personal suffering.  What about all those large events that killed hundreds?  The theology of suffering is complex and detailed.  ALL religions attempt to answer it.  ALL religions don't understand it completely.  But here are the simplistic steps in Christianity.

Everything does happen for a reason--but those reasons vary AND often overlap AND we don't always know what reason is that specific situation.

They won't all be satisfactory answers for nonChristians.  I've never had a friend decide to follow Christ because of an answer to World suffering.  I follow Christ because of His answers to my personal suffering.  But here goes:

1) The World is NOT ruled by God at this time.  Satan is the ruler of the World.  He is not all-present or all powerful--but he is not bound.  He and his minions can and do create and cause evil.

2) People have free will.  Sometimes we are suffering the consequences of our actions...and sometimes we are suffering the consequences of other's actions.  These actions aren't always evil in and of themselves, but the impact is not measured by the intent.

3)  To bring God glory.  Sometimes what we see as suffering is a waiting time so that the eventual miracle is all that more amazing.  There is a story in the Bible where Jesus heals a blind man.  People ask Him, who sinned, his parents or he?  And Jesus' answer was, neither sinned, but this man was blind so that God may be glorified.  Even in 1 and 2, I see 3 play out.  This is the root of the inanely pat answer, "Praise God," but it is also so very true in my life.

4) To bring others to God.  One thing I have to remember is that sometimes the things that happen around me are not about me at all.  I will gladly suffer for a small period so that other's may know Jesus.  And people rarely wake up on their happy days and say, ummm, I think I'll explore religion; it is in the midst of our suffering that we seek answers.

5) To make people more like Jesus/correction. Here is where my sin, repentance, pruning, growth, etc. is. I like to seek out growth and knowledge of Jesus and how God would have me be like Jesus before 1 or 2 brings me pain so that I do so anyway.  It is a technique that works in parenting and Jesus uses it to mold me in my faith.

And that leads to the last, yet easiest question to answer.  How can a loving God require a sacrifice of His own perfect son?  At any point Jesus could have walked away.  He limited His power while here on earth, but He had the choice to not walk the path before Him...as do I.  Yet, it isn't hate or punitive justice that had Him walk forward.  It is love.  So much love.  He loves me and you and you and all those people harmed in the video.  ALL He requires from me is that I say yes to His offering.  Jesus as part of God the Father decided to come to Earth in the form of man to redeem us from our own choices.  He took the first step.  He made the biggest sacrifice.  He was the "bigger person."

This shows me how to live.  Have I failed?  Have I been a person that dismisses big suffering for my own petty wishes?  Have I tried to offer a simplistic Jesus to a hurting world?  Will I still fail?  ABSOLUTELY.

I can only pray that people look past me to the Jesus I'm trying to reflect.  A God who sacrificed everything in order to remove my own, already earned, penalty.

And not because I want to "save" you from a future fate in hell...though I have often made the mistake of sounding like that is the only thing that matters as it does...but for all the Jesus has given me on this earth, too.  Not things.  But peace, direction, comfort, joy, miracles, love, and the ability to love in a way I cannot do on my own strength.

The things that I am now noticing in the World now is hard for me to handle.  I understand even more than before why people are asking these questions and doubting.  Yet, as frightened as I am that democracy is actually going to go down, that the white American church will never divorce itself from the GOP, that people will not only refuse to deal with implicit racism but embrace overt racism, that people will die in race riots, white supremacy uprisings, etc. (this ignores our global problems), and as I question how lamely American white Christians handle almost everything--my faith remains unshaken.  It is actually stronger than ever before.  I CANNOT explain it, as I can't understand it myself.  How does this not just convince me that there is no God?  But I hear Him clearer than ever before.  My path is shining bright before me.  Everyday is an adventure of listening and obeying Jesus.  Everyday is a stretch in my ability to love and forgive and make good choices.  It is actually "freaking" amazing!  So why some may question if I have a brain tumor, I just sink into my faith and rejoice.

So the answer to all those Hows and Whys and more boil down to the most annoying of answers...Faith in Jesus.  I really don't blame anyone for not agreeing with me.  But while the Bible doesn't give a lot of answers to How and Why--it gives me a ton of answers of the WHAT to do about suffering.  And so I plod on and do.
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1 comment:

Ben Hacker said...

Thanks for sharing