“If God is so loving, why does He allow children to die?”
“If God is so loving, why does He allow war?”
“If God is so loving, why did I lose my job?”
“If God is so loving, (fill in blank)?”
As a Pastor these are very common questions (at least for me). As I have researched this, I have observed that two very common answers are given; I am sad to say they are not only misleading, but they betray a false picture of God held by too many laity and clergy alike! When dealing with how we talk about God and tragedy, it’s important to confess God properly and avoid sappy placations.
False View of God #1: God is a sweet, but senile, old man. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”(Matthew 16:13)
This picture does a very good job of describing how many people think about God. Generally, they think of Him as being a kindly, old man who is happy to sit on His heavenly porch, rocking in His chair, whittling on a piece of wood and telling tales about how life used to be simpler. People like this image of God. Even though He doesn’t seem to be very active, and may perhaps, suffer from Alzheimer’s, He’s a sweet, old guy who doesn’t interfere with my life and in return I give Him a hat-tip every now and then by posting a sappy picture on facebook about how much I love Him and from time to time I go to His house to check in on Him. This arrangement is usually very agreeable to Christians, as long as they are happy earning a decent wage, their children are healthy, their spouse is faithful and they are generally allowed to do whatever they want.
More often then not, people find the above-situation of happiness is found only on reruns of “Leave It To Beaver”. The truth of the matter is, wages drop, children suffer, spouses cheat, soldiers get deployed, promises are broken, friendships dissolve hearts are broken and dreams are crushed. I used to say “All you have to do is turn on the television and you can witness suffering brought to you in High Definition, 24 hours a day.” The truth is, we don’t need to turn on the TV to see it, anymore, do we? These days, all we have to do is look around at our neighbors, and for far too many of us, suffering is as close as the mirror. When reality of this nature sets in, it causes people to pause and to take a step back and really look at themselves and their lives. Many times they will also look at their picture of God and find that an absent, senile, old man, is found to be somewhat lacking in the face of adversity. They don’t like to tell this god their problems only to hear a weak, scratchy voice say “Huh? Well… isn’t that nice. Have you seen my newspaper? Everything used to cost a nickel. I’m cold. What time is it? I need a nap. zzzzzzzz.” Yes, this sweet, ol’ god just won’t do.
False View of God #2: God is like Zeus; petty, unpredictable, and generally cruel “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Unfortunately, hard times don’t always clear up any misconceptions about God. When the already-sinful world manifests itself by interrupting the “idyllic” lives of people, this realization tends to leave these people feeling betrayed by their “sweet, old (yet senile) god”. They wonder “Why did He turn on me? Why is He so mean?” Their new picture of God changes from a senile, old man to one that more resembles the pagan god “Zeus”, who is known for being petty, jealous and randomly handing down punishment from above. As parents are sitting in unemployment offices, divorce lawyer offices, emergency rooms or morgues, what kind of comfort can this “Zeus-god” offer to people, other than a patsy to receive blame for the evil that surrounds us all? This view of God is usually the final death-blow to many Christians. For years, decades, even generations, the old “grandpa-god” was setting them up to fail. He never checked on them. He never guided them. He never reprimanded them and He certainly never blessed them. All this time, all these years of being eroded away by a false god made it all too easy for the “Zeus-god” to come in and knock over anything left standing. This attitude comes from hearing things like “Your son/daughter/ mother/ father etc… died because God needed him/her in heaven.” Or “Your [relative] died to show you how God can work through adversity.” These views might make you feel good for about two seconds, but over time, it will dawn on you that these excuses only show you that God is either lacking something, is petty or not being serious when He said the Holy Spirit (and not proof) is who gives you faith in God’s will and His works. So whether God is incomplete or he is insecure, this is a terrible way to portray God. In the end, this picture leaves you buried in the rubble of sin, death and the devil, and all you can do is curse and blame God.
Reality Check #1 “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
If we were to be painfully honest with ourselves, we would admit that our awareness of the evil which surrounds us is most apparent when it relates to our own, personal circumstances. It’s not like evil didn’t exist when we were all at Six Flags having a blast… we just weren’t giving it a lot of attention. In my own experience as a Pastor, I can tell you that I have cried tears of joy as I held a newborn, healthy baby and I have also grieved immeasurably, holding the tiny, lifeless body of a child.
So what’s the difference? Were sin, death and the devil present in only one of those delivery rooms? Of course not. Each and every one of us are buried in sin 24 hours a day, tragic events in our lives just make them more visible.
Reality Check #2 “…for in the day you eat of [the forbidden fruit] you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17)
God’s plan for humanity in the garden of Eden, was for He and his children to be in a perfect communion (united with) together. But as we see in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent to “be as gods”, ate the forbidden fruit in hopes of having a picture of God which would look like themselves. From that very moment, two things happened. First, sin and death entered the world. Second, God promised He would send a redeemer to undo the damage of their vanity and disobedience. (Genesis 3:15)
Ever since the fall, we have suffered with living in a fallen and broken world. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree, each of us has been installed with a clock. This clock doesn’t count time, but rather counts backwards to our deaths. We have something that was never intended to be a part of us, namely: an expiration date.
The Proper View of God: In Terms of His Word and Sacraments For You ” I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)
After the fall, God let us know He has a clock as well. This is not the clock counting to our deaths, but a clock counting until the end of death. By sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross and rise for you, God has indeed shown that He is the master over sin, death and the Devil. At Christ’s ascension, He promised us that He would return in Glory to judge the living and the dead. He promised to wipe away our tears as well as Earth and heaven and replace them with a New heaven and a new Earth. Of course, in the meantime, He tells us our waiting for His return would not come without suffering. Eleven of the twelve Apostles Christ commissioned in Matthew 28 were murdered for preaching the Gospel and St. John, whose brother was murdered by Herod, spent his years imprisoned on the island of Patmos. James the brother of Jesus was pushed off the temple and although his body was devastated and his bones crushed, he survived, so the lynch mob who pushed him, stoned his broken and bruised body until he finally died when they splattered his brains with a large club. Of course in a fallen and broken world, not all people suffer as nobly as did the Apostles. In the Gospels we read about people who can’t walk, can’t speak, can’t see, can’t hear. Just about every physical ailment known to man is seen in the Bible as we see today. In the scriptures we read of great atrocities done against people in their Churches, even buildings crashing down on people. When you add “wars and rumors of wars”(Mark 13:7) to this mix, hopefully you will see that Jesus was not here to create a Utopian society, but to herald the coming Kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins for His sake. All of the evidence of the fall are there. God never promised that being a Christian was going to be a fun-filled adventure in joy and happiness, 24 hours a day. The truth is he spoke of evil and persecutions as well as sickness and death. So where is God? He is where He established Himself to be on that first Sunday in Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago. He is where His Word is purely preached and His Sacraments are rightly administered. Church is not a refuge for the righteous, but a hospice for sinners. It is where all the troubles of the world can be brought and where every sin you have may be brought and all of that evil removed. It is where you are fed and washed with the food and water from God. When Christ ascended in to the heavens, we were called to await His return, and we will wait. The question becomes WHERE WILL YOU WAIT? Will it be outside God’s House in the world of pain suffering and hopelessness, or WHERE GOD IS REVEALED, in His house where in a world of pain suffering and hopelessness you are promised Christ Himself in Word and Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins? It’s rough out there. See you in Church.