Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

faith in a vacuum is easy. (a loving God. evil and suffering. part 2.)

I’m not worthy. How can I reply to you? I’m putting my hand over my mouth. I’ll stop talking.
Job 40:4

I know that you can do anything. No one can keep you from doing what you plan to do. You asked me, Who do you think you are to disagree with my plans? You do not know what you are talking about.’ I spoke about things I didn’t completely understand. I talked about things that were too wonderful for me to know.
Job 42:2-3

This is one of what I’m sure will be many posts on the seeming contradiction between a loving God and the presence of evil and suffering in the world.

In a comment on a previous post on my Pragmatic Compendium – the first on this topic, Lisa of Lisa Writes gave me a book referral: John Piper’s Spectacular Sins. I read pages 22-26 on Amazon’s “Look Inside.” Here’s a very short excerpt:

“Surely this Jesus can stop a tsunami, and make the wind blow a jet off its deadly course toward a crowded tower, and loosen the stranglehold of an umbilical cord from around an infant’s neck, and blind the eyes of torturers, and stop a drought. Surely he can do this and a thousand other acts of restraint and rescue. He has done it before. He could do it now. What is his reason for not doing it more often than he does?”

“What is his reason for not doing it more often than he does?”

This is only one of the questions I’m delving into as I explore this topic. Not so much for myself, to assuage my own grieving or anger or other emotion which can so quickly and easily find itself into the heart of humans today, when faced with evil and suffering. As I said in my first post, I want to be able to formulate an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers. More specifically, I want to be able to articulate this response to someone who may not believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God.

In theory, Christians are easier. Christians are pre-disposed to understand and accept (maybe not agree, but accept) Biblical support I might point to as I try to explain my own personal view and understanding. My background is seeping in here, but I think of it this way: In communication theory, specifically in persuasion, this is referred to as a “latitude of acceptance.” If someone is more likely to accept an idea, they are said to have a latitude of acceptance. If someone is more inclined to reject an idea, they would have a latitude of rejection. If someone is open minded and has no pre-conceived idea or prejudice on a topic, they are said to have a latitude of non-commitment. As a Christian, I have a latitude of acceptance for any Biblical support provided in a persuasive effort. It has to be sound Biblical support, taken IN context, but for the most part I will look to the Bible for my reasoning. (And I’m no stranger to looking up the meaning of original language).

For example, as a Christian, here’s a HUGE reason why I personally accept God’s sovereignty with regard to evil and suffering in the world:

The Book of Job, Chapter 38:1-40:4 (see my responses in parenthesis)

38:1 The Lord spoke to Job out of a storm. He said,

2 “Who do you think you are to disagree with my plans? (ummm)
You do not know what you are talking about. (yeh, but . . . )
3 Get ready to stand up for yourself. (uh oh)
I will ask you some questions.
Then I want you to answer me. (k)
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you know.
5 Who measured it? I am sure you know! (you did)
Who stretched a measuring line across it? (you did)
6 What was it built on?
Who laid its most important stone? (you did)

8 “Who created the ocean? (you did)
Who caused it to be born? (you did)

11 I said, ‘You can come this far.
But you can’t come any farther.
Here is where your proud waves have to stop.’
12 “Job, have you ever commanded the morning to come? (no, Lord.)
Have you ever shown the sun where to rise? (no.)

16 “Have you traveled to the springs at the bottom of the ocean? (no, Lord.)
Have you walked in its deepest parts? (no.)
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you? (no.)
Have you seen the gates of darkness? (no.)
18 Do you understand how big the earth is? (no, Lord.)
Tell me, if you know all of those things. (no, Lord, I don’t know any of these things.)
19 “Where does light come from? (you, Lord.)
And where does darkness live?
20 Can you take them to their places? (no.)
Do you know the paths to their houses?
21 I am sure you know! After all, you were already born!
You have lived so many years! (what was I thinking? questioning God?)
22 “Have you entered the places where the snow is kept? (I’m going to shut up now.)
Have you seen the storerooms for the hail?

24 Where does lightning come from?
Where do the east winds that blow across the earth live?
25 Who tells the rain where it should fall?
Who makes paths for the thunderstorms?

28 Does the rain have a father?
Who is the father of the drops of dew?
29 Does the ice have a mother?
Who is the mother of the frost from the heavens?

31 “Can you tie up the beautiful Pleiades?
Can you untie the ropes that hold Orion together?
32 Can you bring out all of the stars in their seasons?
Can you lead out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper?
33 Do you know the laws that govern the heavens?
Can you rule over the earth the way I do?
34 “Can you give orders to the clouds?
Can you make them pour rain down on you?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who put wisdom in people’s hearts? (you did, Lord. Just now.)
Who gave understanding to their minds? (Thank you, Lord.)
37 Who is wise enough to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens?

Chapter 39
26 “Job, are you wise enough to teach hawks where to fly?
They spread their wings and fly toward the south.
27 Do you command eagles to fly so high?
They build their nests as high as they can.

Job Chapter 40
1 The Lord continued,

2 “I am the Mighty One.
Will the man who argues with me correct me?
Let him who brings charges against me answer me!”

Job’s Reply
3 Job replied to the Lord,

4 “I’m not worthy. How can I reply to you?
I’m putting my hand over my mouth. I’ll stop talking.

Job 42

Job’s Reply
1 Job replied to the Lord,

2 “I know that you can do anything.
No one can keep you from doing what you plan to do.
3 You asked me, ‘Who do you think you are to disagree with my plans?
You do not know what you are talking about.’
I spoke about things I didn’t completely understand.
I talked about things that were too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak.
I will ask you some questions.
Then I want you to answer me.’
5 My ears had heard about you.
But now my own eyes have seen you. (emphasis added)

After SEEING the Lord, Job had no desire to debate. To question. To “yeh, but.”

Instead, after SEEING the Lord, Job said, “”I’m not worthy. How can I reply to you? I’m putting my hand over my mouth. I’ll stop talking.

Job took the words right out of my mouth.

God explaining the things HE understands to ME? I would be like explaining calculus to a 2 year old. My mind wouldn’t be able to grasp it.

But that’s just me. So, knowing that I have NO idea what I’m talking about, I instead trust God, much like a child trusts that his parents will care for him. The child doesn’t understand what’s involved in raising him, he’s just living in subjective self-awareness. Knowing that I have no CAPACITY to understand the things of God, I believe in God’s sovereignty. Now, this is not to say that when I’ve faced . . . difficulty in the past, that I didn’t grieve and struggle with God’s will. This is not to say that, facing tragedy in my future I won’t struggle and desperately beg God to grant me peace. I’m human. I’m weak. I need God. Which is kind of my point.

I trust in a sovereign God. I believe that He is a loving God, despite evil and suffering in the world.

So now what? Do I just say, “I’m good.” and be done with it? Or, when I encounter others who aren’t able to do that or who choose not to do that, do I step outside of my independent security? Do I reach out to OTHERS and, in compassion and with God’s love and hopefully, His wisdom, do my very best to help them see what I see? Do I say, “Well, I can’t understand the things of God, so I’ll just have faith and I’ll be fine.” and be done with it? Do I stand comfortable and secure in MY acceptance and understanding of Biblical truth or do I prepare myself to address the common arguments to my faith and the truths presented in the Bible? When faced with these arguments, these obstacles of faith, do I seek to understand the things he HAS revealed? The things I AM capable of understanding? Because there are SOME things I CAN wrap my mind around and be able to share.

If I make the effort. Faith in a vacuum is easy.

There’s a cartoon about two turtles. One turtle says “Sometimes I’d like to ask God
why he allows poverty, famine, and injustice when he could do something about it.”
The other turtle says, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”

[This was originally posted on Pragmatic Compendium in April of 2009]

May 1, 2009 Posted by | apologetics, books, christian living, suffering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

a loving God. evil and suffering.

But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:14-15

I’m reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. (Click HERE for his youtube testimony.) In this book, Strobel attempts to “investigate” the most common obstacles to the Christian faith. He calls these obstacles “the Big Eight.” I’m reading about Obstacle #1.

“Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot.”

Why am I reading this? I was led. Compelled. There are so many struggling. Suffering. All ages, genders and walks of life. Suffering physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Children died this week. Children die every week. A young mother at my church lost her battle with cancer the day before a friend who defeated stage 4 breast cancer got her breast reconstruction.

I pray. For people I know, and people I don’t. I pray for strength and comfort. For peace.

I pray because I personally believe a loving God does exist, despite the evil and suffering in the world. But in my prayers, unspoken, was always “Why?”

My auto-pilot answer was “Have faith in God.” But in truth? I had nuthin. Except that whole “then we shall see face to face” thing. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If there is a loving God, why is there pain and suffering in the world?

I’m 44, for crying out loud. I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years! I should to be able to ANSWER THE QUESTION instead of mumbling words like “sin” and “test of faith” and “God’s will” and “free will” or quoting scripture to Christians, agnostics and atheists alike. Scripture. Not a credible resource for agnostics and atheists. Quote the Bible if it makes you feel better, but when I’m talking to someone who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the Living Word of God, or to a person who doesn’t even believe in God, I need to approach the conversation in a different way. God can use other books and resources besides the Bible. He can use a sunset, a song or an impossible coincidence. He can even use my personal experience and fallible human intellectual understanding. He is that good. (I just need to gain some intellectual understanding and identify my personal experience.)

Besides not being able to intelligently articulate a reasonable response when talking to others, I personally didn’t like not having answers to the “why” question and the “how can there be a loving God” question. And I believed there were answers. Just because I didn’t know what they were, didn’t mean there weren’t any. This week, I found myself no longer comfortable just believing and trusting in God and accepting suffering without question. (Which I did, by the way.) For some reason, I’m at a place in my life where I want to know WHY I believe what I believe about this issue and be able to explain myself to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Wait. Don’t go off and comment yet, telling me “the” answer. Bear with me. I want to work through this one pragmatic step at a time. I’ve had discussions with “strong” Christians, “longtime” Christians, pastors and FirstHusband. I’ve read the Bible, commentaries, and books. Nothing seemed REASONABLE. The Christians were often patronizing and/or vague, attributing my doubt – or questioning or whatever you want to call it – to a lack of faith or an immature Christian. Because they really believed I lacked faith or was immature? Or to cover up the fact that they themselves weren’t able to effectively articulate an answer either? Back then, I believed it was me. After this week? Not so much. Because I found two authors who were able to articulate their reasoning in a way that resonates with me. It’s not that they “told” me the answer to these questions so much as they rounded up many of my thoughts on the matter (conscious and not) and were able to lay them out in an organized, reasonable way.

Let me back up a bit, before the resonating, and answer a likely question. What have I been doing all these years, with this seeming contradiction between suffering and a loving God?

Years ago, FirstHusband gave me the thought that allowed me to let the contradiction rest – until now. In discussing why a loving God allows human suffering, we had a lot to talk about. In the end, it was this:

Could it be (I said COULD) that one (I said ONE) reason people suffer is so the world can see the difference between how a Christian and a non-Christian deals with the suffering? The theory is that Christians have a hope, strength, peace and comfort that comes from God. Now THAT, I’ve seen. On more than one occasion. And so have you.

But what about non-Christians who approach adversity with a seemingly positive outlook? What about non-Christians who overcome obstacles to make things better or inspire us? Randy Pausch never professed Christianity. Neither has John Walsh. Both remarkable men, who, when faced with tragedy, responded much like we expect Christian men would. And what about the Christians who react to tragedy with anger, blame God or who fall apart and shut down? Non-Christians blame God, fall apart and shut down. It can go both ways.

So I personally choose to believe that there IS a loving, all-powerful God despite the seemingly contradicting evidence of evil and suffering present in the world. For years, I’ve been able to fumble around the God-speak, quoting scripture and using words like faith, free will, sin, and God’s Will, but I’ve never before formulated an intelligent response which adequately, logically, PRAGMATICALLY addresses the question AND the objections to the pat, theological answers.

Faced with the multiple tragedies of the death of her uncle and and her aunt’s diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and terminal cancer, Lee Strobel’s wife said:

“If someone thinks he can wrap everything up in a neat little package and put a fancy theological bow on it, go somewhere else.”

I don’t want to be “someone” or “go somewhere else.” I need to be prepared to answer.

To read Part 2, CLICK HERE

[This devotion was prompted by THIS post on my Pragmatic Compendium blog.]

“But faith isn’t always easy, even for people who desperately want it. Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it. The wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths. Objections pester them. Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down . . .

. . . If doubt and faith can co-exist, then this means people don’t have to fully resolve each and every obstacle between them and God in order to have an authentic faith.”

Lee Strobel
The Case for Faith

April 19, 2009 Posted by | apologetics, books, comfort, faith, god's will, strength, suffering, witnessing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment