Friday, December 28, 2012

Life in light of pain

Recently some friends of mine were discussing unanswered prayers, trials, tragedy, and how God sees and cares for people, especially his children.  After reading and re-reading their discussion, I feel that the essence of their questions flow from an eternal question of truth. Can God be both loving(faithful, sacrificial, and deserving of our trust)  and authoritative (just, Holy, sovereign, all powerful, beyond time and space ) and what does this look like?

I believe that God created the earth as perfect place.  Genesis says God looked at creation and it was good.  Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with God and were friends of God.  They walked with him in the Garden of Eden, learned from Him, fellowshipped with Him.  This demonstrates that God cared for them. We were not equals, but we were loved.  Then Adam and Eve sinned, and from that point on their line, all of their descendants were sinners.  God then kicked them out of the Garden, removed them from his presence, demonstrating His ultimate authority.

Now all humans were forced to live away from God, think this of it like a foreign country. Mankind lived in 'Sin'  much like I live 'in Ohio'.  It doesn't make me a bad person to live in Ohio, it simply makes me a resident.

Sin isn't a nice place to live.  In Sin-ville some pretty horrific things happen.  People are slain for no reason, people fight, cheat, steal, lie, manipulate, and people are infected with diseases, they work and toil their whole lives, and every man, woman and child eventually dies.  Sin is a terrible place.
Who would want a loved one to grow up in this place? I certainly would not. 

So then why did God kick us out of the Garden? That seems all authority and no compassion, but this is not the case.  The punishment for sin is death.  Had God wanted to scorch Adam and Eve on the spot he would have been well within His authority to do so.  Instead he showed mercy and allowed them to live, even planning a way that they, and all of their sin infected offspring, could rejoin Him.
God is not willing that any should perish, and so he decided to allow every single person in Sin-ville a chance to live somewhere else. 

God gave His Son, so that we could live somewhere else.  All sacrifice, and all authority, are summed up in this one action.  This may seem elementary to you, but Christ came to earth, lived and died,to reconcile us to God.  He came so that we no longer have to be afraid of death, we can have life and have it more abundantly, free from fear.  God sacrificed a part of Himself so that we could be with him again demonstrating His love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died from us.   He then exercised all authority by defeating Death, and breaking the chains of our enslavement as residents of Sin-ville.  We who believe in Him, trust Him, are no longer residents of Sin-ville, we are residents of Heaven.

Unfortunately, we are still stuck in Sin-ville as aliens.  We don't belong here, we feel out of place and in our hearts we long for Heaven.

It is what comes next that is a struggle....

So if we belong to God, then why do schools get shot up?  Why did my friend die of cancer? Why did my husband lose his job? Why did that person claiming to belong to God hurt me?

For the unbeliever the question is 'If you are real, why don't you do something?'

The rain falls in the just and the unjust - life isn't fair, we all know that.  But if God is real, and if we are all trapped in Sin-ville, the question becomes less about what isn't fair NOW and more about what hasn't been fair since the Garden of Eden, and what won't be fair forever.  None of us picked this place, we were born this way, we couldn't help it.  In most people's minds the goal of this life  is to be happy, be loved, have prosperity, peace and joy.  What if God has a different goal?  What if His goal isn't about your happiness for the 70ish years you will spend in Sin-ville, but is about your happiness for the rest of forever, wouldn't that change things? Would children die before they understood sin so that they would spend forever in Heaven, happily reunited with their families?   Take that a step further, what if it wasn't even about just your happiness, but every single person on the planet's happiness?  So that even the 'bad' people would have a chance to change and come to know God.  What if God loved us so much that he would allow all of us to make all of our own choices, even terrible choices, so that we would have the chance to know God?  This sounds like all sacrifice and no authority, but God's authority still stands. His is the final authority, punishment for the evil, and Life for those who trust in Him.

For the believer the question becomes 'God, I trusted you.  How can you be all loving and all authoritative and do nothing?

The two ladies who were having this discussion are both mature sisters in Christ.  They agree that God is all authoritative, and all loving, but they disagree on how that might look here on earth.  In modern theology there seem to be two points of view.  A-  as a New Testament believer, you can 'name and claim' the things that you desire- or - B-God already has the plan and our actions, faith and prayers do not really do much to affect Him, only to affect us. I believe that BOTH of these theologies are based on half truths.

Again going back to the nature of God, we know that God sees time as we see a book (part of his authority).  He can read the beginning, middle and end of the book, but we see time as if we were a character in that book, we see page 127, then 128 - time unfolds slowly before us revealing many twists and turns along the way.  If as a believer we see turmoil in our lives, illness, job loss, tragedy, should we clench our fists and shake them at the Author, or should be agree with His sovereignty?  Another thought, is there something we could do about it?  Could we have prevented events with more faith, more prayer, more spiritual acts? or is the story written in such a way that nothing we do really matters?

A few things to think about...

God is the same today, yesterday, and forever. New Testament or Old Testament, God is the same. Moses prayed and God changed His mind.  I have prayed the prayer of Moses, and begged God to change His mind and I believe that He did.  Moses came to God and spoke to Him as a friend.  Moses' attitude was not one of resignation to God's ordination of suffering, but one of desperation, claiming through his friendship with God that he could not go on without deliverance. Begging God for this deliverance.  Jesus said 'No one comes to the Father, except through me' so even though Christ had not yet come physically to the Earth, Moses came boldly before the throne of Grace and in his attitude and heart, fully dependent on God, claimed deliverance.  I do not like the theology that has been twisted from this truth, but this is still true.  Moses did not 'name and claim' his deliverance, but deliverance was given to him in part because he understood his own relationship to God and that without God's help, there was no hope.  God clearly changed His mind towards Moses, and this is within His authority.  So Moses' actions did affect God's decision, and so the theology that nothing we do will change God's mind so we must accept everything is clearly false.  We are not ants beneath God's feet, we are His beloved.

Paul prayed for deliverance that never came.  Jesus said that the disciples would do 'even greater works than these' but almost all died gruesome deaths.  God does allow suffering into our lives - check out Job, all the apostles, every prophet - all experienced suffering, all prayed for deliverance, many times deliverance never came.  The most stark example of this is John the Baptist.  John was stuck in jail, facing death, and sent his servants to Jesus to ask - 'Aren't you the Messiah?'  Even John the Baptist had trouble reconciling that Jesus is the Christ, and that he would allow John's beheading.   If there was ever a person who could name it and claim it, it was Elijah (John had the spirit of Elijah) - have YOU ever called down fire?  But after God's power is demonstrated for all to see, Elijah runs away, cries out to God and winds up hiding in a cave.  You see it wasn't that these people did not have faith, it was simply that their lives were pre-ordained.  Paul says that as Christians God preordained us for good works.  God has a plan, submission to this plan is not necessary, it will happen regardless of our approval or designs. 

Is there anything I can say or do to have a better life here on earth?

Yes and No.

No, you will not escape all troubles here on earth, in fact the residents of Sin-ville will pretty much hate you.  No one loves an eternal optimist, no one loves the person who can be calm and joyful in the midst of sorrow.  This strength comes from the knowledge that Christ has redeemed us, redeeming our lives is not a problem for Him.  He is sovereign. The residents of Sin-ville do not understand your behavior, they will think you crazy.... and some will want to know your secret... and then you can tell them.... I am not really a resident of Sin-ville anymore, I am a resident of Heaven.  I am redeemed. This is where name it claim it IS true - in that we have deliverance from sin.  When we are tempted we can escape temptation!  Try saying this the next time you are tempted "Sin is not my master"  Because sin is not your master, if you are a follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells you, you have a NEW master - His yoke is easy and His burden is light, you are no longer a slave. Because we have been slaves for so long, we often fall back into old habits - but we can escape those habits and live with a renewed Spirit.  Recognize your sin, Repent, Reclaim your position - you are not a slave!

Yes, you will escape many of the troubles of Sin-ville.  You have the ability to not sin.  This is foreign to many Christians, but you are NOT a slave to sin.  You CAN resist the devil and he will flee.  Walking in sin has some natural consequences, so when you avoid sin, you avoid the consequences of sin.  Now that you realize that sin is not your master, you can replace that with "Christ is my Hope" and put on the attitude of Christ.  When everyone worries, you wait.  When others stockpile earthly goods, you are storing up treasures in Heaven.  Your priorities are different, your perspective is changing and this isn't because you said a few magical words this morning, or claimed a blessing, it is because Grace and Mercy have been sung over you and woven into your life.   You see the spiritual implications of the physical world and your mind begins to align with the mind of Christ.  Jesus said ask for anything in my name and I will give it to you.  He follows that up with saying that we do not understand, so we don't ask for the things that we should. Aligning your mind with Christ produces a heart like Moses'.  Moses clearly asked for what he should, and received what he needed, not because Moses was Holy, but because he was being remade into the likeness of Christ.  We have been set free from the slavery and oppression of Sin-ville and we need to remember that we wrestle not against flesh and blood - keeping this in mind will help us to recognize and live as people who understand Christ's authority. In addition, as people understanding this authority, we should also accept that the things that come into our lives, while a result of a fallen world, come into our lives with God's full knowledge. 

So then why does God allow suffering? Here are some quotes from someone far more learned than I:

1- “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself” 2-“Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved.” 3-“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” 4-“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.” 5-“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I am going to ask you to use your Holy imagination, picture yourself standing next to God.  It is just the two of you and you are looking down at the book we call time.  You can see all of eternity spread out before you like a map on the table - and you see your own course through time, you see the good and the bad things that entered your life here on earth and you see the ripple of effect that they had throughout your life, your children's lives, your spouses life, your extended family, your close friends, the people that you work and play and worship with, your acquaintances, your facebook friends of friends, even the lady behind you in the checkout line or the man you passed on the street - seeing all of this, and seeing God's action, or non-action, on your behalf.
Should I ever see this,  I believe that I would agree that the joy, the loved ones, the triumphs, as well as the heart break, the tragedy, and even my darkest days, were all worth it, all part of the plan, and that God's plan was good. 

No comments: