I’ve been having a hard time finding words to say. Perhaps it is because I’ve said them before, or perhaps I am just tired. The world now is experiencing what many of us have experienced for years.
Some of us know what it is like to have a debilitating, and perhaps deadly, illness that doctors can’t do anything about.
But I really don’t mean this to be a “I told you so” post, because it isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean it to be a comfort with the same comfort that my wife and I have learned over the years of struggling with isolation and illness.
It has something to do with idols. Where do we turn when we don’t have any answers? Where do we go when we don’t have any strength? Where do we place our trust when the world is upside down.
When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed. That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end. As long as you learn what the Psalmist finally learned:
(Psalm 33:16-22) 16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
17 A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
22 Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee.
Remember all of the money that you spent on conferences? Remember all of the power that you gave your favorite celebrity pastor? Remember the televangelist that promised you that you would be healthy, wealthy and wise?
Remember all the books you bought? The long theological debates that you had online?
Remember when you thought that the person you voted in office would really save you from all your troubles?
All of the times you thought that your righteousness and your own hand would save you?
Just 6 weeks ago, I spoke to someone who told me that these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….
And to a certain extent, we tend to think the same way. These kinds of things happen to others. Not to us.
We are God’s people. We are American Evangelicals! We finally won the cultural wars! We are back in the business of building that “city on the hill” for the whole world to see. The American dream!
Funny how things disappear, isn’t it? Funny how it proves true, over and over again, that we are but dust. Like the flowers of the field, we fade and die.
And God sends things to remind us that the greatest assets that men and women have – wisdom, righteousnesses, social charity, cultural wars, armies, battleships, money, power, institutions (even “Christian” ones) – will all fade and die and be forgotten. One tiny virus brings the world of men to its knees, until the Keeper of Time says, “stop now”.
It is interesting how and illness that no one can do anything about can change our perspective.
And why is this? Because God will never give his glory to another.
So here is the comfort. God has ways of stripping away our trust in horses, armies, kings, medicine, doctors, politicians, elections, church leaders, celebrities.
And the purpose for all of it is for us to finally fall on our knees and say, “Our soul waits upon the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”
We can’t even get toilet paper unless he decrees it. And that is a wonderful thing, for he is good and his lovingkindness is forever.
We hope in YOUR lovingkindness, O Lord. Remember us, for the sake of Christ. He is our help and our shield.
22 responses to “What to say?”
Good post. Holy smokes though are there really people out there who think ” these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….”
That statement, that belief is infuriating , naive, stupid, self righteous, and oh so very arrogant. I am going to just have to stumble over that all day.
I know you don’t lie, so it’s not that I don’t believe you at all but how can someone actually think like that? What in the world have they been feeding on for years to make that seed sprout, grow and propagate? It’s like a comment from the 19th century.
There really are. I, unfortunately, know many of them…
“That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end.”
Well said, Sam! I am genuinely grateful for my struggles and have been for quite some time now. Of course, I’m not dealing with excruciating physical pain, so that makes a huge difference on my outlook! But I mean the emotional and spiritual pain, the grief and unforgiveness, the anger and despair. God is good, indeed, if we can just fix our eyes on Him! He is trustworthy too, and faithful. He will never leave you.
“God sends things to remind us…[that He] will never give his glory to another.” And the purpose of this is to make us fall on our knees and seek comfort from the one who stood by and allowed the suffering to begin with?
Christians so often talk about God the way abused wives talk about their abusers. “Yes, he hurts me, but I am sinful and deserve it. And he always says he loves me after.”
Why does God care so much about his own glory that he forces unspeakable suffering on the human race in order extract praise from them by “miraculously” fixing the very problems that he created in the first place? When a human acts that way, we call them a narcissist. Or a psychopath.
I know the argument that “whatever evil he sends upon us in this veil of tears he will turn to my good.” But isn’t that just an excuse? Isn’t that just a way to rationalize the cognitive dissonance that comes from worshiping a God who claims to be loving in spite of so much evidence to the contrary?
These questions might sound irreverent, but they are genuine. I’m open to any explanation that doesn’t require mental gymnastics or blind faith to accept.
When we think of God as a creature, we get into all these kinds of problems.
But God is not a creature.
I’ll try to explain – with creatures, we can be good and kind, ugly or beautiful, unkind or bad, and we know the difference.
We long for beauty, goodness, love, acceptance…
But the reality is this – there is no such thing as goodness and beauty and love apart from God, and we sit in judgment over God as if he were a creature.
When I say, bow before him – I do not mean to gratify his ego, as if he were a creature – I meant to finally find what we are longing for – beauty, goodness, light, purity, acceptance.
It can’t be found anywhere else.
As for the suffering in the world, I can’t explain all of it, any more than I can explain all the beauty and purity. I know that what I see on this earth is only a small taste of what I long for.
so I can either deny that God exists, and then this world is all that there is and we are governed by chance, fate, and suffering. I wasn’t made that way. No one was. We were made to long for beauty and order.
In other words, once we understand it, we were made to be in God’s presence.
It is the only place where beauty and order is.
Beauty, order, love, are not abstract things that God and man both participate in. Beauty, order and love are God. Love is God and God is love. We long for love, but we hate God and flee from him and wonder why we don’t have love.
We long for goodness and beauty, but we hate God and flee from him and wonder why we are suffering.
This is what I mean….
It is so engrained in us to think of God as a creature, that we don’t understand it.
But maybe an example will help.
Light is a good thing. But suppose that there is a insect who hates the light and runs away from it. he scurries under the rock to get away from the light.
The insect then blames the light for all of the darkness under the rock.
But the light loves the insect and wants the insect to come out from under the rock. But instead, the insect simply states that there is no such thing as light, because if there were light there wouldn’t be darkness under the rock.
Think of that example with the blog post I wrote.
We look for health and safety and love and assurance, security in the future – while at the same time hiding under the rock of other humans, politicians, doctors, governments, church leaders – if they do not know God, they do not know the light. If they pretend to be light themselves, they do not know the light. And so many of them promise light, but they do not know God so they do not know the light. There is only one light, and that light is God. he came to the world to give light to the world. Jesus became flesh to bring us out of the darkness into the light.
Suffering, sickness, pain, this “vale of tears” that we are in, is simply the reality of living outside of God’s presence. It cannot be otherwise. Mankind as a whole has been banished from the presence of God.
But God is also using those things to show us that all of those things we trust in are simply rocks keeping us from the light.
Come out of hiding. Come to the light. It hurts like the dickens when you are first exposed, but it changes you completely and you will be free at last.
He does not force suffering on the human race. The human race, as a whole, rejected him. They scurried under the rock and then blamed the light for the darkness.
Praise is when we finally come out from under the rock.
There is the nutshell. Of course there is a lot involved. Thank you for asking.
I will answer any other questions that I can.
Thank you for your detailed answer. Your explanation of God’s relationship to beauty and love is helpful. I guess I haven’t thought of God that way in a long time. I have no argument against the total depravity of humans and our separation from the attributes you apply to God. I just don’t necessarily believe that the Christian God is the answer to it all.
In order to believe it in the Christian God you have to have faith. And faith is a “certain knowledge and hearty trust” in salvation granted by God. The thing is, it’s really hard to have either knowledge or trust when God has left so many questions unanswered. I don’t know why he would create rational, curious beings and then leave so much about the Bible, Jesus, and metaphysics up to shoddy guesswork. When you’re a curious person like me, that makes the knowledge side of faith pretty difficult.
The trust part is also hard partly because of the sheer volume of suffering that has happened over the course of human history and because of the minuscule number of humans that actually have salvation throughout the course of history. If it takes faith in the Judeo-Christian God to be saved, there are billions of humans throughout time who never had a chance to have faith in God based on the time and geographic location of their existence. If God is the source of all things good and loving and if he really is all-powerful, why would he doom so many? For example, if you’ve got two kids in a burning house and you are able to carry both of them out, why wouldn’t you save both? Any parent that left one behind to burn would be a criminal. It’s hard to trust a God who seemingly indiscriminately dooms billions of humans.
I’ve been in the light before. I loved the light. I had peace and felt joy in the light. I learned everything I could about the light. The light got me through some really hard times.
But at some point I ended up with more questions than answers. Doubt and faith fought for years and doubt won.
I don’t even know why I’m asking these questions here and now. A blog post isn’t really the place to get into this mess. I guess I’ve just realized that you miss your faith the most in the moments where it used to be there–moments of crisis like this when there used to be some greater purpose behind it all, when you used to have somewhere to go.
It strips away much of the hubris. Same with so much of the dishonesty that is touted today. When push comes to shove, eugenics gets enacted. The poor will suffer the worst outcomes and suffer the most. The rich will go on relatively untouched. But some of the pretense is at least gone now.
Eugenics is being enacted. Someone circulated the ethical guidance for doctors from NYC about who to save and if a person is disabled and another needs a ventilator, they’ll pull it and let the disabled die, while the abled is given their ventilator. Utilitarianism is a decent principle, but what will play out in reality is eugenics.
The wealthy are safeguarded to a large degree. This might seem to be a big deal but it’s nothing compared to actual war. The elites have multiple homes. Some have bunkers. Either way, they can afford to buy $800 masks and their own ventilators and on-call doctors.
The person who made the comment about it being “other countries” doesn’t understand nor appreciate poverty. When there is no money, there is no money. Lack housing in another country? Slums might afford you some shelter. Better than the streets. Much of India’s population still lacks toilets. Running water is shared by whole communities of people in many impoverished countries. It’s not like there is an abundance of free hygiene products being dispensed on every corner, proper sanitation and a wealth of good, nutritious food to be consumed and they opt out of such. Not so.
I feel for those who are vulnerable. This crisis makes them even more vulnerable. I worry about the medical bills. Most of the U.S. population is but one crisis away from bankruptcy — be it a major car accident, unexpected disability, or staying on a ventilator in the ICU for three weeks because of COVID-19. One unexpected job loss away from homelessness.
Perhaps indeed we can all become freshly reminded of what matters in life, and to invest in caring for each other and shunning all excesses. Live a simple life and send your extra money to missionaries all over the world. Live way below your means and send the excess money to destitute people around the world. Help them have clean drinking water that doesn’t require walking miles each day to get. Help them have solar electricity to power a lightbulb inside so the family doesn’t get sick from using a kerosene lamp to do homework and see in their shack after-dark. Send money to buy bars of soap for everyone in a particular slum. The need is there. Not everyone has the privilege of choice.
I think what is especially hard about these deaths is the inability of the family to be there with their loved one in their final days and moments. Thankfully, children of God know we have heaven to be together again with our loved ones. And thanks be to our Savior for affording us such. Heavenward we go.
Imagine if we did not know Christ. Perhaps, then, this pandemic would be even more scary. Perhaps, perhaps not. Most non-Christians I’ve known are confident in their belief that this life is all there is. Some acknowledge there might be an after-life, but they assume they’ll fare well, as though there is no such thing as hell. I don’t know how they live as such, but they do.
Thanks for this, Pastor. This really brought tears to my eyes.
I can imagine people looking to pastors or politicians and begging one or both to “say something, do something” that will make this all go away, or make it right.
In more peaceful times, we might scoff at those very persons we are now looking to: they think they know everything. They think they can fix everything. Ha!
So the title to this post meant a great deal. You of course had a LOT to say, all of it helpful even if it’s hard to put words to.
“When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed.”
God’s people in the Old Testament would sin, be judged, cry out to Him, He’d deliver them, and the cycle would start all over again. In easy times, they felt no need, so they saw no need to cry out to Him. In hard times, they felt every need, especially the need to cry out to Him.
There is so much to dig into in Psalm 121. It is so simple, so pure and so honest. It says so much in just a few sentences.
Psalm 121 A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
In times like this, you are either physically or emotionally weak, so you lean on Him. But you also LEARN from Him as you LEAN on Him:
You learn to love what He loves: people
You learn to hate what He hates: the pain that people are in
You learn to ask for His heart: Help me help people, who you love, who are in pain.
As for the fear of a lack of toilet paper, maybe a current day paraphrasing of Matthew 6:26 (you are of more worth than sparrows) might be encouraging:
He who promises to save your butt will make sure you can wipe it as well.
If that is offensive to you Pastor, please don’t include it. I meant no crudeness in it but I understand that others might feel differently!
Thank you Pastor Powell, for continuing to be a refuge in this world! I love coming here to “eat and drink” – and appreciate the time, thought and wisdom that you put into everything you post.
I wanted to respond to Megan, just a little. Megan, I can understand your questioning everything, it’s a sign of a healthy awareness of life and life’s meaning. God doesn’t turn away from questioners – He isn’t a “just because I say so” God.
If I can shift the paradigm slightly, however, in my life questioning has been a luxury, it means that many things that I’m taking for granted, are going well. If you’re adrift in the ocean because you’ve suffered a shipwreck, and the sharks are circling, you tend to lose a little of the philosophical privilege that these questions entail, and they suddenly become horribly urgent.
Again, speaking personally, my life has lost a great deal of philosophical privilege. And I’ve learned to spend a lot of time in the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a place where God in human flesh wrestled with God’s plans in heaven. It was agonizing. It was raw and it was real. I’ve learned to look at Christ before I make judgements about “God” – because that’s who God is. It also encourages me that when I struggle here on this planet, the struggle is real. It isn’t just something that disappears when you reach a higher level of Christian Spiritual Actualization (to borrow from Maslow.)
Sometimes I think the watching world seeks a false binary view of looking at God – “if this, then that” – without realising that there are real tensions that God expresses about the way the world is, and the fact that it continues on. One of the tensions we get to wrestle with is God’s sovereignty and man’s culpability. You really do get to make genuine choices. Something that I’ve found encouraging is doing a Bible study on compassion, love and mercy. I found that they’re even more important to God than they are to me.
All that to say, we can’t understand God without looking long and hard at the Person, work and heart of Jesus Christ. God also said that this world and it’s suffering are only for a time. It will come to and end, it is not an end in itself. Timothy Keller loves quoting Tolkien – “one day everything sad is going to come untrue.”
I can’t answer all of your questions, but when I leave a Christian paradigm behind, they become more, not less troubling to me. I don’t know if you’ve read Timothy Keller’s “The Reason for God”? You may find him a good place to bounce some of your thoughts off.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’ve been incredibly honest about your doubts. I truly do respect your honesty.
May you find what you are looking for!
Hi, I appreciate your thoughtful perspective and personal experience. I think you’re right about the element of privilege involved in these types of questions. I had these doubts for years, but I didn’t confront them because I didn’t have the physical or emotional energy to deal with it (no one talks about how exhausting losing your faith is). Now, my life is in a fairly good place, so I have the luxury of time and energy to try to figure out what the heck is actually going on in the universe.
I think what is difficult for me is the ways that actions and words in the Bible so often seem out of sync. For example, you have all of these beautiful stories about Jesus with the Woman at the Well or with disabled people and impoverished people and you start thinking “maybe God really does care for humans.” And then you read a story about God ordering the brutal annihilation of every man, woman, and child in Jericho and it all falls apart. There’s a lot of passages in the psalms talking about God’s love and his mercy, and then there are passages of utter violence and misery where God orders his people to inflict pain on others. It’s not like these moments are just sinful people fulfilling their role as sinners. These are God’s people fulfilling God’s orders to murder others. How is everyone okay with that?
Like right now, if a guy on the street says that God told them to kill a person or a race of people, everyone thinks they’re crazy. But that happened on a daily basis in ancient Israel and everyone was/is fine with it.
I’ve read “The Reason for God” and a bunch of Rachel Held Evans’s work along with secular texts like “How Jesus became God” and listened to podcasts from just about every side of the spectrum.
I want to believe. I really do. But I can’t turn a blind eye to all of the rocks I’ve been stumbling over. And the thing is that my questions aren’t new. They’re all as old as the Bible itself. No one has figured them out yet, so I doubt I’ll be the first.
But in spite of my own experiences, I do enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives and how faith works for them. I think it’s beautiful.
Actually, I have a question, if you don’t mind. At the end of the day, when you’re in the Garden of Gethsemane wrestling with God, why do you keep believing? What is it that keeps you from giving up or giving in? What is it that fills in all of the missing pieces in the puzzle and lets you see the big picture?
Hi Megan,I’m reminded of the exchange between Jesus and and Peter in John 6:66-69. After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.So Jesus said to the twelve “ do you want to go away as well?”Simon Peter answered him “Lord,to whom shall we go?You have the words of eternal life,and we have believed,and have come to know,that you are the Holy One of God”. Ultimate reality and truth is found no where else,Megan.Your loving Heavenly Father is waiting and watching to catch a glimpse of his precious daughter returning and he will run to meet you with open arms.I have experienced this myself as a young woman who thought a guy was worth walking away from the Lord for.There are no real answers anywhere else,Megan.I sense you know this on some level.It is always our stubborn pride that blocks the flow of Gods mercy and grace.It is always our humble plea “ Lord,have mercy on me,a sinner” that returns us to our position of His dependent children.Praying for you dear sister,Janice
Those are great questions, Megan. I got swamped so I can’t answer them right now, but give me a couple of days, and I will answer.
First, to answer your last question, I have had the gethsemane experience – quite frequently, as it happens.
And what keeps me going is knowing that the only one who can give me hope and joy and peace and rest is the one that is wrestling with me. So, like Jacob, I say to him, “I won’t let go until you bless me.”
The alternative is that there is no such thing as rest and peace and joy.
the fact is that this world has death and pain and misery and all of the things that you have listed. You are exactly right.
And only the God of Christianity became flesh to take it all upon himself so that we might live. The only alternative is if we all end up like Sodom and Gomorrah, as Isaiah said.
Where else will we find peace? Where will we find that rest?
What God carries us like the God of Israel? Where else will we find forgiveness of sins and absolution without God denying his own goodness and justice?
“Where else will we go? You have the words of eternal life?
That is what it comes down to. I know that this earth is under a curse and it is our fault it is under a curse. And I know that it will be redeemed on day. THAT is where my hope is, not here.
And to answer the other things – you are obviously very familiar with the Heidelberg, and the RCUS version of it. So if you know that, you also know how to get a hold of me. You can do that any time and we can talk these things through.
But you are misunderstanding the nature of sin and its corruption. Today, because of the work of Christ and God’s love for the world, God has restrained the wickedness of the world so that it is not as bad as it could be. yes, we see all sorts of problems, but nothing like the past.
Think about this – 2000 years ago, men, women, children watched roman soldiers crucify “criminals” on the sides of the roads by the hundreds. It was a common sight, and they turned it into a game.
In the arenas, slaves would be tortured in front of thousands who delighted in watching it and betting on it. We cannot even imagine that.
Can you imagine being in an arena, going through that without ONE person even blanching at it?
And Rome was civilized, compared to the rest of the world.
Today, God has restrained that evil. Satan has been bound so that the gospel can be proclaimed. It is the last hope, the last promise held out to man before judgment comes. Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved.
Ever once in a while, God gives us glimpses of what mankind can be like when he removes that restraint – he shows us the underbelly of what total depravity actually is. We could go to the ovens at Auschwitz, but that is the obvious one. Let’s stick closer to home.
just 300 years ago, in New York, a black man was arrested for trying to escape slavery.
He was tied to a huge wheel – publicly, in front of all those good Dutch Reformed and English Presbyterian people – and the executioner broke every bone in his body and left him there to die, publicly, in agony. The rest of the captured slaves were burned alive.
How hardened do you have to be to watch people go through that?
This is what happens when God removes the restraint. This is also what happens when “iniquity is complete” like it was with Jericho. God gave them 430 years from the time of Abraham, and then it was complete.
We cannot even imagine the horrors of life in Jericho, but God knew.
He didn’t order the slaughter of just regular joes who were doing the best that they could. He ordered the avenging of innocent blood, justice on the oppressor, cleansing of wickedness that we can’t even imagine.
Your example of the two brothers – where God chooses one and rejects the other, and how that is not fair…I understand, but you are misunderstanding the nature of depravity.
God’s election isn’t between two pretty good people who are doing the best they can. Think about your own thoughts. If every single thought that you ever had was actually acted on, would people consider you a pretty good person? Be honest.
This is why I am a Christian. Because I know what hope there is in the flesh. The “two brothers” in your example aren’t average Joes in reality. They are rapists, pedophiles, murderers, torturers, abusers, killers – How easily are whole societies turned into Nazi Germany?
Given the right motive, everyone is a murderer. I know that this is a cynical view of human nature, but it is proven over and over again int eh history of the world. If God does not restrain us through tyranny, disease, war, famine, law and order, fear, natural disaster – then we would all be Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Ancient Rome, Assyria. We would be standing in the crowd shouting “Crucify him” because everyone else is. We would be cheering and voting on who is going to get eaten first, or beg for mercy first in the arena, and laughing while collecting our winnings.
THAT is human nature.
And the fact that God has not cast every single one of us into hell is a testament to HIS mercy, not my goodness.
The fact that I can believe at all is a testament to him, not me.
That is why I am a christian. Because I believe in hope, and there isn’t any anywhere else in the world.
I’m sorry not to have replied sooner, I have limitations on my time on this end. I see that Pastor Powell has said he will be speaking soon, and I’m not going to be able to do better than him in answering you, but as you addressed me, I do want to respond to you.
I see in you someone who wants to know that there is truly love and justice active in this world. Not just the idea – a metaphysical security blanket, but truly.
Before I give you a personal perspective, I want to ask you a few questions. The kind of questions that we sometimes forget to ask when we’re in our own heads. I don’t like being confrontational, so these aren’t offered in that spirit. I just ask that when you’re pondering, you consider adding these perspectives.
My first question is whether the Bible says that the Old Testament killings were indeed a daily occurrence? (The answer is no). So we have to deal with what they were, and were not. I also want to ask, does your aversion to the Old Testament killings, mean that you march/write on D-Day to protest Allied involvement in the Second World War? Particularly the Allied invasions of foreign lands, or the strafing runs over Germany where woman and children were indeed killed? By the end of the war the Allied soldiers found themselves in shootouts with children from the German camp (https://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/hitleryouth/hj-boy-soldiers.htm).
We often forget that the Nazi campaign was as much a spiritual quest as a military one. The desire for “pure blood” resulted in the Lebensborn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensborn) and the kidnapping and killing of many European children. The castle at Wewelsburg was the center of Nazi cultic practice and ideology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wewelsburg).
So my first question is, was it possible for the world to live at peace with the Nazi war machine? Should it have loved harder? Trusted more? Trusted in natural selection? Can you understand that the Nazi mind viewed life, death and meaning in completely different ways from what is now a standard North American view? They had a religious zeal behind what they were trying to achieve and a driving need to achieve it?
What were the world’s options when Hitler took to the march? How do you justify the killing of the children in WWII through Allied involvement? What about people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was involved in planning an assassination on Hitler, in an attempt to stem the madness. Is he a good guy or a bad guy?
What do you base your opinion of good or bad on? What is your definition of evil? What ultimate source do you go to to defend this position? Where does your position come from? Have you questioned the cultural milieu that helped you to form it? Can you understand that there are genuinely cultures that exist today, that would not understand what is obvious to you, living in North America? That there are cultures that would hold in aversion, things you consider good?
Do you think living in a country that had actually experienced hostile foreign occupation, or strafing runs that had obliterated cities and towns, would this affect your viewpoint? (Again, not having experienced these things, even in a country’s historical inheritance, gives a degree of philosophical luxury to an enquirer.)
Have you ever studied the Cananites? What was their mindset like? Were they truly like the guy on the other side of the street from you in North America right now? Did God indeed command regular wholesale slaughter? (I offer this to help with some answers to those questions: https://www.bethinking.org/bible/old-testament-mass-killings).
In the Old Testament, God was setting up Israel to be a light to the nations. Not a nation of “pure blood” (look how many ‘gentiles’ made it into Jesus’ genealogy!) Israel was meant to be a place of peace and security – where people didn’t murder, steal, lie and cheat one another. They were meant to share and show others what they had – and extend an invitation to others to become a part of it. They were never meant to be exclusive. Annihilating other nations (especially ethnically) wasn’t part of the larger mandate. It was something we find shocking (yes, I do too) that occurred for a brief time – and it had a specific purpose. Apparently God’s plan for Israel and for the peace and prospering He was encouraging, couldn’t co-exist with the outlook of the Cananites. I have chosen to trust that the Author of justice, really was there, and understood – much better than me, what was at stake. Just as I believe that the decisions made to fight WWII were made by people who were closer to the time and more intimately involved with the details that I can ever be. Even though those decision makers were fallible, I think they understood better than I ever can, what was happening. And yet, my heart still hurts and shrinks away from all the suffering of that time!
Another useful exercise, is to go back and look at the story of Jonah. Then take a walk through the British Museum looking at the remains of ancient Assyria. My bringing the Nazi’s into the conversation may seem rather well timed, after that walk. Yet God sent Jonah to preach *mercy* to them. Jonah was so horrified that he ran away – quite literally. He KNEW what they were, what they had done and what they were capable of. He wanted them to answer for their crimes, not gain mercy. I think when you’ve weighed up what he was faced with, Jonah gets rough press. After God. (And curiously, I’ve never heard people complaining about God letting the Ninevites off at this time. I guess that means they never lost a personal family member to the Ninevites cruelty?)
A last note. A look back at the OT shows a God who judged Israel and warned her when she stopped caring about widows and orphans, stopped practicing justice, started using false weights and measures – when we look at a full picture, we don’t find a megalomaniac. The ones who received a mighty condemnation during Jesus’ time on earth were not the prostitutes and thieves, but the Scribes and Pharisees – the ones who claimed to know God and yet had no compassion. The Pharisees fell in love with the human effort and showmanship that they could reap from the standards God set, while rejecting the nature of the God who had given those standards. Christ wasted no time on them at all. The lives of God’s people were meant to be rooted in the standards and practices set out by a God who didn’t need the people’s praise to make more of Himself. But a God who *IS* perfect love, justice and mercy. He doesn’t appeal to a standard outside of Himself. He IS by His nature, the standard. When we love goodness, we are naturally seeking the nature of God. Ultimately we aren’t called to *keep* a standard to prove our worthiness – but to LOVE the standard setter. When we do this, we will desire to keep the standards naturally. We will LOVE justice. LOVE mercy. We will hate cruelty, we will hate indifference to the plight of the less fortunate. (And it will distress us when we discover these things still lurking in ourselves.) We can never reach the standard on our own strength – so God gave Christ. The One who kept the standard for us, on our behalf. (Which is the gospel.)
And on some level, something in us desires God’s standards naturally. I see this in your quest for love and justice. You’re already wired to know when things appear to not be fair. But we need to stop and ask – where on earth does that come from?
You asked for a personal note: I’m on my raft out in the ocean blue, my ship has sunk and the sharks are circling. I’ve had a tough life. Moments before I breathe my last – I ask : “What was it all about?” Was my mother simply “expressing herself, in her own personal way” when she beat me (something she did regularly) and what if the bruises lasted more than 6 weeks? When my husband dismantled my personhood – was that also just freedom of expression? When a pastor who definitively called what I was experiencing abusive, then took a monetary bribe from my abuser to look the other way – was he just a clever man, making his way in this world? Was any of this actually WRONG? Did I just get a rough deal from the universe? Am I just stupid? Is my problem that I don’t like pain and if I just learned to embrace pain and not desire peace and goodness, I’d experience a degree of personal rest, through personal annihilation?
Is there any actual wrong in the world? What do we base our opinion of that on? When I don’t like the way something is, is that just a problem with me, or is it something more deep rooted than that?
And will my life continue to have meaning after the sharks have had lunch?
So I go to Gethsemane, where I learn to grieve the way things are. To lament that the world works this way. To lean in to the One who ultimately promises to put things right. I can imagine no other way.
Blessings to you Megan!
Again, I pray that you find what you are looking for.
Thank you for taking the time to find those articles. The one from bethinking.org was particularly helpful. It wasn’t blase like some of the other articles I’ve read on the same topic, and it helped open up a new narrative of God’s work in Israel that I hadn’t considered.
I think the heart of our conversation is really centered on where we get our standard of right and wrong from. After reading Keller’s “The Reason for God,” I thought about that question a lot because he covers it pretty thoroughly in his book. You’re totally right that people from other cultures would have very different values on good and evil than you or I do. The fact that we all have this inclination to place moral value on behaviors, could be an indication that there exists a universal standard of truth and love, which could be God. But moral values could also be an evolutionary survival mechanism by which we establish cultural norms and place values on behaviors that ensure community bonding and survival (i.e. murder is wrong because that reduces our population, angers others, and creates division in the community). That would explain why every culture has a different moral code, because they have developed in different environments with different social variables and demands.
Of course, you’ll argue that if that’s the case, then who’s to say which moral code is better than another? In my scenario, we only feel like something is wrong because our culture conditioned us to feel that it’s wrong, not because there is an objective standard of right and wrong. So if one culture decides that rape is okay, then no one can tell them otherwise. You’ll then probably argue that if you carry that to its logical conclusion, it’s a depressing view. And I would respond that you’re right; it is depressing. But just because something is depressing, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
There’s weaknesses to my moral-relativity argument too, and I’m not saying I’m entirely sold on it, but I’m hesitant to take the “I-can’t-explain-why-we-have-this-moral-instinct-so-it-must-be-God” approach.
I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t want to believe in the Gospel just because the idea is comforting and explains the unexplainable. Maybe there isn’t any bigger plan behind everything and humans have constructed the idea of a loving God and salvation in order cope with the absolute mess that we’re all stuck in. Total depravity is the only doctrine that I have never questioned.
But part of the reason I feel this way is because I became a believer at a time when I was at one of my lowest points. I know other people with similar stories and I wonder if maybe what we experienced was the placebo effect: we felt peace and joy because we believed we would feel peace and joy. Maybe in those lonely moments my brain used the concept of God to generate feelings of warmth and love as a survival tool to get me through the dark times. There’s no way to know.
Anyways, I usually stop myself when I get to this point in the rabbit hole because the second you begin to distrust your perception and feelings you start to feel/sound really insane.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, knowledge, and perspective. Even though I keep pushing back on your arguments, you’ve given me a lot to think about. After years of trying to tread water in this ocean of questions, I had just about stopped swimming. But I suppose I can keep my head above water a little longer.
Excellent response. That you for that
Firstly, even though there is the Covid crisis, I’d like to give you an internet hug – from a socially acceptable, non-contacting distance 🙂
Again, what comes through to me, reading your response is that you’re not just a skeptic playing a game (the problem with too many skeptics I’ve encountered, is that they love questioning – but seldom question their own position). You’re a wrestler. I respect that.
I agree that the way I posed the narrative focused on where we get our ideas of right and wrong – it’s one way to approach the God/morality question. And you’ve been honest enough to respond that maybe you believe that our moral constructs are socially conditioned. You’re also honest enough to say that it’s a tough position to hold. I agree. You have to have a sense of fatalism to hold it really well.
From your position the answer to my questions about my mother, husband and pastor – are really “no”. They didn’t do actually do anything wrong. They only did things I didn’t like. The only “wrongness” involved, was that our culture frowns on cruelty and lack of integrity. (Actually, the culture I grew up in was a lot less vocal about child abuse than the present cultural climate is. Which means that what she did wasn’t really wrong at all.)
Let me tell you a story about a woman (I’ve lived on 3 continents so far) whom I knew in Africa. She was pregnant and at the time of her delivery, various female relatives came to stay with her. She delivered at home. She gave birth to two beautiful, healthy babies. Within a day, she was sent out to fetch water and her heart sank. She didn’t want to go. She knew what was coming and she wanted to prevent it with all her heart. But she didn’t feel like she had a choice. (Culture!) When she returned to the house only one baby was lying where the two had been. She was never allowed to know who had strangled her second child or where it was buried. In her culture, only one twin is allowed to live. I can’t even describe her grief to you. Just her tough luck?
Megan, from the moral relativity position, you cannot hold an honest moral position on the holocaust, child prostitution, slavery, sex trafficking, Isis beheadings, ritual incest or torture. Are you honest enough to say that you can continue to hold that position when it leaves being “out there” in other countries, and the culture changes for you in North America? When you watch movies like “The Dark Knight” do you really not root for either Batman or the Joker? They’re both hold equally valid worldviews and the only interest in watching, is to see who wins? (I didn’t pick this movie at random, Joker is self reflectively moral – in some respects he would represent the system you’ve posited.) Or (as someone else once asked) in your view when a busload of children goes off the road and they’re all killed, and it’s later reported as a tragedy, is the tragedy the dead children – or the loss of the bus? (Remember Dawkins – “DNA neither knows or cares”.)
Again, I hope I’m pushing questions for your own internal narrative, I’m not just trying to fling mud, or make you feel uncomfortable because it gratifies me.
Why is it that so few people (do any?) seek therapy because they’re just so darn happy they can’t figure out how to do life any more? Why, if evolution is true, are people struggling so much with change, tragedy, loss, guilt, sadness, grief? Surely in a world where the survival of the fittest is the rule of life, our capacity to adapt to ferocious, traumatic, life changing events would far outweigh our desire for peace and happiness? Or was Brad Hambrick right (http://bradhambrick.com/blog/) when he said that we were created for joy in harmonious relationships (Eden). We actually lack the ability to process and manage trauma. We don’t even have an internal “folder” for it. Why when people reach a point of not caring any more, and being able to inflict horrible damage on one another without flinching do we call them psychopaths? In actuality, aren’t they really the most evolved and well grounded among us?
I cannot reach out to you, dear soul, and give you the proof that you desire to show you once and for all, that God is there. I can only say that every culture, throughout time has developed stories and mythology in an effort to look past the trappings of their earthly existence, longing for something more. Why?
In many of the religious stories we get from other cultures (present and past), we hear that the race belongs to swift, the best soldier, the best hunter, the most giving person, the most mysteriously spiritual. The gods people have served have been capricious, changeable, bribe-able, and often impersonal.
Only one God claimed to enrich all and yet be enriched by none. Only one chose to die for the utterly lost, instead of making endless demands and bestowing rewards for the most worthy. He claimed to come to earth where both secular and Biblical scholars record Him. (https://www.bethinking.org/jesus/real-person). So Jesus was real. The things He claimed were real. The fact that His disciples watched Him being tortured to death, and then took to hiding themselves is real. But something happened that brought them out of hiding, made them preach publicly and then go on to face deaths that were in many cases similar to Christ’s. This also is real. (I guess a resurrection can do that?) There is a lot of tangible evidence to support the resurrection too.
In other words, one God left a trail of undeniable proof, if you care to follow it. And if you do pick up a Bible again, try reading it “backwards”. Start with Jesus, because Colossians tells us that is what it’s all for and all about:
He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation. For
by Him all things were created that
are in heaven and that are on earth,
…All things were created through Him
and for Him. And He is before all things,
and in Him all things consist. (Col 1v15-17)
Also, next time you see a verse in the Bible where God says “I will not give my glory to another!” maybe try understanding it in a slightly different way: “I won’t deny the beauty of My Son to make much of something that is not worthy of it!” (The Son and Spirit would say the same of one another and the Father.) There is more to the verse than this, but coming from an abusive background, I found this perspective deeply helpful.
No religion is worth holding onto simply because it makes you feel better, makes you feel more at peace. That’s similar to the trauma response of dissociation – which can save your mind in a trial, but ultimately is not helpful. We absolutely need to press on to find out what is true.
God has indeed left us provable evidence that stands up to scrutiny. Maybe start there?
I love your soul (not very evolutionarily advanced of me 🙂
I am praying for you.
You’ve been very generous with the time and energy you’ve put into this conversation. It’s been nice to have a genuine conversation that’s not just me debating myself. Virtual hugs right back at you.
I don’t know what else to say. I could keep finding points and questions to poke at forever. At some point it’s going to all come together and make sense for me or it’s not.
Either way, you’ve given me a lot of resources to add to my reading list and plenty of things to think about.
I wish you the best.
Megan, I absolutely wish you the best also.
I pray that your “coming together” one day is beautiful.
Hugs, internet friend.
I agree that everyone, including myself, is prone by nature to hate God and their neighbor. And I know that the Bible says that there is none righteous and all deserve death. But certainly there’s a spectrum to it? If you believe that any and all sin deserves deserves equal eternal punishment then that means that Hitler and Anne Frank are both in hell together. That means that the man tortured to death on the wheel is suffering right alongside his tormentors if he wasn’t a believer. Where is the justice in that?
I get that God didn’t have to save any of us and we should be grateful for our salvation, but it’s really hard to feel grateful when I look the end results of it all. Referring to Just…K’s story above about the babies–sometimes if feels like God is more like the woman who saved one baby and killed the other than the mother mourning her lost child.
What am I missing here?
If all received equal punishment, that would not at all be just. And God is always perfectly just.
I don’t know how God will judge the world with perfect justice because no human can possibly have the wisdom to judge everything perfectly without making one error or one regretful decision.
But God is perfectly wise, perfectly good, and perfectly just.
I do not sit in judgment on him, because I am not perfectly wise, or perfectly good. But I know he will judge me – even down to the thoughts and intents of my heart.
For this reason I am very thankful for the sacrifice of Christ. There is no hope without it.
I do not believe that all punishment is equal. But I do believe that hatred of God results in eternal separation from him, and that this is just.
They way I see it is this: either there is no justice at all, or there is perfect justice that has not yet been administered. Because if this is all there is, then there can be no such thing as justice at all. That’s a world I can’t live in.
But if perfect justice is administered eventually, we are all in trouble – not just the “bad guys”, but all of us.
Only Christianity gives any kind of hope – for all who long for justice AND for all who long for absolution.
I hope you find what you are looking for. No matter how you look at it, there is injustice, violence, oppression, etc.
Only in Christ can I make any sense of it at all, which is why I am a Christian. But being a Christian doesn’t mean I am no longer human. I am still an imperfect judge. I still don’t see everything. I still don’t have perfect wisdom and insight. And I still don’t have the solutions to every issue.
But I know the One who has promised to wipe away every tear and remove this curse from us, and I would urge you to bend the knee as well. It is the only way to make sense of any of this.