PAIN FROM THE CRUCIFIED ONE: THINK RIGHTLY ABOUT GOD

full_memorize-the-mind-of-godWhat you say or leave unsaid about God is very important because it determines the kind of thought you entertain about Him in the minds of people.

It is rather unfortunate that we have substituted the true concept of God with a very deplorable one. I don’t want to sound judgmental here but I will speak my mind just as it is. Many a time we answer wrongly to the question, ‘Who is God’ or ‘What is God like?’ I’m not trying to say we have Him all figured out or something of that sort. My point is our description of God even with the knowledge He’s made known to us is nowhere close to who He really is. We start with this error and simply get our basic understanding wrong. Can you guess the kind of damage we cause in the end? We corrupt everyone and everything else.

It therefore does not surprise me when people say God does not exist in a world full of evil and suffering. ‘Evil’ is not an easy term to define in the first place but I think I like how Dr. Ravi Zacharias puts it. He says that evil is the violation of one’s purpose. So that in our case, evil does exist because man once violated his true purpose which is to reflect God’s glory. It is by man’s rebellion against God that has caused such great consequences not only to the whole human race but to the natural world itself.

I may understand if we clench our fists towards heaven and say, ‘Why me, Lord?’. Pain is not an abstract entity; it is very real that is why it’s a question raised by real human beings in a real world. Once you become a victim, you move into the position of asking why it had to be you. But to deny God’s existence altogether because of a wrong misconception about Him that I would say is a very serious problem. Talking about misconception, I know many great writers have written extensively on this subject matter but I want to share my thoughts briefly on the epicurean paradox too.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.

YES, He is willing. YES, He is more than able. Oh YES, He is Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent (All-good). I wish I could leave the answer just like that and move on to something else. Yeah I know. I couldn’t just say this without any reasonable backings so I will do so right now.

I want to start by saying that I don’t have a complete answer to the problem of evil. That’s the truth. I don’t.  However, I believe there are some necessary things we need to know first before we can make any further progress on this topic.

Just as scripture describes God as an all-powerful Being, it also speaks a lot about His other attributes like His Eternal nature, Mercy, Justice, Love, Sovereignty, His incomparable Wisdom, etc. We can’t talk about God’s all-powerful nature without touching on some attributes like His Sovereignty, Omniscience or His Wisdom. They are inseparable so to speak. If we want to talk about His Omnipotence, we definitely have to discuss those attributes too.

God is sovereign in the sense that He is completely free to do whatever He wishes to do anywhere at any time. We can’t force or stop Him from doing what He wishes to do. This isn’t the kind of ‘freedom’ a bird has in the air. After all, a bird is bound by certain necessary conditions such as the availability of food, weather conditions and even its predators! (not an exhaustive list). For a moment, it looks as though the bird is so free but we realize how it is in constant check by some of these unavoidable factors. Compare that to the absolute freedom of God where nobody or even nature compels Him to do something. For instance during creation, He did not seek counsel on how, what, where or when to create all that has been created. By His own will, He decided everything from start to finish without any form of consultation from anywhere. We get to know instantly that God should possess some sort of unequaled power to be that sovereign. Yes, Bible declares this truth. He does possess all power to reign sovereignly.

Many instances recorded in scripture makes me understand that God in His own sovereign will and omnipotence has allowed evil to exist temporally for the good of His creation. Is this some sort of ignorance, experimentation or incapability? No! It is by His perfect Wisdom. I can feel somebody giving me that Are-You-Serious look because of what I just said a few seconds ago. That’s ok with me. I also do it from time to time because it somewhat…no, it doesn’t make sense at all to me. Unfortunately, this is the genesis of our problem—the confusion arising from the wide gap between our wisdom and God’s wisdom – Two illustrations to explain my point.

One of the commonest stories that centralizes on evil, pain and suffering is the account of Job. I want us to pay attention carefully over here. To cut the story short, Job wanted a very reasonable explanation to why he was suffering so much considering how upright and just he was. Right after he speaks with all his wisdom and knowledge, God replies, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?’ I love how the Living Bible paraphrases it (Job 38:2), ‘Why are you using your ignorance to deny my providence?’ Over sixty questions, God asks Job to answer! How much did Job know about the rising and the setting of the sun? How about the rain? Did he know how to set its course so that it accomplished God’s purposes? Could he tilt the water jars of heaven when everything was dust and clods? I bet he couldn’t even ensure the proper sequence of the seasons, let alone guide the constellation with her satellites across the heavens. Don’t get this wrong. God wasn’t questioning Job’s sincerity nor was He insensitive towards Job’s pain; He was trying to point out Job’s inability (or inadequacy) to explain His ways in this world per his limited human knowledge. It’s just obvious that he didn’t fully grasp the manner in which God works yet he went in arguing to prove himself right. Are we far from Job’s reaction? I leave the response to you.

My second illustration: If a parent sends his child to the hospital for a vaccination exercise, how does the child come to the understanding that it was for his own good? Do you think the child will see any ‘good’ in that after experiencing such an excruciating pain from the injection? Probably that child might think his parents have no love for him. If they did, they wouldn’t have subjected him to that kind of pain (that’s what the child might be thinking). Does the child’s anger imply that what his parents did was wrong? Or does it mean that his parents hate him? On the contrary, his parents know (just as we know) that the vaccination is to boost their child’s immune system against some deadly disease. The child in his immature state will never know this truth. He will only get to know if he grows to that level of maturity necessary to understand the significance of vaccination. Until then, that ‘greater good’ forever remains a mystery to him.

Why then should we be surprised when some of God’s reasons are beyond what we can fully grasp? It’s not as though He kept this information from us. Well, let me refresh your memory a little bit. So speaking of God’s perfect wisdom, the prophet Isaiah exclaims(Isaiah 55:8-9):

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

God’s perfect wisdom sees the end from the beginning. He has a wide range of focus that is why He’s able to plan a perfect means to achieve perfect ends. I use the word ‘perfect’ because He does not guess it out nor does He have to learn something along the way. He does not learn of a better plan later as time elapses nor could anyone have taught Him a more excellent way to go about something. He has that perfect knowledge sufficient enough to make Him all-knowing. He already knows the end from the beginning as I said. It is by His wisdom that we see things for what they truly are and how they properly relate to events. Not only that, we begin to realize the true relationship between what is happening around us to God’s purposed will for humanity. We begin to develop a deeper meaning into what God intends to communicate to us in the midst of our pain and suffering. I must say that no other person, thing, or view successfully interprets the reasons behind occurrences of the ‘now’ in such coherence and consistency in relation to truth about life apart from what God declares in His Word. For me, the existence of evil reminds me of the eternal consequence that befalls anyone who continues to violate his true purpose on Earth. It just tells me that an unimaginable kind of horror awaits anyone who willingly and continuously refuses to follow the way of the True Light which has come into the world to save us from the very problem we so desperately want to see dealt with.

If there is anything to take home from the Christian worldview concerning the problem of evil, it is that God in His perfect, infinite knowledge and wisdom is acting in perfection to carry out His eternal purpose for the benefit of mankind. Nothing took God by surprise. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing will take God by surprise in the near-future. And so If I were you, I will rather look up to Him with this prayer forever strapped to my humbled heart,

Lord, no matter how weak my understanding of Your good intentions may be, please don’t do whatever You’re doing WITHOUT Me. I still trust You as the only Solid Rock. Indeed, all other ground is sinking sand. 

All too soon, I will be ending my series on PAIN FROM THE CRUCIFIED ONE by addressing the question, “If you say God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how did evil come about in the first place?”

It is my sincere prayer that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will comfort anyone going through some form of pain in this life. Grace flows from His veins. It heals. It refreshes.

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Pain From The Crucified One: And You Claim There Is A “GOD”

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One of the most frequently posed question to the Christian believer is the question of how an all-good, all-loving and all-powerful God can co-exist with evil. Simply put, it does not really make sense to say that a being with such great qualities will permit so much pain and suffering in this world. This is termed as The Logical Problem of Evil.

I must confess that I do struggle a lot with answers when it comes to the idea of a Supreme Being not really doing anything about the bad things we encounter in this world. ‘If you say you are all-powerful, get rid of this evil right now!’ This is how the early Greek philosopher Epicurus puts it (The Epicurean Paradox):

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing?
Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing?
Then why call Him God?

In other words, if evil exists then God ceases to be God because He’s unable to take care of that which brings intense pain to us. He’s probably a liar who has none of the qualities His followers blindly attribute to Him. Maybe, He’s just a Marvel character stronger than Superman and just a little bigger in size than The Hulk. We are his die-hard fans who hero-worship Him as if one day He will fly out of that ancient book called “The Bible” into reality. Interesting imaginations. Keep on dreaming! If you look at the argument the first time, it sounds convincing enough to destroy the foundations on which the existence of God rests upon. At the second and tenth and more number of glances, you cannot help but to notice some question marks concerning the argument itself.

Doesn’t it sound as though the asker of the question has some knowledge of that which is not evil? He or she assumes in a way that there is such a thing as ‘good’. As I mentioned in my DEEP LONGING post, if you tell me my shirt is dirty, you probably have an idea of what it means to be clean. To say that such and such is ‘good’ or such and such is ‘bad’ definitely requires a third factor that rises above both and has some kind of higher authority in the first place to make the clear distinction. In his book titled “Mere Christianity”, Clive Staples Lewis tries to explain this phenomenon by using the idea of the piano. He says that if you have a sheet of music, it gives you instructions concerning which keys to play on the instrument at each point in time. However, the music sheet itself does not constitute one of those keys you see on the instrument. It merely gives you directions as to what to play and what not to. That is the third factor here. That thing which rises above musical keynotes and determines with some kind of authority what needs to be done.

In the world we live in, you can’t help but see people react negatively towards “evil” practices like murder, torturing, rape etc. We are more than quick to label them as “wrong”. We rather view these acts in the light of moral absolutes instead of relative terms making whatever standard we look to make our judgments more objective than subjective. The truth is we don’t agree to the reason of a personal taste and preference when one murders a baby for instance. Let the so-called guilty one talk about how his personal interest in doing what he did granted him well-being and just watch out for the kind of headlines the TV and radio stations would broadcast. To him, he did what was right to bring him happiness but at once, you realize that subjective opinion totally rules that reason out. In my local dialect, we may say of the offender, ‘Ne tiri mu y3 sum papa’ literally meaning ‘there’s total darkness in his head’—He’s evil and does not value the worth of a human being.

Moving on, you notice again that this objective standard law (Moral Law in this case) has some level of authority it carries which seems to over-rule all our personal appeals. You want to do something but this law tells you what really has to be done. Left to us, we would want to pursue our own self-interests but this rule or law thinks otherwise. Though we are at liberty to go against it, it still carries ultimate authority when we weigh it against our personal feelings. This law as we know it is objective rather than subjective and has more authority than any other human preference. It simply tells us that no human being could have established it considering how we are full of personal views and opinions. In other words, whose say would have been regarded as the final word for the rest of generations (even till now) to follow suit? Forget it!

Who or what established the moral law then? Whatever or whoever established it is somewhat in a different class extending beyond man’s limited capabilities. But another question is “do we necessarily have to attribute this ‘moral law’ to a moral lawgiver?” Well, I don’t know about you but if these promptings within me “thinks” or “purposes” that I live a certain kind of life and not another, then I can assume that it has a mind to like one thing and dislike another. From experience, we know that human beings reason or think on a high scale of intelligence. I wish I could speak for vegetables or chairs or fishes but I can’t because I’m not one. I can’t tell exactly what goes on in the inside of them and just observing them externally wouldn’t give me the best of results. Let me explain. If I hit my friend on his head and he returns it with a hard blow to my tummy, I may think that is the feedback to expect anytime I do such a thing (that is if I only observe from the outside). Does it mean that it ought to be the right or expected feedback? What if he had a prompting within (just as we do all the time) to just let it go and not repay evil with evil? All I’m saying is I happen to be a human being so I can speak better from that angle since I can dig into myself for relevant information. Now, if a human like me with a mind also reasons and I find this law which ‘thinks’ I should conduct myself in a certain manner to be above human establishment, then I’m tempted to assume a super-intelligent mind behind the establishment of this moral law. The issue is if we take that super-intelligent Mind (God in this case) out of the equation, then we also take out the possibility of a moral lawgiver. Without the moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If that which makes the distinction is absent, the two words (good and evil) lose their meaning. We end up with no good or evil so the question self-destructs leaving us with nothing to even start our argument. We have no basis to talk about what is just or unjust because as Fyodor Dostoevsky said:

Without God, everything is permissible.

It is interesting to note that the Christian account of God from the Bible describes a Supreme Being who is not only the creator of this universe but is also very concerned about the behavior of men hence setting out certain instructions to follow. The Bible goes ahead to inform us that God who is very interested in right living has graciously created humankind to reflect His very image on earth. It then makes sense to say that we possess that ‘inward moral compass’ too because of the kind of personality that made us. The super-intelligent mind creates men with minds intelligent enough to recognize and freely obey the law he finds himself under. However, we do make mistakes sometimes when we read the compass though just as we sometimes make some errors with our addition and multiplication in mathematics but it does not rule out the fact that the compass is still present and always directing.

I personally believe that the problem of evil rather affirms the existence of God even though it stands as one of the greatest objections to His existence. Without God, a hopeless life awaits to welcome us because we hit against the wall with no solution to the problem. God is the only answer to the evil in this world. He has promised us that a time will come when we would live far from pain and suffering. Cinderella and Snow White may be living happily ever after but our tale would be realer than theirs. We will live far above the description of ‘happily ever after’, enjoying uninterrupted fellowship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, GOD. If you reject His existence together with everything that makes it visibly clear that He actually does exist, please what is your other alternative?

To be continued…