Mon, Mar. 21, 2016 Posted: 07:57 PM
Both of my daughters are in an interesting place right now. They both don’t like God.
My girls have been brought up in our Christ-centered home, been taught by their mother and me the truths of the Christian faith in detail, and have participated in the Church since Day One. But each are rather turned off by the idea of God at the moment.
Some of it has to do with intellectual questions they have. For example, the age-old problem of evil has reared its head in the form of them not being able to explain how God could allow ISIS to murder innocent children. The rest of it is a combination of their disappointment in other supposed Christians with whom they interact, difficulty with prayer, and a desire to do their own thing.
Christians might cringe at the situation and atheists may believe they have two new proselytes on their side, but the truth is, neither group is having the right reaction. What my girls are going through is a rite of passage that most every Christian makes at some point or another.
I know because I’ve been there myself.
Our situation has reminded me of two important things: (1) the distinction between an atheist and someone who’s angry with God; (2) the very difficult issue of evil and the Biblical prescription for it that is rarely heard these days.
Like I’ve said several times before, I’ve never had a nasty situation result when speaking to an atheist about Christianity. Whether in business or in social settings, whenever I’ve had discussions with atheists about matters of faith, every encounter has been civil and I’ve found them to have thought through the matter pretty well most of the time.
Then there’s what I’ve characterized as the hatetheist, which is altogether a different matter. In the DVD of his debate with Christopher Hitchens, Pastor Douglas Wilson defines the tenets of this position as: “One, there is no God. Two, I hate Him.”
Former atheist Dr. Alister McGrath, who currently holds the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford, describes this type of aggressive stance as being, “defined by an obsession with what it is against, like an ex-lover they just cannot stop talking about. . . .The unrelenting hostility of the New Atheism toward religion of any kind is part of its rather dogmatic mindset and leads it to dismiss its opponents with an intellectual arrogance that has no relation to the quality of their arguments. It reminds me of Plato’s criticism of the Athenian politics of his day, in which ‘rudeness is taken as a mark of sophistication’. It also makes dialogue impossible”.
I’ve found out how right McGrath is in this regard too many times to count. My daughters are nowhere near this dangerous precipice and my oldest daughter has plainly said to me, “Dad, I don’t deny God exists or anything like that. You’ve shown me too many facts and evidence for me to say there is no God.”
The reason she says this is because I’ve drilled into both my girls the positions that make up the critical twin pillars of Christianity: (1) the existence of God; (2) the historicity and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Once a person understands and accepts these truths, they should become a Christian. Everything else is, in a sense, working out the various details of the faith.
So why the hostility against God? Typically, I’ve found that when a person is angry with God, it’s for one of two reasons: (1) The existence of God and His moral Law are conflicting with how they want to live; (2) Either they are suffering directly or see suffering in general around them and they feel God is not doing anything about it.
The first reason is something few openly admit to, but nonetheless it is there and is best summed up by the Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes who wrote, “When conscience is under the guilt of sin, then every judgment brings a report of God’s anger to the soul”.
A person who wants to be free of that has one of two options: they can either be set free through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, or they can work every day at trying to eradicate the thought of a Holy God and His Law from their life.
But when it comes to addressing what’s really bugging my girls (the issue of suffering and evil), the remedy requires taking some medicine that few have the backbone to swallow.
When my first wife died very young of cancer and left me alone with our one-year old daughter, I was livid at God. The rage, feelings of disappointment and what felt like absolute abandonment by the One who actually had the power to cure my wife and make everything well was soul-crushing.
Nothing and no one provided any satisfying answers for me, until I came upon an essay written by A.W. Tozer entitled “The Ministry of the Night”, which begins with this difficult to accept assertion:
“If God has singled you out to be a special object of His grace you may expect Him to honor you with stricter discipline and greater suffering than less favored ones are called upon to endure.”
Go ahead and read it again. Doesn’t get any easier the second time around does it?
But for reasons I can’t explain, it was the first piece of contrarian truth I’d be given that lit a little fire in me and gave me hope that some answers – hard though they might be to accept – were coming. Nevertheless, it required me to dive into Scripture, see if Tozer was right, and then try and make sense of it all.
I want to warn you that what you’re about to read now isn’t stuff you’ll see on the “Health and Wealth Gospel Hour”. You also won’t find it taught from most pulpits by preachers who are, these days, mostly semi-conservative cultural commentators and comedians who cherry pick topics vs. carry out their task as Biblical expositors. With the former, it’s easy to omit and avoid the hard passages of Scripture whereas it’s impossible with the latter.
Everything starts with the understanding that God is sovereign over everything, including evil and suffering, and there is nothing outside His control. Scripture says, “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Is. 46:9–10).
With that awareness comes one inescapable conclusion: If an all-sovereign, all-good and powerful God exists, and evil/suffering exists, then God wills (at least currently) that evil and suffering exist. This fact is too much for many to swallow, but if God had full knowledge of evil and the full power to deal with it, and evil exists, then God ordained it.
You see this fact openly admitted to throughout Scripture such as in Isaiah 45:6-7: “There is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” Amos says the same: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6).
So many well-meaning Christians do their best to avoid what Scripture says and think they are doing God a favor by blaming evil and suffering on the supposed misuse of human free will. In short they say, God is not responsible for evil, you are.
This position fails miserably because someone can rightly ask why God created beings that would bring evil into the world. Further, if evil is a result of choice, is free will removed in eternity or will we always be staring down the possibility of evil rising again? The idea that God allows evil and suffering because He values human free will over everything else (basically your will over His) is foreign to Scripture.
When you dig into the Bible you will find God involved – as He says – in both creating light and darkness and when you do (this is key!) it is always for His purpose and glory. Although examples abound in Scripture, let’s quickly look at two.
Paul says the following about Pharaoh and the Exodus: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Rom. 9:17). Who raised up the Pharaoh that brutalized, enslaved, and made life miserable for God’s chosen people? God did, and He did it so His glory would be put on display for all time.
Now listen to what Peter says to a large group of people about the murder of Jesus: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Everything that happened to Christ occurred exactly as God foreordained, and the result is salvation for all who receive Jesus.
In both cases, we see evil and suffering ordained by God and used for His purpose. And we see in these cases, and legions more in Scripture, what Tozer said about God visiting pain and suffering on those He chooses.
That said, do not misunderstand what Scripture says about evil/suffering and God’s involvement. God is not evil – a fact best understood by reading a portion of the Westminster Confession: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
Is there a mystery in the duality that exists between God and us where evil is concerned? Absolutely. On one hand you have Joseph’s brothers willingly committing evil against him and on the other, Scripture says that God sent him to Egypt as a slave (Ps. 105:17). In Job, you have Satan afflicting the man, yet the book concludes with God comforting Job “for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11).
But this is where the lengthy ending of Job, which I hated in the past with a passion, proves comforting. The 60+ questions God asks Job tells me my understanding of this paradox is limited so I try my best to avoid being chastised by God in the way described near the end of the book: “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (Job 40:2).
So for my girls who are angry with God right now, I ask that they along with everyone else in the same boat think about three things.
First, are you sure the situation you’re upset about is something outside your control or are you part of the problem? There’s an interesting verse in Proverbs that says, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3). God has hardwired the consequences for sin into life for a purpose – to protect us from harm and trouble just as any loving parent would do. Don’t be angry at God for messes you make, but rather thank Him for the grief you’re experiencing and see it as His warning signs that beckons you to get back on the right track.
Next, admit your limitations in fully understanding the issue of evil and suffering. Why does God currently allow ISIS to murder innocent children? I don’t know, but I do know the situation is not unique. The Bible details how the same thing happened thousands of years ago when God let Herod murder children that were two years old or younger when Jesus and His parents fled to Egypt (Matt. 2:16). What was God’s purpose then and what is it now? He hasn’t acquiesced to tell us for the moment.
Third, realize it’s OK to get upset about these things and know that plenty of God’s people have looked heavenward and asked, “Why?” without walking away from God. From David to Jeremiah to many others, Scripture is not shy about recording the anguished moans of those who believed in God but yet were perplexed at His actions.
Habakkuk is a great example of this. I like how The Message paraphrases Habakkuk’s rant at God in the book’s opening:
“God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!” before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head” (Hab. 1:1-5).
Ever feel that way? I know I have. Habakkuk’s royally peeved at God and wants answers. And God graciously gives Habakkuk an understanding of why He’s allowed an evil nation (much like ISIS today) to oppress God’s people. God also gives Habakkuk the hope he desperately needs to know everything will turn out OK in the end, with God’s purposes being accomplished.
Habakkuk’s book concludes in a triumphant way with the disgruntled prophet losing his irritation and renewing his trust in God: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17–18).
That’s akin to us saying today, ‘Even though the stock market crashes, every industry fails, and our economy collapses, I will still trust God and know He is accomplishing His purpose through all this ugliness’.
Tough to do? In one respect, yes, but in another no. Don’t forget that we already have proof from God that demonstrates how His resurrection Sunday’s totally eclipse Black Friday’s.
Still, this is where walking by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) gets real. Are you up to the challenge?
 Note that I’ve had both my daughters read this blog post and they OK'd me posting it.