The Human God: A Post on Suffering and Why God is Still Good

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So today the question was posed to me “How can God be good when the world is full of so much evil?” This is a fairly common question for those who are struggling with faith or coming to grips with the realities of Christianity. We do, after all, look at this world and see all sorts of tragedies and terrible things that haunt us. There is starvation, murder, rape, genocide, abuse, greed, and a myriad of horrors that grip our world. So how do I still find hope in Christianity? How can I still worship a God and call him good? While some people can’t believe in a God who would create a world full of suffering, I can point to my God and say that he understands suffering and refuses to let us participate in it alone.

Pessimism is easy, and hopelessness is the natural state of man in a sinful and broken world. One could easily become very pessimistic when one focuses only on the evil in the world. Christianity openly admits that there are terrible things in this world and suffering exists. We don’t claim a perfect world, but rather a world gone wrong. This reality is not perfect, but it is also not abandoned. Suffering is, in Christian thought, the result of a broken world that has left its proper order and strayed away from God. By allowing man to choose his own destiny and to have the free will to choose between good and evil, God had to allow for evil to exist. In order for love to exist a choice has to exist, and in order for a choice to exist the wrong choice must be an option. Every time we choose selfishness over love, pride over humility, greed over generosity, comfort over justice, or pleasure over aide, we make the world a little darker. This world is full of evil, and God allowed it to be so. So why is God worthy of love?

For starters the fact that anything exists regardless of its good or evil nature is completely due to God. We’ve focused a lot on the negative so far, but let’s deviate and look at all the wonderful things that life has to offer. That means that every good thing you have ever experienced came from God. Your very life originates from him. Our world is broken  but not abandoned. Beauty, love, grace, mercy, kindness, generosity, joy, patience, goodness, self-control, gentleness, and faith still exist. Life still has to opportunity to be wonderful and we are surrounded by more blessings and beauty than most of us realize. All of this originates from God. So while evil exists, so also does good and for that we are thankful.

The question of suffering is still lingering despite the fact that goodness and life exist. So why does man suffer?  The better question would be “Why do you think you deserve not to suffer?”

That’s a thought that usually comes off like a slap in the face to most people, but honestly consider it. Why do you think you deserve comfort and a life free of suffering?  Are you so entitled that you think by your very existence (which you played no part in) that you deserve a life completely devoid of pain and misery? Do you think you deserve all good and no bad? Perhaps you would argue that you are a good person and therefore God owes you something.  For those people I offer this helpful info-graph:

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You see, being good some of the time doesn’t mean you deserve to be blessed all of the time. By Christian understanding the fact that you are evil some of the time (and you are evil some of the time) disqualifies you from being worthy of any blessings at all. So by that logic the fact that you have even one blessing makes you blessed beyond what you deserve.

You see, Christianity believes that human beings are sinful, which basically means by choosing evil even once we have become imperfect. This imperfection causes a rift between us and God who is perfect, and also contaminates the world around us since a world filled with imperfect beings would cease to be perfect. The world is messed up because evil exists, and evil exists because man was given the option of following God or choosing evil and abandoning the natural order.

Man when held to a standard of holiness, finds that he is not holy and therefore doomed to be separate from what is holy (God) forever. Man is unable to redeem himself, and scripture says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).  As a result is in need of a redeemer. We believe that in spite of the fact that we chose evil, God willingly took human form to show us the way and then took the price of our sin (suffering and death both spiritually and physically) so that we could be made whole.

Let me put it this way: Christians worship a God who created a perfect world that man screwed up, but because he loved us he chose to participate in the suffering of man so that he could make a way for us to be redeemed from our own mistakes. God does not just sit back and observe suffering, he is a willing participant in it because he loves us. We worship a God who loves us more than he loves his own comfort (imagine if we could only do the same). Through Christ God showed both justice, mercy, and grace to humanity. Because of Christ we are living in a period of renewal and we have the promise that one day all wrongs will be made right and all suffering ended.

God knows what it was like to be cold, to be burnt by the sun, to sweat, to starve, to be sick, to want, to need, to be tempted, to be weak, to lose a loved one, to be beaten, to be tortured, to suffer, and to die. God knows what it is like to offer up a prayer of deliverance and have to deal with the reality that this trial is not one that you will be spared. He knows what it is like to fear death:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

– Luke 22:42

God knows what is like to feel abandoned by God:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

– Mark 15:34

God knows what it is like to lose your only son….

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Life, at times, can seem pointless. We are born into a world where suffering exists and as much as we run from it, it eventually catches us. We are here one day and gone the other and as we seek out purpose the weight of the world can come in and seem quite overwhelming. So what hope does Christianity offer? We offer the hope that God is good, that evil is in retreat and that eventually all things will be made pure and good. We offer the hope that all are welcome in the house of God, and that repentance, forgiveness, grace, and mercy belong to all who are willing to reach out and grasp them. The difference between Christianity and any other theology is that, we worship a God who knows what it is like to be completely human. We worship a God who knows our pain and relates to us on our level. We worship a God who is no stranger to suffering, but allows it because he believes that those who cause suffering are still capable of good. He never gives up on us.

 

 

Book Review: “The Moral Teachings of Paul” by Victor Paul Furnish

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The author’s desire in writing the book is to address many of the false interpretations of Paul’s ethical teachings. This is accomplished by pointing out the flaws of the two extremes commonly taken in approaching Paul’s ethical teachings, as well as responding to several commonly misinterpreted or falsely applied teachings of Paul. As a result, the majority of the text is devoted to interpreting Paul’s understanding of marriage, sex, divorce, homosexuality, women in the church, and Christianity’s response to the Non-Christian world. The author goes into extensive detail on each issue in an attempt to uncover what Paul’s view most likely was on the subject. While the author’s conclusions may be questioned by readers, Furnish does accomplish the goals set out in the text and, for the most part, presents strong arguments from the text to support his claims.

While making his arguments, the author prefers to approach Paul from the viewpoint of the historical context in which Paul wrote. Furnish seems to believe that forming an accurate understanding a passage is heavily based on one’s able to read the passage as it would have been read by Paul’s original audience. Historical context is highly valued by the author and provides a backbone for many of the arguments made. Language also plays a valuable part of Furnish’s argument style, as his knowledge of Greek terminology is frequently used to defend his arguments and attack the views he disagrees with. The author seems to view himself as a valid authority in these regards because he rarely bothers to cite a source outside of the works of Paul and his own knowledge.

The Moral Teachings of Paul proves to be a mixed bag of strong and questionable arguments. There is a tendency on the part of the author to deny Paul’s teachings of any universal nature, claiming that Paul was reserved in the use of his authority and avoids an authoritarian view of himself (p. 51-52). The author prefers to present Paul as one who provides interpretations and opinions rather than direct command. This reviewer finds this to be a weak point in Furnish’s writing, in that he can at times fall into the “white elephant” category of interpretation that he speaks out against. While not all of Paul’s teachings were direct commands, Paul did claim authority directly from God (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:3-5) and made direct commands of the highest authority (1 Cor. 14:37). In this way it seems a misstep to so readily dismiss Paul as one who merely interpreted the faith and scripture that already existed. The most prominent issue with Furnish’s book, however, lies in the author’s inability to accept the notion that Paul could have changed or grown in his understanding with the passage of time. Furnish dismisses the pastoral letters of Paul because they contradict his understandings of Galatians 3:28 (p. 97-98). Ephesians and Colossians are also dismissed in the mind of Furnish because they reflect a change of Paul’s understanding of the immanence of Christ’s return (p. 102). By doing this the author has not only forbidden Paul to adapt and grow, but he has also created a means to negate many verses that could call certain arguments of his into question.

In spite of the aforementioned issues, Furnish does provide some very strong arguments that prove to be very well thought out and informative. In the chapter devoted to sex, marriage, and divorce, this reviewer found the majority of the author’s conclusions to be very well argued.  The author points out that Paul practicality in dealing with such matters (p. 42) and notes how in spite of Paul’s limited eschatological understanding,  there is still practical application which can be drawn from Paul’s writings on such topics (p. 46-48). In a similar way, Furnish’s chapter devoted to Paul’s understanding of the world proved to be informative and consistent throughout. This reviewer had no qualms in dealing with either of these passages.

Furnish’s third chapter deals with the homosexuality and devotes a strange abundance of time and effort to the topic considering how early in the chapter Furnish argues that “there is nothing in the Bible, including the letters of Paul, about Continue reading

Preparing the Way of The Lord (Advent 2012 – Day 1)

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December 2nd 2012, markedthe beginning of the Advent season and a time for Christians to begin preparing their hearts and turning their focus back to Christ and the wonderful news that is the coming of the savior of mankind. On this first day of Advent the scripture of focus comes from the Gospel of Luke:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty,according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense.11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, foryour prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,even from his mother’s womb.16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”21 And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple.22 And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute.23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying,25 “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”  – Luke 1:5-25

Before Christ was to come onto the scene God chose to create a messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord. The coming Messiah was going to be a much bigger deal than anyone could have expected. The Jewish people expected and anticipated a coming political leader who would free them from Roman occupation and help restore Israel, but they did not expect that from among them would come one who would be God made flesh, or that through them all the nations of the world would be blessed and that the world would be redeemed.

And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

We should take this time to reflect on the knowledge that we are in need of a savior. The most basic principle of Christianity is that man is imperfect and unable to reach the standard that allow us to be truly with God. We must remember where we were, or for some of us where we are. We are a fallen people who, though capable of so much good, more often are passive or actively geared towards sinful and selfish desires.

Take time for a clear-minded examination of yourself. How often do you actually take the time to love those who annoy, hate, or inconvenience you? How often do you actually use your time, wealth, and resources to serve others rather than to add to your ever expanding pile of comforts? How often do you really take the time to thank God for all the wonderful gifts he has bestowed on you?

Do not fret if you find you are far below the threshold of perfection. God knew this before you did and that is why the coming of Christ was so important. He was the great equalizer and the washer of sins. He is the great purifier who knows your darkest sins and still chooses to give you grace, mercy, and love abounding. Do not take this time as one to beat yourself up, which accomplishes nothing, instead take this time to be grateful for what the Lord has done. Prepare the way of the Lord in your hearts and get ready for God to work in you this Advent season.