Opinions on faith and life

Does God Really Care?

2010-10-15

Many years ago I blogged about a rebuttal to the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. It addressed the issue of how a good and loving God could allow terrible suffering in this life. And the basic answer was that this life is not the only life, such that there is only injustice if God never pays people back in the next life. But as I also discussed in a recent post, Holding Satan’s Leash, what God allows in this life depends on much more than we may think. There is a cosmic battle going on, and the rules of the battle involve God not violating human free will.

The reason I’m bringing this up again is because of a book that was published recently, This Little Light. People have always done great evil in the names of their gods, but what this book does is show that not all that glitters is gold, or as Tozer said, not all that breathes the name of Jesus and comes wearing the cloak of Christianity is genuine. The way is narrow and few find it, but it seems that this has been forgotten by the multitudes that throng to the churches each week, and the clergy who either violate and destroy people or the ones who enable and cover for it.

That’s also why I’m so against The Institution, the thing that legitimizes control and power between believers. Regardless of the size of the congregation or where it meets, the real issue is the hierarchy, the clergy/laity class distinction. I fight this every day online, and most professing Christians lash back with hatred. They talk about how beautiful it is, how all those theologians can’t be wrong, how 2,000 years of church history can’t be lying to us. Then they tell me how rebellious I am, how antinomian, how conceited, and that I shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

But I wonder how Calvinists justify their view of God in the light of this book’s testimony? The Calvinistic view teaches that God, by decreeing everything, turns a blind eye to most suffering (because, as they teach, He hates the non-elect— but apparently the elect don’t fare any better in many cases), and this book confirms it. Many victims of clergy abuse have had seared into their souls a connection between faith talk and unspeakable suffering, and take the words God loves you as a stab in the heart since He allegedly had some good purpose in, for example, allowing a pastor to repeatedly rape and abuse a child. What possible purpose could there be in that, even if the perpetrator winds up in hell (as also the non-elect victim will!)?

Rather, we should remember that the world is in the hands of the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4, Gal. 1:4) and then thank God that anything good ever happens. We who learn of this abuse are also being tested: do we bend over backwards to help the victims, or do we punish them by blaming them and making excuses for their abusers? What kind of God do we represent to them? Do we exhibit this love and justice? Remember that Jesus said we’ll all be judged according to the measure we used for others (Mt. 7:2). If you blame victims and excuse criminals, God will do the same to you on Judgment Day.

Which brings up another point: God is perfectly justified in sending evildoers to eternal hell. How could He be just or loving otherwise? Those who teach universalism and say that a loving God couldn’t do this are saying they care nothing for justice for the victims, that God loves perpetrators more. No wonder Paul said that if this life is the only life, we Christians are the most pitiful for believing a lie (1 Cor. 15:19)!

And surely God can be trusted to discern whether an unbeliever ever had a legitimate chance to hear and respond to the gospel. Is He not merciful? Does He really care more about the sparrow that falls to the ground (Mt. 10:29) than a divine decree in eternity past? Yes, as I’ve argued many times, an adult of sound mind must hear and respond to the gospel in order to be saved. But I think we are playing God to coldly consign to hell someone who was horribly abused and cannot respond to the gospel. Are they really in their right mind, any more than someone who was abused while hearing the music of Beethoven is in their right mind if they become afraid or ill at the mere sound of that music? There is surely a huge gap between the person who decides rationally to reject the gospel message, and the person who is unable to decide rationally.

We Christians need to understand that this world at present is under the control of Satan, though that control is bounded and temporary. Satan must think he can ultimately win by one method or another, one of them being that God will not be able to withhold help to victims of terrible suffering and thus violate free will and Satan’s current control of the world. We have to stop promising physical deliverance in this life and remember that the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36).

An added bonus of this teaching is that we have an answer for why we thank God when good things happen. Many scoffers say, Good things happen to atheists too, so why should anyone think God answered your prayers? We can rightfully thank God for any and every good thing that happens, whether the direct result of prayer or not, since it is yet another instance where He outsmarted Satan and is beating him at his own game. The atheist has no one to thank, and no explanation for the concept of justice since they know very well that many crimes go unsolved.*

We may not be able to say anything that would help or soothe these victims of severe abuse, but we must be careful about the implications of what we say to the lost. Empty platitudes and shallow catchphrases only work among the comfortable. Think through to the logical conclusions of your beliefs, and be prepared to give answers (1 Peter 3:15) that accurately reflect the reality of this life and the next. It is not hateful to tell the truth and it is not loving to withhold it. Understand why God allows suffering, and what our hope is grounded in. Grapple with these questions instead of those silly devotional guides that only help you and not the suffering.


* Karma fares no better; it always blames the victim and tells them to do better next time, even though they can’t remember a thing from their alleged former life! And Hindu-type meditation, which they claim helps not only the practitioners but the whole world, has a dismal track record for the latter. One would expect India to be a veritable paradise with all those people meditating for thousands of years, but as a group they have fared worse than the unenlightened countries, especially those that have had a large Judeo-Christian influence.

7 Comments

Lydia

Ya know, another logical conclusion about this topic is that we as a people tend to expect justice for ourselves. Where did we get that concept? But real justice is hard to come by on this earth. No matter how hard we try with our laws, etc., we have selfishness and we have also turned justice on it’s head blaming victims, etc. Professing Christians are the worst on that one as they rush to forgive unrepentant perpatrators and help send them straight to hell.

But a true believer knows that real Justice is coming and it will be horrible. Even those we know are cruel and evil, we would not wish this true of Justice on them.

Greg Anderson

I should have been clearer and said that the doctrine of total depravity was only one of the struts Geisler used to support his diatribe on Kushner’s book. And yes I agree that Calvinism is just another world religion. I refuse to buy into the idea that humankind has no intrinsic worth. To maintain T(ulip) requires a huge centrifuge (reformed theology) to separate any goodness from humans while still maintaining created in God’s image.

Paula Fether

"’Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord" should be enough incentive for Christians to behave themselves, but many of them have no real fear of God. They don’t realize Who they’re offending.

Greg Anderson

I know you didn’t mean to conflate Beethoven’s music with abuse. It was only incidental, much in the same way some random pop-song could bring back the memory in some young marine’s head of what an Apache gunship was able to do to a truck full of kids outside Fallujah.

Let me be clear in stating that I certainly agree with the belief that God cares about human suffering. Who wouldn’t but the most dogmatic Calvinist who invokes divine decree for everything?

The link you gave on Geisler’s critique of Kushner is standard fare in evangelical theodicy. Geisler is saying in effect that Kushner’s thesis fails because there simply are no good people, and trots out the standard Biblical proof texts to show that all humans are hopelessly depraved. Horsepucky. (an even more colorful euphemism could be used here) The doctrine of original sin is as alien to the Hebrew mind as the monster that stalked Ellen Ripley aboard the Nostromo.

In all fairness to Geisler however, I take also take issue with Kushner’s statement that God does not intervene in the machinery of the big mean and nasty roulette wheel which Adam set in motion at the fall.

Paula Fether

I didn’t have the impression that Geisler, who straddles the fence on predestination ("Chosen But Free"), was depending heavily on human depravity, but focusing mostly on the fallacious nature of Kushner’s argument: that if there is no justice in this life, then either God is either impotent or bad. Geisler has his issues (most notably defending the serial liar Ergun Caner), but I think his rebuttal to Kushner was sound: that the matter of suffering in this life can only be properly understood in the light of ultimate justice in the next.

That said, however, you know I strongly oppose the teaching of inheritable spiritual qualities, good or bad. There certainly are good people, but the issue is a matter of reconciliation on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, not our own, such that our own lack of righteousness therefore can’t be a factor either. But bad things happen because Satan is "the god of this age", and we should rightly wonder why anything good ever happens on that account alone.

Anyway, my point in this post was just to say that Calvinism cannot help but paint God as a cold-blooded tyrant whose sovereignty is all that matters, and who throws babies into the flames and delights in the suffering of the wicked-- all scripture to the contrary notwithstanding. But as the book shows, it isn’t just the wicked who suffer-- in fact, most of the victims are children and many are being good Christians. And I hardly think that the victims of Rome’s love of throwing Christians to the lions was due to those Christians being non-elect. So when some Christians naively quip "God has a purpose for your having been raped and tortured as a child", they are either cold or blind and haven’t thought through what they believe.

Paula Fether

I happen to be reading Lee Strobel’s "The Case for Christ" right now, and the quotation of Isaiah 53 jumped out at me concerning a point in this post: it is ONLY the suffering of Jesus that had a purpose in God’s plan. While God will "work things together for the good of those who love him", it certainly does not mean God planned or wanted our suffering, but only that He will make some good use of it. The downfall of mankind was Satan’s plan, not God’s. But the salvation of mankind was God’s plan, through the suffering of Christ.

Just had to share that. :-)

Paula Fether

Ah, thanks for clarifying.