Point of Reference
by Fred Price
As the body counts continue to increase in the Iraqi war and throughout Asia as a result of the earthquake induced tsunamis one is tempted to ask; Where is God? Members of my home church have been afflicted with numerous difficulties this year; serious accidents and fatal diseases, lost jobs, unexpected broken homes as we search for answers that don't seem to satisfy when found. Why would a loving God allow such things to happen? We can understand when people behaving poorly come to a bad end, but why do bad things happen to good people? It doesn't seem fair!
Not having all the answers, I still wanted to respond to the catastrophic destruction, untimely deaths, and unexpected afflictions that haunt us all . Good, innocent people are killed in war and Christians get swept away in natural disasters; they become sick, suffer emotional distress and die. I have personally been helped in my understanding of these issues, though I'm still struggling to accept them, by reading two excellent books by Philip Yancey "Where is God When it Hurts?" and "Disappointment with God." (Which almost sounds blasphemous) Yet these concepts are absolutely crucial to our understanding of life and our continued faith in a loving, interpersonal, all-powerful God.
To begin with, we must realize that our world suffers the consequences of a fallen state; the earth itself groaning in anticipation of release and redemption, as should we in anticipation of Christ's return. (Romans 8:18-23) As such, bad things happen not just to bad people. Circumstances beyond our control were set in motion at the fall of man (Genesis 3) and as a result of the punishment of men (Genesis 6,7); biological, astronomical and geological changes taking place that were not originally intended. Our cells break down, mutating into disease or leaving us vulnerable to attack form without; progressing to sickness and death. In addition, we compound the problem in the choices we make to smoke, drink, over-indulging our appetite, using drugs, having indiscriminate sex; polluting the air, water and soil - destroying the ecological habitat we call home and hastening our own demise. We can and should alleviate some of the assaults on our bodies by heeding Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 3:16; but by virtue of our birth into the condition of man, we will all one day die; the mode of our deaths causing us the most concern.
Secondly, God can and does use trials and suffering as discipline or punishment to gain our attention and correct misbehavior. (Hebrews 12:5-11) Note that the Hebrew writer says, " the Lord disciplines those he loves, " which could include all mankind, but goes on to specifically say, " he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." those within the family. He further explains this as being a consequence of God's love and desire to bring us to a point of acceptance of his will; the only place where true joy and peace of mind can be found. (Our physical comfort or death not being the issue in God's mind as it is in ours, rather His concern is with the condition of our souls at death; ultimately allowing for the possibility of eternal life with Him in heaven. Luke 13:1-4)
This is the reasoning behind Mr. Yancey's advice for us to stop asking why bad things come our way, instead asking to what they are leading us. Whether our discomfort is a consequence of rebellious sin, a reluctance to acknowledge God's will or the result of living in an unregenerate world that is gradually spinning out of control; we need to actively seek the good that can come of it, allowing God to manifest himself in the midst of unpleasantness. (Romans 8:28) For pleasure often emerges against a background of discomfort; insight can be gained through moments of uncertainty; increased faith realized after periods of doubt. There is indeed a good kind of sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10); that which turns us resolutely to God in our confessed need of his provision and forgiveness, developing a deeper dependence on Him in all subsequent matters.
One crucial step in achieving a productive Christian lifestyle is the realization that none of us were placed on earth to fulfill personal desires; pursuing life, liberty and happiness. We are here to be changed into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), being re-created through Him and for Him (2 Corinthians 5:17), in anticipation of spending eternity with him. This change may make us uncomfortable, involving as it does the losing of self in response to another's demands and the removal of things that hinder our development as genuine followers of Christ. (See Mark 8:35; Matthew 5:29,30 & Mark 9:45; Galatians 2:20) In fact, pain and the unpleasantness of things beyond our control are usually necessary for the resolution of sin and complacency in our lives; serving as a beacon or warning signal that demands attention and a response.
I'm not sure God's sovereign will dictates every incident of our lives, but in his omnipotence he could shield us from all harm yet sometimes chooses not to. How many times we are blessed and rescued from harm without our realization is impossible to know; it's the unpleasantness we grapple with that we worry over and question. Yet whether we are blessed unaware or blessed through a hardship, he is still there blessing (Hebrews 13:5); at times choosing to remove all obstacles, sometimes choosing to lead us through the midst of them, at some point in time choosing to bless us by removing us from this world of trouble altogether, comforting us with the blessing of heaven. In the process He purifies us, strengthening our faith and bringing honor and glory to his name. (John 9:1-3; 11:4)
Keep in mind that God isn't fearful of or limited by our doubts and questions. If you don't understand say so. He's big enough to handle that and compassionate in answering according to our ability to understand as he sees fit. (See Job) He expects us to pose questions in our search for him, affording him the opportunity to prove his faithfulness. (Deuteronomy 6:16 "Do not test the Lord your God" referring to obstinate challenges to his authority; Matthew 4:7 referring to an arbitrary need for miraculous display or bargaining with the Almighty to prove himself. Romans 12:2 and 1 John 4:1 dealing with our ability to discern the rightness of God's will as a result of our minds and purpose becoming one with his and the absolute necessity of that discernment being grounded in his word and revelation alone.)
Being fearful of expressing need and doubt is more likely rooted in a lack of confidence in God's ability to meet our needs and alleviate doubt than an expression of reverence and respect. God himself challenges us to ask, seek and knock; proving himself faithful as we receive, find and enter through the opened door to intimacy with him. (Matthew 7:7,8)
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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