Amidst all the devastating things that happen in this world, I hear a lot of tough questions about where God fits into all of it. Questions I’ve asked myself, asked God, and tried to rationalize over the years. A lot of things just don’t have simple answers that will instantly make everyone feel better…especially the people who have suffered directly from such things.
Innocent people are murdered. Children die of starvation. Little girls are sold into sex trafficking. People are beaten and abused. Terrorists attack. Natural disasters claim countless lives. Corrupt leaders rise to power. How could a loving God allow any of those things to happen? How could God take someone at such a young age? Why do bad things happen to “good” people? Life isn’t fair…what’s the point of it all? I’m barely scratching the surface of the difficult questions that we’ve all asked. The questions become even louder after experiencing tragedy in our own lives or merely searching for truth.
The reality is, we live in a very broken world. Turn on the news, scroll through your facebook feed, or simply think about the relationships with your friends and family over the years. You don’t need to look far to understand that inarguable, yet painful reality.
But instead of surrendering to inevitable brokenness, I want to challenge some of the phrases or thought patterns that have built fortified walls between the pain we feel and healing we desperately need. These walls, built with a foundation of lies, keep people trapped…starving many into hopeless complacency. The only thing worse than believing a lie is having no desire left for the truth.
I think some people who ask these tough questions are humbly searching for truth about God. They want to know more about His character and better understand the purpose of life. While others may be asking them from a place of justifying a pre-existing bitterness towards God. The questions aren’t actually asking for answers…or they aren’t questions at all. They might become confident statements of cynicism, all based on a compelling Netflix documentary.
Will you get vulnerable with me for a minute? I’m all about conversations of substance. I’m in no way interested in perpetuating arguments or pain. But I love digging to the heart of issues and graciously discussing them for the purpose of healing, growth, and restoration.
I’ve noticed a trend with most people I’ve met in that second batch…the ones who hate the idea of God, the church, or anything “religious”. Maybe that’s where you’re at…which is totally Ok. But if you get below the surface, two histories seem to be the driving factors in evoking such negative emotions:
1) You’ve been hurt by the church. Maybe you were abused by someone at a church. Maybe you had controlling and legalistic parents that forced religion down your throat and there was no love to back it up. Maybe someone waved a sign of hatred in your face and pinned the name of Jesus to it. Maybe a Christian offended you at some point. Either way, it was hurtful and traumatic.
2.) You’ve suffered unspeakable pain. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you were victim to physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. It doesn’t make sense, it’s not fair, and you’ve had to live in the wake of tragedy.
You may have 10 examples in your head right now. Or, you may not even be able to think of any examples because you’ve had to subconsciously suppress emotions and memories as a way to cope with the pain. You might be feeling anger or pain right now at the thought of it. If that’s true…please keep reading. Don’t worry, you’re safe to feel things. Whether it be pain or anger…feel them. It’s just you and your computer/phone/tablet/whatever the heck you’re using.
Well, if nobody has ever said this to you, I’m sorry for your pain. I’m sorry for your loss. I really am. It breaks my heart to hear what some people have had to endure…many are my close friends and family. Your pain is valid, regardless of what’s happened or been done to you. I don’t minimize or take that lightly.
But what if I told you that those terrible things actually had nothing to do with God? (Yes, even the things that happened by “Christians”.) What if I told you that those things actually came from the Enemy (Satan and all his douchey little demonic friends)? Satan is described as “the father of lies” and a thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10 ESV) If any of those words can be used to describe your past or your pain, it was most certainly Satan at the helm. And it doesn’t have to be the literal description…could be stealing of your innocence, killing your friendships, and destroying your dreams (as just a few examples). He’s incredibly gifted at taking little bits of truth and twisting them into something hurtful, while shifting the blame.
What if I told you that it’s actually God’s Will for NONE of those things to happen? It wasn’t His Will that you were molested, that your dad used to beat you, that your relative was killed, that people cut you down with their words. None of that was God’s choice or His character. God is NOT the one doing those things and it’s not what He wants.
As a result of sin’s effect on this world and God granting everyone free will, terrible things happen. They just do. But think…If He intervened in every act of hatred, selfishness, violence, pain… (sin) We’d wouldn’t actually have free will and we’d all be perfect. Well, then we’d be in heaven, wouldn’t we?
What if I told you that what God DOES want is for you to experience wholeness and all the fruits of the Spirit, through relationship with Him? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Please re-read each of those slowly. With our defenses down, if we are honest, we ALL want more of these in our lives. Yes, that is God’s Will for YOU. That includes everyone…regardless of your circumstances. See, Jesus reveals His desire in the second half of John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY.” Abundant life sounds incredible to me!
If we read more of the Bible (for ourselves…without presupposition) and hear more of His character through the full story of Truth, it actually starts to make more sense. If we merely take somebody’s misquoted lack-of-context opinion of the Bible, it sounds confusing and contradictory. God doesn’t sound so bad when we stop blaming Him for things He ISN’T doing and stealing the credit for things He IS doing.
Now some people would take this opportunity to tell you that God just exists to make you happy…to make your life better. They may tell you that this decision is all about you and God is happiest when you’re happiest. Like He’s just some cosmic vending machine that’s here to serve us. Also not true. God created us for His glory. He loved us first…and continues to do so with the goal of us loving Him in return. As my wonderful girlfriend would say, “Jesus is the perfect gentleman.” He will love and pursue us even when we screw up or don’t love Him back…but, “No.” means “No.” He won’t force himself on us. That’s not relationship. But the moment we say, “YES!” to Him, He floods us with an incomprehensible love.
And so the dance begins.
The seed gets planted and the roots begin to grow. Remember the “fruit of the Spirit” I was talking about? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. You then get access to that fruit! But those things all sound like benefits to me…I thought you said God didn’t make us to just be happy and that we’re apparently only here “for His glory”?
Well guess what happens when you lead a life filled with these fruits of the Spirit? When you are overwhelmed by joy, even through difficulty…When you love in incredible ways…When your patience is astounding…When your kindness stands out to everyone around you…When your goodness doesn’t make sense…When your faithfulness is unshakable…When your gentleness brings comfort…When your self-control defies natural instincts… Do you know what happens?? People ask. They want to know how it’s possible. Your friends and family who have seen your life completely change…they start to believe whatever is the reason for your transformation. They don’t start to believe because you had a compelling theological argument. They don’t believe because you explained every tough question about creation and the spiritual realm. They simply see your life and they want what you have. They recognize their pain and brokenness that won’t leave them alone and they want freedom from it.
Life-change and healing from brokenness. It’s contagious and can’t be silenced. And God gets the glory. There’s nothing more exciting!
To sum up the questions: How does a loving God do/allow such terrible things? Sin and brokenness are pulled by the strings of Satan…not God. He allows it because without free will, there wouldn’t be relationship. He could very easily wipe us all out and start over if He wanted. But through Scripture, a glimpse of God’s character reveals a heart for restoration, healing, and justice. He promises “to work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) A beautiful love story, told through history, where God gives us ALL the opportunity to “live life abundantly” WITH Him. Pardoned from justice. Loved extravagantly.
If anybody reading this wants to chat more about it, I’d absolutely love to hear your story and explore any questions you might have. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m not afraid of tough questions and REAL conversations!