This is the third post in a 14-week study we are working through. More information and resources can be found here.
A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:
– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. It’s gonna be good!
– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.
– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.
It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way.
The biggest problem Keller says for most non-believers is the existence of evil and suffering in the world. A long-standing argument against God is, If there is a God, and He is good, how could He allow pointless evil? The subtle premise in this statement is that their definition of “pointless” = “pointless to me“. Keller describes it as, “…we see lurking withing hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties…. This is blind faith of a high order.”
Keller uses the example of Joseph – and the multiple years he spent in slavery and prison prior to his ascension to unimaginable power – to demonstrate our flawed and minimal understanding of good and evil. In the midst of Joseph’s trials, all we would see would be a person suffering undeserved evil and years of torment for no rhyme nor reason. Because of the historical perspective provided in the Bible, we see that God used these trials and tribulations to not only redeem all the years Joseph had lost, but to use him to save an entire nation from the worst famine in Egyptian history.
“If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways.” [p.25]
The very entity that people deny because of suffering and evil is the same God of Christianity who identifies most with suffering and evil. In Christianity, God became man and suffered the same ills, pains and sorrows that define human experience. And finally, He suffered a separation from His Father that we cannot comprehend. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus maintained a perfect unity with the Father that existed from the beginning (see John 1 and Genesis 1:26). The fact that He was willing to suffer the agony of that lost fellowship not only demonstrates His abundant love for us but reveals His first-hand experience with suffering. Jesus is not an unaffected being without human understanding. Jesus’ separation for the Father was “… eternally unbearable.” [p.29]
New Testament scholar Bill Lane says of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.” [p.30] Jesus’ cries on the cross of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” are cries of profound intimacy and reflect how deeply the loss of relationship with God affected Him. His final words were not reflective of His physical pain, but of His spiritual agony.
“God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself.” [p.31]
But knowing that God suffered with us and for us is still not enough for many. They want to know that there is a reason and a purpose for the injustice of their suffering. They want a remedy so that others will not have to endure the same. Christianity reveals there is an ultimate justice: “The Biblical view of things is resurrection — not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted.” [p.32] Keller explains Christianity is unique because the God we serve experienced suffering and evil personally. And through His resurrection, He conquered both completely, leading to ultimate joy and peace through belief in Him.
Question: Can you remember a time when you endured suffering or experienced evil that – in time – you realized God used for good?
My response: Absolutely. My earliest memory of suffering was over the divorce of my parents. Because my father left my mom and two sisters right after I was born, I had no memory of us ever being a “family”. But once I was old enough to understand, I grieved. And I remember praying, as hard as any 6 year old can, that God would somehow reunite us. By then my mom had remarried a man that stepped into the position of father lovingly, but firmly. And when his parenting didn’t meet my pint-sized expectations, the prayers began again in earnest.
Looking back, I am honestly grateful that I my father left us. I am grateful that he left when I came home from the hospital. Because my father – as much as I loved him – was an extremely flawed man. Selfish, lazy, irresponsible, overindulgent, irreligious. My step-father, in contrast, was a noble man. A man of integrity and honor. Hard-working, selfless and disciplined. Not perfect, but in his honoring of my mother and her three young daughters, he proved to be exactly what we needed at the time. He fathered us well and, despite the fact that he had three biological children, he loved all six of us equally.
I like to think that his parenting impacted me as much, if not more, than my genetics. He taught us, by example, that biology has nothing to do with parenting. And that – as a mother to 7 beloved children who do not carry my genetic code – is a lesson for which I am eternally grateful.
Here is the button for the participants who will be linking up to the study. Grab the code, paste it into your Reason for God post and link up below.