Friday, January 16, 2009

Does God Owe Us?

The following comes from the blog A Christian Perspective.

I really enjoyed this blog as it brings quite a bit of insight into how we tend to react and respond in times of need and/or suffering. It reminds us that we are only human and that we will indeed suffer, but that through our suffering hope can be found and that, hopefully, it will lead us to God.

So, without further ado, here is A Christian Perspective's blog titled "Does God Owe Us?"


Recently, when I was talking to a close relative the subject of God came up as it sometimes does. In the course of the conversation the individual protested that he had some questions for God when he died. There's nothing wrong with that of course, I'm sure most of us could say the same. There are things that happen in all of our lives that we just can't understand why God would allow them. We sometimes feel that in order to have resolution we need to have an answer. But in this case it wasn't just that he wanted an answer, it was the inflection with which the statement was made that hinted strongly of bitterness and indignation. It was spoken more like a demand. More like God owed him an explanation.

This isn't uncommon especially amongst skeptics who claim to not even believe in God. For many, they are ready to storm the gates of heaven and ask for God's head on a stick, if that were possible. In one instance a person tried to sue God for negligence. Now of course they didn't expect him to show up on the witness stand, they were trying to make a point (got it loud and clear!) They're contention is if there is a God, than he certainly isn't a loving one for allowing all of the suffering that he has.

Certainly none of us are exempt from suffering. Most of us all have experienced some amount of suffering at one time or another.The first person that usually comes to my mind when I think of suffering is the Biblical figure of Job. One could easily make the case that he is the poster child for suffering in the scriptures. The interesting thing to note about his situation is that he never really gets an answer to the why question. You are lead from one end of the story to the next, as the story builds one might expect that Job is going to get some sort of explanation from God as to why all these things happened to him. After lamenting about his former life (chapter 29) Job begins to grieve about his situation:

"I cry out to you. O God, but you do not answer. I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm. I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for the living. Surely no one lays a hand on a broken man when he cries for help in his distress. Have I not wept for those in trouble??Has not my soul grieved for the poor? Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me. I go about blackened, but not by the sun. I stand up in the assembly and cry for help. I have become a brother of jackals, a companion of owls. My skin grows black and peels; my body burns with fever. My harp is tuned to mourning and my flute to the sound of wailing. Job 30:20-31

Later God finally answers Job. This is his golden moment. An audience with the soverign of the universe. Finally he has got his attention. The chance many have only wished for, only the response is probably very unlike what Job was expecting:

"Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!" 38:2-5. This goes on for quite a while.

Picking back up in chapter 40 verse 2:

"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"

Job answers the Lord:

"I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand in my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more." Job 40:4-5

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storrm: (verse 6)

" Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's and can your voice thunder like his?" Job 40:7-9. Once again Job gets an ear full.

Look I don't want to sound cavalier. It may very well be that God will sit down with us and explain to us what he was doing in all of those circumstances. The scriptures do tell us that God will comfort us, wiping away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 7:17,21:4) As Christians though, we do need to find away to make peace with God, to live not in bitterness and anger toward him, but to find a path to peace even if we don't get the answer we are looking for right now. Are we in any kind of place to either demand or expect answers from God? Does God owe us a detailed explanation of all apparent injustices against us? Do we have a legitimate charge to bring against the Almighty? Has God been unjust in allowing suffering in our lives?

What's interesting is that we all seem to forget that none of us are untouchable. We see stories of trajedy all the time on the news and shake our heads. It's not as though we are unaware these things happen, but when it touches us, we can't seem to believe it. Are any of us above sorrow? We fail to recognize that each one of us may only be a few steps away from something similar. Yet, even Jesus told his disciples that in this world we would have trouble, but he also offered this message of hope; "But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) So although Jesus did not resolve to save the apostles from their future sufferings, he did assure them there was hope. In the same way he overcame, we shall too, through him. Within' 50 years all of them with the exception of John would die a martyrs death. Paul who later became an apostle would experience floggings, stoning, shipwrecks and eventually martyrdome himself.

Their cause of course was Christ, so at least they understood to some extent that their sufferings would be of some benefit to the spreading of the gospel (not always though). What about Job? What about when there doesn't seem to be any possible answer or good coming out of a trial? Is it possible to cope when an answer is not forthecoming? Part of it lies in our inability to look beyond our circumstances to the larger picture. The problem with that is, we do not always have access to the larger picture, only God does. My question is, is it possible that there is a purpose even when we don't see it? Are you willing to trust that even in the worst circumstances God can bring good? Are you willing to have faith that He will? Even if you don't see it in this lifetime?

When I read passages like the ones in Job, it reminds me just how small I am. I can only imagine how Job must have felt. What had Job done to deserve all that happened to him? He had served God faithfully and was rewarded with the most intense of trials (the death of family members, fortune, boils, etc.) One trial after another until Job reached the breaking point. Job's petition to God is probably very much like what our own would sound like, although probably not as eloquent. I would argue most of us wouldn't have lasted as long as Job did. He was indeed a man of great faith. When trials of this nature come upon us, it is easy to get the feeling that not only is God negligent, but perhaps He is even persecuting us! We might feel betrayed and alone much like Job. However, even though God did not give Job the answer he was looking for. I think he did put things in perspective and the result is very sobering.

What is also interesting is to observe the myriad of ways in which people will deal with suffering in their lives. I'll never completely understand why one raises their fist in defiance of God, while the other falls prostrate to the floor. One seeks vengeance, while the other seeks mercy and comfort. I suspect it has something to do with the age old stumbling block of pride. The humble man in his sorrow realizes his insignificance in the broad spectrum of things. That all we hold onto as our own, really belongs to him, as does our very lives, even down to our holey underwear (and I'm not talking about Mormon undergarments) . We all too often forget this. Sometimes it's only after something is gone that we realize it, something that we highly valued. How we respond to such cirumstances may be the greatest test we ever have to endure. So what would you do if you lost your most valued treasure? What if it was your health, your children or your home? Would you forsake God?

This brings me to my next question. What is the most important thing in your life? Are you willing to surrender it to God? Even if God allows you to lose it with no apparent answer? These are hard questions. I only ask them to challenge you to ask yourselves, how deep is my faith? Am I really prepared to give it all to God? How would you respond should some such trajedy come into your life? Would you run away from God or run to him?

Most of us if we are lucky will live to maybe our 70's or 80's. Some of us will die before our 40's and some even younger. I think it is important to remember that mankind was created with eternity in mind. As bad as things get in this life, it's not forever. Forever is something completely different. Some might call that wishful thinking and some might say that God is a crutch. My point would be, if it is true that we are all spritual handicaps, then a crutch can be pretty useful to get around. Such a contention does nothing to disprove the existence of God anymore than a broken and depressed individual finding in God a true father figure. In fact it may prove the opposite. why do we have such a yearning for more? Is this just a trick of evolution? Some kind of deceptive survival advantage later to be discarded? Have we evolved past a need for God or religion? I firmly believe the answer is no to all of those questions. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but the existence of suffering does not disprove God, Jesus Christ himself can attest to that. However, in place of the Christian answer to suffering, atheists have offered a seductive alternative. It doesn't matter, life is without any real meaning or purpose, unless we choose to give it meaning or purpose.We don't have to be angry at God because he doesn't exist. How much easier is it to cope now? I know I feel much better (sarcasm) As even the former christian and converted skeptic Bart Ehrman mentioned, after we die that's it, we will cease to exist. This is the atheist gospel. Although it certianly would solve the inconvenience of eternal seperation from God, it doesn't exactly scream of meaning and purpose does it? I mean if we are just glorified animals, accidents of nature and all. Should we take that word to the streets, would that give strength to those comtemplating suicide or struggling with depression? That's one way to answer the why question. There is no answer. Or is that a lack of an answer?

The atheist gospel is no gospel at all of course. In fact it is a contradiction in terms. If Christianity's answer to suffering is insufficient. How much more the atheist. Rather than giving hope in times of struggle, the atheist answer or lack thereof, destroys it. How does this result in a better world?

I'll leave you with these words from Job:
"I know you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked 'Who is this that obsures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." Job 42:2-3

Perhaps God can bring beauty and peace even out of our darkest moments. I believe He not only can, but that he does all the time, even when we don't see it.

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