Friday, March 30, 2012

The Age of Loss

"I cannot and will not believe in and worship a God who could create cancer."

We can say all day long, as Christians, "Well, God didn't create it... He allowed it..."  We can come up with all kinds of answers, but the basic implication of these wounded skeptics is that if there is a God, a God who has enough power and transcendence to create the entire physical universe and everything in it, and with it all the non-physical entities and forces, then He is transcendent enough to know what He is doing, what He is creating, and what will happen if He "allows" certain things to happen.

And the commonality among all of us, sooner or later in life, is the wound.  Many skeptics are "wounded" skeptics.  Some are bitter and angry skeptics -I will NOT believe in a God who could let those things happen to me and those I love.  They have intellectual reasons for their skepticism, but usually there is a personal reason embedded within it.  Someone died.  Loss happened.  Cancer ravaged someone they loved, and they watched them suffer and die before their eyes.  An accident struck.  A natural disaster took everything they own.  The life they grew into, with their relationships, is a broken shell compared to what they had hoped and dreamed for -broken families, broken marriages, broken children.  Neglect.  Abuse.  Mental and emotional illness.  Disease.  Disaster.  "Freak" accidents.  The list goes on and on.

For a God who supposedly doesn't exist, those folks sure are angry at Him, if you peek beneath the covers.  That I get it.  There is an anger about it.  There is deep pain.

"God, I don't understand how you could be "God" and be a "good" God and have the world be this way, so I will refuse to believe in You."

or

"God, I don't understand how you could be "God" and be a "good" God and have the world be this way, so since you seem to not care about suffering, about my suffering, why should I care about following you?  If you don't care about what I care about, why should I care about what you care about?"

Pastor and author Timothy J. Keller has been helpful on this front somewhat.  Intellectually, there is one thing that is true:  If God is transcendent enough to be angry with for allowing the world to be the way it is, for not stopping that cancer or that abuse or that tragedy, then He is also transcendent enough to have reasons for allowing it which we do not know and cannot grasp.  You can't have it both ways.  Transcendence is transcendence.  We accept quickly that God must be transcendent over evil and calamity, being ready to blame Him, yet we want to break into the throne room, assuming our own transcendence and right, so that we can look over His shoulder at the game-plan and pass judgment.

Shouldn't that Transcendent vs. creature relationship hold in both cases?

Logically it should.  But logic isn't really the driving force.  Two things are.  First, it is in our nature as corrupted human beings to want to climb the ladder into heaven, to break through the clouds, to storm into the throne-room, and to want to take it over.  We take our natural, God-given power of reason, our desire to understand and know this universe we have been given, and we want to use them to storm the heavens and tell God, with our very limited minds and information, that He's doing it wrong.

And second, which I already mentioned, is the pain.  It isn't just that bad things happen.  It is that bad things have happened to us.  We've cried and begged and pleaded for help, for something to change, for help to arrive, and nothing happened.  No rescue.  No God.  No "help in the day of trouble." 

"Where were you, God, when I called to you for help?  Where were you?!  Where are you now?!  You know how I suffer, and yet nothing happens.  You watch as everything I love crumbles before my eyes."

It is true.  But it is a sad fact of reality.  In this life we will experience loss.  Even if none of our relationships ever ended by betrayal or rejection or contention, they would still end through death.  Loss is an inevitable part of this existence.  And it hurts.  You can't avoid that.  So, to say that God should have the world be different is ultimately to long for a world that has no loss in it.

In light of all of this, I submit the following to you.  If you give up God because of evil and calamity in the world, you give up too much.

First, you give up the very basis for something being "wrong" versus "right."  If it is merely your opinion, that doesn't form very much of a ground for feeling justified in being angry about it.  Why is a world with loss in it "wrong?"  Just because you don't like it?  Upon what grounds?  If everything is a product of material and chemical chance, then so are my emotions.  Upon what grounds can I really make a moral or value judgment and have it mean anything at all?  Giving up God means that my feelings are meaningless and have no basis other than the temporary feeling I get when certain chemicals surge in my brain.  Why do they surge?  I don't know.  Maybe it is about species survival.  Yet, I don't know where things like compassion for the weak and sick fits in with "survival of the fittest."  Oh, that's because it doesn't.

Second, you give up the framework in which the pain of loss makes any sense.  The thing which helps us get through pain and loss is knowing that our feelings matter.  Letting our feelings matter means letting the person or thing that was lost matter to us.  If your spouse who passed away matters to you, your pain will be great.  To dismiss the pain as nothing does not honor the value of that beloved person to you.  Feeling what you feel honors their memory.  The pain matters because they matter.  If there is no God, a God who created us as relational beings, made to live in relationship with Him and with others, then why does it hurt so much when relationships are severed by loss?  Please explain that to me from a naturalistic, atheistic point of view.

Imagine your mother dies.  You are crushed.  You feel so much sorrow.  You feel reget.  The grief, the pain of loss, is unbearable.  So many memories flood to your mind.  Can you imagine dismissing those as insignificant?  That would be like dismissing the loss of your mother, itself.  You might want to run from that pain in various ways, but you can't change the fact that your mother meant everything to you and now she is gone, and that kills you inside.  If there is no God, the God who made us this way, then relationships and community are purely a functional necessity for the survival of our species.  But if there is a God who created us to be relational beings like He is (in a Trinity), then now it makes sense why relational loss is so devastating.  It makes sense why there is a very real, non-tangible, non-physical bond -a bond that has now been broken, bringing anguish to the soul.

I remember seeing a television program about a mother who lost her children years ago, yet she still keeps their rooms vacant, arranged just as they were when they lived there.  It is plain that she does not want to let go of them.  She is trying to keep them alive, to hold on to them, because facing the pain of the loss is too much.  Over the top?  Crazy?  Self-destructive?  I don't think that is the point.  More like hurting and not wanting to face it because she loves her children that much.  "Good-bye" are two words she does not want to say, even if she knows within that it has already happened.

The pain of "good-bye" only makes sense if the rest about God, and how He created us, is true.  So while it may seem easy to dismiss God because of the presence of evil and calamity, we cannot dismiss Him for our pain to matter -and we know it does.

But God does one more for us.  He does not give an exhaustive explanation for why He allows another day to pass in the world the way it is.  He again disappoints our human sensibilities by coming into this world of evil and calamity and suffering under it.  What is that all about?!  He came into the world as the man Christ Jesus, He grew up in a small town, living in a people who rejected Him, living in a people who were oppressed by the Romans.  He was betrayed by His friends.  He was abandoned.  He was beaten and tortured and killed.

Why did He do that?  The Bible tells us that He did it as a way to deal with this problem of evil and calamity, all of the things that belong to this fallen age we live in.  To us, that sounds utterly defeated and stupid.  "You're God... just snap your fingers and change this crap!"  But instead He chose to come down and subject Himself to it and die under it.

But it doesn't end there.  By His death He died to sin, for our sins, so that we may be reconciled to God.  And then He conquered death by rising from the dead.  By His resurrection, He became the first of something new -a new creation.  Isn't that what we want?  We want something new to come?  We want an end to the evil and calamity and something new to come.  Just like a mother with a baby in her womb, the time has not yet come for the birth of the new age to come.  But it will come.

In other words, God is not silent.  He did answer our cries.  He came and dealt with the problem, and He gives His promise that a new age is coming, a new creation -His Kingdom- is coming.  Whether we are part of that kingdom depends upon if we believe in His goodness and what He has done, if we trust.

Could it simply be that God does not deal with things in the way that we like, and that is what makes Him God and us not?  And could it be that God actually does answer all of our longings?

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