Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cursing God in Pain and Suffering

From Revelation 16, as we read about God pouring our His wrath on this rebellious world, we see something so familiar.  We see a typical response of people to pain and suffering...

"They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory."

"People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds."

"And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe."

Three times in this chapter we see the response of people to the judgment of God.  Indeed, here is God's wrath being poured out in power.  And the response is to curse God, to blame God, to hate Him, because He has power over these things (and hence power to stop them), and yet there is no repentance.  There is no love for God nor any softening.  The presence of pain prompts the people to curse Him more and more.

As I heard my pastor read this section of Scripture this morning, I immediately thought of one thing:  that is me.  Truly, I know that I am not the recipient of God's wrath -I am the recipient of God's mercy through Jesus Christ.  But in the final analysis, the problem is the same.  As my life has taken so many painful twists and turns, and as it has felt like there was no end to the suffering, my heart turned cold toward God.  I began to doubt God -His existence and certainly His goodness.  I began to carry anger toward God in my heart... and bitterness... and self-pity... and the whole rest of the soul-decaying feelings and dispositions that gnawed away at my soul and my relationship with Him.

One thing that struck me is that it is as though the pain and suffering poured out on people expected to produce repentance.  In some way, the awful pain in these things aimed to bring them to turn, to "give Him glory", but they would not.   Why?  How?

Well, I believe God's wrath, and the presence of evil and suffering, show us the severity of sin.  They show us how much God hates it.  They show us what it brings forth.  And they show us how small our lives are in the midst of this grand orchestration, in the midst of this vast world and plan of God.

But still... it is one thing to fall on my face and admit to God's power and admit to how we all, because of sin, are "deserving" of judgment.  Or, as a believer, that I am His son, a child He may chastise and grow as He pleases, for His glory and my good.  But it is another to bury the hatchet of my anger toward Him and really embrace Him in it.

What my pastor pointed out which I failed to see initially is that the anger against such pain is right and good, but it is misplaced.  For on the cross of Christ, God suffered.  He suffered the suffering of the world.  And He still is.  As Saul of Tarsus persectured Christians, Jesus confronted him and asked "Why are you persecuting me?"  The crucifixion and suffering of Christ continues on as He endures the suffering and evil of this world and as we, His body, suffer it as well.

See, when we endure all of this pain and suffering, we can cry out to God saying, "I hate it!"  And He replies back, "I hate it, too!  I hate it so much that I sent my Son to absorb it and take it on Himself.  And He still is... I know, and I hate it, too!"  And so God is not our enemy in suffering but our ally... or rather, we become His ally in it... as we endure the sufferings of Christ in this world, as we know His sufferings, and as we stand against the evil of this world in love and truth, fighting by speaking the truth in love, fighting by loving the unlovable.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Be Cool, Dude

Be cool, dude.  Just be cool.  And don't be an asshole.  That's what it is to be a good person in this life...

And such sentiments represent a large part of the spiritual ethos of our culture and the age we live in.  The great thing about these "commandments" is that they are relatively self-explanatory... or rather, the main idea seems self-evident to us.  We implicitly know what it means to "be an asshole," and most of us, it would seem, don't intentionally want to be one.  We may find justifications for all manner of assholery, but in time they usually weigh heavily on our paper-thin conscience.

This is what I walked the first 22 years of my life by.  And God, if there was one, I assumed would certainly agree that if I was basically a good person I would be let into heaven when I die.  After all... I tried to "be cool."  I tried not to be a jerk.  I valued honesty.  I didn't smoke, drink, or do drugs.  I wasn't self-righteous or into empty formalism like those religious people.  And I knew and firmly believed that sex was not something for outside of marriage -which was convenient since I had no girlfriend and was too socially awkward and insecure to really engage in the party lifestyle or with the opposite sex.

Still, this was my morality.  And it made me a good person.  The idea was not to look down on others, but it was to say, "Hey, if they are basically good people and God, if He is there, is cool with them, then I'm certainly okay."  And this morality, this code, became a convenient wall to hide behind, an identity.  It distinguished me from others -which isn't a completely bad thing.  I obviously do believe we ought to have our own identities!  But ironically, it was a way to hide from having to stand on my own two feet in situations with anybody.  It was a way to avoid, and in spite of all the pseudo-spiritualism, it was a way to avoid God as well.

See, there was something missing.  Or to put it another way, there were assumptions baked in that I was not even aware of.  I would say my spiritual belief was "unformed" and that maybe I was an agnostic, but in reality I presupposed many things about God and took them as true.  The main thing I assumed is that God, if He was real, was as distant and personally avoidant as I was.  Maybe He was just a "force" -utterly non-personal.  Therefore, this "God" just sat up in heaven making sure I was "cool" to others.  He only cared about me being as good as everybody else, but he cared nothing about being involved with me.  Maybe one day, in heaven, he would be involved, but heaven was more for floating around and meeting your dead relatives, right?

Then someone explained to me why Jesus really died.  Why He had to die, and what it was for.  He died as the only way to reconcile God with sinful humanity.  All have sinned.  And God required something far more from his prized creatures than "be cool"... so much more that the only thing that could blot out the stain and make me right in His sight was the blood of the Innocent One shed on a cross for me two-thousand years ago. 

This destroyed the first obstacle between me and God.  The word of the cross destroyed the myth that I was "good enough" by my own standards.  It shone a bright and unyielding light on the self-serving nature of our desire to set the standards for what God thinks is okay or not.  After all, since when do I write the rules?  Am I God?  Apparently we think we are.  And if Jesus had to die, and that was the only way to connect me to God, then that meant -in spite of my best opinion of myself and my best attempts to self-console- God saw me as beloved yet estranged and unclean.

And this began to awaken in me a new sense which has grown in depth and complexity for fifteen years... there is a vertical component to what God expects of His image-bearing creation, of me.  He doesn't just sit up there and think, "Tsk tsk... he shouldn't have lied to that person."  No, God is a jealous God.  He is jealous to be known, to be loved, to be treasured, to be intimately beheld.  And, in the strangest and most incomprehensible way for the Transcendent God to relate to a mere creature living on a tiny speck in this vast universe, He wants to walk with us.

To say that God's rules are about rules is to miss God.  He wants to be our God, and for us to walk with Him, to partner with, lean on, include Him, to know Him and trust Him, by faith... in every breath and step.  He is jealous for us... like the Perfect Husband is jealous for his beautiful bride who constantly strays to other lovers and treats his affection and love as commonplace.

This is far different from the idea of an uninvolved Judge who just wants us to be cool and groovy to everybody.  This is about a God who longs for the restoration of His alienated Beloved and who has moved heaven and earth to come down into it and complete the rescue process through the death and resurrection of His Son, His own self-donation to have us back for Himself.

Or to put it more keenly... God is not ultimately interested in your goodness.  He is interested in you.  Our goodness, just like my moral code in my younger years, is something we use to keep Him at bey.  It is a wall.  He wants to destroy the wall.  He wants you.