We debuted the blog this past Sunday and asked for your faith questions. We got a GREAT response. Thank you, and keep them coming.
The first question from the congregation is (drumroll please…)
“Does God absent himself from people and places? (How else to explain the extreme cruelty, heartache, loss, etc. that some experience?)”
Starting off with a bang.
This question is going to take a couple of weeks to answer…
Essentially, this question is asking something that most everyone, Christians and otherwise, have asked themselves at some point:
If God is completely powerful and completely loving- how can there be evil in the world? Wouldn’t God stop all the pain, if he was able to?
We’re going to study this question from a couple of different angles.
First we’ll talk about the evil we do to each other.
Then we’ll talk about the suffering that is brought by nature (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc).
Then we’ll discuss suffering brought about by our own fragility (disease, sickness, etc).
St. Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote extensively on this subject. He firmly believed that most evil comes as a direct result of a human’s free choice. In other words, God has given us the ability to freely act- to choose good or to choose evil- and sadly, many times we choose to do unimaginable evil to each other.
In St. Augustine’s opinion, most evil exists in the world because normal people like you or me choose to do evil to one another.
Couldn’t God have made a world where we did not have the ability to hurt each other?
Of course he could have- but God did not want a world full of robots. God chose to create a world where your freedom is not constrained.
With this comes the ability to experience grace, goodness, peace, love, and joy.
And also pain and hurt.
That is one of the reasons why so much of the Bible asks us to choose love. God knows the choice we have before us and is continually calling us to live according to a higher standard.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Much of the evil that happens in this world comes from us disregarding these commandments.
It would be easier to imagine that God should just snap his fingers and remove all of the pain and evil from the world. But if God were to do that, he would necessarily remove our freedom to make moral choices. God chose not to do that. We have the freedom to love or to hate. And God encourages us to choose love.
But shouldn’t God have known that the world would so often choose evil?
Yes, God should have known. And God did know. And in response, God has chosen to join us in this world- in the pain and the hurt- and point to a better way.
At the heart of our Scriptures is the story of God coming to this world in Jesus to show us the best possible way to live.
We don’t have to follow how Jesus lived.
We don’t have to live according to the self-sacrificial rules of love that Jesus lived.
We have the freedom to disregard all of that.
But imagine the type of world we’d live in if we all joined together to treat others like we’d want to be treated. It would be a world absent of cruelty, absent of heartache, and full of complete, satisfying joy.
So does God “absent” himself in times of pain and suffering. No. God “emmanuelizes” himself in times of pain and suffering. Yes, I know that is not a real word, but maybe it will catch on. Emmanuel means “God is with us” and this is true even in the face of cruelty and heartache.
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”- Matthew 1:23
Next week- we’ll tackle the suffering that comes through nature. See you on Sunday!