There’s this way of thinking that I notice a few Christians have.
How it operates is that whenever something horrific happens to them, they justify it in their minds in the same way that Joseph got over the betrayal of his brothers when he was sold to Egypt. When his brothers later on were a bit wary of him unleashing his power all over them, he reassured them that they may have meant it for evil, but God used it for good. Thus believers with good intentions lumber every negative experience in that category: it sucks now, but God is going to turn it for good later (in this life, or sometimes, conveniently ‘when they get to heaven’).
There are other Christians who have another way of sorting out bad things.
They take a far more grim approach that says that as sinners who have rebelled against God, even though they’ve decided to follow Jesus, bad things still have to happen because after all we’re still sinners. Without overtly committing to it, the suggestion is that we don’t really deserve anything good at all and anything good we experience is so much purely by God’s grace that actually when bad stuff happens it’s just a hint as to what we really deserve because none of us are good anyway. Thanks to sin everything sucks and the level of suck is just a hint of the suck that we all deserve.
So there we have two approaches to dealing with bad things that happen. Now that’s not my effort at explaining the problem of evil. Oh no, siree (or missy). That’s another problem for someone far more intelligent than me to discuss on a Thursday evening after drinking a Cherry Pepsi Max.
I am just looking at these two ways of explaining when bad stuff happens to pleasant people. I don’t have a definitive take on either of those two perspectives. They each have their biblical references for backing. They certainly have their merits and there are those who will gladly testify to both. Indeed some might not think the two perspectives are necessarily opposing or contradictory. Though I hope you can see that there are distinctive aspects of each that appear on the surface to suggest complimenting each other would be tricky. One’s a brighter outlook of how blessed we are whereas another is a more grim perspective on the depraved nature of humanity.
In any case, I’m not wading into the waters of deep theological and philosophical musing on the issues to do with each. What I am addressing is that in and amongst it all are life stories that cannot easily and satisfactorily be explained by either.
One of the best men I’ve ever had the privilege of coming across is someone I worked for in the best job I’ve ever had. In fact I believe he’s still the best boss/line-manager I’ve ever had. (Dryden ponders in his head about that one and the other one and then that other one, but shakes his head because they were good, but not as good as this guy.)
This geezer is married to a beautiful woman. By beautiful I hope you understand I mean the deepest fullness of that term – beautiful. Sure she wasn’t perfect (Dryden bites his lip to stop himself typing ‘she’s a woman after all’ … uh oh, Dryden typed it in the parentheses anyway). Yet she was a beautiful woman, calm in disposition, intelligent, friendly, warm, hospitable and pleasant.
The geezer and his wife were and are avid followers of Jesus Christ. I learnt a lot about grace through his lifestyle and that was a reflection of a marriage based on that principle. Beautiful people, flawed people and beautiful people endeavouring to reflect the glory of God as the light shines in their lives.
It then transpires that the beautiful wife has a condition that has slowly eaten away at her physical capabilities. As it has done so it has caused significant upheaval in their lives including the need to move into a one level accommodation and inability for her to necessarily access the kind of work that ideally she’d like to commit to as the condition worsens.
Hardship, tension, frustration, angst, anguish and despair are processes they have fought through. They have heard the prayers and well-wishes of other believers who have called out to God for her healing. For all those calls her condition continues to deteriorate. They’ve heard about different perspectives on suffering and continue to live the best way they can under the circumstances.
Hearing someone cheerily share with them the ‘what was meant for evil, God will turn around for good’ approach sounds hollow to them. It’s been years now that they’ve endured this situation as it has gradually got worse. For something that was meant to be turning around for their good it certainly has a twisted way of showing it.
Hearing someone morosely indicate that actually it’s the grace of God that has kept them alive as it happens the condition is a proof of the dreadful consequences of sin does not help either. It doesn’t help because it gives the picture of forces being greater and stronger than the God they’re supposed to trust in. It gives another impression that probably they didn’t do enough to avoid God’s judgment on them and so that’s why they’re suffering. Either way it’s not a helpful perspective.
I say all that to say sometimes our neat doctrines and theological positions about matters does not answer the grief and suffering that faces us. Sometimes our neat doctrines and theological positions conveniently forget God who sometimes goes beyond our neat doctrines and theological positions.
Some of us want to get God nailed down and say this is it and we know Him because He said this. Where someone else can equally suggest they have God nailed down in a completely different way because He said this.
Whereas in the midst of it all, God is saying neither of those things. God isn’t giving easy answers. God isn’t expecting us to pray more fervently, have all night prayer vigils, fast more and go through 112 rites and rituals of purification and sanctification to get His attention so that He can do the trick and ‘ta da’ the illness is gone.
God is present, but He’s not promising to be easy. Will that fact that God is present be enough? Will it be enough to know He is there with us, suffering with us, grieving with us, frustrated with us, tired with us, yearning with us. Will that be enough?
What if that’s all there is?
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden