Why God Allows It
Atheists tend to regard Christianity (if not all faiths) as a
self-reinforcing delusion. This means our faith is based upon scripture
and claims which can neither be proved nor disproved. As a living,
breathing, human it is perfectly reasonable to consider as a possibility
that all of this stuff, all of our Christianity and faith, is just a
buy-in to mass delusion. Many of us refuse to go there and rebuke doubt
as evil. But so is blind faith. The bible teaches us to not put God to
the test, but we can and maybe should put our faith to the test. The
more I questioned my faith, the more answers I sought, the stronger my
faith became. My process of doubting God became the bedrock of my
salvation. The process also allowed lots of useless tribalism—Stuff We
Done Heard Someplace—to drop off in favor of sound doctrine, which can
only come from a serious investigation of the scriptures. Yu can’t
un-learn stupid stuff by just sitting there, listening to your pastor’s
weekly performance. You’ve got to jump in, confess your doubts to God,
ask Him to reveal Himself to you. You have to be willing to let go of
dumb stuff you’ve believed to be sound doctrine, nonsense you’ve clung
to your whole life. You have to be willing to change, to start over if
necessary. Somewhere along that process, you’ll lose the fairy tale
mythology of being “saved” meaning you’ll have no problems, no worries.
That’s the doctrine of nitwits. Rather, the bible cautions us to count
the cost [SCR], to soberly evaluate what being a child of God means. Not
just in stuff you have to give up, which is usually all we think about,
but the cost of being legit and, finally, useful to God. What are you
willing to sacrifice? Are you preparing for suffering, whose purpose is
often to refine you through the fire of trials. Will you remain
faithful, or will you fold like Job’s wife, a nasty bitty who simply
barked, “Curse God and die!”
I am now in my 50’s. Most people in their 50’s will tell you their focus is on their 60’s, on the next elevation of life and what that entails. If you had a 50-year old car sitting in your driveway, you can imagine the amount of work required to keep that car running. Now imagine you have 50-year old kidneys. 50-year old lungs. A 50-year old heart. Health care, something I never gave a whole lot of thought to, moves right to the top of your list of concerns. At age 30, there was always a job. People discriminate against 50-somethings and our job applications go to the bottom of the pile. Many of us have relied on pension funds which have gone bankrupt. Many 50-somethings end up being fired for petty reasons just so companies don’t have to pay out their benefits. During your 50’s you are sharply concerned with your 60’s and how you’re going to eat, where you’re going to live and how you’ll manage to have health care.
All of that, every bit of that, is about managing suffering. Suffering comes with aging. They are a package deal. If you’re very blessed, maybe you’ve done everything right. Maybe you have your Social Security in order and some kind of pension or 401k or what have you. Maybe you are retired military and have medical benefits through that and your home is paid off so you have a place to live. It’s a complex formula. And, even those who’ve done everything absolutely right cannot dodge some form of suffering, even if it’s only a toothache. If you’ve ever had a toothache, an up-all-night-pacing-the-floor-praying-for-death toothache, you have some small preview of what real suffering is about. I have sat with family and loved ones for whom that kind of suffering is maybe one-tenth the pain they lived with as their lives drew to a close. These were not “bad” people. They were not being punished. God had not abandoned them. But, despite the movie playing in our heads since childhood, God never promised us safe passage from cradle to grave. His own Son didn’t have that privilege, why do we expect it?
The Journey: Longevity is both a blessing and a gamble.
When I hear of a Christian dying suddenly in their sleep or perhaps being
run over by a bread truck, my first thought is about how unimaginably
blessed they are. To have death come in a swift and sudden way is more of
a blessing than many of us realize. To not meet death after months or
years of agonizing pain, homelessness, imprisonment or loneliness is a
gift from God. That’s certainly my prayer; not a prayer for death but a
prayer for no suffering. I realize that prayer is unreasonable: we all
have suffering coming, but few of us acknowledge that fact rationally or
prepare for it in any way. We just assume life will cruise on as it
always has, that we’ll be 32 forever. We can’t imagine being one of
those smelly bums shuffling down the street or one of those sad people
holding up handmade signs at the entrances to Walmart. It is
inconceivable that we ourselves may end up in a cancer ward or lose our
well-planned Golden Years nest egg to sickness, disease or economic
That, by the way, is the untold story of the Obama Administration. Had he trumpeted the fact the nation was actually teetering on the brink of a Second Great Depression due mainly to President George W. Bush’s economic policies, the panic would have certainly brought that event into being. The president, therefore, really couldn’t ever say that out loud, but that’s where we were. Your social security, your pension or 401k—no matter who you are—would surely have been wiped out had the president not taken decisive action to forestall such a cataclysmic economic event. Most of us don’t know this or just don’t think of it: the sheer scale of unimaginable suffering that would have occurred if not for this president’s actions. Many of the older conservatives booing and hissing and painting Hitler mustaches on the president’s picture would be living on the street were it not for him.
We put our faith in our savings account. In the value of our home. How many millions of people lost or nearly lost their homes during the recession? How many people lost their retirement benefits? Why on earth do we believe this couldn’t happen to us? Why do we blame God when such disasters occur? After all, our faith is not in God but in our pension fund—which went belly-up with the snap of a finger. Then we turn around and curse God and refuse to believe in Him, which is silly: we obviously didn’t believe in Him before we lost everything, Before the cancer. Before she walked out on us. For, if we truly believed, we wouldn’t be shaking our fist at Him now.
Rather than ask God why He allows suffering in our lives, I’m more curious about why we believe we’ll be exempt from it. Why does suffering always take us by surprise? Any rational mind must surely acknowledge the possibility that we’ll endure unimaginable suffering at some point if not several points in our lives. We should not only accept suffering as inevitable but anticipate suffering’s arrival by thanking God, with much joy, for each and every day He grants us to live without it. A day without emotional, mental or physical pain is like a lottery win. Few of us appreciate this fact until those days are behind us; until we are suffering and pray for even one of those suffering-free days back.
Why not enjoy them now?
I imagine suffering to be an integral part of the human experience. It is simply not rational to expect to sail from cradle to grave without experiencing pain, loss, heartbreak, or hardship of any kind. And yet, this is precisely what we do: fail to strap in, store up, brace ourselves or otherwise fortify our lives in any way.
The first discussion of any romantic relationship should be about how the relationship will end. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble; be man enough, woman enough, to have the tough conversation while the pixie dust is still in the air. Set terms and conditions and later have the will to stick to them: we got into this thing as friends, we will love one another enough to make sure it ends that way. But, we never do that. We get into one relationship after another thinking this is it; this will never end. How many times have we sung that song? Together forever. It’s nonsense. It’s incredibly immature. Relationships end, either in the courtroom or the graveyard, and most of us punk out when the going gets rough. So have the talk. Having the talk is real love. Stumbling blindly forward is what kids do.
Why don’t we have a living will? Why wait until you’re laid out somewhere, unable to speak for yourself, and your Aunt Cookie or some other well-meaning but nonetheless clueless individual is calling the shots?
Just A Matter of Time: Sooner or later, we're all on our way to Memorial.
Eternal Beings, A Human Experience
The ability to experience joy, happiness, euphoria, exhilaration is a
divine gift. Now, could God give us this gift and, at the same time,
block us from experiencing pain, disappointment, apprehension,
disillusion and sadness? Heck, He’s God. He can do what He wants.
I’m just making this up; I have no scriptural basis for my own opinion, here: our purpose is to become more like Him. In order to achieve that, we have to become more God-like. Not automatons like the angels, who can appear human but lack most of the qualities of a human existence. All of us, Christian or not, have been endowed with the divine attributes of our maker, including a free will to reject Him or deny He exists. We can taste excellent food, breathe crisp mountain air, fall in love. Without the capacity to experience the negatives in life, how would we even know the food was good. Good as compared to what? How do we fall in love? How do we truly experience joy without sorrow? How do we become more God-like if God puts His thumb on the scale for us and bars all the negative things?
The harsher sufferings most of us will encounter as we move later into our life’s journey are, frankly, one of those inexplicable mysteries of God. Men and women who acknowledge Him, who love Him, who have faithfully served him, now dead broke, homeless, diseased, suffering great pain and great emotional distress, abandoned by their families and friends. I don’t know how to explain that.
I can tell you virtually all of the men who gave up everything to follow Christ ultimately suffered torture and died grisly deaths. Most of us miss that reality when we decide we’ve been “called to preach.” A large percentage of those acknowledging their calling are just wannabes enamored of the pastor and feeling they can do that too; grab the mic and pace around yelling and performing. The tiniest fraction of “associate” ministers I’ve ever met in my life actually do any ministering; actually visit widows and befriend orphans and build some Christian work with their own hands. The overwhelming majority of “associate” ministers I’ve ever met are absolutely useless. They sit around and wait for their chance to preach; that’s it. Real Christianity costs. It costs your time, your talent, your treasure, your patience. It costs your reputation because stepping out makes you a target. “Associate” ministers who start their own work usually receive little or no support from the church, whose calendars and budgets are jammed with useless, self-congratulatory pageants.
Celebrate Joy: Give thanks and praise to God for every day without suffering.
Stepping out into real ministry, you’ll find little support, mostly
ridicule, and may ultimately be rewarded by God seeming to abandon you
as the creditors close in or disease claims your body.
Satan’s twisted warping of the nature of Christianity provides us with this Pollyannaish storybook nonsense about goodness and light along with the expectation that accepting Christ, living for Christ, means we won’t suffer. There is a positive reinforcement acclamation that frees us from any responsibility as this lie of The Benign Christianity suggests that once we commit to Christ, we will no longer struggle or suffer in any way. This is a fool’s doctrine, one most of us believe because we don’t actually read the bible. It’s more of this Stuff We Done Heard Someplace, and we revolt and curse God when this nonsense is proved untrue. We curse God for our suffering, we curse God for our loss. How could a loving God allow this? Idiot: read your bible. God never promised us an easy life. He promised us the power to overcome life’s challenges through His Holy Spirit.
Don’t just read the beginning of the story, look and see how those stories end. Unless you are blessed enough to get taken out by a sudden and painless brain aneurism, dude, suffering is on the way. If you’re not preparing for it, emotionally, spiritually, financially, you’re just an idiot. If you’re not celebrating God now for each day you live without suffering, don’t curse Him when the suffering comes because, check me: it’s coming. The sad truth of the matter is, in your hour of need and through yuor trial, it may all boil down to just you and God: a faith battered and shaken that remains steadfast even as those around us lose theirs.
Christopher J. Priest
10 June 2014
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