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    May 15th, 2012 @ 6:06 am by Kevin

    A while back it occurred to me that I should always be suspicious of a theology that arises from the suburbs of North America, because its comfortable surroundings is bound to have a distorting effect.

    But then I heard the voice of one of my mentors saying that when we feel the boat tipping in one direction, the natural human tendency is to run to the opposite side. So I probably shouldn’t put any more faith in a theology that arises from the dusty shantytowns of Soweto, because the conditions of deprivation are bound to have a distorting effect. No matter which direction I run, the boat is still going to capsize.

    But who is content to sit in the middle, especially when everyone else is running from one side to the other? And who can sit still with all of this rocking? Maybe the solution is to run back and forth so quickly we create the illusion of stability…

    I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that right now, I live a pretty comfortable life. I look out the window of my spacious office and see a few cows lounging in a lush, green field spotted with yellow dandelions. Beyond them, a farmer harvests his first cut of hay. My doors are unlocked and my windows are open. My four-year-old daughter runs back and forth from our house to the neighbors, and I never worry about anything bad happening to her in between. When I go to bed at night, I don’t fret about someone breaking in while we’re asleep. The most powerful weapon I own–a BB gun–couldn’t penetrate a pair of jeans at 10 feet, and the reason I own it has nothing to do with personal protection.

    I make note of this, because I realize my present state of peace and security is bound to distort the way I look at hell. Even though my city was the murder capital of Canada a few years back, I rarely come face-to-face with human depravity in its most chilling forms. Like most people, I have the luxury of merely reading about it in the newspaper. So when I express my discomfort with the idea of God punishing people in hell forever, perhaps you could accuse me of being glib, because I’ve never been victimized to the point where the desire to see someone suffer forever would arise in my heart. Maybe if my daughter disappeared on her way to my neighbor’s house, and her mutilated body showed up in the Fraser River a few weeks later, I’d feel differently.

    I hope I never have to answer that question from personal experience. But I recognize that many thousands of people are in the thick of such situations every day. If they have a window, their view is distorted by security bars and stone walls topped by shards of glass. And rather than a few cows lounging in a field of lush grass spotted by dandelions, they see a few scraggly chickens pecking at a stream of raw sewage that runs unnoticed down a street packed with smoke-spewing mopeds, crowds of people and mounds of rotting trash. They live in constant fear of human traffickers seducing or abducting their children. And when they go to bed at night, they’re plagued cold, hunger and fear for their personal security.

    Somehow in the face of all this, Louis Armstrong had the gall to sing “What a Wonderful World.” Centuries before him, Gottfried Leibniz dared to call this “the best of all possible worlds.” And today, we hear countless Christian witnessing attempts begin with the words, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

    Really? Then how do you explain this:

    One response would be to say God loves these children, and though the evil they suffered was tragic, it ultimately served a greater good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians argue that evil is necessary in order to preserve free will. If we’re to freely choose God, we need a viable option. Hence the need for evil. The problem is, that pretty much reduces the children in the picture to collateral damage. They paid the price so that someone else could freely choose God–or not.

    Another option would be to say that God doesn’t actually love these children–at least not in the same way he loves HIS children. From before the foundation of the world, he chose a remnant for himself. But then he went ahead and created the rest of the people anyway, knowing they were essentially hardwired to choose evil. But their rejection of God, and the subsequent destruction they committed, would merely be the dark cloth against which God’s goodness would shine all the brighter. So you could say the evil these children suffered ultimately brings glory to God–or not.

    I don’t see any easy way out of this. In fact, my worst fear is having to face the same question Martin Bashir threw at Rob Bell last spring when he interviewed him about Love Wins: “Which of these is true, either God is all-powerful and, therefore, doesn’t care about the people in Japan and their suffering [from the earthquake], or he does care about the people of Japan but he’s not all-powerful. Which one is it?”

    If we’re going to talk about hell, the problem of evil is front and center. And what is our theology of hell if not a way of coming to terms with the ultimate paradox–a universe supposedly created by an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God, but which is also rampant with all sorts of pain, death and destruction?

    God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but… Somehow it’s all gone to shit.

    All of humanity screams “Why?”

    And what does your theology of hell have to say in response?

    [Inspired by this blog post.]

leave a comment on this post (16 Comments)

  1. Bundesbedenkenträger May 15, 2012 at 7:14 am

    I remember a lectre on the Apocalypse of John, when we discussed how to deal with the saints screaming for the evil to be punished. And yes, the thought came up, that this punishment of the evildoers, of the killers and rapists and what not, plays a role for the cure of souls. They have to be brought to justice, at least fot the victims it has to be, psychologically.
    Speaking of the theodicee, I see it a bit like: The Lord has given, the Lord has taken, praised be the Lord. I confess that I do by no means understand why evil has to be, why Auschwitz happened, why earthquakes and tsunamis kill thousands of people. I know it not. And I need not know it. Yes, this solves no problem, and it’s a hard position to keep when struck yourself. But which position would be better? Speaking of free will and making people colleteral damage? Or cursing God for not being a god myself and knowing? Or abandoning God and making myself my own god, claiming to know anything?

  2. This is one of the best objections to the idea of a merciful God. Why? No short comment will suffice, but I will say that no one becomes a person of stature without enduring great suffering.

    Have you ever read a work of fiction (or biography) in which the positive hero hasn’t suffered great things? Can the rich kid who’s had an easy life, great family, success in everything he turns his hand to, physical and mental health and beauty for himself and all he loves, etc. be Aragorn or Margaret Thatcher or Gandhi?

    Even the Son of God learned obedience by the things that He suffered. It’s not that He was disobedient, but He learned the cost, the depth, the character of obedience in the throes of pain and sorrows. We cannot develop character unless we are opposed.

    I don’t want the type of suffering the children in your picture (or their parents!) have endured. I don’t want the type of suffering that I endure. (And while it isn’t the result of aggressors, it is genuine and soul shredding and I would avoid it at all costs if I could.) I don’t want that for anyone, and yet without it, we CAN NOT grow up.

    Some of us suffer more, some less, and the suffering of the innocent seems more weighty by far. Why must this happen? Perhaps God knows what we need to become the people He means us to be. Against a backdrop of never-ending bliss, perhaps ANY suffering, however great, pales to insignificance.

    I know that when I have come through a trial, when it’s behind me and I can at length see the value of it, the suffering is as a ghost, a dream. I am no longer hurting. (I speak of trials that come to an end in this life — many do not, of course.) At that point, the work God has done in my life shows me that the pain, while undesirable, was worth going through for the benefits that came of it. I trust that the same will be true of those things we must endure for the whole course of our lives.

    However evil the evil may be, God can make it good. He’s THAT amazing.

    Those who have sinned against love will and must be punished in order to be healed. They will not get out of ‘there’ (whatever ‘there’ may be) until they’ve paid the uttermost farthing, until they’re safe and good and can be a pure blessing to those they’ve cursed in past time.

    Abba is working to knit us all together, and we will all have some of that dark background with which to contrast the light. I think that perhaps we who have suffered relatively little might be tempted to envy our brothers and sisters who have suffered much and who will then be so exceedingly great and beautiful, were it not that we will be so in love and in admiration of them. If it is God’s will that they were chosen for the high seats at the table and we were not, I think we’ll be okay with that in the end.

    • Cindy, I agree with what you said about growth and suffering. However, it still brings us back to the same question Kevin asked. Are some people simply collateral damage for others? For instance, if a 3-year-old child develops cancer and dies, his suffering does not allow him to grow. He’s three! Does his death affect his family and friends. Of course. And maybe those individuals can grow from the suffering of losing a child. But the child does not grow. How can a sexually abused, murdered child or teen overcome THAT obstacle? Same for the victims of war or natural disasters. Are some people collateral damage in order for us to experience and overcome emotional suffering? That seems awfully cruel for a God who supposedly loves us all equally. So either we are all loved individually, and all of our lives have value, or we live purely in a system in which no one is special or unique. Perhaps our lives have value because of that system: That the worst tragedies can bring wonderful change or hope for others, just not ourselves. But boy, that still feels like there are certain people who are simply pawns in this life, and that does not comfort me.

      • In this life there are trials and suffering.This is the fruit of peril and was fortold from the beginning.To ponder the reasons for such is waste.I do not envy the suffering or live a life free of it .But such is life and not until we sit in the presence of a loving God will these things be made clear for us to understand.
        There has however been a path laid that those who believe .While suffering endures until the end ,knowing of the boundless joy that awaits is a strengthening tool. Amen and in the name of JESUS CHRIST …AMEN!!!

  3. Nice job. I particularly appreciate that you don’t present The Answer.
    (Not to be flippant, but I had never thought of cows ‘lounging’. There’s something very Far Side about that image.)

  4. my theology of hell says “don’t worry. jesus is building up an army, a body of king-priests, of lions and lambs. he’s teaching them the ways of love, grace, and gentleness and the ways of battle with the adversary. many people are trapped in the hell that sin creates, that they’ve been trapped in since birth spiritually because of the nature of sin. but don’t worry. because the day is coming when this remnant will kick down the doors of hell. every demon will shudder to hear them marching, every devil quiver in place to hear the gates rustle; and then they shall tumble in, and by the word of their mouths every captive there shall be free, every demon taken in chains, and hell itself shall be transformed by the word of their mouths.”

  5. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but… Somehow it’s all gone to shit.”

    Yes, God did create humanity to experience life, but they fell into death, rot and decay. Yes, it all went to shit. But God isn’t just sitting off somewhere unconcerned or untouched by what happens here. He knows the suffering that humanity has experienced because he became one of us and literally got 7 shades of shit kicked out of Him.

    He knows abandonment, He knows betrayal, He knows desperation, he knows fear and He experienced a horrible and humiliating death.

    But the good news is that everything that went to shit, God has redeemed. He will set it straight.

    • I understand what you are trying to say Robert, but it still leads to a ,WTF. Okay, so Christ got the shit beat out of him…. what next? So does the world change after his ass kicking? This is still the question that Kevin is raising…. “Why?”

      From just observation alone, it looks like Adam’s effect on man (world) has had greater impact than Christ’s sacrifice. I say that with a frustrated heart and not in disrespect toward God. Something doesn’t seem to add up with my “God given brain”.

      • My point is that God isn’t somehow disconnected from human suffering and misery, He is very intimately aware. I know what people mean when they ask the question of why God doesn’t punish sin, why He doesn’t come down and start kicking ass. My question is would they be happy if God started with theirs. After all, all sins, even the most horrendous, all started with an idea and grow from there. God could have made us machines and we would do everything without question, but then He gets blamed for creating robots. God gave man free will, but then He gets blamed for man misusing it. Dang, God just can’t catch a break. The writers of the scriptures dealt with these questions and they ended up just trusting that God being good and holy and just would make it all make sense. What is the other option, a godless universe where molecules and atoms just bang into each other and there isn’t any meaning to be found or even desired. Some soldiers went into a village and slaughtered women and children, of well, survival of the fittest.

        • Steven, I have to admit that I come at this issue from an Eastern perspective. I for one am very comfortable with mystery. I have worked in a correctional setting for 8 years in the California Prison System and have seen evil, up close. I have also worked as an EMT and seen tragedy in the ER and on the streets. Here is a link that may help with your frustration, I have had it also. http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/theological_reflections_on_calamity Blessings to you friend.

          • Robert Mahoney: God causes calamity. Is that a problem for you?
            Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
            Also, ‘Eastern perspectives’ are a an abomination to the Lord.

  6. I know I said I would go away but…how can I be still? This blog should be called ‘Foolish and Unlearned Questions’.
    Most everyone who posts here does not know God. Abraham believed God, you believe IN God. BIG difference!
    Will you ever learn to be still before God and believe? You insist on DARING to question Him, even denying His word. You don’ believe God ordered the salughters which comprise vast portions of the OT and apparently wouldn’t worship a god who did. You don’t know Him, you don’t love Him and you certainly don’t fear Him. All of you need to turn. NOW before it is too late and you truly are Hellbound.

    • Lee Schwartzrock May 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

      David M. Your attitude is annoying; fortunately it doesn’t reflect all of Christianity.

      I find the posts on this blog to be real and thoughtful. These are the questions that humans have been wrestling with as long as history has been happening. The God I worship is not offended by honest questions, in fact, he is honored when we are real. Notice how he handled Abraham’s questions about Sodom, and Thomas’ doubt after his crucifiction. We obviously have much to learn of his big plan, but I find Cindy’s reply quite wise.

      You are quite right to state that God causes evil, because he allows all that is happening. He allowed the serpent into Eden, and I doubt it was an oversight. This is a great mystery, that’s for sure. Could it be that he allows us to learn the big lessons for ourselves, because there is no better way? Could it be that even the suffering of the least valuable human may end up being used to make them something great?

      32For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11)

      True, God gives us freedom, and that can explain hell, but if love “never fails”, and “keeps no record of wrongs”, surely those who find themselves in that condition needn’t remain there. All who enter heaven, or hell, are fully forgiven sinners.

      14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5)

    • Why is anyone taniklg about pathetic failure of religous beliefs? You might as well wallow in the dirt like some ignorant savages. The time for being controlled slaves is 100 years ago. So not fall victim to magic and bullshit.No-religion is the one defining thing that the red communists got correct!

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