Laying Aside the Questions

“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without wisdom’” Job 38:1

The picture of the wildfires in Texas was another final straw. As the man looked at the picture of smoke and flames and read of destruction of property he groused to his wife, “where is your God now?”

I hear this kind of response to bad things, and it’s often uttered as the coup de grace for any fading attempt to believe in God. The underlying assumption is clear enough and somewhat plausible. A caring, good, and all-powerful God could send rain anytime He wants to put out a destructive fire. He didn’t, ergo He either does not care, is not good, or is not all-powerful. Or most likely to many people He is not.

Charles Templeton claims that a picture of a starving child in Africa sealed the deal for him. This man who once roomed with Billy Graham and conducted evangelistic crusades turned away from his faith. He wrote Farewell to God, and forever cited that particular picture as the crystallization of his agnosticism.

Part of my point in this week’s GraceWaves is to alert you to something you have probably already witnessed: a theist, perhaps in the thinnest meaning of the word, decides God cannot possibly exist because of evidence that seems to present a prima facie case against God’s presence, power, or compassion. And I would certainly concede that if God lacks any one of the three, then He is not much a of a god.

What would be our answer to such an intellectual assault? We deal with some form of it, internally or externally with regularity. The questions are old as Job and his friends. Three points come to mind.

The first point does not sound very sympathetic, but without doubt applies to some degree in most all cases. The fires in Texas have been going on long before there was a Texas. Forests and savannah burn as part of the natural cycle and actually produce very salutary benefits. The problems arise when we use our technology to build in areas where these fires occur.

One time my 12 year old daughter was exploring a rather large tract of woods behind our house when I heard a high pitched scream and looked to see her running, quite panic-stricken, toward the house. She appeared to have no major cuts or gashes, all limbs still attached, so at this jaded point in parenthood I knew she was all right, simply frightened by something. She breathlessly explained to me “there’s a snake out there!” Ahh, the old enmity of the serpent!

I explained to my young Eve that her observation was as natural as if the snake had entered our house, and slithered quickly back to its den to tell its snaky parents “there’s humans in there.” “You were in their home” I said. That is where snakes quite reasonably live. We simply cannot afford the intellectual naiveté of treating bad circumstances as if God were somehow either responsible or neglectful.

As for the fires in Texas, the only way He could properly be blamed is for us to assume he slung the lightning bolts Himself (a la Zeus), or that as a doddering old mad He was simply turned the other way while some of His children played with matches. I would like once and for all to pin down the fact that one reason we regularly endure harsh natural consequences is that we live in a harsh natural world and often choose to live right next to or right on the harsh natural potential (see LA). We want all the freedom to do whatever we want, but none of the consequences.

The second response to someone who is perennially aggrieved by God’s apparent impotence is to echo God’s answer out of the whirlwind. “Who is this that darkness counsel by words without wisdom?” God, in a sense, has had enough from know-it-all-Job God and has a few questions that stretch back into eternity. Job, of course, is brought to humiliated silence. God is God, and Job is not. The job description is way behind his pay grade. Better let God be God.

Now as obvious as this answer is, a post-modern man or woman, replete with cell phone technology that surpasses former computers that took up warehouses, may find it unsatisfactory. We can google almost anything, and that has given us the power and, unfortunately, the ego of little gods. We are not comfortable being told “you wouldn’t understand," but the fact is, "you wouldn’t understand."

Sin has broken the world, and God is in the business of fixing it in a way that takes into account our often self-destructive free will. Frankly, we need a little humility, and need to show God a little respect. He does know what He’s doing. Thankfully, He’s used to hearing all the rants. But still it would be in your best interest to stop throwing your tantrum and listen instead of trying to bully God about.

And that brings us to the final point, the cross. The cross is God’s painful way of fixing all the brokenness. It shows a God who comes nears to us, mixing in our tears and blood, and somehow bringing out a future bright and clean.

I find as I get older my life is more focused on the cross. Parenthood has taught me about cruciform forgiveness. Failures have taught the depth of grace. Brokenness of all sorts has taught me the brilliant  necessity of the cross.

In a complex world, it’s good to know a few simple things. One of the main things is to know that God is on your side, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. We find this truth in so many places in Scripture but perhaps most clearly in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul wrote, “But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is good news indeed. You do not have to “clean up” before you come to God, and you don’t have to have it all figured out.  He came so that we could be clean. He stays around to finish the job.

I hope and pray that you carry with you every day the certainty that God really is with you, pulling for you, encouraging you, renewing you, and that nothing will separate you from His love and peace. That simple truth should serve as a North Star of your life. It is a certainty that will guide you and enable you to live in a way that honors God and brings peace to you. Now why don’t you just go ahead and lay down those questions?


Terry Ellis

September 18, 2011