i grew up in faith. i have wonderful christian parents, attended a great youth ministry and a church that connected me in ways outside of youth group. i attended a thoughtful christian college and grad school, have been a pastor for umpteen years, and have read stacks of books to continue my learning and growth since. but there are still areas of my theology that just don’t quite work for me. namely, two areas: atonement theory (specifically, the role of the cross, and the less-than-satisfactory reasoning of penal substitutionary atonement) and the problem of evil. i’m hoping scot mcknight’s upcoming book on atonement theories will help me a bit on the former.
yesterday’s sermon at my church was on the problem of evil (it was actually in a series on doubt). the teaching pastor did a great job of unpacking the issues with the best (i mean that) of what we’ve been saying for centuries: god’s desire for a genuine relationship with humans created a necessity of choice; choice means we make bad choices, even evil choices; those evil choices have consequences for us, for others, and for all of creation. yes, all that makes sense to me.
but that’s the problem. it makes sense to me. but when the real-life results of evil are everything from perpetrated evil (sexual slavery, genocide, 9/11, etc.) to un-perpetrated pain and suffering (tsunamis and hurricanes, millions of children orphaned or dying of AIDS in africa, etc.), i’m just not willing to settle for an explanation that ‘makes sense’ cognitively, but does nothing to actually bring healing or less suffering.
here’s what i’ve been thinking, each time i’m confronted with another case of massive suffering, especially when there’s not a clear evil perpetrator: i believe in a wildly creative and way-powerful god. god’s creativity and power are completely outside of what ‘makes sense to me.’ sure, it’s not surprising to me that little powerless and evil marko can’t come up with a better solution. but i want to believe that god could/can.
a friend of mine has gone through some horrific things in her life, and recently experienced another unbearable episode of evil done to her. her response, as would be true for many of us, was to struggle with the ‘god is pure good and god is all powerful’ tension. she moved into a (hopefully temporary) place of forfeiting the ‘god is pure good’ part of that tension, furious that god allowed this stuff to happen to her. i suggested to her that it might be easier for her, for a time, to reverse that, and to live with the question of whether or not god is all powerful. that would allow her to hold onto a belief that god is pure good and love, which, it seems, would be more helpful to her in this time of crisis. i told her i thought god could handle that, and would eventually help her get back to holding both sides of that tension in faith.
i’m not at that place: i’m still fine holding onto both ‘good’ and ‘powerful’. but this belief of mine does create some inner tension in the face of massive pain and suffering. i keep thinking god has a better solution up his sleeve; but that doesn’t work for me either, because it makes him ‘mean’ to hold it back. (yeah, yeah, the ‘solution’ is coming — heaven — and is here — jesus; but that does nothing for me when thousands die or millions suffer.)
the teaching pastor, yesterday, tried to frame large-scale suffering with the idea that we have no idea how much suffering god IS actually holding back. pfff. i struggle with that because i don’t — if i go along with that — like where god has drawn the line of what he’ll allow.
no, i’m not going apostate here. these are just the ramblings of my soul, grasping for hope, deeper understanding, and deeper faith.