Monday, April 28, 2008

Go ahead ask anything - Sermon 2

Does God decide?


Jim began this sermon with the very real and tragic story of his friend Randy, a pastor from South Bend, whose parents were involved in a very random automobile accident and whose daughter was killed tragically in another accident. His treatment of this story, though shocking, was sensitive and appropriate as he always is in matters like these. (Well done, Jim).

Then came the question: Does God decide who will experience tragedy or who will be prosperous?

Jim then proceeded to the book of Job where Satan comes before the court of God and is asked by God whether he as considered his servant, Job. Of course Satan then challenges God by saying that Job only loves him (God) because God protects him. God then gives Satan permission to test Job.

Several minutes later, Jim moved to the passages of scripture where the relationship between God, Satan, and the people on earth is described as a spiritual war – and where Satan is described as a roving lion seeking whom he may devour.

Point number 1 – God does not decide who will be harmed, Satan does. Satan is the ruler of earth (in some sense) and has been given free reign over the plight of people (to a certain degree).

Jim then moved into James (1:2-8) and reminded us that trials only serve to make us stronger.

Point number 2 – The bad things that happen (the devil causes to happen) make us stronger. In other words, we grow most by going through trials of many kinds.

Which brings us to:

Point number 3 – We do not know what good may come of the evil things that befall us.

There are two kinds of trouble (maybe three) –
1. Creation trouble – things in the world that happen because it is fallen. Tornados, earthquakes, etc.
2. Acts of the will: (both resulting from sin)
a. Our decisions sometimes get us into trouble
b. Others decisions sometimes get us into trouble

Finally, Jim wrapped things up this way – “Nothing can separate you from the Love of God.” No matter what happens, God is always there and he still loves us.

Like you, some really intelligent people have challenged me on these arguments over the years. Let me bring up a few of their questions/issues:
1. God created the angel who would later become the devil. Wouldn’t an all knowing God know that? And in knowing, not create that being?
2. Does God’s creation of Satan hold him culpable for every evil thing that happens on earth?
3. If God is all-powerful, can’t he stop the devil? Don’t we pray for that every time we request safety?
4. If God is all-powerful can’s he stop people from making choices that harm others?

These are really tough questions that Jim did not attempt to answer on Sunday; perhaps because there are no easy answers to give, or perhaps because our understanding of God is so very limited.

But, what does the Bible say about these points?

Actually, the end of Job is instructive – though rarely preached. If you thumb to the end of the story – say about chapter 38 or so, Job asks God this same question and God responds: None of your business! You are mortal; I am immortal. I don’t answer to you. While that may not seem very satisfying in our litigious world, there is something very true in the answer. We always seek someone to blame, but the question of evil is not really a question of blame. Rather, it is a question of free will, the foundations of the universe, and choice.

Something to think about:

What if randomness is a necessary part of the universe? What if God knew at the moment of creation that the only way to bring about the universe He desired was to build into it a certain amount of randomness? If God’s ultimate desire was to create humans who would choose to love Him in return then he needed to allow them the opposite choice. Otherwise they would be automatons, robots, only capable of acting on their programming. For humans to choose love, they would need to experience things in the universe that were seemingly out of control. Yes or no, up or down, right or left, positive or negative, good or evil; all of these are dipolar choices and God for his own reasons has created a universe where that choice is possible. We need a certain amount of “randomness.” Indeed, the concept of “randomness” is borne out in the physical reality. At the subatomic level there are particles operating in a way that is fundamentally unknowable – while at the macroscopic level Newtonian physics can describe most of what we see.

Consider the opposite – a world in which God has everything planned. In that world, you and I might be predestined to accept Christ and go to heaven, but Chloe in the UK might not be. Why does she exist - to go to hell and be eternally damned? Too bad Chloe, no matter what she does, not matter how she chooses; she is damned. This approach is intellectually unpalatable to holiness, Wesleyan/Armenian people like me. In that kind of world, God would plan all of the suffering, in advance, whether on his own or indirectly by the creation of the devil. Yikes! I like that even less!

Of course God would still know what is going (from our point of view) to happen because he stands outside of time. Time is not a linear construct to God, he moves across time as easily as we move across the room. The birth of a child and the death of that same child are the same moment to God. I still believe that He cares intimately about the moments in-between birth and death – but to Him they are not separated by years only by thought.

What if randomness isn’t really random? According to chaos theory mathematics seemingly random events are part of a much larger whole that has surprisingly intelligent patterns. Who knew, science pointing toward God.

All of this leads me to a very careful choice of words – God is sovereign. I prefer this phrase to the more commonly held – God is in control. If we believe the later, then God gets credit/blame (whether direct or indirect) for both the good and the bad things that happen. If the former, then God gets praise for the good and requests for assistance in the bad. For his own reasons (he is God after all) he seems to choose the former.

One final comment – taken from Shane Claiborne’s recent book – We ask God “Why do you allow suffering in the world?” to which God responds: “You are my hands and feet. Why do you allow suffering in the world?”

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