Okay, whenever I hear people talk about their problems with Christianity, I feel like there are common questions/issues/themes.
- If God is sovereign, and loving, why is there pain? Or hell?
- I like Jesus, I don’t like Christians.
- What’s with all the rules? I think a loving God would be more tolerant.
- I think people are basically good, and so why do we need to be saved?
- From God’s wrath? What? That doesn’t make sense if he loves us.
- Speaking of wrath, what’s with the Old Testament?
Well, here’s how I come out on those questions.
I start with this.
God is sovereign. He created everything. He is Good. He is Love. We start there. When we speak of something being “right” or “wrong,” it’s not arbitrary. It is inherently good or inherently wrong. It’s not an assigned value.
Okay. So God calls some things good, right? Like love. Faithfulness. Joy. Peace. Etc.
He even calls his creation good. God creates good things because he is good.
Okay. Now let’s talk about people. He creates people. He loves them, he calls them good. He sets them in a perfect, beautiful world.
Now, here’s where things screw up. You know the story, the apple. The snake. But let me reframe it like this:
God gave us a perfect world, gave us life, gave us himself even… And then we rejected him.
At first it was just Eve, wanting an apple. But then it was other, nastier things. We don’t want marriage, we want a new girlfriend. We don’t want that child- we want a career. We don’t want peace, we want wealth. We reject the good things and choose the bad.
Hatred instead of love. War instead of peace.
(Side note: You say that people are basically good? Come on. Have you ever met a two year old who wants what’s best for his brother? We start out selfish. Animalistic. We want pleasure, not pain. We want happiness, not fear. I think, truthfully, most people want to be good. I will give you that. We are altruistic and loyal at our best. But none of us are all, truly, good. We all have pockets of selfishness and hatred and disdain. Can you admit that part? Can you at least that you have pockets of those things?
I know there’s a mindset going around that if we all had enough, if we were all educated and understanding enough, we would be peaceful and happy. But come ON. Has Utopia EVER happened? EVER?! Has there ever been a rich enough, safe enough, educated enough person that they were suddenly able to act with compassion and altruism all of their lives?
I just don’t think you can ever give anyone enough safety, wealth, education, or love to make their badness disappear. It’s in there.
But let’s go back to the story.
We want our own way instead of his way.
He gives us a law, his word, telling us, so we’ll know, what’s good and what isn’t. And we want nothing to do with it. We don’t like it. We don’t like him calling the things we think are fun “wrong.” How dare he! (Even if he, in his sovereign wisdom, knows it’s not good for us.)
And even… when we do want the things he says he wants to give us, we want it our way. Not on his terms. Our terms.
And you think, “So what? Why should he begrudge us a little bit of independence?”
Well, here’s the big problem.
He IS goodness and love. He is. He is everything that is good. Peace. Love. Joy. Now I’m not saying that those things are God, that we can worship those qualities. But I am saying,
apart from him we can have none of those things.
Do you understand?
That’s the message of the Bible, really. That He is Life, and there is no life apart from him. And the bible is basically a book telling us, for our own good, what will lead to life… and what will lead away.
So basically, He created us for good, he wanted good for us, and we said no.
This is where we start talking about pain, suffering, death, and hell.
You see, if we want to choose to have nothing to do with God, we are free to choose that. He gives us that option. We can have it eternally, forever. We can say,
“I want nothing of you, Sovereign King. I want my own way.”
And then we have nothing of him. We have no Love. We have no joy. We have no peace, no comfort, no hope.
We have nothing good. Forever.
It’s called hell.
But he doesn’t want that for us- he loves us. He is willing at any time for us to come home.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it.” -CS Lewis
This is where Christ comes in. But let’s assume you know about Christ- you know how he came to love and serve and die for us, to provide a way for us to be cleaned of our rebellion and sin. Let’s assume that.
Let’s instead, talk about Christians.
You’re like, “Okay, Christ was great. Jesus is wonderful. I’d be his friend. But Christians, Christianity, churches… they’re awful! If Christianity is so wonderful, why are Christians so lousy?”
Well, here’s my short answer. So are the rest of you.
No, seriously. We are all people. Some people are nicer than others. When you become a Christian, what you have is forgiveness and restoration of your relationship with the King.
And the way it SHOULD be, the way I hope it is for me, the way it ought to be for every Christian- is that we start living in that relationship, and let him clean out the nasty that we have let into us, so that we will become more like Christ- loving and kind and wise… all that. That’s the way it should be.
But lots of people hear the message of forgiveness, and out of laziness or doubt or distraction or something else… they never go any further.
That’s the long answer. But their failure to take hold of the heart-school of Christ doesn’t change the Truth– that God is King, that we’re in rebellion, and that he’s provided a way home.
Now let’s talk, for a moment, about God’s wrath.
Imagine for yourselves that you are father. You have a herd of… hm. Let’s say llamas, okay? Llamas. Can you picture their confused, cud-chewing faces? The flies around them?
Now imagine that they’re in a fenced in area near a cliff, and the fence is broken. Some of them are wandering towards the broken area. And your son, your smart, kind-hearted, brave son, says, “Dad, I’ll get it!” And you rumple his hair, and he hops into the pen, and goes over to fix the fence.
But one of those llamas gets mad about the fence getting closed up, and runs him down. And spits on him. And bashes in his handsome with its hooves.
You watch your son die, gruesomely, in front of your eyes.
Imagine that, will you.
How, tell me, will you treat that llama? You, the owner. With a whip, or a gun, or a truck going to the meat market, with everything at all at your disposal, How will you treat that llama?
We have beef cows. You know what? Nevermind my son, even when a steer threatened my dog, I got completely angry and ran at it with a stick.
…But let me tell you how the Lord treats you. He walks gently over to you. He speaks tenderly. With tears in his eyes, he says, “You have killed my son.”
And then he allows you to stay.
I can not understand the patience or the forgiveness of the Lord.
I am astounded even writing this.
That this is the good news- We, in our rebellion, were in danger of separation from Every Good Thing Forever. And he sent his son to make a way
… And we killed him.
This isn’t even a perfect illustration, no parables are, because in the real story, the Son came knowing we would kill him. And the Son Himself pleads on our behalf, and we are adopted as sons! It’s… TOO amazing!
This is the Good News!
This is the Gospel.
As for the Old Testament, and the battles, and the death, and the gore.
I don’t know, okay. I do know that the Lord is able to bring life, and bring death. And sometimes death comes by a lightning bolt, sometimes by a car crash, sometimes by cancer, and sometimes death comes by a sword. Sometimes death comes too soon, we think. But every moment of our lives is by his mercy. I can’t explain why anyone dies when they do.
And if you have a huge problem with the death of young people, because they’re so “innocent,” and you’re crying out against the sovereign Lord’s judgement of them,
Maybe you should also have a huge problem with the death of extremely young people, (doesn’t that mean they’re even more innocent?) and start crying out against the death sentence given to 55+ million of them in the last 30 years.
But’s that’s another subject.
And pain and suffering on earth? Well, I think it is because we are in the limbo. There is pain and death and suffering because the entire creation is still subjects to the effects of sin, the effects of rebellion. But there will come a day when creation suffers enough, when the wickedness is so great, that God in his mercy will say, “Enough.”
In all I’ve written here, I’ve tried to position where I stand, in faith. How I answer those strange questions. There are other questions- other doubts and problems that people have, when they’re wrestling with what to do with the message of the Bible. I know.
I want to leave you with this one last thought: http://adam4d.com/prove-it/
I hope any of this brings you closer to the Hope and Family of God. I sincerely wish for everyone the blessing that I have. I am praying as I write this- that the Lord will reveal his Truth to you.
I write this with all love and affection to anyone who reads this.