Friday, December 30, 2016

Asking the Wrong Question

A lot of us, Christian or not, want to know what's wrong with God. Oh, no, we may not put it that way. But, whether it's the singular question that keeps someone from God or just that nagging doubt at the back of the Christian's head, lots of us struggle with this question. It takes various forms, of course. Often it's "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Sometimes it's "Why doesn't God save more people?" And there are others. They're the same question at the heart of it. Why doesn't God do something about all this bad stuff?

I once heard one teacher answer the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?", with a simple, "They don't." Trite, sure. Preemptive, perhaps. But there is a point. Yes, bad things happen. But according to Scripture there are no good people. Jesus said it -- "No one is good except God alone." (Luke 18:19) David said it (Psa 14:3). Paul affirmed it (Rom 3:12). So, let's be more clear. Bad things -- unpleasant or some other sense of "bad" -- happen, and our complaint is that they happen to people who are not as bad (evil) as other bad people. Most accurately, our question would be "Why do unpleasant things happen to lesser sinners as well as greater?" And when we put it that way, perhaps the answer becomes more apparent.

We're asking the wrong question(s). Why would bad things happen to bad people? Because that's what should happen, given Justice. No, the better question would be "Why do bad things not happen to people?" Given that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) -- given that God's glory has been transgressed -- and given that "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." (James 1:17), I'm more inclined to ask "Why?" Why, if we have so badly tarnished the good name and shining glory of our Master and Creator, does He give us one, single, solitary good thing? Paul wrestled with this in Romans 9. In discussing the objection that God isn't fair for choosing whom He will save apart from those whom He saves (Rom 9:6-19), he characterizes humans as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and indicates that God's purpose is to show His wrath and power (Rom 9:23). You have to wonder, then, not why God doesn't save more. You have to wonder why He saves one.

We're asking the wrong question. And, it's understandable. We are really closely allied with humans, you see. God is holy, holy, holy -- apart, other, different, not us. We are in His image, sure, but God is "not a man" (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Job 9:32). His ways are not our ways (Isa 55:8-9). And we like best to compare ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor 10:12) because we cannot stand against God's standard of measurement. In our arrogance, then, we think God ought to be nicer to us. We're not as bad as, say, Hitler. There are lots of people worse than we are (and it doesn't seem to matter how bad we are ... there is always "worse than we are"). Why doesn't God see our great value and be nicer to us?

Wrong question. "Why does He do one kind thing to us at all?" might be better. "How astounding is it that He does so much good for us?" would be good, too. "I'm totally amazed that He would deign to choose me to save" would be a reasonable course to pursue. "God's grace is absolutely astounding" is the only possible conclusion.

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