Often it is assumed that followers of Jesus don't struggle with the tough questions of faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. We struggle just as anyone else struggles. I have my beliefs, and the evidence for them, but I also struggle with tough existential issues, like the reality of evil, the problem of suffering, and such other issues for those who consider the state of the universe and the human heart.
I struggle with these issues on an intellectual level. I also struggle with them in my personal life. C.S. Lewis wrote two books about the problem of suffering that are instructive, "The Problem of Pain" looks at the intellectual problems of pain, in which C.S. Lewis remarks "I'd write another chapter on suffering if this headache would go away." Indeed. The second book, "A Grief Observed" is the raw brutal meditations of C.S. Lewis after the death of his love. Guess which is more instructive regarding the problem of suffering?
The first issue I'd like to talk about is just that, the problem of suffering. It's an interesting problem, and it's felt first. And secondary is the attempt to understand it intellectually. First, it's a feeling, second a thought.
We wrestle with these questions. I wrestle with these questions. But I've seen enough evidence and seen and experienced enough of God's presence and action in my life to firmly believe that Jesus Christ is a true, living savior, and that the books of the Bible represent the true timeless unchanging word of God. Yet I still struggle with these questions, but I don't wrestle with myself, I engage in exchange with none other than God himself. Think of it, to settle and discuss these questions with God himself! It's a great honor. And God is only too kind and thoughtful in the process, engaging me, answering me, and changing in me, how I perceive things, by expanding my own perception. God is a deep, philosophical, scientifically minded artist, with a great and amazing ability to respond simply, yet profoundly. Yet God can be quite complex when he wants, but always the wiser one, he often answers simply and brilliantly. Should we expect any less from an infinite creator? I suppose not. Let's look at these wrestlings that I wrestle with.
To know the face of God, is to know madness. Well, no. Actually that's from Battlestar Galactica. But when we consider the infinity of God, we come against the very limits of our comprehension. How could God be eternal, without beginning or end? It goes against everything I understand about our finite reality. Time is fundamental to reality. I'm based in time, my entire existence is based in time and space. How am I suppose to even consider the reality of a timeless being who created time itself? There would be no time without God having designed it. It's the same with the whole universe, and I suppose, the 4th heaven, the place where God exists. But if there is only God who is eternal, then the environment he lives in can't be eternal, because God is the only eternal one.
But it boggles my mind. What does it mean? What does it say about the nature of reality, the universe, the laws that govern everything to say that God is eternal. Why does God exist? What is the reason for God's existence? Does that mean that the universe beyond our universe, the true reality is fundamentally not a cold-dark place as we think of our universe, but actually quite different?
Does God wonder why He exists? I suppose He doesn't, he's self existent. He's never not existed. It's crazy. Before alpha, and after omega, God existed. If we went to the beginning of the universe, God is there, if we went before the universe even existed, before time or space itself, God is ever-present, timeless, perceiving time like we perceive space.
Am I humble enough to admit that there are some things that not even I could understand? Or any human for that matter? Given the expanses beyond us, the galaxies and nebula, and all the harmonious uniformity, I think that yes, I can say that some concepts will be beyond my reality, like the very concept of eternity, or an eternal all powerful intelligent being we call Father.
2. The Problem of Evil
When I consider the life of a human sex trafficking victim, the idea that this girl, just a young girl, would be kidnapped, enslaved, beaten and raped repeatedly on a daily basis, until she's given up all hope and become a slave within even her mind, and then be raped tens of thousands of times, until she literally dies of being raped so many times. That is evil, pure, total, complete evil. The evil is so extreme, so powerful, so "boss universal" and it seems to be in such control in our world, that the concept of a loving God, it's difficult isn't it?
This is probably the biggest issue levied against Christianity: If God, why evil? Remember what the ancient philosopher Epicurus said: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
God allows evil to play itself out in time and space, because of the massive issue of free will and choice. God made a universe, which is intrinsically based on freedom of choice. If God then stepped in every time I was about to make a bad decision, there would be no choice. The universe just isn't like that. Choice is part of every situation. So through the choices of beings God created, evil came into the world. Yet we blame God, when we should be blaming the people who DO the evil: People. Yet we blame God? God is able to set all things right, and He is willing, when the proper time for that comes. Epicurus' dilemma is a false dilemma, oversimplifying the situation, and failing to understand the context of the universe, human will, and the factor of time.
God will set all things right and deal with every evil. Every pedophile, every child sex slaver, will stand before God and give an account, and God will deal with them justly. God will also deal with us justly, because we've all sinned. We like to point out the evil in the world and then point at God and say why! How often do I realize the three fingers pointing back at me?
God didn't cause the problem of evil, and if we want to simply it to it's logical conclusion, the problem of evil is not outside me, or around me as much as I must first consider that the problem of evil is fundamentally within me.
Why evil? Why pain? People do evil. Our ancestors did evil in God's sight, when paradise was available to them. They messed it up. And now evil is part of our lineage, sadly. But Christ came into the world, died on the cross, to wipe away our sin, and offer us a new life, and a new future in the kingdom of God, if we will simply receive that free gift.
3. The slaughter of Christ on the cross
The concept of the crucifixion is quite plain: Sin is punishable by death. Jesus Christ, the God-man came to die in the place of me, if I'll believe the gospel. So in other words, the Creator, if I'm left to my own devices in this life, would kill me, for my sins. That's intense. That's wild.
It's completely alien to my understanding of everything in the world. I can't imagine a situation where it fits my conception of how God ought to be, in my mind. But that's probably a good thing. Because I haven't been right about a lot in my life.
Truly the only way to understand the penal substitution of Christ, that Christ took my penalty for me by being slaughtered on the cross and temporarily spiritually abandoned by God the Father is through the outreaching prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit. I can't understand any of this without the Holy Spirit teaching me about it. It's completely alien to my natural understanding. It's foolish madness to my flesh, but the salvation of God himself when the Spirit explains it to my mind and emotions.
4. The Sacrificial System of the Old Testament
The concept of animal sacrifice, of the pouring out of blood, by sacrificing animals, that stand in for the person who has sinned, that's crazy to me. It's bizarre to me, it's creepy to me, it's ancient, archaic, and mean, and harsh, and ugly, and completely arbitrary. Once again this is how my mind perceives things outside the Spirit of God. I can't understand it.
And I love animals. I really, really love animals. I have two cats and a dog. I love birds, pets, wild animals, squirrels, rabbits, I just love them all. I think as humans originally designed to live in harmony with animals, that's natural, even in the darkened nature.
Then again, imagine if you had to kill bird, or a cat, and spill it's blood on an altar if you sinned. That would really make me think twice about lying, stealing, or sleeping with a random girl. I'd have to think twice. And I'd actually have to face the reality of the evil of sin.
We think we're so sophisticated in our day and age. Unborn babies are murdered by the millions each year across the Earth, and most of us just let it happen. And we even criticize people who dare to speak up against abortion. It's pathetic. We sit by as millions go without food, clothing, and shelter. We sit in our luxury. And we balk at God taking sin deathly seriously? Sin takes so much blood in our world. Our own sin is pouring it out day and night, as babies are sucked from wombs, as people starve and go without basic shelter or clothing, their blood is poured out and we can't understand God's sacrifice? It's very interesting. We like to judge God, and ask these questions of Him, brazenly, arrogantly, but we don't look at our actions or the actions of the human race, everyday.
Probably the single most terrifying and fearful concept in the Bible is the concept of hell, outer darkness. This place, as it's depicted, terrifies me. It chills me to the bones.
I would prefer a system, a reality, a moral construct, where all humans can be saved and will be saved. I know that everyone has free choice. But I would prefer perhaps a system where people would go to hell after they die, if they rejected God in their lives. But then maybe after a few months we could let them out? And give them a chance to know Jesus as savior? But that's not how it works. And who am I to question God's perfect judgment?
We won't talk about hell, or God's judgment. We just need to love people! Well, there's a lot more to it than that. We need to talk about hell. Because it's a real place. And we want people to understand about it and not go there.
God indicates that "now" is the time of salvation. There is no time later. The door is open now to know Jesus. But one day the door will be closed. I don't fully understand that. But someday, perhaps I will.
A closing thought, is that fundamentally, as Christians, we can either question God, argue with God, which is OK, but eventually, we have to decide, either we're going to essentially trust Him and dare to trust Him even if we don't understand, or we're going to go our own way. I choose to trust God. It's a choice. I don't fully understand. I struggle. But I choose to trust Him, that He is right and holy and is doing everything according to true cosmic justice and mercy.