Several months ago a seven year old baby girl died of a brain aneurysm on a Sunday evening while here mother and father were attending a church service. The child had been left home with a babysitter and they were summoned out of the service by paramedics who responded to the call.
Tragic as this sudden death was and her grief over the loss of their only child, what happened next was more deeply disturbing.
The funeral service for the girl was held in the church with pastor officiating. During the service, in an attempt to bring some meaning and comfort to the parents, he suggested that God wanted to bring spiritual renewal to the members of the church and had selected one of their most prominent families and had taken their daughter home to be with the Lord, where she was far better off than to live in this world. God’s purpose in doing this, the pastor went on to say, was to cause the members of the church to reflect upon the brevity of life and to call them to repentance and renewed commitment to the Lord. He then gave an invitation for those who wished to acknowledge their new commitment to Christ to come forward for a prayer of dedication.
The mother and her husband will never return to that church. “I could never worship a God who would do that!” cried her aching soul. “I really don’t believe that God killed my child. But what other reason could there be for her death? Isn’t God in control of everything that happens? If he loved her in the way that we do, why could he not have intervened and saved her?”
In all the discussions in my theology classes I had never dealt with the answers to her questions. All I learned in class was how to affirm the importance of upholding the attributes of both God’s sovereignty and goodness. Now, faced with this question, in the face of this woman’s grief, I found the traditional arguments for God’s goodness and sovereignty quite inadequate.
She wasn’t asking me, but I couldn’t help but ask myself. Could I worship a God who would do such a thing in order to coerce others into a response of deeper commitment? No. She did not really demand an answer to her question. She only wanted the permission to ask it.
Rabbi Harold Kushner put it this way, “I believe in God, but I do not believe in the same things about Him that I did years ago, when I was growing up or when I was a theological student. I recognize his limitations. He is limited in what He can do by laws of nature and by the evolution of human nature and moral freedom. I no longer hold God responsible for illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters, because I realize that I gain little and I lose so much when I blame God for those things. I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die, for whatever exalted reason.”
To tell a woman that the death of her young daughter was God’s plan to develop in her a deeper spiritual life and a stronger character will likely provoke the response, “I would rather have my child and remain weaker in character.”
God is often as disappointed as we are that someone’s earthly existence has ended at an early age or that someone is experiencing depression or that someone is being tortured. We remain free to assume that such evil was an undesired by-product of misguided human freedom or the normal outworking of the natural order.
Everything in me wants to promise this woman that God would never take his daughter to prove a point. I can’t make that promise.
I have a friend in her late twenties who through small groups at church camp, purity bible studies, and Christian romance novels is persuaded that God has a man chosen for her, and only her. She believes that each person has that one and only someone. She is certain that Prince Charming is preparing his heart to cross paths with her. When she meets him, she will know, and they will live happily ever after forever. The End.
A couple different breakups have re-affirmed her conviction as she’s haunted by the parting words “I just don’t think it’s in God’s will for us to stay together.” All that rings in my friend’s ears is, “there is a guy out there that God has picked for you, it’s going to be perfect, but I’m not him, so keep looking.” She is incessantly shopping for a husband and relentlessly interprets any interaction with a man as a sign from above to pursue or reject.
I am exaggerating a hair but no doubt you know someone like this. Guy or girl, they have set their standards at an unreachable height, keeping their eyes peeled for their “one and only.”
Even if God does hand pick couples and assemble marriages, what does that change in our temporal world? What does that change on our end other than plaguing our minds with a growing fear of ruining our solitary shot at love. Entering a relationship with the “one and only” mindset projects an unhealthy amount of pressure on both people. If we knew we had one shot at true love, we would spend more time trying not to blow it than being in love. Christian marriages have just as high of a divorce average as non, and I doubt wants credit for all of the pain many marriages cause.
How do we convince ourselves that no brand of human love will complete us? That no person can be our second half? That no one can live up to the expectations of our heart except the One who created it?
Everything in me wants to promise this woman that God has a man for her that will love her til the day she dies. I can’t make that promise.
I do not know if God causes pain or arranges love. I do know that wrestling with that question is exhausting, resulting in nothing but more questions. That’s not to say that God is not big enough to absorb our accusations, because He has been doing this from the beginning. But like Kushner said, we gain so little and lose so much when we blame God.
This is part two of three. To be continued….