Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Bumpy Ride

"...She had mapped out a perfect life, without failures or disappointments. But that is more of a flawed life-plan than the bumpy ride God inevitably maps out for us. People who have never suffered in life have less empathy for others, little knowledge of their own shortcomings and limitations, no endurance in the face of hardship, and unrealistic expectations for life. As the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, anyone God loves experiences hardship (Hebrews 12:1-8)." Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

God is good. Any Christian would agree with that statement. We can even say that God is perfectly good, and He is all the time. We take great comfort in those words, as we should, but there is a side of God’s goodness that we often misunderstand. We often think that God loving us means He will not allow us to experience "the bumpy ride." Many of us have found, however, that is simply not the case.

When C. S. Lewis lost his wife, Joy, he started journaling about his struggles with God. Eventually one of his friends read his journal and convinced Lewis to publish it because he knew how much it would help many others. Lewis did publish it (initially under a pseudonym) with the title A Grief Observed. In it he wrote about God’s goodness:
The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed-might grow tired of his vile sport-might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For not even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t. Either way, we’re in for it.
I think we often miss this when we consider what a "good God" would be like. In today’s culture, we want to believe that a truly "good God" would not discipline us, allow us to take a path that will hurt us, or use the evil in the world to accomplish His good plans for making us more like Jesus. We try to fit God into a box where His goodness is subject to our desires and comfort. Is that good though? Is a parent who does not discipline their child doing that child a favor? It is painful to have a broken bone set, but if the medic acquiesced to the pleas to stop before the bone was set, would that be good? In each case the child or the injured individual may be thankful at the time, but in the long run, they would be hurt a great deal more. Thankfully we have a wise and a good God who knows better than to stop before He is finished. It is also kind of frightening to believe in such a God because we then have to come to grips with the reality that He may do something for our good that is extremely unpleasant. We have to realize that He uses suffering to produce Christ-like character and hope in us (Ro. 5:3-5). That means there will be times when we may wish that He would be subject to bribes like some kind of "Cosmic Sadist," but if He were, He would not be good. During these times we have to remember what Charles Spurgeon once said, "When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart."

By His Grace,


Kevin said...

Using the example of a child being disciplined makes it seem like you're saying that hurt and pain come from God punishing us... Is that what you are insinuating, or am I misunderstanding?

The example of the medic setting the bone (and I guess the child example as well) is an interesting one, because after the first intense pain, there is always someone right there to explain things to you, tell you why they did what they did, and, in general, simply comfort you.
In real life, however, those answer are hardly ever immediately present; the answers, as well as the comfort, wind up being a test of your faith (one more thing on top of your pain). I think that's why so many people have trouble with pain or evil things... it's not the hurt but the added test of faith on top of it that causes many to struggle.
When you look at it that way, it makes the examples of the child or the medic almost seem too simplistic.

Anyways, those are my initial thoughts off the top of my head... what do you think?

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Sometimes pain is part of discipline "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves..." Hebrews 12:6. That is not to try to say that we can make that assertion about any particular rough time we are going through because do that often would be to presume too much. The possibility is there, however.

As far as the medic goes, I do not think it is too simplistic because the point of the analogy is not knowing the exact reason for the pain, the point is knowing that if God (or the analogous medic) gave in because of the pain and did not finish the job, then He would not be doing us a favor but harming us in the long run.

But you also make a good point that not knowing is difficult. That is really the whole point of the article. We have to be realistic about what having a good God means and it does not mean we will not be confused or have a pain-free life. God has work that He wants to do in His children and He uses their sin and this fallen world to do it. It does mean that when we cannot understand what He is doing we can trust His heart.