REST & FAITH
Artwork by Karley RH
REST & FAITH
"When faced with the question of why prayer saved one child, but not another, I encourage you to not blame God or the victims by assigning the child's death either to God's will or to someone's lack of faith." (Greg Boyd)
Friends, I'm not going to lie. I don't want to be writing right now. I especially don't want to be writing about faith right now. As I type, my uncle is deteriorating from COVID/Pneumonia in the hospital. This blow comes after a myriad of tragedies I've experienced over the last two years. My other uncle passed away just before Thanksgiving as well. And where at first, I wanted to just give this week a break, after all, I am on a series about rest, however, I think it's really important to talk about faith in a time like this.
How in the world do we face a time such as this and have hope or faith in something to come? It just seems like everywhere we turn, there's someone else dying of COVID or cancer. And if that's not the case, people are denying the seriousness of the pandemic or blindly following cult-like leaders who cling to power and greed and who utilize systemic racism and ignorance, yet profess to be sent from God. It's a time of lament and loss. It's a time where it seems like the only good that could come is if the world would just end. My faith in so many things and people has been shattered over the last two years, including the church. The one thing that I wanted so badly to trust has proven to just be another fallen part of the systems of this world.
But the one I have not lost faith in, believe it or not, is God. "HOW?!", you ask. And what a GOOD friggin question. It is. I don't say that facetiously or patronizingly. It is probably the BEST question anyone can ask right now. How in all this clusterf&#@ of a season can we still have faith in a loving God who is in control of everything around us and (worse) potentially preordained all this to happen!?
Now I'm going to be straight with you. I've lost all notions that God preordained all this. I know my Calvinist Evangelical friends are sad now, and that's okay. You'll be fine. Don't worry. I don't think you don't read the Bible correctly, nor do I think you're stupid for being a Calvinist. I tried to hang on to that belief, but from diving more deeply into the scripture and studying the Bible while also its ancient culture, multiple possibilities of word translations, and just looking at the entire overarching story of the Bible and you know, (gestures wildly around us). I see the character of Jesus and how he didn't approach sickness and death with the attitude of, "this is God's will and divine plan." but with an attitude of war (against the sickness, not the people. He died for them instead). He fought against these things. He always addressed sickness and death as though they were participants in the active rebellion of God's will, not a part of it. So when I see COVID stealing my loved ones and my friend's loved ones, I know that this plague is in active rebellion to what God wants. It's not here because we didn't have enough faith or because we all pushed God to the point of breaking and He just unleashed His wrath on us all. Mostly I believe this because many people believe that God's wrath was taken care of through Jesus who was the ultimate sacrifice and satisfied that wrath (penal substitution, which is also something I'm not 100% sold on either. I'm more of a Christus Victor guy.) Nor do I believe COVID was preordained by God.
But I know it's also not that simple because this world is not a simple place. The cosmos is complex and so is its order. In the words God spoke when he created everything, he wrote an order to things. Think in tabletop gaming terms. If you are a DM, you have to have world-building rules. You have to have order and consequences in the world in which your players are playing. Rules that they have to adhere to, but also rules that you have to adhere to as well, even though you wrote them, and even the rules that your players do not know about, but directly affect the way the game works. If you don't do this, it will be chaos. There will be no structure to the game and it will all implode. It's very similar when we talk about the order of creation. God made rules of cause and effect. He then made free agents who could choose things. The choices of those free agents (seen and unseen) have consequences and you would have to be omniscient (which God is) to know why all the things that happen, happen the way that they do.
I think Daniel 10 is a perfect example of how to view suffering and God's relation to it. Daniel at this point has been praying and fasting for God to reveal things to him for quite some time. And up to this point, Daniel has got nothing in response. Crickets. Then while he is walking on the beach one day an angel shows up. It's a terrifying experience (as usual), but the angel reassures Daniel that he is here as an answer to his prayer. Then something VERY interesting happens...
"12 He said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia,[a] 14 and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days. For there is a further vision for those days.”
So what we see here is fascinating. The curtain is drawn back into the unseen realm and we see WHY Daniel's prayer wasn't immediately answered or why there was a possibility of it not being answered at all. We see an entire world going on behind the scenes that directly affect our own in ways that we don't understand nor can we know about without passages like this to shed some light on things. The angel was delayed because of a battle going on in another region in the unseen realm. The angel had to have Michael (which is super cool btw) show up to relieve him so he could then deliver the message he was supposed to deliver to Daniel. But he was delayed! Not by a lack of faith. Not by God's will. But by an unseen demonic force that was doing its own thing and opposing God's will and Daniel's faith.
Now, this is just one example and certainly can't be the answer for every issue we come across in life. There are many other variables to consider (people, sin, death, the consequences that those things have on the earth, etc). So many that it is way too complex to think through. Again, we aren't God and can't see all this. But what this example does do, for me at least, is show us that there is MUCH more going on than we realize. And we can't just chalk everything up to, it's God's will, or everything happens for some divine purpose (even though I 100% believe that God uses all terrible things for good in the end).
So, to say all of this, I come back to the fact that I haven't lost faith in God. God isn't the cause of all the pain and suffering in the world. Choices are. Choices of personalities in the seen and unseen realms of reality. Each choice has a consequence and for every action there is a reaction. The ripple effect continues all throughout history and we have to face it, good or bad. And to prevent chaos from overflowing and upending reality itself, God chooses to work through the ripple effect of choices to work good out of evil and bring about His will. I find comfort and faith in that. I find faith in God who has promised us that in the end, He will win, and instead of just magically wiping all of this away, we are invited to participate in restoring this world with Him.
This isn't a fix-all. This doesn't make the pain go away and it certainly doesn't answer every question. But it gives us perspective. The perspective that can bring rest. We can see that there's more to this world than we can understand, but God does, and yet He still fights for us and pulls us up from our depths to fight alongside him by looking like Him and less like the darkness we are surrounded by. That brings me faith that I can find real rest in, even in my darkest of days.
Until next time.
Grace & Peace,