The Mortal Sin of Belief

In the last couple of posts, I have perhaps opened a small can of worms by suggesting God, as supreme author of life, is responsible for the bad things that befall us. The thought is reasonable, and  — the more we contemplate God’s omnipotent and omniscient nature — inescapable.

But what is it about the idea that God has some part in the difficulties that befall us, that causes us pause? I believe the answer is: We fear this must mean that He is bad, no better than the devil. It would seem to suggest, at least on the surface, that He endorses the bad. That He intends for us to suffer.

But our misgivings go deeper than this. To allow the possibility that God is involved in the bad is, for many of us, to commit the mortal sin of questioning God’s goodness. Because faith is foundational to Christian doctrine, attributing God to the bad is seen as a failure of faith. We refuse to set foot in that direction.

But what many of us do not realize is, acknowledging God’s sovereign control over our lives is just as much an expression of faith as is acknowledging His goodness. We are charged to believe in God as He is, not as we wish Him to be. God desires a faith that is mature that affirms all of His attributes and character, not one that reduces Him to a comfortable size to keep us from wrestling with deeper questions.

One of those questions, of course, is: “How can God be both good and yet allow, or even (gasp) orchestrate, bad things to happen? The simplest answer to this is: Goodness is not established by whether God is responsible for an action, but by His intention in bringing it about.

Take for example the following illustration.

There is a man who does not know God and does not care to know God. He is content living life on his terms, in full control of his own destiny and his own search for happiness. But his own indulgence leads him to become addicted to drugs, and that addiction causes him to descend to the most desperate circumstances. He reaches rock bottom, and it is at that point that he realizes how wretched he truly is. He cries out to God for mercy. Through a series of events, his prayer is answered. He comes to know God as His Lord and Savior. He has a new life, overflowing with God’s abundant peace and joy.

Looking back, He now sees how God was working in his life all along, leading him to the moment of his conversion. He sees how God was using even his addiction to lead him to understand his need for God. In fact, knowing his own heart, he wonders how this understanding could have come about any other way. And in acknowledging this, he is overcome with thankfulness.

Now let us ask ourselves: Did the realization that God was responsible for the man’s desperate circumstances cause him to worship God more, or less? The answer is clear.

But how can this possibly be? The man has just come to realize that God was behind the darkest period of his life. In a sense it would be accurate to say: God allowed him to suffer. In fact, since God is author of all of life, it would be more accurate to say: God caused the man to suffer. How can this knowledge lead this man to think even more highly of God?

The answer is found not in God’s responsibility, but in His intention. Yes, God brought about the events that represented this man’s darkest hour. But his purpose in doing so was not to allow the man to suffer senselessly. He had a goal in mind, and it was this man’s salvation. This was His intention.

Such a testimony, common among evangelical circles, is an example of what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” He was speaking of His purpose and intention — in short, His heart — for every soul on the planet. A firefighter who risks his own life to save a victim in a burning building, though both may pass through flames to safety, is not considered evil, but a hero. How much more the God who, having given His own life, now strives to save every victim on this world which is destined to perish by fire.

What is on trial here is not God’s goodness then but rather how we choose to interpret the circumstances of our lives. We modern churchgoers are a sensitive bunch. The least hardship besets us, and we are apt to accuse God of wrongdoing. But like this man, it is often in the circumstances that we personally find most challenging that God is about His greatest work.

I welcome your thoughts.

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