26 February 2008

Disclaimer: The following are just thoughts that came to me, and upon rereading it may sound like a harsher tone than I intended. Please don't think that I am setting out to attack people over doctrine as the essence of my thesis is, rather comically, "I don't know (and don't really need to)". Any thoughts or discussion is quite welcome!

Thoughts on Sovereignty and All That Stuff

You know that careworn old cliché of a question, "why do bad things happen to good people?" Well, it's been on my mind. Not so much concern about the answer to the question, but curiosity or interest about why people ask the question and how they answer it for themselves.

Sometimes I get the impression that people need to feel meaning; if they cannot divine it, they invent it. I'm not saying the attitude is widespread, necessarily, but it has been one I've observed occasionally over the years. Here is the basic formula:

Good Thing → Good Person = God blessing his children
Bad Thing → Bad Person = God punishing the wicked
Bad Thing → Good Person = Satanic attack
Good Thing → Bad Person = ??? "pleasure of sin for a season"?

The one that strikes me the most right now is the aforementioned bad things to good people. The imputation that anything bad that happens is the work of the Devil, well, that is common enough. Sound problems such as wireless microphone issues or feedback during church services have been laid at the Devil's feet (poor sound guy, I guess that makes him the tool of Satan!). Seemingly senseless tragedy occurs, and instead of a sovereign and all-powerful God being the source, it is seen as a Satanic attack. Perhaps this is done because some people can't bear to blame God, and they must blame someone. But remembering back to Job, Lucifer had to get permission from God to even give him sores on his body. I think the imputation of Satanic attack is a crutch when used in such a way, a way to avoid dealing with bitterness to God.

I'm not saying Satan doesn't work against the church and its people. However, it would strike me that his tactics would be much more like those of the fictional Screwtape and Wormwood, in Lewis's writing, where events were not enacted by satanic forces, but utilized by them, with cautious whispering in the ear and planting of thoughts. They are the political spinmeisters of the spiritual world, powerless as spiritual beings to actually rule the world as God does, but powerful in the way they can distort truth, change minds, and pervert thoughts to achieve their aims. This is how Satan can use tragedy, not by inflicting it on people, as he lacks the power himself (in the Garden he couldn't stuff the forbidden fruit down Eve's throat, all he could do, and all he needed to do, was reason deceitfully with her), but by taking a horrible event that cannot otherwise be explained, and saying, "is God good?" The reaction of simply saying "the Devil did it!" when such inexplicably horrible things happen seems an equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA". It ignores the question "is God good?" by tying His hands, saying God could not have done such a terrible thing and was powerless to prevent it, ultimately undermining the absolute sovereignty of God.

Speaking of clichés, it seems to remind me of Tennyson's classic:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Job was never given an answer as to the "why" of his sufferings, either. God personally came down, and simply revealed His greatness; He didn't even make an attempt to explain to Job why he was so afflicted in his life. We should accept that we can never understand everything. In some cases it may appear to us that God's love cannot be so infinite towards us when such horrible things happen to us without rhyme or reason, but remember how microscopically small we are compared to the Creator, and just like I can't convince my cat that her insulin shot is done out of love (it ought to be, it's bloody expensive), perhaps we are completely incapable of understanding such things.

Basically, all this to say, it doesn't have to make sense. Don't try to fit human sense into God's mind.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9


The Angry Coder said...

That's good, and very true. "The wiles of the Devil" is his trickery thrown at our minds and hearts. You totally nailed it with your sample question- "Is God good?". I guess we are never assured that we will have perfect lives as believers; just that we will have perfect peace through an imperfect live.

The Angry Coder said...

uhm... imperfect "life". My bad.

brandon said...

Well, Nic, I certainly agree. As one well versed in tragedy (at least in my own mind and for a 25 year old) you have spoken well. God would certainly be quite small if I could fit his vastness in my own mind. Those who attempt to do so go, quite frankly, mad.

The approach that "Satan did it" is on the other hand definitely an oversimplification, done by those who are also, quite frankly, unfamiliar with the bible.

God is sovereign. And on the heals of a "gut-check" week I can quite simply say that God reveals himself in the hardest of times. A simple, yet biblical, response of stillness and awe is all he asks sometimes as his hand moves.

Do we trust him enough to say, "your will be done," I assume, is the question?

Thank you for your unexplainable and spiritually rational conclusion.

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Thanks all, not to sound like a pompous arse but I do appreciate the comments, I wavered in posting these thoughts because #1 they sounded much more aggressive than I intended, and #2 I wasn't sure if I was just full of it.

My experience with tragedy has been mostly 2nd hand, like a medic in a battlefield hospital does not directly experience combat but is around those who have.

Perhaps the one thing that bothers me the most, and motivated this post, is witnessing a seed or two of what I would deem to be dangerous doctrines. A person expresses bewilderment that something so terrible could happen to someone who was doing everything right and following God. It is an understandable reaction, but I wonder if the opposite, somewhat more overtly dangerous component ever enters those people's thoughts, consciously or subconsciously...the thought that when something goes wrong in someone's life, it is the result of some hidden sin. I've never seen that taught or spread at our church (personally, at least), which is cool, but I have heard of scenarios like this among friends and extended families, where people seriously believe a tragedy is punishment for sin. Job's friends were some of the first to propound that well-meaning but very, very wrong idea. The idea of victims of such a tragedy being saddled with guilt that somehow they were responsible for the tragedy because they weren't good enough, or holy enough, or what-not, that is what got the ol' rancorous tone going in the previous post.

Now back to our regularly scheduled meaningless drivel!