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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is Yellow Round or Square?

In 2010 a dear friend passed away. My first response was to ask God, "Why?"

In 2011 I left school mid-semester of my senior year sicker than I'd ever been. Torn from my tight-knit community of friends and my thrilling English literature studies to lay in a bed in horrible pain for weeks on end, my first response was to ask God, "Why?"

In 2012 I wept on the other side of a broken engagement with a fiancee whose very existence I had seen as a direct answer to prayer. My first response was to ask God, "Why?"

In 2013 I spent six months just after graduation jobless and wandering with no direction for my life wondering why I'd gone to college anyway and how it was possible that all the glorious plans I'd made were now so utterly gone that I had not even ashes to collect. My first response was to ask God, "Why?"

In 2014 the teaching job that I'd finally procured and labored at for 70 hours a week for a year was suddenly over. My relationships with my students, whom I loved, my lesson plans, which I'd slaved over, and my financial independence, which I'd never experienced before, all evaporated. My first response was to wonder if maybe God had a plan.

This year He has aptly confirmed that He has. But I begin now to recognize that even these next steps are not ultimate. It's not a "new plan" global picture, large scale. It's just another door. Another block of sidewalk on the winding, surprising journey that He is using to help me know Him more and to understand His love for me.
That's the answer to the "why."

There are two meanings to the word "why." One is "purpose" and the other is "cause." (See Philip Yancey's "Reaching for the Invisible God.)

As an example, the same "why" question can be answered for both "cause" and "purpose."
If a friend asks you, "Why did you refuse to eat dessert?" you could respond with the cause.
"Because my doctor told me to avoid sugar."
This was the motivation, stemming from the past, that caused you to skip the treat.

Or you could answer with the purpose.
"I want to save some calories for the birthday cake my mom made for tomorrow."
This is the purpose. It is future oriented.

When we suffer, we are asking for the "cause" why. We look back and want to know what sin we committed (so that we can confess it and be rid of the suffering) or what person to blame (so that we can take our revenge and correct the wrong) or what series of choices we made (so that we can learn from the mistake so as never to repeat it.) That would be amazing! It would put me in control of my suffering. I could learn how to be suffering free!

Do I need to say this? It's not that simple.

God never gives us a "cause" answer. Search the Bible. Even Job did not get a "cause" answer.
(But he was given the presence of God!)

What we do have are ample purposes.

1 Peter, as one example, talks about necessary trials that happen so (vs.7) "that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

It is, after all, a problem of misaligned agendas. The reason I dislike the purpose answer (even though it well answers my "why") is that I wanted a cause answer. Cause answers give me the illusion of control.

I begin to see the wisdom of God and the limits of my finite mind. He gives no cause answers because there are no cause answers. They don't exist at all. At least not in a realm that my mortal paradigm can assimilate.

Lewis once said that his grief-motivated questions probably sounded to God like, "Is yellow round or square?" When we ask God "why" and expect a cause answer, we're asking a nonsensical question, and God cannot retain His nature and answer it.

When I ask "why" I am taking so much for granted.
I assume that there is an answer to the question,
...that the answer is explainable in human terms,
...that I could understand it if it could be explained in human terms, and
...that it is in my best interest to know that answer.

It is entirely possible that the cause of suffering is so intricately bound up in the mystery of God's sovereignty, our free will, and the limitations of the universe as He rightly made it, that He would have to explain mysteries from before creation and every point of every human decision and divine intervention since Adam to make it plain to me. Something that He is under no obligation to do, and which I am not able to absorb even if I wanted to.

Consider the ripple effect of one seed dropping into the ground, becoming a tree, becoming a backyard haven for a little boy to read under, then a tree house where he writes his first novel, then cut down and turned into the canoe in which he takes a grand adventure which becomes a famous book which inspires a woman to become a doctor and move to Africa and discover the cure for AIDS and save the life of a little girl whose future is to be a mother whose child will...
This would be an explanation of one seed bringing much good. It could have happened a different way, but it did not. And one small strand could have changed it all.
Positivists are quick to point it out.

Perhaps this one is less lovely. A seed falls into the ground. It grows into an ear of corn that saves a dying man from starvation, and that man eventually makes it back to civilization and becomes a dictator of a country and kills millions of people. We are less likely, or less willing, to see the seeds of bad that God allows to grow for the sake of human freedom and the potential for love and the future of redemption which will show Him to be the God of love that He is.

And...He has promised to redeem.

A relationship with God requires faith. And inherent to that faith, like all relationships, is a trust that He is working (as He promised!) everything for good. So even if He did explain the entire complex human history of connected events that led to my personal suffering, it would only reveal that He is in every way completely innocent of ill will towards me and in fact, has worked it out in a wise and good way for my best interest and the best interest of all other humans on the planet. That He has and is taking the broken, twisted world and all its broken twisted events and is busy turning them into good, beautiful things. It would also reveal that God and I are often at odds when it comes to the purpose of my life. Hence the tantrums I throw and the wails of "why!" flung to heaven when I don't get my way.

None of us balk at the idea that the doctor has to hurt us in order to heal us. (I just had surgery, so this truth is vividly burning in my right foot!)

But I think when we ask why, we aren't really asking for the history of the universe or an explanation of the suffering. The real question behind the why is "Don't you love me?"
And to this we can give a resounding yes!

But the doubts are real and that, I think, is why Paul is so adamant in Romans 8 that nothing, no suffering, no calamity, no struggle, no pain, ever separates us from God's love.

But we will not learn this by looking back for the cause answer.

We seldom find meaning in our suffering because we are stubbornly looking behind us waiting for cause answers and refusing to look forward to the solace of the purpose.

It would not be heretical then to say that the true cause of all suffering, the real purpose behind it, the end of it, the future of it, and the solace for it is the love of God.

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