It felt like a light saber duel out of Star Wars. I could feel the heat; hear the brilliant light humming as it slashed repeatedly in my direction My atheist friend was going after Christianity hammer and tong – my Christianity; my life foundation. Not only is she very smart, she’s also grown up in the church and thus has inside knowledge about Christianity’s toughest issues, which she didn’t hesitate to attack aggressively.
The issues themselves are not my focus in this piece. They require more space than I can give. What I want to address is how we handle the “tough God stuff”; the aspects about God or His Word which cause us to wrestle with doubt or uncertainty about Him. Is He really good? Is He really fair? Is He really wise? Is He really loving? If He is, then why is such and such the case?
At this point, I will be frank. While I felt I had strong answers for some of her questions, for others of them, the best I could offer was somewhat weak. In fact, I myself, a committed Christian, wrestle with some of the same issues. They’re legitimate questions that any thoughtful person would ask. It was fair for her to bring them up.
Do you know what I’m talking about? If you’re a thinking person, you probably have at least partially unresolved issues about God and His ways. Even if you’re not into abstract thinking, your own personal life has likely generated some tough God stuff, such as: “Why did this happen to me?” This leads to our first question:
Why is there tough God stuff?
1. God isn’t human
Yes, I know that Jesus became a man for our sake, but He remained God too. And
God himself isn’t just a ginormous human being. While we, being made in His image have glimmerings of Him in our makeup, that’s all they are – glimmerings. We’re not pint-sized gods. He’s very different from us in any number of ways. Let’s explore a few of them.
2. God’s ways and thoughts are beyond ours
Isaiah 55:8,9 puts it this way: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God is, what we might call, an “advanced advanced life form”. While we do understand Him and connect with Him at a certain level, at other levels He’s light years beyond us. This is why we don’t understand where He’s coming from sometimes. What makes this harder is the next point:
3. God is perfect in every way, morally or otherwise, yet it doesn’t always seem that way to us
The Bible makes this claim over and over, from many angles. The “higher” mentioned in Isaiah 55 is a good “higher”, not a bad one. It also means “better”. The tough part about this claim is that, from where we stand, it doesn’t always appear to be true. We try to reconcile the love of God with the unfathomable harshness of hell. Or, on a personal level, figure out why we, or others we love, suffer so much if God truly cares about us. If He was just a variation of the old flawed Greek or Roman gods, these apparent inconsistenceies would be more comprehensible, but He’s not. He claims to be perfect.
4. God often seems silent, invisible, and detached
Have you ever cried out to God, only to be answered with ringing silence? Have you ever prayed fervently for Him to help in some way, only to see no visible result? We wouldn’t ignore our children, why does He do apparently it with us? A few folks seem to experience God’s tangible presence more often, but many of us do not.
5. God’s rewards aren’t always apparent
We watch others, who care little about God, seem to prosper, while those of us who seek Him regularly struggle. We still have a lot of the same roadblocks everyone else faces and aren’t even always compensated with high levels of joy and peace.
6. God frequently calls on us to follow Him based on faith and not sight
This sums up what I’ve said to this point. Yes, we do possess some evidence of God’s existence and His wisdom and His good character but it’s often not as much as we’d prefer. Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 5:7: “We live by faith, not by sight.” Much, if not most of our Christian life, if it is steady, is based on a faith which pushes us to believe beyond what we can see or understand. On the other hand, unbelief is considered a sin (Jude 1:5). Faith can be a stretch, though, can’t it? Sometimes believing God’s promises takes all the strength we can muster. And to those on the outside we may appear gullible or trapped in wishful thinking.
How can I handle tough God stuff and still stay connected with God?
1. I evaluate what I don’t understand based on what I do understand of God’s positive qualities
This is my major go-to foundation. I believe that God is totally holy, loving, and good. Based on His character, I’ve decided to trust His judgment in all areas of life. A good God does not do bad things, even if I can’t explain everything He does. And He has given us many evidences of His basic goodness, such as sending His own Son to die for our sins.
2. I evaluate what I don’t understand based on my belief that God knows more and better than I do
In Romans 11:33, Paul cries out: “Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out.” Just as we trusted our parents, when we were little, to make many decision for us that we did not understand, I choose to believe that God’s judgment about what He does in general, and about my life in particular, is far wiser than mine, even if I can’t see it now.
3. I evaluate what I don’t understand based on the incredible benefits of following God
Living biblically has yielded many obvious blessings in my life right now. God’s commands mostly make sense to me and I’m a much better person for having followed them. I’m more forgiving, kinder, more honest, more loving, etc. Furthermore, if what the Bible says about eternity is true, living for Christ will bring eternal reward. On the other hand, rejecting God creates eternal consequences too negative to conceive. That’s quite a risk and there’s no neutral ground. We’re either in or out. Folks, whatever beliefs and lifestyle you choose comes with both benefits and costs – whether it’s another religion, atheism, agnosticism, or whatever. There’s no risk-free choices here. In addition, all of them raise difficult questions of some sort. Every one. That’s part of what it means to try to figure out our complex universe as a simple human being. We’re peering at reality through a knothole from our tiny location. I’ve chosen to follow Jesus. In my opinion, He makes the most sense, and the potential benefits far outweigh the risks. I hope that you’ll follow Him too.