The kingdom of heaven is a flurry of paradoxes. Paradoxi? Paradeux? Anyway, multiple instances of a paradox, such as:
- Lose your life to gain it.
- Become like a little child as an adult.
- The last shall be first.
These things don’t make a lot of sense until they are exemplified by Jesus, and then they become clearer. Even then, it takes a long time and many occasions of re-learning to figure how they work themselves out in our own lives.
Here’s one that gets some air time as people grow up in the church:
“I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
From this and from the church tradition I come from, we are taught to expect challenges, persecution, disappointments, and other stuff-of-life. We are also taught to remember that ultimately these present circumstances are conquerable, or at least we can endure through hardships, because Jesus lived through life and ultimately overcame death. We don’t go through these things alone, because the Holy Spirit, The Comforter, walks alongside us.
We’re taught that because Jesus’ turned on its ear the natural sequence of things (i.e. dead and you stay dead) that means He can help us overcome any circumstance we’re facing. If Jesus overcame death, then we don’t even need to trouble ourselves with worrying about anything as severe as that (which is really supposed to be a minor hiccup in the overall journey of our souls if we have “dealt with our salvation”), much less anything smaller in scope.
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:45 Jesus says that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” It’s stated in the context of loving one’s enemies, a.k.a. out-loving pagans and tax collectors who love the people who love them and greet their own people.
In my own church tradition, this passage has been used to focus on loving those who are hard to love, rather than focusing on provision in the natural order being given to people who are unjust. ‘Cause really, who wants to think about nice things being given to mean people? Sometimes the question comes up, “why do good things happen to bad people?” but we like to gloss over that one with the assumption they’re cheating the system somehow, they’ll prosper in this life but pay for it eventually. This justice system is supposed to cut short the question, and somehow people are left to almost hope the jerks DON’T end up following Jesus because then they will have double cheated the system, a “they’ll get theirs eventually” mentality. Sick huh?
And yet, the recurring question people often have is: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The answer given is, often citing the book of Job, is “Who do we think we are to question God’s decisions?” or “Why not?”
I’ll tell you why not, and I bet quite a few other people can tell you why not as well.
Because it seems to me that while God doesn’t “owe” any human anything, it wouldn’t hurt the balance of the universe to throw a bone to someone who has actively worked to advance the Kingdom for his entire adult life.
It would be a rad miracle if a committed follower of God would be healed and that miracle could further the faith of others, being able to be sited as evidence of God’s provision for the people who serve Him well.
Because in a world filled with corruption, abuse, manipulation and malice, a person who is free from those things is a keeper, someone who’s existence you want to prolong.
That’s why not.
Or, if you’d rather, lets step back from the long goodbye and work with something serious but less “complete” — say, chronic illness.
How is it that God can’t see His way to giving a pass to people who love Him, people who are innocent, people who are young, people who maybe made some mistakes but admitted it and got things cleaned up, figured out, squared away?
How is it that a person who is doing their best to live right and follow God is allowed to suffer?
Or if you’d like, zoom out even further. How can it be that groups inflict horrific abuses against other people, who’s only “crime” is not believing the same things as their oppressors? Who’s only disobedience is wanting to go to school and learn to read regardless of gender or age? Who’s only “offense” is being born with a certain skin color? Why are these people allowed to be attacked, afflicted, and abused in ways my heart can’t begin to imagine possible?
If this is God’s economy, I want to go off-grid. If this is the way God protects the innocent, then who needs that type of anti-protection? If this is the way God sets the world a-turning and then sits on His anthropomorphic hands, then how can a person in good conscience worship such a God?
It’s a crisis.
It’s a questioning of everything you’ve up-until-now taken as true.
It’s an untethering from the shore you thought to be solid, a setting adrift into a lonely ocean filled with perils. And the place you left for the Holy Spirit to accompany you because that’s what you were assured, that place remains empty.
We are tested to our breaking point. We are pushed past our own endurance. We are asked to remain faithful in the face of all the evidence showing us that it’s a one-sided contract.
My heart turns to prayer. Instinctively. Without stopping to reason out whether it makes sense or not. Without asking if it actually “changes things” like the old bumper stickers claimed. Is this a result of long-term conditioning or genuine spiritual instincts? Am I so desperate that in order to not do nothing I return to prayer even if it’s prayer to a God that’s got me spittin’ mad?
There’s no good answer. My faith is so entwined with my life that even when I’m mad, doubting, or complacent my posture continues to be turned towards Jesus. In spite of myself, when I am ready to wash my hands of big-g God, I want to still work something out with Jesus. Somehow I feel that He gets it, that He can make it clear to the Father, between Jesus and the Holy Spirit they can make God come around and DO SOMETHING. Maybe it won’t be something for me specifically, in fact I’m coming to realize it probably WON’T be for me. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. That doesn’t mean that Good can’t still act and act swiftly. Somewhere in our collective subconscious, we still hear God’s whispers of hope and kindness, even on a small scale, within our own circles of influence.
So I won’t go totally off-grid, not yet. I will wrestle with God and faith and be as honest as I can about how crappy everything seems, because God can handle that. God can handle me, in all my contrary, questioning, fight-picking. And believe me, if He can handle me, I’m 100% sure He can handle you.
Do questions like these make you want to duck for cover? Does your faith allow for questioning or doubts? What do you do when life doesn’t line up with the beliefs you’ve held for a long time? I’d love to hear some of your story in the comments.