Recently English actor Stephen Fry made news here in Ireland for answering a question on RTÉ about what he would say to God.
You can watch it here. It’s less than 3 minutes and worth your time.
There seem to be two common responses when we (followers of Jesus) hear something like this.
1) We try to defend God.
2) We attack the person who makes the statement we don’t like.
The problem with those two options is:
1) God doesn’t need our defence and
2) We are called to love people, not attack them.
Personally, I can’t imagine Jesus spending any time this past week stressing about it…so neither will I.
My first response after hearing about this was, “Why wouldn’t he say what he said?”
I continue to be amazed that so many Christians are shocked when people who are not Jesus followers, live, act and talk like people who are not Jesus followers.
There is without question a level of arrogance and condescension among the Hitchens/Dawkins/Fry crowd that can incite that ‘fight or flight’ response. But it shouldn’t.
The much larger point this brought up for me is that I’ve met so many Christians who basically have a similar theology of suffering to Fry’s. They believe that either God causes suffering or allows it to happen. It flows from this belief that everything that happens in our world is predestined or preordained by God. So, everything that happens in our world is exactly what God wants to happen. Right?
But where Fry looks at that and labels it ‘evil.’ Churches and Christians who hold this belief try to make it a good, even a loving thing.
“I’m sorry this person you love died…I guess God had a better plan for them.” [Read the creation story again…or perhaps the new testament…death is not part of God’s plan for us.]
In 2013 we were sitting in a church we were part of at that time, and the pastor was teaching on suffering. During his message, he made the comment:
“All suffering comes to us through the fingers of God.”
Now sitting there listening to that message, I believe he was sincerely presenting that as a comfort. Whatever you go through has come to you from God, and God loves you. Since nothing happens unless God wills or allows it to happen. It is allowed to happen because God will bring a “greater good” out of that suffering.
As you can probably tell already, I don’t believe that is biblical theology. But as I sat there that day, it was around the time I’d just seen another news story about Sandy Hook. And I sat there thinking, would we really tell that community…or those parents that this event came to them through the fingers of God? That God must have a better plan?
Now can I talk to you about a loving God who wants you to experience peace, joy and eternal life!?!
If your theology tells you that nothing can happen outside of God’s will, this is where you end up. With the problem of suffering. “How could a loving God…..?” To answer that, we end up doing mental gymnastics that paint what happened as either being beyond our understanding or an opportunity for a greater good to occur.
Let me propose another way of looking at this. Think about the Lord’s prayer. It begins with an address in statement form:
“Our Father in heaven.”
Not a request that he would be our father. Not a request that he would exist in the realm of heaven…because those two things already are.
The next two phrases are requests:
“May your name be hallowed” (hallowed means: made holy, sacred…set apart).”
“May your kingdom come.”
While God’s name already is holy and sacred…we pray to see that increase…that in people and places where it is not currently holy, it would also be held as holy.
Likewise, that his kingdom, his rule and reign, would increase in our world.
So, not statements but requests. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say the things that Jesus teaches us to ask God for are:
1) things God wants to see happen
2) things that are not as they should be.
And we, as followers of Jesus, are invited to be part of seeing these things come to pass.
This leads to the next line…
May your will be done on earth (our realm) as it is in heaven (God’s realm).
Here’s my question? Why would Jesus have us pray that unless:
1) it was something God would like to see happen,
2) it is not currently happening as it should.
We live in a fallen, broken world. It is not working as God created it to work.
It is evil in our world, and it does not align itself with God’s will or vice versa.
Part of the brokenness of our world is that God’s will is not done on earth as it is in heaven. But Jesus came to set things right…to see the world restored to what our Father created it to be. And while that isn’t fully complete yet, we, as followers of Jesus, are invited to be part of this process of restoring all things.
In the meantime, there will be pain, death, suffering and evil. But could we stop laying that at Jesus’ feet?