A man named David commented on one of Mary DeMuth’s articles at TheHighCalling.org this morning. My response to him got out of control, so I’m posting it here, writing today as Senior Editor of TheHighCalling.org but also just as myself.
Mary’s article, The God Who Sees, is about God taking pity on Hagar after she is kicked out of Abraham’s family. Hagar goes to the desert to die, and God takes pity on her. Mary then draws encouragement from this story. Wherever we are, God sees us. If our workplace feels like a desert, God is there with us. The implicit promise is that God will take care of us like he took care of Hagar. He will not let us die in the desert.
Only life is more complicated than that. Sometimes good people die in the desert. Sometimes God doesn’t do anything to stop the train wreck from happening. Maybe this means God sees the train wreck and turns his back on us. Maybe it means God is off bowling somewhere. Maybe it means there is no God.
David left a comment to this effect. He wrote:
Big question for me–if He sees and did nothing about it, what does that tell me about God? How do we deal with the thought that God was there watching me get abused? How to reconcile this with God as loving, good, kind and all-powerful?
David, I have to say upfront that I don’t have a satisfying answer to your question. What I’d like to do is take you out to Wild Fire Coffee Roasters and buy you a latte. And a blueberry pastry. They have these really good blueberry pastries. We’d sit in the back in the arm chairs by the stack of board games, near the small room where Mark roasts the beans. He might say hi, but he’d give us space to talk. Maybe we’d invite some friends like Gordon Atkinson or Dan Roloff or Mark D. Roberts. Maybe Mary DeMuth could come down. Maybe L. L. Barkat could come down from New York. Ann Kroeker and Sam Van Eman and Laura Boggess and others could come down, too. Maybe Bradley could come down from his camel.
And we’d talk. Not like some religious people do. Not in platitudes and prescriptions and arguments that set our heads straight but don’t address the empty disconnect we feel in our hearts.
We’d talk like people talk in coffee shops.
Since I can’t take you to Wildfire, I’m writing this post instead. (I have to admit that I consulted Peter Kreeft’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics to see how he thinks through this question logically. Much of what I say here is filtering various pieces of his wisdom.)
The short answer to your question is about context. Mary was writing a 500 word message of encouragement and couldn’t get into all the philosophical nuance of the deeper questions. Hopefully, TheHighCalling.org as a whole provides nuance and depth across all of its articles. All the same, it is good to respond directly. It is good to have something as close to conversation with you as possible, David.
A preacher might point out that this question is not a new one. Jesus asked a version of this question on the cross when he said, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” Personally, I take some comfort knowing that the Trinity understands our struggle with this question first hand.
I also take some comfort in Job. God’s answer to Job was basically this–You are the creation. I am the creator. My wisdom is greater than yours. Trust me.
On the one hand, that seems like God is giving Job a pretty shallow, sarcastic response. (I actually like the fact that God gets sarcastic with Job.) On the other hand, God isn’t asking for blind faith here. God is simply pointing out a reasonable response to the problem of evil.
We all know evil exists. We can’t understand the problem of evil, but we can understand that the problem is bigger than our understanding. And we can choose to trust that the problem is not bigger than God’s understanding. That’s faith. We choose to believe God is good despite some evidence that raises doubts. Having doubts like these is part of having faith. We choose to remain faithful by not allowing our doubts to take control.
From another perspective, our general agreement about the problem of evil points to something beyond evil, some absolute good that we want to experience instead. That absolute good is God.
It’s a nice philosophical argument, but it probably doesn’t help us deal with the evils that we see around us. It doesn’t change the fact that International Justice Mission is going to find 25 more girls being held in a hole somewhere in forced prostitution. It doesn’t change the fact that my mother was abused by her parents. It doesn’t change the fact that some punk stole my 1967 Mustang just after I had restored it with my father.
There are all kinds of evil in the world. Some of them are truly tragic–like what the International Justice Mission faces every day. Some of them are mostly annoying–like my stolen car.
But God has an interesting answer to the problem of evil: forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean injustice. I forgive the people who stole my car, but in doing so, I’m also acknowledging that it was wrong for them to steal my car. The women who are enslaved may someday even learn to forgive their captors, but that kind of forgiveness in no way justifies or excuses the horrors of human trafficking.
Where do all of these preacher arguments leave us? The world is still filled with bad stuff. And evil seems really strong–like a supervillain. Goodness always seems fragile, like a collection of depression glass. Or worse, goodness seems weak.
Personally, I refuse to accept that imagery. If nothing else, I know that I can add goodness to the world–I can forgive others, I can ask forgiveness when I hurt others, and I can try to create beauty around me by loving my family, serving my coworkers, honoring my employer, and showing devotion to God.
As I read back over this, David, I feel like this whole post is too prescriptive, too logical, too much about providing answers to your questions. I don’t have answers. I don’t know that I ever will. But I don’t need the big answers to know what I should do today.