One of the biggest problems I have with the idea of believe that God isn’t involved in everyday life is that it makes it really hard to worship God. It becomes so much hard to thank Him, pray to Him, and have conversations with Him.
God becomes so distant.
I started thinking about this again a few weeks ago when I read on of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 107. Each stanza in this poem reflects on how God saved them- from famine, from the sea, from oppression, etc . . . Then after, the below line is said in response is to His intervention (even though sometimes it appears He might have caused the suffering in the first place):
“Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.”
“Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.”
For those of us who are advocates for the poor and oppressed AND also believe in God, we have to wrestle with the fact that evil is happening, while somehow God exists. And a God that is worth following, in my opinion, is one that is both totally GOOD and BIG at the same time. Overall, this is the God I see in the Bible. But, depending on one’s background, people can read the same thing I do, which insinuates God’s character must be good and loving, and come away with a totally different view of God.
Which is probably why it is best for each of us to read the Bible ourselves, always asking the question “What does this passage make me appreciate about God?” Then talk about our tensions with others who also read the Bible.
But, I digress.
Advocates see suffering. For example, a detective who works with victims of trafficking was telling me about how hard it is for guys like him in law enforcement to keep believing in God when they see evil so closely.
But for others of us, placing our hope in a seemingly impossible solution- a God who makes all things right- is what gives us the strength to be advocates in the first place.
Watching followers of Jesus manage this tension usually ends up affecting the way they live in EVERY WAY they live. Because God is either really personal and cares about our every next move, or God isn’t really like that and doesn’t necessarily speak to us in the now (after all, His spirit already speaks to us in the Bible).
It seems, just from observation, that someone who has much to be grateful about- whether they were given food and kept from starving by a relief organization, were rescued from a life of slavery, or are just spiritually/emotionally rescued because they finally believed that Jesus gives us grace and forgives a myriad of sins- these are the grateful ones.
I watched a documentary about poverty in Romania the other day. One of the workers said something like this, giving a great example of this gratefulness:
“If you ask someone in America about Jesus they will say what He did, or facts about Him. If you ask someone here about Jesus they will say “Jesus took care of me! My house was falling apart and He sent someone to fix it! He gave me food! I follow Jesus because He helps me! He is real!”
Of course, the problem with basing your view of God only on whether you are rescued in a physical sense, is that you might not be rescued- and what then? Is God not alive? Is He not big enough? Does He just not care?
Because, every day people suffer or die because they aren’t rescued. These people know true grief.
Something I often have to remind myself that although I am working on freeing people in a physical sense, what everyone still needs more than anything is spiritual freedom. The poor can be happy, if they have hope.
I watched GirlRising with a friend not too long ago, and that was her surprised conclusion (coming from the affluence of the richest county in America):
“Even though they have nothing, NOTHING! Not even an education! – that girl was STILL happy!”
Hence, I believe the priority of the advocate is to extend hope, not necessarily for a physical or literal rescue, but a spiritual one. We MUST have that fundamental hope in faith- that Jesus died, resurrected, and offers us the salvation of having mercy and grace for us despite our imperfections. With that, we have been spiritually rescued and given strength through God’s spirit to have a full life. That is ALL we are promised, ALL we can fully expect and ALL that we ultimately need.
And for that alone, we can praise God, worship Him, thank Him.
But even in the New Testament it seems more is attributed to God than just the basics of Jesus resurrection/our salvation.
If we choose to believe that God’s intervention isn’t happening in other aspects of our lives, Christianity and the Holy Spirit just becomes a magical 2000-year-old pill that we swallow. Then after we swallow it, we follow ancient medical principles like “Starve a fever, feed a cold.” (In case you’re not following my analogy, I mean the Spirit-inspired Bible).
We buy into what was started a long time ago. But that is it.
To me, that doesn’t seem like God is active and living. He just gave a working prescription.
Regardless, when we think this way, we have a lot LESS to praise God for and thank Him for, attributing good to Him, even if He doesn’t rescue us or others like we think He should. Maybe I want something that isn’t reality, but I hope the gratefulness I feel for my God to be legit and still personal:
- “God is still involved!”
- “God still lives!”
- “God was totally directing me!”
- “God took care of me!”
- “God really does love me!”
- “God gave me a car so I had to move back from Europe, which I didn’t want to do, but He still must love me enough to direct me and care for me besides my bad attitude!”
- “God seemed to direct me to stay in the richest county in America, which I hated, but now I see why and I am so thankful!”
- “Yey! God miraculously healed my friend from cancer! It is amazing and MUST BE GOD!”
- Or even, “God didn’t heal my friend from cancer, but I still saw Him at work in countless people’s lives because of my friend’s peace and attitude before He died.”
Can God still be personal, worthy of worship, and who is still Himself in both the good and bad in life?
But, I feel like people usually learn towards one of two choices:
- God isn’t involved in leading us at all anymore and isn’t active in miracles, or intervention. He’s already set a system in motion which is enough for faith.
- God is still very much involved when we invite Him to be and we can point back to points in our timeline where God showed Himself personal.
Most people I know probably lean towards the top approach. It is safer not to connect God with situations, partially because we might get it wrong (which happens). But also because there is something logically difficult about recognizing God is very involved now, when there is so much pain and suffering at the same time.
Yes, and those who subscribe to the first view tend to have a hard time valuing prayer, taking time seeking God, enjoying Him and worshiping Him. Because, well, He isn’t exactly too personal and we don’t actually know when God is involved so it is better to shut-up before we say something that makes God look bad.
I had a conversation the other day that reflects this view, about why someone hates football player Tim Tebow:
“Because Tebow thanks God and attributes it to Him when He wins! But then if you follow the logical course of thinking from that, what about when He doesn’t win? How does that make God look? And then we realize He isn’t that great of a player. . .”
But what else should Tebow do? Not acknowledge God? I don’t know Tim Tebow, but my guess is that he just gives God thanks because He wants to worship God and is trying to give Him attention. David (in the Old Testament) was even worse than Tebow, always winning and always loosing. But David still saw God in it all, told his whole country about it, even drove his wife crazy by flaunting, worshiping God “too excessively”- but we admire David for being a man after God’s own heart. Of course Tebow and David lose sometimes (or often). But I don’t think Tim Tebow thinks he is magic, or that God only wants Tebow’s team to win. I think Tebow just knows he should acknowledge God.
Just like I don’t think God cares more about my kid’s soccer team more than your kid’s team. But I can still pray with me kid. Or I don’t think God cares about the U.S.A. more than other countries, wanting us to win all the wars that exist, but we drag Him into our side of that too.
But then there is the other view- the people who are the extreme version of God being involved in everything, even the change of the traffic lights. And the problem with this is that sometimes they are paralyzed because they can’t hear the direction they think they need from “the personal God.” Or they believe they “hear” God, following their heart, while not really knowing how to hear God, ignoring Biblical wisdom and hurting others in the name of “but God said . . . ” Or most commonly, their faith is disappointed because they have an expectation for how God should respond, and when He doesn’t fulfill their expectations, they experience suffering. Then their faith is shattered as it wasn’t based on the basic fundamentals (the hope of resurrection/salvation is all we need).
What I believe is somewhere in-between these two. This means I don’t have a lot of answers about why there is suffering in some cases, but not in the other. My belief takes hope in the scripture from Romans 8, that “He works all things together for good of them that love Him.”
In the life experience I’ve had so far (which seems to go with the Bible’s stories/scriptures a lot more than go against) it would be impossible, even stupid to say God isn’t speaking/intervening/personal. But I still see why my faith can’t be based on when I think God is responding or not. I have realized that maybe sometimes God being personal doesn’t mean He needs to speak from the clouds every time I try to find a parking space.
So that must mean, to solve this tension, I’ve just become okay with thinking that life is comprised of a strange equation I don’t really know:
30xPeople’sGoodChoices / 15zBadChoices +
Essentially, we don’t know. We won’t ever know why good things happen to bad people, why God responds in a physical sense, but sometimes He doesn’t. But that tension -not knowing- is often too hard for many of us to handle. We prefer to know which one God is- either involved or not involved. Why is that? Is it because of our personalities? Or because we are trying to nail God down?
Maybe, what matters more than any of this, is that we choose to seek out what God’s character is. For many of us, that is our next step- challenging our perceptions of God.
And for the rest of us, when we don’t understand what we see, we choose to actively remember what God has done, reminding ourselves where God has been involved. We can choose to believe that God is still good and big enough while realizing it is okay to feel tension about this sometimes.
My goal is to be a person of thankfulness, even when I don’t fully understand God. I want to be a person of hope and joy, even in the face of the world’s suffering.
1 Praise the Lord!I will thank the Lord with all my heart
as I meet with his godly people.
2 How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!
All who delight in him should ponder them.
3 Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty.
His righteousness never fails.
4 He causes us to remember his wonderful works.
How gracious and merciful is our Lord!
5 He gives food to those who fear him;
he always remembers his covenant.
6 He has shown his great power to his people
by giving them the lands of other nations.
7 All he does is just and good,
and all his commandments are trustworthy.
8 They are forever true,
to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
9 He has paid a full ransom for his people.
He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever.
What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
10 Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.
Praise him forever!
Ideas for Action:
Journal about when you thought God was personal in your life verses other times.
How does that influence your view of Him?Be God’s hands and feet to relieve suffering and evil! Do you know your place in this battle? Read this post about finding a place to use your Holy Discontent.
Following God requires a measure of faith in something we don’t understand fully, regardless of which view you lean towards.
How is God challenging your faith and how do you feel inspired to respond? Read the book The Case for Faith
to begin answering the question about how God can exist, still be Big and Good Enough, in the face of suffering and evil.