Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Don’t Know

Why do bad things happen to good people?  If God can do anything, why can’t he stop evil?  How can God allow innocent people to suffer, and guilty people go free?

As a parent, Sunday School teacher, and youth leader, I hear these questions a lot.  Usually the asker genuinely wants to know, and he or she wants a straight answer.  Kids want to know that the world has order, that there is a good reason for everything.  Everything else in the world has been presented to them this way.  Wear your coat because it is cold outside.  Eat breakfast before school so you’re not hungry during class.  Take a shower every day so you won’t be known as the kid with b.o.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?  Is he listening?  Doesn’t he see that we are hurting?  These questions break my heart.  They are sincere.  Kids don’t want to believe that God, the God of the “God is great” prayer, the one who they’ve learned is good, light, and love, is cool with bad things happening in our world, but the evidence pointing otherwise is hard to understand.  They want to be sure about God, as sure as they know that one plus one equals two.

Kids want to be sure about God, as sure as they know that 
1 + 1 = 2.

People all over the world do bad things.  We all have the will to do whatever we want to – it’s how we were created.  I can say without a doubt that every single person on this earth has done something bad, and when those things are done, it sets into motion more bad things.  I’ve done it in my own life, and I’ve watched in helpless concern when I see it happening in other people’s lives.

But as with every other thing in the world, it’s not easy to explain why bad things happen, why incomprehensible things exist, and why God doesn’t just swoop in and save us all if that’s what he wants for us anyway.  It doesn’t make sense.  If we are supposed to love God wholeheartedly, why does he make it so difficult by being so mysterious?

The love in my heart and soul for my own children overflows to almost embarrassing levels.  They couldn’t do anything to lose my love.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.  Despite my deep love for them, I also don’t owe my children an explanation for everything I do or don’t do.  If I’ve done my job correctly, they’ve learned to trust my judgment.  My kids don’t always know why I do things, but they’ve learned that I’ll do what’s right. 

If I’ve done my job correctly, my kids have learned to trust 
my judgment.

If we are God’s children, then he is our Father.  He is gracious and sometimes tries to explain the reasons behind his actions.  We might not understand the reasons right away, but they are there.  Our job is to have faith in him and to trust that he is doing what’s right.

If God – who in his infinite capacity loves us more than any human could love another – is expecting me to trust him to do what’s right, then I will.  I will trust that he has very good reasons not to swoop in and stop bad things from happening.  That his reasons are much more important than mine.

But it is not my job to answer for God.  God does wondrous things like create light and dark, knows each of the hairs on each of our heads, and sent his Son to die for the sins of the world.  I don’t know how he does it.  I don’t know how these things translate into love for us.  I’m not him – I don’t know his whole plan.   

I don’t know.

What I do know is that sometimes the reasons for why things happen just aren’t clear.  I know that God loves us.  I know that God doesn’t want any of us to suffer or to perish.  And I know that he is planning a forever home for us with him, where there will be no tears, no suffering, and no bad things happening.

I know that God loves us.

Knowing that is enough.


Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?  Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?  Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?  Isaiah 40:13-14

Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.  1 John 3:20

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Judge Away

“I’m just saying.”

“This is mean to say, but…”

“Don’t judge me.”

“I don’t want to say this, but it has to be said.”

Usually these phrases are said or heard right before something controversial is uttered.  The hope is that the subject or intent of what the speaker says won’t be held against her.  It’s a hall pass for saying something out of character, or against a more attractive impression we’d like to make.

The trouble is that hall passes are not outside the boundaries of right and wrong.  And impressions are hard to smooth out if we’ve made a particularly deep one.

I’m a speak-before-I-think-er.  I’ve put my foot in my mouth so many times you’d think I like the taste.  My mouth takes off before my mind catches up, and by the time it does, I’ve said something ugly or stupid or weird or unnecessary.  I took to writing my thoughts to give me a cushion between thinking and bad impression-making, but in the age of social media and right-now communication, what you get with me is either a dropped conversation while I practically sit on my hands to keep the words from springing forth, or a lively conversation where I make a fool of myself over and over onscreen.  I’m so witty and insightful, I think, and tappity-tap, out comes a quick sentence or two.  Later, I read what I said.  Did I really say that?  Oh, gosh.  I hope people don’t think I’m awful.  It’s better not to see people’s faces from the safety of my desk, but I can imagine the eye rolls.

“Just sayin’” was meant for people like me.

But what is right and wrong?  The world is confusing.  What’s right for me is different than what’s right for you, and what’s right for our country is different from what’s right for other nations.  We can’t assume that everyone has the same beliefs, traditions, cultural awareness, or anything similar to us, really.  The world is growing smaller, and within it there are millions of ways of doing, thinking, and saying, each right for that person or group.  Tolerate others and accept their ways is the message we receive.

Because everyone is right these days, we feel free to say and do what we want, and those who think we are wrong are wrong themselves.  So we qualify our actions and words and lightly admonish others to regard us less harshly.  Who are you to judge me, anyway?

I’m so thankful for my faith right now.  In this world, at this time, where everything is in shades of gray and nothing is one or the other, I’m grateful that right and wrong are clear to me.  That “love God” and “love others as you love yourself” are the only two things I need to know for sure. 

My words and thoughts filter through these instructions.  The gray areas lie in how I act to show these two things.  Even my mistakes – the times when I clearly see I was wrong, my inappropriate words or behaviors – can be redeemed by forgiveness.  I can work on earth to smooth the deep grooves I’ve made that mar my character by asking for forgiveness and admitting my mistakes, and I can spend time with God to do the same.

I’m wrong a lot of the time.  No amount of pleading for no judgments or “just sayin’” qualifiers will change it.  I’ve made irreparable bad impressions, have turned off people by things I have said and done.  Some things I’ve said shouldn’t be tolerated, and I should be judged for them, because I was wrong.

But I have the hope of redemption, which goes far beyond tolerance.  It goes beyond someone pretending not to judge me for my wrongly uttered words.  Jesus’ sacrifice washes me clean from my sins when I ask for forgiveness.  Walking the path of righteousness ensures me a place in heaven.  It makes my life not easier, but better.  Less confusing.  I do far less wondering and worrying about what to say and do than I used to.  I still stumble, but less than before.

So judge me if you’d like.  Judge me against God’s measuring stick if you’re up to the task.  It won’t make a difference to me, because ultimately he has the last say about what’s right and wrong.   For that, I’m thankful.