Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God and Suffering

I recently received an email from my father with the same title. It prompted me to journal my own thoughts regarding the subject, given the circumstances of suffering that currently surround my family and many friends as well.

First of all, I believe in an omnipotent God, one who is all powerful. After all, he created the universe! God is also omniscient, meaning he is "all-knowing". How could he be the "beginning and the end" otherwise? In other words, God has the power to do whatever he wants, and he know everything that ever was and ever will be.

I have often said the phrase, "God is in control." It was brought to my attention that this could be interpreted as meaning God controls everything, which would eliminate free will and reduce us to the role of puppets. That certainly is not what I mean. When I say, "God is in control", I mean God knows what is happening and he has the power to allow it or stop it.

One could also interpret the phrase "God is in control" to mean he causes bad things to happen. Where we certainly have biblical evidence of God's judgment (remember the flood?), we should also remember that we live in a broken world.

Not only is God all-powerful and all-knowing, he is also a relational God. We see evidence of his love song to us throughout the pages of the Bible, and if we are observant, in the pages of our own life stories. He gives us free will because he desires our love, our trust, our relationship with him. And because he desires a true relationship with us, he gives us the choice. So often we do not choose the things he desires for us, the things that are best for us. And sometimes, bad things happen as consequences of those bad choices.

I'm not saying that sickness and death, loss and pain are God's punishment for our sins. I'm not saying that he causes these things to happen to teach us a lesson. I'm not even saying that all bad things are explainable.

I am saying I believe God is good. This fallen world is not. And until we get to heaven, we will continue to experience evil, because He prowls the earth. Is my God able to stop him? Yes. Does he choose sometimes not to? Yes. Do I always understand his reasons? Most definitely no.

But I cling to the verses that read, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28. And afterwards, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8: 35-39.

It is because of these promises, that we can continue through our struggles and not give up to despair. Number 1: God loves me. Number 2: God is always with me. Number 3: No matter what bad thing I am experiencing now, that can not separate me from my God. Number 4: Even in the bad things, God is working actively for my good, because I love him.

Do I sometimes need help in remembering this? Yes! That is one reason why I took the time to write it out tonight. I have felt weak and overwhelmed and overly burdened. But saying what I BELIEVE, even when I don't always FEEL it, helps give me strength. Hopefully my struggles will give someone else strength as well.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When You Gotta Have Faith

Author Ren Royal provides a transparent lens through which we may glimpse the many dark times in her life. She has lived through more tragedy and evil than many of us. However, out of her pain and suffering flows the faith and joy that only a true relationship with almighty God can provide.

Ms. Royal weaves prose, poetry, and prayer throughout her inspirational book, "Lost Faith to Living Faith". Though reading about her personal hardships was very difficult for me, the way she continually brought the message back to one of hope and love was very touching.

This book would be helpful for others who have experienced violence, loss, and/or rejection in their lives. The author has lived through each circumstance, and continues to stand on the unshakable rock of her faith.

Friday, January 15, 2010

About That Glass

I'm usually a "glass half full" kind of girl. If I weren't, the start of 2010 might have me hiding under a rock awaiting the end of the world. Exhibits as follows:

Precious aunt in final stages of cancer, father-in-law diagnosed with cancer, father diagnosed with ALS, tragic deaths of 3 family members of spouse's co-workers, young friend dealing with drug abuse, earthquake shakes Haiti (home of dear friends).

Some might shake their heads and whisper, "It can't get much worse, can it?"

I've had my moments this week. And I'm pretty sure I'll have them again. But even these sorrows and horrors, as devastating as they may be, can not outweigh my blessings. To name a very few:

Loving husband, healthy children, steady job, faithful friends, supportive church, house, car, budding new career. These "benefits" might not seem enough to some, but they all snuggle together under the giant umbrella of the knowledge of a loving God who is in control of all. Some would scoff (I can hear you snicker). "That's just a crutch. If God were so good, how could he pile all those things on you at once?"

"Ah, but he hasn't," I would say.

We live in a broken world. It's been spiraling downhill for ages. Although there are glimpses of beauty: in a sunrise unspoiled by smog, the first blooms of honeysuckles in the spring, the smell of babies, the touch of a life-long love; one has but to turn around to see the evil and decay. So sorrow happens. Death visits. Friends fall prey to lies. This is not the hand of God. That hand is the unexplainable peace, the assurance of a here-after, the calm in the midst of the storm.

I felt that very thing on Wednesday afternoon. Tuesday night my mother called me from Houston to tell me the tests conducted on my dad would most likely confirm our fears; ALS. I managed to listen to the details and almost got off the phone before the dam broke. I even managed to hold it back while my children drifted off to watch television or text on their phones. Then my husband came home from work. So I crumbled against his strong shoulder and quietly sobbed my grief behind the closed door of our bedroom.

When I could breath normally again and had washed my face, I posted the results on our prayer chains at work and church, even w/ friends on facebook. I asked specifically for strength to calmly tell my 13 year old daughter. I was waiting until a final call from my mother on Wednesday afternoon. Now, please remember that I was an incoherent mass of tears just the day before. But I managed to make it through the workday on Wednesday; teaching fourth graders, attending faculty meetings, working on lesson plans—all without crying. I talked with my mother Wednesday afternoon, and when the time came, I shared the information about her Papa having a deadly illness to my very inquisitive, insightful daughter calmly and rationally.

I can only say, "Prayer is powerful. It works. There is a God whose peace passes all understanding. And I am so very thankful that I get to call him 'Father'." 2010 has not begun auspiciously for my family. But I hold to the faith that we are still blessed. My glass is not just half-full, it runneth over.