WEEKLY COMMENTARY: Is God Really Present In Our Lives?

August 26, 2019

          I understand that no one has actually seen the face of God.  But, many of us believe that at one time there must have been some kind of god-like being which established the Earth, the many forms of life on the Earth, and then organized physical forces of great complexity, which today generally give predictable results in their actions.  There seems to be some order in our universe.

         So, wouldn’t the benefactor who did this want to protect that investment —– not declare the work done and simply walk away?  However, despite such thinking, sometimes the people of this creation today DO contract a deadly disease, DIE in a natural disaster, or are KILLED arbitrarily in an automobile accident where the other driver was at fault.  Does God just let this happen?

         A complete understanding of how God works certainly is beyond our mortal abilities.  But, over the centuries much thought has attempted to explain the mystery of whether and how God is present in our lives.  The result has been the development of a number of alternative theological theories, which take us into the realm of religious faith.

         Many Christians point to the earthly presence of Jesus two thousand years ago, as convincing evidence that God does care about us and is present in our lives, even today.  In addition, the Bible is seen as confirming that God is with us today by the many quotes from Jesus about God.  In addition, the Bible is thought to evidence God’s presence for us by what it calls the Holy Spirit, which it says dwells in each of us Believers.  But we must remember that none of this has scientific proof —— it is a beautiful expression of faith.

          Recently, I was teaching a Sunday School class of teenagers.  It happened shortly after one of the tragic mass shootings in America.  One of my students raised his hand and asked, “Where was God when this killing of innocent people occurred?”  I had been asking myself the same question!  Does our Creator no longer care about us?

          I told the class that some people, whom we call “agnostics”, do want absolute proof that there is a real God who remains active in our lives.  They are not prepared to accept God as a reality based on their faith, nor can they simply trust that He is out there somewhere for us.  In the overall spectrum of belief in a God currently active in our lives, this position is the most challenging.

          Well, could it be, I asked the class, that things could happen to people for no reason —— that God has lost touch with the world, and nobody is in the driver’s seat?  If God is not in charge of all things, then who is?  Worse yet, could it be that God does not care what happens to us?  Bad things do happen to good people in this world, but it may not be God who wills it.  For example, could it be that God does not decide which families will give birth to a handicapped child.  Perhaps God would like people to get what they deserve in life, but He cannot always arrange it.  Are we forced to choose between a good God who is not totally powerful, or a powerful God who is not totally good?  The Bible repeatedly speaks of God as the special protector of the poor, the widow and the orphan, without raising the question of how it happened that they became poor, widowed or orphaned in the first place.

         The opposite extreme would be that God not only is strongly present in our lives, but that our lives are not independently lived —– that God is totally in charge.  That, although we may believe we think for ourselves, we actually have no independent discretion.  Therefore, in times of human tragedy or hardship, it is totally God’s doing and we have done nothing to prompt it.

          For many folks, this wide range of uncertainty about God’s possible plans for us is a huge worry, so theology has developed a number of intermediate theories, which are thought to be at work alone or jointly in any given situation. .  Some people believe that much of God’s work is actually done through human beings, which gives us some power to modify or even thwart what God wants.  So, our personal relationships with God may determine what God actually does with humankind.  Here are some of the many alternative theories about God’s presence in our lives:

          Theory #1:   Sometimes victims of misfortune try to console themselves with the idea that God has His reasons for making this happen to them, reasoning that they are in no position to judge God.  They believe there is some purpose in this suffering, but that it is beyond our ability to understand that purpose.  Furthermore, if God has initiated the tragedy or hardship on us, how can we now, in our prayers, ask God to help us?

          Theory #2:   Tragedy in our lives is for our own good.  It teaches us to be strong.  Perhaps God does painful things to us as His way of helping us —– like a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps.  Can’t suffering be educational?  Perhaps it can cure us of some of our faults and make us better people, just as a parent must sometimes punish a misbehaving child.?                  Theory #3:   In troubled times, we are not compelled to feel that God has judged and condemned us.  We can be angry at what has happened, but without feeling that we are angry at God.  Furthermore, we can see that our anger at some of life’s unfairness is coming from God, in our instinctive compassion upon seeing how other people suffer.  He teaches us to be angry at injustice, and to feel compassion for the afflicted.  We can feel that our indignation is God’s anger at unfairness, working through us.

          Theory #4:   God may not even be doing this to us.  He is a God of justice and not of power.  Thus, He can still be on our side when bad things happen to us.  He can know that we are good and honest people who deserve better.  Our misfortunes are none of His doing, and we can turn to Him for help.  Regardless of how our tragedies are caused, God stands ready to help us cope with the situation, if we can just get beyond the feelings of guilt and anger that separate us from Him.  Could it be that, “How could God do this to me?” is the wrong question to ask.  We should ask, “God, see what is happening to me?  Can you help me?”  We will turn to God, not to be judged or forgiven, not to be rewarded or punished, but to be strengthened and comforted.

          Theory #5:    Assume that God is the cause of our suffering.  But, our God is a God of justice and righteousness.  Our God is all powerful and causes everything that happens in the world.  Nothing happens without His will.  Our God stands up for people getting what they deserve, so that the good prosper and the wicked are punished.  He gives people exactly what they deserve.

           Friends and family of victims sometimes think the victim should be blamed so that evil doesn’t seem quite so irrational and threatening to themselves.  They believe that because God punishes people for their sins, it is one’s misdeeds that have caused their misfortunes.  But, what if one does not know what that causal misdeed was.  Some will ask whether pointless suffering for some unspecified sin is really a contribution to humankind?  Blaming the victim helps fortunate people believe that their good fortune is deserved, rather than being a matter of chance.  Finally, why does there appear to be such an unfair distribution of suffering in the world?  Does God really give everyone just what they deserve and need?  Why do totally unselfish people suffer, people who never do anything wrong?

            Theory #6:   When all else fails, some people try to explain suffering by believing that it comes to liberate us from a world of pain, and in the case of death, leads to a better place.  Death takes us out of this world of sin and pain.  The victim is now in a happier land where there is no pain, nor grief.

             Sometimes when our souls yearn for justice, because we so desperately want to believe that God will be fair to us, we fasten our hope on the idea that life in this world is not the only reality.  Somewhere beyond this life is another world where “the last shall be first” and those whose lives are cut short here on earth will be reunited with those they loved, and will spend eternity with them.  No living person can know anything about the reality of that hope.  The non-physical “body” leaves us when we die, what we call our “soul”.  Belief in a world to come where innocent souls are compensated for their suffering on earth, can help us endure the unfairness of life in this world, without losing faith.  But it can also be an excuse for not being troubled or outraged by injustices around us, and not using our God-given intelligence to do something about it.

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These thoughts are brought to you by the CPC Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage your spiritual growth this summer.

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