When we are going through a difficult time, such as the coronavirus pandemic, it can seem like God is nowhere to be found. Deism is a view of God that says that God created the universe, he set things in motion, but is now hand’s off. Like a bowler releasing his bowing ball. The bowler can do all sorts of things to direct the ball, give it angle, spin, and speed, but once that ball slides off the ends of her fingertips, the bowler has no more influence on the outcome of the ball. Is God like that with our world? Is deism right?
To answer that question, we need to consider Jesus. If we are to think and talk in a distinctly Christian way about God and his interaction with the world, then we would do well to look at Jesus. Jesus is God is the flesh!
As we read the story of Jesus’ life in the four biblical accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read who God is, what his heart is about, what his character is. What do we notice? That God is hands off? No! The farthest thing from it. In the Bible we can learn so much about who God is by studying Jesus, but here are a few points that relate to our current pandemic:
Jesus personally entered our world and became one of us.
Jesus healed sickness, he did not cause it.
Jesus showed us how to live life, and he gave his life, to be the solution to the brokenness of the world; he did not cause it to be more broken.
Read John 9:1-7 for a fascinating conversation Jesus and the disciples have about a blind man they encountered, and I think you’ll see how the story relates to this post.
The disciples assume that either the blind man’s parents or the blind man himself had sinned, and thus God brought the blindness on the man because of sin. Jesus responds that it wasn’t that at all. Instead he shows that the man’s blindness is an opportunity for the work of God to be displayed in the man’s life. Then he heals the man, displaying that work of God! The point Jesus makes is not that God causes the pain, but that God can and does work in the middle of the pain as we reach out to him.
If you look around on social media right now you will see that many consider sickness, such as the coronavirus pandemic, as sent by God to build our character or to judge us, assuming something very much like the disciples assumed about the blind man. But Jesus, especially considering his goodness, speaks directly against that view. God is good. Thus the Bible, when it answers the question about God’s involvement in the world, points to God’s authority rather than control.
In our previous series of posts on Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” But what does that mean?
Consider the analogy of human parents. We have authority in our homes, but not full control. Clearly. Right, parents? Or consider human bosses or management have full authority, but not full control. Children and employees have guidelines to follow, but they have the freedom to not follow those guidelines. The different between control and Jesus’ authority is similar to that.
Jesus’ authority is perfect, good, loving, and just, but that is different than control. That is different than causing all things to happen. Even when his Spirit indwells and fills us, we don’t lose our free will. So we look to Jesus, our authority, to show us how to live.
Observe how he lived his life. He did not control the disciples. He allowed them to make their choices, some of which were very poor. Because he is so good, he took their poor decisions and made beauty grow out of them, when they were genuinely repentant. Perhaps the best example of this is when Peter denied Jesus. Peter was repentant, and Jesus restored him. In his authority, Jesus taught the disciples, guided them, directed them, but they each had freedom to choose how they were going to respond to him. Know that he treats us the same loving way.
Also notice that Jesus did not promise ease. He knew that sickness, hurt, and persecution would come to them, because he knows we live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. He said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” That is different than being the cause of pain. Instead he assures that he can help us to have victory in the middle of the pain.
It is very natural, though, to ask why an all-knowing, all-powerful, good God, doesn’t just step in and stop all of the negative, painful things from ever happening to begin with? If he loves us so much as he says he does, then you’d think he’d get in there and put an end to the pain, right? Wouldn’t you do that to the kids you love? Or would you?
Maybe you have seen adults who seem unable to handle “real life,” and what do we speculate about them? That perhaps their parents always rescued them, and never let them fail? A wise member of our congregation has often remarked to my wife, Michelle, “Sometimes natural consequences are the most efficient; let your kids learn the hard way sometimes.” When kids, including adult children, go through difficult time, it doesn’t mean their parents caused the pain!
So let’s follow that thought through to its logical end. I’m referring thought that if God loved us he’d step in and stop the pain/the sickness each time it happened. To choose to just step in every time anything bad happens, that would mean God is ridding the world of sin. It would mean he is removing not only all brokenness, but also the capability for brokenness to occur.
Do you see the ramifications of that? It would require God to do one of two things.
First, he would have to change human nature so that we can’t or don’t sin anymore. That kind of change to humanity would be basically the same as making us all robots. It would remove our free choice to follow or to disobey his desires. What I am talking about is the removal of free will. When we look around the world, from the beginning of time, that is simply not the choice God has made. Instead he wants us to have free will, including the choice to disobey him, even if that means there will be people who disobey him, and the consequences of their disobedience is destructive. He wants us to have free will because it opens up the possibility of a genuine loving relationship with him. That is part of what makes him so good. Because a genuine relationship with him is so so good. It is good for us, and it is good for him. He desires that and when we have a taste of it we just will continue to desire it more and more. He is a relational God!
What about the second option? For God to have a world where nothing bad happens, if he did not choose to remove free will, it would then require him to remove all the sinners and any potential sin out of this world.
What would that mean? God would have to remove all people. Obviously God has chosen not to use this option. He wants people, he creates people because he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. Yes, this too is a risky move for God, because when he creates people with free will, God opens the door to pain. It is nearly identical to the close relationships in your life. Consider your spouse, your children, your parents, or your closest friends. Would you want them to have no freedom to do anything except exactly what you want them to do all the time? Parents, after a month of quarantine, you might be saying, “YES! I want that.” I think all of us parents feel each other’s pain these days, but the reality is that we would tire of that. Even the most advance artificial intelligence that seems real, we actually know is just programming. We can’t have a real relationship with an entity that does not have free will. Only human relationships with free will can be defined by true love.
If we take away free will, we also have to take away love. That is drill sergeant parenting, like an extreme boot camp kind of relationship. That is not God. That is not a loving, good father. God chose love. When we allow him to invade our hearts and our minds with his love, that love flows out of us in selflessness, caring and giving and showing love to our neighbor as ourselves. His love allows us to learn good things about him and to feel his presence in the midst of the muck that sin and brokenness bring.
So know this. People are God’s treasure. Our loving heavenly father does not bring harm to his treasure. He sent his son to die for us. In our broken, sinful world harm does come. Jesus promises to be with us in the middle of the pain, and he promises to ultimately have us live eternally with him in wholeness and all goodness. He promises that when we go to him in the midst that we will find peace that passes all understanding in the midst of hurt and pain that this world brings.
So, what good does Jesus’ authority matter when the world feels out of control? We’ll try to answer that in the next post.