I decided it was time to write this on Wednesday, after reading Rachel Held Evans' post on John Piper, likening him to an abusive father who teaches his children about a wrathful God who enjoys inflicting pain on His people because they deserve it.
I'm not going to go into her gross mischaracterization of Piper's theology here, but her post cemented in me this feeling I've been wrestling with ever since that maniac shot up a movie theater in Aurora at the Batman premiere last year. That night, Aaron and I laid in bed and tried to pray about it, and my frustration went through the roof. How do you pray about something like that? I was angry at God for it, and frustrated that He would let that happen. Aaron told me He 'willed' it to happen. We talked and yelled over the implications of that for probably over an hour and while I think our theological differences are probably based more on semantics than substance, I still walked away from that conversation with a lump in my throat.
Because I knew I was learning something about God that I didn't like.
Aaron likes to trot out the ol' Pharoah argument, and usually with a real smug look on his face and then he sticks his palm in MY face and yells "FACE" and then laughs maniacally. Not really, but kind of.
"What about it then? Can we say that God is not fair? No, not at all! 15 God said to Moses, “I will have loving-kindness and loving-pity for anyone I want to.” 16 These good things from God are not given to someone because he wants them or works to get them. They are given because of His loving-kindness. 17 The Holy Writings say to Pharaoh, “I made you leader for this reason: I used you to show My power. I used you to make My name known over all the world.” 18 So God has loving-kindness for those He wants to. He makes some have hard hearts if He wants to." - Romans 9
The issue of free will is not what I want to discuss - if you must know I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that we understand time as linear, which it is not for God - but I digress (brilliantly.) What I want to discuss is the months it took me to be "ok" with that passage up there. And by "be ok" I mean able to read it without rending my garments and tearing out my hair and shot-gunning a sleeve of double-stuff oreos. I do not like that passage. I think it's terrible. It's horrifying. It truly, when taken on its own, makes the Father-God I'd come to know for the past 20 years seem like a mean, tyrannical bully catering only to His whims. He can do whatever He wants with us and we'd do good to know it. In other words, I thought, He was the opposite of Love. Which He also claims to be, coincidentally.
But no matter how much that passage made my stomach turn, I couldn't and would never portend that I could will it not to be true. In my wrestling and my talks with Aaron and with other brilliant friends on this issue, I've been able come to terms with the cohesiveness of God's sovreignty and His compassion. The two are not mutually exclusive, which John Piper points out in his recent treatise on disaster theology. I understand this. It makes sense to me. He can whip up the wind and still cry with us when it brings our house down. But this was a hard conclusion to come to, and my view of God and therefore how I relate to Him has changed. It has become truer, and deeper, but it has changed. And that is painful.
And I worry that people like Rachel Held Evans aren't willing to endure that pain. And that makes me angry, because if I had to do it, everyone should have to do it. This is the immature way that I think sometimes, and I don't want to pretend I don't. I shouldn't care about Evans' theology for the sole purpose of how it relates to mine and I will work on that. But I do believe that culturally we have become so averse to the idea that God might cause us some pain that we will do anything; we will believe any theology, no matter how far-reaching or how many sandy assumptions it builds its foundation upon if it paints a picture of a loving God. An exclusively loving God - One who fits our very human definition of 'loving.' One who never lets us hurt. One who never asks us to do something we don't want to do. One who never asks us to give up something we do want to do. One who never lets us die.
Toward the end of Rachel's post she includes the lovely sentiment "God always protects." My eyes bugged out of my head when I read that. That is a classic case of saying something that sounds super nice and poetic but that has absolutely NO basis in truth, and that is the most reckless, most disrespectful kind of writing and coincidentally also the kind of writing (much less theology) that I have absolutely no patience for.
'God always protects'? Since when?!
I'm sure we could go back and forth over what she meant by the word "protects" but in the sense of - "never allows to be killed by a tornado, etc." I think even she would have to admit she is simply wrong. God, in his infinite and infuriating wisdom, does certainly NOT always protect us from the things we'd like to be protected from.
Let me say this, though, too: There is something to be said for showing sensitivity and love and kindness to victims in the wake of a tragedy. I understand that Rachel took issue with Piper's tweet - which I agree was seriously ill-timed and insensitive. (He has since taken it down and posted an explanation here.) But what I'm writing about here is theology, so let's move forward.
When I got in bed and was finally able to get Aaron to shut up enough to let me read (this is a joke because it is so completely the other way around. I HAVE THOUGHTS AT NIGHT!) I read through one of my favorite passages, which is Ephesians 3, and I noticed this verse toward the end:
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ..."The strength! Not the "wisdom," not the "willingness," but the strength to know God.
Because He might be difficult to accept. He might not be who we want Him to be. He might kill the entire population with a flood. He might let His own son be brutally murdered. He might whip a deadly tornado through an elementary school. He might forgive people we don't want Him to. He might remember that we don't deserve His love. He might give it to us anyway.
It is DIFFICULT to let God be God. It HURTS. It is earth-shattering on the day you realize that you may not like Him, or a lot of things about Him. And that's ok. You probably just don't understand Him. I know I don't.
But I do know this: He does not want us to wallow in our sinfulness.
He does not want us to hide our faces from Him in shame.
And, most of all, He cries with us.
So, what do YOU think?