Anchor Sunday School Class
by Bob Marsh
FACING THE WHYS OF LIFE!
ISA 50:10, PSALM 10, 13, 73, 77
“I have never questioned God, or asked Him WHY.” Those words came from one of the most devout believers I have ever known, so it was difficult for me to challenge him on his statement. However, he was making this statement to suggest that God’s people must never ask “WHY?” Furthermore, the suggestion was that if we as the children of God questioned God, then something was terribly wrong with our faith, and we should be ashamed of any cloud of doubt. This was not the time for a theological or hermeneutical debate, but I gently suggested: “I am glad for your strong faith, but please take note of the indisputable fact that many children of God, also with strong faith, have experienced dark hours of the soul, hours of doubt and even despair.”
The WALL STREET JOURNAL’S lead article this morning: SHOOTING AT A BAPTIST CHURCH IN SUTHERLAND SPRINGS KILLS AT LEAST 26! Most newspapers and TV news began with the inexplicable horror, and the truculent evil that has shocked the nation. The demonic actions of one deranged man has also caused many good people to raise the age old question: WHY? And it is not surprising when the question continues to “Why would God allow such evil, especially in a church where God’s people were there to worship Him? WHY?” How do we as followers of Jesus respond to such penetrating but understandable questions? Certainly not with tired spiritual talking points such as “they are in a better place, or God has a purpose in all of this.” Such pious pontifications may have validity, but are not what the broken hearted and grief stricken need when life has caved in and darkness has swallowed them. Where do we begin in striving to find some light in the dark hours of the soul?
First of all we must be categorical in saying “IT IS OK TO ASK WHY!” It is not an indication of insipid heresy or latent apostasy to cry out with the Psalmist “Why O God are you hiding (Psalm 10) from me?” It does not upset the Almighty when we ask with the Psalmist (13:1) “How long will you forget me? Forever?” Have you ever commiserated with the Psalmist in 73:11 “Does THE MOST HIGH know what is going on?” Many of God’s most devout children have raised the same questions the Psalmist raised in 77:7: “Has His love taken wings and flown away? Has God forgotten how to be merciful?”
What is the point? Certainly not to embrace dystopian attitudes, fall victim to what we do not know, nor become victims to the inevitable question marks of life. The point is that when we are slammed by grief, when question marks surround us, when we experience the dark hours of the soul, we are not alone. We are in the company of a vast host of devout believers who experienced the torment of WHY? However, and this is a really significant HOWEVER. We must refuse to become slaves to WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW. We must, as the writer of Hebrews admonished, CLING TIGHTLY TO WHAT WE DO KNOW.
In John Bunyan’s masterpiece PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, there is a moving scene in which poor burdened CHRISTIAN meets EVANGELIST, and begs him for help. PILGRIM is going through a dark hour, confused, tempted to despair. He cries out to EVANGELIST to give him some guidance through the darkness.
“Do you see yonder wicket gate?” asked EVANGELIST. Struggling Christian shook his head and moaned “no!” Then EVANGELIST tried again. “Do you see yonder shining light?” CHRISTIAN looked, he strained to see into the far horizon, and did notice something. “I think I see one spot that seems not as dark as all the rest. I think I see a SPOT OF LIGHT!” “Keep that spot of light in your eyes,” said EVANGELIST, “and go up to that point of light, and there you shall see a gate.” That is the gate through which CHRISTIAN could enter into the presence and peace of God. The gate leading from darkness to light.
If we asked each other today “do you see the answers to the mysteries of life? The mystery of sorrow? Can you make sense of all the question marks that surround us?” We would have to reply “no, I do not see the answers to WHY. I struggle to comprehend the tragedies that daily scream and torment us.” But, “do you see any points of light, any places where the darkness of the mysteries is not quite as dark?” With God’s speaking to us through His Word, we are able to say “I think I do see a point of light. I think I see a point of light in Psalm 73:26: ‘My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart,” my portion forever.” And there is another point of light “though I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not become a victim to evil, FOR YOU GOD ARE WITH ME, you have declared that “nothing will separate me from your love (Romans 8).” As we look into the darkness, the Word of God gives us the points of light we need to face the darkness. The darkness in which we walk no longer is impenetrable gloom, for the darkest night of the soul has stars of hope and points of grace.
There is a discipline called THEODICTY, the attempt to reconcile a loving God with the mystery of evil. A good study for another day. A study in which good people with bright minds struggle with WHY?” But the Word of God gives us a deeper question than WHY? HOW? HOW DO WE FACE THE WHYS OF LIFE? The Christian Gospel does not offer a cut and dry theory of WHY?” It has no easy answers to WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. It does not give us a spiritual syllogism that will give us a logical explanation of what happened in a small Baptist Church where humble children of God were unmerciful slaughtered. (Hebrews 11).
Even if we possessed the answers to the riddles of life, and even if we had it written down to the last detail, and could say “here is the final and full explanation of the problem of pain”, that would not be enough. The pain would still have to be suffered, the sorrows would still crush our hearts. The real need of the human spirit is grace to help, power to deal with the inexplicable, and power to bear the unbearable. AND THAT IS THE MESSAGE OF HOPE, THE MESSAGE THAT GOD HAS COME TO US IN CHRIST, AND THAT HE UNDERSTANDS, HE KNOWS, THAT HE HAS EXPERIENCED WHAT WE EXPERIENCE. (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16).
And that is why the writer of Hebrews spoke to believers going through the fires of discouragement to KEEP YOUR MINDS ON JESUS, YOUR EYES OF JESUS. ( 3:1; 12:2). In Christ we learn that God is not some disinterested deity seated in Heavenly aloofness, floating down easy prescriptions, wishing us “good luck.” The Creator is not a spectator, outside of the human experience (John 1:14-18), for II Corinthians 5:17-21), the gospel declares that the CREATOR has come to His creation as one of us, lived and died among us, and whatever else those amazing words mean, it definitely means HE KNOWS, HE CARES, AND HIS LOVE WILL HAVE THE FINAL WORD (The entire book of REVELATIONS).
The Biblical message is one of HOPE, of ENCOURAGEMENT, of a Power to call us to KEEP ON KEEPING ON (ISAIAH 50:10) (II CORINTHIANS 12:8-10).
It is not Pollyannaish to proclaim with the Apostle John, that “God will dwell with His people, wipe away every tear, no more death, nor crying, no more pain or mourning,” for He will “make all things new.” John’s way of reminding us that Death does not speak the final word, the inexplicable question marks of life do not write the last line. (Revelations 21). “In all their distress He too was distressed, and He lifted them up and carried them. (Isaiah 63:9). That is the final word.