Final score

This past weekend I was talking to a dear friend who has known me for most of my life. She is one of those people I have always admired deeply: her life has been a strong witness and inspiration to me. We were talking about a story I shared in my sermon that morning, and we were wrestling together with the reality of intense pain and hardship in the lives of those we love in spite of our deepest, most fervent prayers for God to intervene and work or heal or provide.

I have often heard people make comments about how “once we’re in heaven we’ll understand” or something to that effect when considering that endless question of why such horrible things befall the most faithful, generous people. But when I was talking with my friend, I said to her that I’m not sure we will really ever know. I said that I don’t necessarily expect that we will be given some key or answer sheet to lay down next to the events of our life. I am not sure we get or need that in the end.


  1. I appreciate your challenge to the kind of religious fundamentalism that makes sense of injustice by appealing solely to pie in the sky and the bye and bye.

    But if your answer is to question the possibility of any answer–and especially the need many people have for some justification for believing in God or other authorities who promise justice but don’t seem to bring it in ways average people around the world can understand or benefit from, I think you may run the risk of diminishing the motives of many of the biblical witnesses who cried out to God for just those kinds of answers, were motivated by the search, and clearly expected to receive them.

    Mysticism–basically, the idea that God doesn’t have to ultimately answer for anything because we’re not God–is pretty attractive when you’re dealing with the the cruder slice of the pie in the sky crowd. And it’s even more attractive if you’re trying to develop more humility and gain the benefits that come in that place.

    From a worldly and political point of view, though, affirming a theology where God never has to answer for injustice seems to be a formula for supporting authoritarian leadership. Mystical church theologies produce authoritarian political leadership in my experience. I grew up in the Eastern Orthodox Church, so I’m sure that experience has shaped my feel for all this.

    I think poor people do much better practically when God is held accountable theologically. Gotta like some of the key biblical folks in that way :^)

  2. Tom,

    Thanks for great thoughts on this. Which figures in particular are you thinking of in terms of those who expect an answer? I was trying to think of who that would be…it seems like there is the common thread of demanding justice and expecting that justice to be served, or demanding for God to be seen as sovereign and as ruler/judge, or demanding for a nation/people to be restored, but it seems like the whys along the way are not necessarily answered by God.

  3. Challenging post. I find great hope in the Amos, one day justice will roll down. For me, I may not need to know the “whys along the way,” or even perhaps get my answers in the end, but I strongly hold on to the hope that one day, God will make what has been wrong, right…including the wrongs I’ve heaped on people, so I don’t think I’m beyond the justice reach of God.

  4. You’re doing an unusual blog :^)

    I think a lot of biblical witnesses looked to God to make sense of injustice and expected answers.

    The people who did the Book of Job challenged God to make sense of unjust suffering with all their hearts and souls. Why would a community come up with something like that without the strongest of motives? Lots of poor people around the world like that book a lot.

    Abraham prayed God into a more just response to Sodom for the sake of the few just people in the mix. I know that some interpretations tell us that God had it all figured out beforehand and that he was just helping Abraham become more godly. That’s probably true, but my point is that Abraham was shocked by the very harsh ‘justice’ of God and not only wanted answers but was willing to push God to act in a way that would meet even the more relaxed but still fairly harsh standards of his own culture. God responded. Who knew? Maybe faith life and acceptable theology and ethics are more interactive than we think :^).

    Jesus cried out on the cross for God to make sense of his own suffering. Seems like the question of an honest person looking for real answers.

    From one way of reading the bible, I can’t think of too many extended passages where faithful people aren’t trying to figure out what in the world God is doing. That search is explicit or implicit in most every prayer and action.

    Maybe that kind of passionate challenge and questioning is a sign of God’s presence.

    I think the Old and New Testament contributors say a lot about why people suffer senselessly. Yes, a lot of it is ‘God is God and You’re Not,’ but there’s more to it than that.

  5. i don’t know about all of what’s been said above, either one way or the other. but i do think that one day we’ll all say, “wow, i just had no idea.” hell, i’m saying that now… ps. thanks so much for your prayers, erika. talk soon…

  6. Tina,

    I imagine with you that there will be that sense of perspective looking back on things–and yes, we experience that even in the here and now.


    I totally agree with you about the searching and asking, demanding even, of an account from God. Totally consistent through scripture. But I am still not sure how it looks to have that answered, or how that need continues.

    Your last comment reminded me of how vastly different the need/desire for “judgment” is depending on what side of the oppressor/oppressed equation a person is on. I once sat in a classroom at Fuller when the topic of judgment came up and a white student spoke up about how we should be focused on grace and forgiveness and not on desiring judgment and all the white students around me were nodding in agreement, while the black students around me had a very different response.

  7. I agree. I’ve often thought we won’t care then, and even then we won’t plumb the very depths of God. But I do think that God when God so chooses will lay things out in a way in which we can see how he was at work in everything so that though it made no sense on our side, on that side it will be beautiful.

  8. Glad you agree that challenging and questioning God is a basic and consistent part of faith life. You must be one of the very rare religious professionals who isn’t worried about future income or ‘career’ advancement. Good for you :^)

    I look forward to attending the church that puts that particular application into practice.

    I think Paul does his best to make sense of why so many people suffer seemingly senselessly in this life, and why very large numbers of people will suffer (literally)endlessly.

    Lots of OT prophetic figures do the same.

    I think they give specific answers and try to defend God’s honor and credibility.

    Lot’s of them do fall back on ‘God is God and You’re Not’ eventually, but I think some of the most interesting stuff comes before they get there.

    I’m sure God will show us that everything made sense and was beautiful eventually–that seems to be the consensus here. That’s a huge leap of faith in my heart and mind, but I’m willing to go along and get along as a part of the community.

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