Tackling the Big Ones


I’m a simple-minded chap. I like pretending like I’m a deep thinker when I’m in group discussion, but my day-to-day life hardly reflects that false reality. Most of the time I appreciate the simplest and quickest answer to questions that trouble me.

Unfortunately, a majority of the world isn’t like me. Most people are unsatisfied with the quick and easy answer—and rightly so. Knowing this, it amazes me how Christians can claim to have the truth to some of life’s biggest questions and then recite tired, old, shallow answers.

The big questions are quite legitimate. However, the answers I’ve received to some of those questions over the course of my life—while simple—don’t even satisfy me!

Here’s two examples and the problems I have with the rote answer:
Q: Why do bad things happen to good people?
A: Because it’s all a part of God’s plan.
Problem: What kind of god would allow his/her followers to suffer terrible calamities, particularly when you claim that your god is all-powerful? How could this “good” god have a plan that involves innocent children dying?

Q: How could a loving and all-powerful God create a place of eternal torment for those who choose not to commit their lives to him?
A: It’s not for us to know. Our job is to obey. There’s nothing we can do about it anyway, just follow God.
Problem: God created the system! He chose to create a place of fire and wailing and gnashing teeth. While he may not send people there (thanks to their free will), He didn’t have to make a place where people suffered for eternity.

So, what answer would you give to those (and other, if you’d like) big questions? How can we start equipping our churches to tackle these big questions in relevant and helpful ways?

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  1. November 22, 2007 at 10:41 pm — Reply

    I think, for starters, that a lot of Christians are afraid of asking questions at all, because we’ve been taught there’s some sort of split between faith and reason. There isn’t. And we’ve been taught that someone who is “questioning” is really in spiritual trouble. That is also not necessarily true.

    Secondly, I think that there is some weird idea in lots of our heads that there’s a perfect state of being where we know everything there is to know about God, or all we need to know about God, and then all will make sense, and most importantly it will make sense to US. And that’s when we’ll be happy. But that’s making God about us, not the other way around.

    Third, I think your point about tired language is really important. We’re very good at filling in the blanks in the questions with words like “love” or “good” or “grace” or “savior”, but we are not good at explaining to ourselves and others where those ideas come from and what they really mean. We’ve decided they’re obvious. And that’s dangerous. Because God is many things, but easy isn’t one of them.

    So I’m with you. Let’s ask those questions. God can take it.

  2. sally
    November 24, 2007 at 9:03 am — Reply

    i relate with you in the frustration of questions being answered by the logical “its not our business, it is God’s” answers. However, I personally have a hard time ignoring the many verses that talk about judgement,wrath and hell. From my study I am back at square one that amounts to me confessing to God that I trust Him to be just and loving because He says He is. Furthermore, the idea of being condemned forever is rather malignant, to say the least. BUT, I have come to trust that God will know the hearts of His children and will judge justly. Because I have this confidence in God’s judgement I am not afraid of Hell. He knows that I love Him with all that I am even though we all appear to deny it by our actions. That is the beauty of it. I cannot deny that there is wrath and punishment because it is rampant throughout the Bible. Too rampant to pick out and dismiss as “old times” or “different worlds.” Here are a few where I belive it is spelled out:
    21″You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…
    29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

    Mark 9:45 (New International Version)
    New International Version (NIV)
    45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.[a]
    2 Peter 2:4 (New International Version)
    New International Version (NIV)

    4For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell,[a] putting them into gloomy dungeons[b] to be held for judgment

    God never promised me happiness but joy when persevering through the hard questions and through trust in Him and Him alone.
    Thanks for always making me think, Todd!

  3. Joe
    November 25, 2007 at 2:20 pm — Reply

    Yeah, I think a big part of the problem is the lack of people modeling what it is to question God. The men who stand in front of us week to week preaching sermons keep their jobs by sounding just as infallible as they can possibly make themselves sound. If a preacher were to start expressing doubts without quickly following them with pithy, dogmatic answers we would likely fire him within days.

    It’s quite different if you go to a synagogue or reformed temple. They are all about unanswered questions. Jews are people who stand on the legacy of confrontation with God, they aren’t afraid to approach God with doubts. They bring up injustice in the world in the face of God as a challenge to his very existence. They have a faith that in every respect is conversational, and I think it is quite a tragedy that Christians have forsaken that inheritance.

    Personally, I can’t think of anything that church needs more than models to guide us through our doubts and our repressed feelings toward God . . . even if we need to step outside our faith group to find it. We certainly need more Christian leaders who are less concerned with concretizing our doctrinal systems than with meeting people existentially where they are and connecting them with hope beyond where they had assumed hope ran out.

  4. November 26, 2007 at 3:08 pm — Reply

    1. Is there such a thing as a “good person?”
    2. Maybe the nature of God demands such a place. God’s greatness is such that separation from Him is torment. It is something He can’t help.

  5. November 29, 2007 at 12:07 pm — Reply

    Those are tough questions, & they do not, as much as we want them to, have simple answers.

    1) Almost any suffering that people go through in this world can be either directly or indirectly attributed to the choices & actions of a person or people. Every person has almost unlimited opportunities every day to contribute to another’s growth & joy or to cause suffering. Free will & a world without suffering are mutually exclusive. The hard part of this question, for me, is natural disasters & “acts of God.” The only reason that I can conceive for those is that it gives Christians a chance to show God’s generosity & grace to the world. My only problem with that is that it shouldn’t take a natural disaster to spur us to action.

    2) I really have no idea, but the book “The Last Word & the Word After That” by McLaren has an interesting take. Its really long & involved. I like it. I don’t know if I believe it, but I like it.

  6. baxter
    November 29, 2007 at 2:29 pm — Reply

    I don’t have the answers to the tough questions either, and I don’t want regurgitate what I have heard others say if I haven’t read it in the pages of the scriptures. However, I don’t think you can say all suffering is due to ones choices, if so, we wouldn’t have the book of Job. All I can say in confidence and scripturally is “we know in part” 1 Cor 13:9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
    1 Cor 13:10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
    1 Cor 13:11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
    1 Cor 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.,”

    and that somethings have yet to be revealed, I Jn 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

    And like Job trusted in God, so we too can trust in Him in whatever our afflictions may be. Ps 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

  7. kristin
    November 29, 2007 at 4:51 pm — Reply

    I dont know who Baxter is but I think what he said is pretty much AWESOME!

  8. November 29, 2007 at 10:01 pm — Reply

    Holy mackerel! This is the first time I have accessed your blog from the Harding network! When was this wondrous change brought about?

  9. November 30, 2007 at 9:26 am — Reply

    1. Is there such a thing as a “good person?”

    I think that in the world’s eyes, the answer is “yes.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, the answer for me would be “yes” also.

    2. Maybe the nature of God demands such a place. God’s greatness is such that separation from Him is torment. It is something He can’t help.

    While I’m not comfortable arguing the nature of God, I find myself asking “why is that the nature of God?” I’m not counting on getting an answer any time soon—and even if I stumbled across it, I doubt my itty-bitty mind could fathom the answer.

    Brooklynne, thanks to a crusade from Dr. Elrod, my blog is Harding-approved once again.

  10. November 30, 2007 at 3:49 pm — Reply

    The big problem with answering questions like these is that we try to make the answers sensible in our own context. The context of a world which is not permanent and over which we exert little control (compared to God). Fortunately, I DO have the answers. However, I won’t put them out for you just now. The only good man once said it would be analagous to “casting pearls before swine.” The search, though, is wonderful, because it will lead to God Himself. So, keep asking, my friends.

  11. sally
    November 30, 2007 at 4:34 pm — Reply

    i thought about it, and i retract parts of my comment. amen.

  12. November 30, 2007 at 4:57 pm — Reply

    Sally, may I ask which parts?

  13. December 1, 2007 at 9:59 am — Reply

    I always thought there was something wrong with saying “I don’t know.” I always thought I had to have the answers to everything. So I said lame things like, “It’s all in God’s plan.” Lame might be a strong word. It’s how I feel now about those answers though. There’s a humanness to us when we just say “I don’t know, but I’m sure going to keep questioning and searching.” I don’t have the answers, only God does. I’m not in the business of claiming I know what those answers are anymore.

    Baxter… whoever you are…. AWESOME.

  14. December 2, 2007 at 10:34 am — Reply

    I’ve asked these questions numerous times myself. I’ve debated them in classes and all that good stuff.
    Here’s my answer that probably won’t satisfy for all.
    I don’t know. I know that God is good and He has promised to sit in my pain with me but that doesn’t explain the why of my pain. I have a friend who believes it is because there is a spiritual war going on around us and there are casualties in any and all wars. I’m still chewing on that but I can’t ask my friend b/c he’s dead. Cancer at 33. Once small child left behind.
    So my great Theological answer is “I don’t know.”

  15. June 22, 2008 at 3:01 pm — Reply

    This conversation is, I’m sure, long over, but I just stumbled upon it and wanted to throw in my 2 cents…
    What if an eternity of damnation is actually for our protection?
    Sin = death. We see it, sometimes. Tyrannical leaders like Hitler, gun violence in our inner-city streets, etc. But because OUR personal sin has not yet reached it’s full completion we assume that the wages of sin (or the fullness/completeness of sin) can’t really be death.
    But what if it really is? What if God knows that sin truly only does lead to death? That sin, evil, when carried out to it’s full completion, is death.
    For the Christ-follower, that sin and evil is covered and cleansed on the cross. Thus, when we are changed “in the twinkling of an eye” we will truly enter into the other side of eternity free from sin and death.
    For the one that rejects Christ, the sin and evil of their heart never ends, it’s never cleansed in Christ’s blood. So, if God were to allow such to join Him and to join us, the promise of everlasting joy and peace would be nullified by the eventual fullness of sin that would come into play. Because the sin in their hearts would at some point reach completion (remember, it hasn’t been cleansed by Jesus’ blood). Sin = death.
    So, could it be that “eternal damnation” is actually God’s protection for ALL OF ETERNITY for those cleansed by His blood? I mean, if not, wouldn’t the cycle of suffering just continue as the fullness of sin is reached by those still in bondage to sin?
    Just a thought.

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Tackling the Big Ones