I had a discussion the other day with a friend. We were trying to work out a reasonable explanation for the existence of evil in the world. I know it’s easy to pick on the Steelers, I said, but if we didn’t have the Steelers we wouldn’t have a Super Bowl. (It all tied together neatly in our minds at the time. Now, not so much.)
The interesting thing about the discussion wasn’t whether we were taking one position or another. Any philosophy student can do that. The part that got me was that he was struggling himself with the problem due to the issues and circumstances in his own life. He wasn’t looking for some philosophical answer, because he’s discovered that those kinds of answers are schoolboy responses. They are bloodless, memorized arguments.
What he was trying to get across is this: “How come I can want to do the right thing and be, inside myself, a good person, but both the outside and the inside are broken? How can the universe display such beauty and at the same time such brutality?”
Well, it wasn’t perhaps worded exactly like that. I might have condensed it slightly.
But that’s the essence of it. We are told in the Bible that the beginning of mankind was in a beautiful garden, and that the end of history is also in a garden. In between, we have this struggle between what we know and what we experience.
And the problem is this: we’re stuck here in the middle, between the two gardens, and we want comfort and assurance. We want to be healed and strengthened to do the right thing. We want success and health and peace; we want our families to be protected and prosper; we want to enjoy the beauty of the earth and express our gratitude with real – well, meaning and not because we’re “supposed” to.
This does tie in to what Monty was saying on Sunday, especially the line about the hidden jewel of the church. If you were there on Sunday, then you remember him quoting A. W. Tozer, who said that the hidden jewel of the church was worship. Well and good. But Monty said today the church has a different hidden jewel, and it’s not what we do (worship), but why and who we do it for.
Now, I’m not trying to get all predictable. Yes, the hidden jewel of the church today is Jesus, but it’s not for the reasons you think. Yes, Jesus is the founder of the church and the prime motivator and the returning king. Those are all true, and they are enormously important. But what Monty was trying to get across was (nearly) the same thing I’m trying to get across. That the universe by itself is inexplicable. It’s full of beauty and majesty, cruelty and pain, wonderful constructs and the futility of effort, for in the end we all die and there is darkness. The inexplicability of the universe includes our own sense of right and wrong, justice and crime, innocence destroyed and depravity rewareded. Without a moral God at the center, it makes absolutely no sense, and we have no reason to complain because it’s arbitrary. With a moral God at the center – well, we still complain, but we have someone to complain to, someone with the moral authority to say It Is Wrong and the power to Fix Things and the will to say I Am Coming to Make things Right. We have a personal God who keeps sticking his finger into history much like we stick our own fingers into a pie to see if it’s cool enough to eat.
I’ll admit the most difficult thing to explain is how God can see all that we go through and not intervene more strenuously. And I won’t try to explain aeay his actions by providing motives I can only guess at.
All I can say is that the most important thing, the thing that is central here, is that we have a God who came down from heaven, and for us men and women, for our salvation and healing, took our medicine. He was born as a squalling baby, lived as a man, and died as a man, living in a body just like ours, limited in time and space and effort just like us, and found a way to live a life that we still find worth emulating 2000 years later.
That’s one reason why he’s the central jewel, because he is like us, and is the one who not only bore our sorrows, but knows our sorrows. When we are perplexed and stricken by the disasters of life, he knows what it’s like because he himself experienced it. We have someone on our side who is just like us.
Now, I know I started out with a discussion about why there’s evil in the universe. And if you’re paying attention, you notice I haven’t quite answered it. The best I can say is that God is good, that he intervenes and strengthens and heals, that he provides joy and peace in disasters, and that he so made the universe that evil is allowed to exist even though it is wrong and will ultimately be conquered.
But the key thing here is that we are not alone and he is not silent. He is the central jewel because he has lived our life and knows what we think and feel.
He is worth loving, and worth heeding. And he himself promises to be with us in everything we do and whatever we experience. It does not make the bad things good – he promises to take care of that one day later – but is does make it possible to go through the bad things without having to pretend they are good.
And every so often he surprises us and we see good triumph. How else can you explain 31 to 25 as a final score?