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The manner and degree to which God actively "intervenes" in human events is something which i have thought about a great deal, and something which i have never resolved in my own mind. It troubles me. You pretty succinctly summed up my "big picture" view of the issue: why would God bother helping some schmuck with upgraded plane tickets when there is unimaginable suffering happening all over the world every day?

When i was in high school i viewed God as a constant force in the life of Christians, doing this or not doing that often in response to prayer. As i got older, more educated about the world and on the nature of the Bible, and went through some difficult times which prayer seemed to not help at all, i shifted to a pretty unChristian view that God had set things in motion but pretty much didn't mess with things anymore. I have struggled with this logical urging in tension with my faith for years.

Just this past Sunday i was struck pretty forcefully by the words of the pastor of the church we've been attending for several months now. This guy is the real deal. Humble, of modest means, without any cult of personality, living out his faith primarily by doing (in serving the poor and disabled), not as many preachers (primarily by talking). Someone i really respect as a person. He made the comment that he lives his life believing "every good thing comes from God." He honestly believes that. So he is thankful to God for his working car, for internet access, for a friend getting a better job... for everything good. Without blaming God for the bad things that happen.

I sat there thinking "I haven't believed that in years." I have really been viewing the world as a pretty random place, and have seen no reason to give God credit for the good things in spite of all the bad. But i'd like to. I sat there wishing i could share that man's worldview; it is serving him well.

As i've been thinking about this the past few days i remembered a post i made over 6 years ago. It contains an excerpt from a Phillip Yancey book explaining his perspective on exactly this subject. It may help steer me back towards where i want to be:

For the sake of continuity, i'll copy and paste the excerpt again in this post.

I am learning that mature faith, which encompasses both simple faith and fidelity, works the opposite of paranoia. It reassembles all the events of life around trust in a loving God. When good things happen, I accept them as gifts from God, worthy of thanksgiving. When bad things happen, I do not take them as necessarily sent by God--I see evidence in the Bible to contrary--and I find in them no reason to divorce God. Rather, I trust that God can use even those bad things for my benefit. That, at least, is the goal toward which I strive.

A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end. Faith sees even the darkest deed of all history, the death of God's Son, as a necessary prelude to the brightest.

A skeptic will respnd that I have just presented a classic rationalization: beginning with a premise, I proceed to manipulate all evidence in support of that premise. The skeptic is right. I begin with the premise of a good and loving God as the first principle of the universe; anything contradicting that premise must have another explanation. In politics, says William Safire, "The candidate who takes credit for the rain gets blamed for the drought." How, then, can I "let God off the hook" in view of the terrible things that happen to people every day?

First, as I have argued, we must not assume that everything happens with God's approval. When two alienated teenagers walk into a high school, set off bombs and and shoot nine hundred rounds of ammunition at their classmates, is that God's plan? A friend excitedly told me about the "miracles" that happened in Columbine High School. The killers planted ninety-five explosive devices in the school, very few of which detonated. One student took two bullets at point-blank range directly in the face, and he lived. Another student went home sick that day, and his parents praised God for his providential care. I hear such stories and rejoice at the outcomes, yet I wonder how such assertions sound to parents who lost children in the massacre.

Many things happen in this world that are clearly against God's will. Read the prophets, God's designated spokesmen, who thunder against idolatry, injustice, violence, and other symptoms of human sin and rebellion. Read the Gospel accounts, where Jesus upsets the religious establishment by freeing people from disabilities the divines had deemed "God's will." Providence may be a great mystery, nonetheless I find no justification for blaming God for what God so clearly opposes.

The skeptic's question does not melt away, though. How can I praise God for the good things in life without censuring him for the bad? I can do so only by establishing an attitude of trust--paranoia in reverse--based on what I have learned in relationship with God.

I find a parallel in my human relationships. If I am waiting for my friend Larry at a redezvous point, and he has not shown up an hour past the agreed-upon time, I do not start cursing his irresponsibility and thoughtlessness. Years of friendship have taught me that Larry is prompt and reliable. I assume that something--a flat tire? an accident?--over which he has no control thwarted his plans. Those I love, I credit for good things and try not to blame for bad, assuming instead other forces are at work. Together, we have developed a pattern of trust and discerning love.

Over time, both through personal experience and my study of the Bible, I have come to know certain qualities of God as well. God's style often baffles me: he moves at a slow pace, prefers rebels and prodigals, restrains his power, and speaks in whispers and silence. Yet even in these qualities I see evidence of his longsuffering, mercy, and desire to woo rather than compel. When in doubt, I focus on Jesus, the most unfiltered revelation of God's own self. I have learned to trust God, and when some tragedy or evil occurs that I cannot synthesize with the God I have come to know and love, then I look to other explanations.

In light of all that, maybe Osteen is not entirely misplaced in crediting God for upgraded plane tickets, though i'm hardly to the point of being able to do so myself. But i'm certain he still misses the most important point in all of Judeo-Christian theology, which is that we are only blessed to be a blessing to others. God doesn't give anyone health or wealth for the person to selfishly enjoy those blessings. He gives blessings for us to be conduits of his grace and mercy in this world.

Any theology that centers on the self and not on loving and serving others is grossly missing the mark.
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