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Subject:  God is Good Date:  10/3/2001  2:41 PM
Author:  Bonhoeffer Number:  61641 of 199237

I'm currently reading Reaching For The Invisible God by Philip Yancey (as recommended by someone on this board) and discussing it with some buddies of mine, and Yancey offers an excellently worded train of thought on God and tragedy in the world. It was published last year, but it couldn't possibly be more relevant to the events of recent days.

The following is from a book published last year. Though it is a long passage, it is but a tiny blip in a much longer book, so please, any copyright gestapo that might be hanging around, relax. I've seen entire chapters of books published on the web by the book publishers themselves before. This is far from being even an entire chapter.

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.

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