Is God to blame for poverty?
"How in the world could a loving God allow this kind of thing to happen?"
That question was voiced in anger by a pastor from Seattle as a small group of us stood over the emaciated and now dead body of a man on the streets of Bombay. (Now Mumbai)
I was in India for the first time almost forty years ago, part of a group of pastors and lay people there to see the spiritual need for Bibles in India. We had been stepping over and going around hundreds of street dwellers every day and had passed this man still alive an hour before. We specifically remembered him because he was begging for money while coughing his lungs out, right in front of the restaurant where we were going to have dinner.
After we ordered, several of us had the same thought almost simultaneously. How in the world can we as Christians sit in here eating our fill while this man is dying on the street fifty feet away of some illness that might be treatable? So we got up, went outside and found the man lying on a filthy blanket dead. Hence the anguished question. How in the world could a loving God allow this kind of thing to happen?
Our host, a Scottish missionary looked us right in the eye with his finger pointing and boldly declared, "God didn't do this, you did!"
He went on to say, "God has provided Christians, particularly those of us from Europe and America all the financial resources we need to make sure every person on earth has a dry, warm place to sleep, adequate food and basic healthcare. It's only our indifference to "the least of these" and the protection of our lifestyle that causes this kind of death. His eyes narrowed as he looked at us in righteous indignation and he finished with this; "So don't you ever blame God for suffering that is within your power to prevent, but won't and don't. And don't believe the lie that the problem is so immense that your contribution to resolving it really won't make that much difference. If you really believe God owns everything you have, then that's for Jesus to decide, not you."
I'll never forget his passionate defense of God. Guilty as charged. I returned to the U.S. and put my business up for sale six months later and have worked hard on a number of social justice issues ever since. That hasn't made me the poster child for simple, selfless living, but it changed my perspective on human responsibility, versus God's responsibility for some kinds of suffering and injustice. "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act." Proverbs 3:27
What about other kinds of suffering?
Let's set aside for a moment the kinds of suffering that we as Christians could prevent or lessen. What about events like the Holocaust or 9/11? (However, the Christians of Germany might have prevented Hitler from this monstrous event if they had taken his threats seriously and stood up to him so l'm not yet ready to absolve German Christians from their responsibility for the Holocaust, but l'II leave it at that for now.)
We can never know what was in the mind of God in allowing these horrendous crimes against humanity. I'd love to know his end game, but I don't. Having said that, I find it interesting that it was only this monstrous crime against the Jews under Hitler that caused the nations of the world enough corporate guilt to consider for the first time granting Jews the right to establish their own nation. As a result, in 1948, only three years after the end of the Holocaust and for the first time in more than 2,000 years the chosen people of God, Israel, became a nation once again. Could God have done that without the death of six million Jews? Of course. And, why he didn't is a mystery and we can only speculate on why God either caused or allowed this kind of suffering.
Then, what about all the suffering experienced by Palestinians who once lived on the land now controlled by Israel? Christian shouldn't automatically justify their suffering because God promised it to Israel. On it goes. One nation gain is almost always another's loss. But what about all the violence in the Old Testament, you might ask? The Israelites acting on God's orders, appear to have committed genocide against the people living in the Promised Land. But God actually explains why he ordered the Israelites to do that. The Canaanites were wicked people. They not only worshipped other gods, but burned their children alive as sacrifices to those gods. God wanted the land cleared of everyone but Israelites so they would not tempt his people to worship any other gods, or behave like those nations.
I understand his logic, but at what cost?I would have preferred that God caused every heathen to fall into a trace and walk out into the desert, zombie-like, lie down and die a quiet, peaceful death. But by faith I accept the fact that God has good reasons for everything he does, even if it makes no sense to us.
The "prison" we are all in
All humans have a warped sense of justice. I discovered that for myself many years ago. I briefly did prison ministry, but I was lousy at it. I got sick of hearing prisoners whine about the food, the guards, the long hours of boredom, the violence - the injustice of everything.
Here's what I wanted to say to them, "Are you kidding me? Here's what's truly unjust. Taxpayers like me have to pay $33,000 a year just to keep guys like you from hurting us! In spite of the fact that you knowingly violated the law you get three warm meals a day, a warm place to sleep, T.V. to watch and you have the gall to complain about how you're being treated?"I was a relatively new Christian back then and obviously hadn't yet earned my "grace" merit badge.
Years later, I had this thought; I'll bet God has the same thought about us when he hears us complain about the perceived injustices and suffering in our own lives or the world. It helps if I remind myself that this world has a prison feel to it. Therefore when things happen to us "inmates" and those we love and from our perspective we think we're being treated unfairly. So we ask, "Why doesn't God fix it if he's a God of justice and mercy?"
You just have to wonder if God is looking at us, just like I looked at that prisoner. Is he incredulous that Christians who've been rescued and pardoned spiritually, but not yet physically from this world would be so ungrateful considering all the unbelievably good things he has provided us? - Is he shocked, like I was that we would have the gall to complain that life wasn't better, more fair and more just. I think that we have more in common with prisoners than we'd like to admit.
Who determines what is bad, or good?
Twenty years ago my son had a group of friends out to our cottage, from his Christian high school for a day of fun. Only a mile from our cottage, there was a terrible accident and Mellisa, one of the most spiritual girls in his class, was killed. It fell to me to return to our cottage to tell the rest of her friends, still at the lake, their friend was dead. It was terrible.
A few weeks later a number of these kids were hanging out in the basement at our home in town. My son came up and said, "The kids want to talk to you," so down I went. "What's the problem?" I asked. "Why do bad things happen to good people, like Mellisa?"
"What makes you think something bad happened to Mellisa? (Yes, they were as stunned at that question as you may be.) "Mellisa was a serious follower of Jesus, right? So right now she is happier than she has ever been, or ever would have been in this life. Don't get me wrong, for her parents, her friends, the person who caused the accident this was and will be for the rest of their lives, a horrible, painful thing. But not for Mellisa."
We humans, even Christians, hang on so tenaciously to life, I sometimes imagine God the Father, turning to Jesus and asking, "Did you not tell them what we have prepared for all believers? Then why are they so afraid of death?" Death for believers Is our reward. Compared to all eternity, this life is just a bad afternoon.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." I Corinthians 2:9
I've already prepared our older grandchildren for "the call." I've told them one day you're going to get a call from your parents that Papa (that's me) has died. First of all, don't you believe it! I'm more alive and happier than have ever been. And please don't be angry with God because he took me. It's fine to be sad for yourselves. (Frankly, I'd be a bit disappointed if you weren't.)
Secondly, if you too love Jesus, in the blink of an eye, compared to the length of eternity, you and I will be united forever. To be honest, I hope I don't die with a brain tumor and a tube up my nose, lying in a coma for a year, but death itself, should hold no fear for a Christian. It doesn't for me."
The topic of suffering and the sovereignty of God is too immense to cover in a couple of blogs and I'm not expert enough to tackle it. I simply wanted the opportunity to pass on these stories, which have helped me gain a different perspective on suffering and justice.