The futility of trying to explain the unexplainable

A woman comforts a man who cries after discovering his shattered house and not knowing anything about his 8 relatives who lived in the house, missing in the aftermath of hurricane Dorian, in High Rock, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, on Sept. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

 

Why would an all-powerful God allow hurricane Dorian to decimate the Bahamas?

An excellent question.

A friend posted that question, and got various responses. Here’s my comment:

 

Would you rather God be a robot? The fact that we don’t understand why things happen proves that God is God. He is much bigger than the human mind. Perhaps that is the point.

 

That didn’t change my friend’s viewpoint, or anyone else’s, for that matter.

But sometimes, as Christians, we try to explain the unexplainable.

It confuses people – including ourselves – when we do that.

Why does a hurricane act the way it does? Even more to the point, why did Dorian destroy the Bahamas and then bypass Florida?

Did our prayers to protect Florida get answered? If so, does that mean no one prayed for the Bahamas, or that God didn’t hear anyone who did?

No one can answer these questions. So, why do we even try?

Let’s acknowledge that God is God. We don’t understand everything He does. We don’t see the big picture of life the way the living God sees it.

We just don’t.

A family’s tragedies

A guy in his 50s at the church I attend died about a month ago. He was a strong Christian. He left a wife and four children, none of whom have a strong faith. He was their witness, their example, their leader in so many ways.

Why would God take him?

Then, I found out this week that one of his children, who had medical issues, also died.

What must the wife/mother be going through at this moment?

Where is God in this family’s situation?

Perhaps here is an opportunity for our church to be the church for this family. But is that really an adequate answer?

Perhaps we truly do not know why two family members died suddenly within a month of each other. But we try to explain the unexplainable.

This hurts our faith, and our witness.

Lifting up our hands

We think there’s an explanation for everything, don’t we? We can’t admit that we don’t know. That we can’t know. That God might allow something to happen for reasons we can’t fathom.

If there is an explanation for everything, then why believe in God?

We are our own gods, if we can wrap our minds around everything that happens in the world.

Yes, God gave us curious minds to learn new things. We discover new ideas and ways to live all the time.

By studying hurricanes, perhaps one day we will understand how and why they move, and be better prepared to survive them.

But will we ever have the capability to actually guide a 185-mph hurricane away from land and into the ocean, preventing severe flooding and loss of life and property?

Why do some parts of the world see more hurricanes, while others face tornadoes and still others severe earthquakes? And while we know where these weather catastrophes often hit, we still choose to live in those places. Is that God’s fault?

We love our tropical islands and beaches, sure. Nothing wrong with that. We live in New Orleans, even though it’s below sea level on a coastline. We live in Houston even though it’s solid concrete, and then wonder why it floods so badly during severe storms.

Our fault

Were severe storms part of God’s original plan for Earth? I don’t think so, actually. The Garden of Eden was a perfect place in every sense of the word. Adam and Eve didn’t even need to wear clothes to live there. Temperatures and the climate were that comfortable.

Except for that wily serpent, who spoiled the party.

The serpent forced Adam and Eve to make a choice.

The choice they made got Adam and Eve kicked out of Eden. There were consequences. Man was forced to work hard. Woman was given pain in childbirth. The serpent was forced to the ground, and to be trod underfoot. Many other bad things followed.

Why did God allow so many bad things to happen? Because that is what we – Adam, in particular – wanted. God said, Fine. Have it your way.

Seriously.

All the bad stuff in the world is our fault, not God’s.

That’s a simplistic explanation, I know. There are spiritual forces at work that we cannot see. Very strong spiritual forces. For good and for evil.

And we can’t fix it. As humans, we don’t have the power to get rid of all the bad stuff that happens in the world, much less the spiritual world.

We try. We legislate morality, whatever that is.

We have no answers

We can’t even agree on what good and evil are, so there’s no way we can do anything about them.

That’s why some of us believe in Jesus Christ.

Not only did He tell us what good and evil are – I came not to abolish the law (the Old Testament), but to fulfill it, He said – He showed us what good and evil are by the life He lived.

And died.

However, even Jesus Himself, while He could explain the unexplainable, couldn’t bring it about in His own life. He died a horrible, painful death on a cross, and that would have been it.

Except that the living God, His Father, kept the story going. He resurrected Jesus, not only with a physical resurrection, but with a spiritual one. That allows Jesus to forgive our sins and mistakes.

If only we will accept that gift of forgiveness from Him.

This just might be the best explanation we get about how God works in this world.

But even that is above our comprehension. How do we explain death and resurrection? How is forgiveness of sins rational? Why can none of us find meaning in life unless we understand the reasons Jesus lived, died and lives again?

Even my friend who questions why an all-powerful God would allow a hurricane to devastate a country doesn’t have an answer for how the world works. He can’t explain it any more than I can.

Perhaps it’s time for us to acknowledge what’s real. How does the world work? That question doesn’t have a complete answer that we can know.

Our Florida friends are grateful, certainly. And they should be. Our friends in the Bahamas need help starting over.

Life happens. We can find God everywhere. Our responses to God, and to each other, are different in Florida and the Bahamas this week.

Because we worship a God who is bigger than we are. Much bigger. Sometimes we have to trust Him, because there’s no other way to understand Him.

We cannot escape

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

baby-growing

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand;

I come to the end – I am still with you.

 

osr 4

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me –

those who speak of you maliciously,

and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Psalm 139

A search for joy

When we talk of joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we aren’t talking about a worldly concept, or an idea that the world even understands. Joy hardly isn’t even in the world’s vocabulary.

We talk more about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Happiness and joy are not synonyms. Happiness is temporary; joy is forever. Happiness is the result of doing something that makes us happy, such as eating a good meal.

My wife and I enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner at Red Lobster after church yesterday. But we had a light supper that evening and breakfast this morning. The happiness we felt from yesterday’s dinner didn’t last; we got hungry again.

Joy is constant. Even when I don’t feel “joyful” – and I don’t consider myself a joyful person – joy remains in my heart. Joy, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is something that only Christians can understand. It’s deep in our hearts. It comes from relationship with Jesus Christ. It involves knowledge as well as feelings.

Let’s look at this a little further.

Good news of great joy

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11

 

For the shepherds, that night started like any other night. With no warning, an angel showed up. The shepherds received the shock of their lives. But the angel had a wonderful message to deliver: Don’t be afraid. The Savior was born today.

This news is “great joy.”

Jews had waited for that moment for hundreds of years. Their prayer, their hope, their longing were answered. Expectation and silence were replaced by great joy.

That joy is the Savior, the Messiah. His parents named him Jesus.

Temporary pain, permanent joy

Jesus … said to them (the disciples), “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me?’ Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.

“When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.

“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

John 16: 19-22

 

Just a few hours before He was crucified, Jesus told His disciples that their pain would be temporary, and that it would turn into permanent joy – that no one could take from them.

Pain comes first. Perhaps we have to feel pain before we can understand joy.

The world will rejoice in their pain, Jesus told the disciples. He knew the disciples would run away from Him when He would be arrested soon after this conversation took place. The world did not understand Jesus’ pain, or that of His disciples, nor can the world understand the joy that followed His resurrection.

This remains true today.

Lost and found

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

 

Luke 15 describes three parables with the same theme: one lost sheep in a flock of 100, a lost coin and a lost son (prodigal’s son). In all three stories, something valuable was lost. When it was found, the owner in all three parables threw a party for his friends and neighbors to celebrate.

That kind of joy is uncontainable. It bubbles over. It has to be shared.

It’s not “happiness.” Finding something meaningful that was lost brings out a much deeper response in us. A joy worth celebrating.

Reading the law

All the people (about 50,000) gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel.

He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.

Then he (Nehemiah) said to them, “Go your way … and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And all the people went their way … to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 10, 12

 

After Nehemiah and Ezra led the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem and, despite opposition, rebuilt the wall around the city, they read the book of the law of Moses (the first five books of our Old Testament), which was God’s word to them. Because they had been exiles, they hadn’t heard God’s word verbalized for decades.

When the people discovered through the law how much God loved them, they rejoiced. They found joy in God’s promises to them, and in His faithfulness despite their sinfulness.

Do we have the same response when we read the Bible?

Joy while suffering

Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

 

Can there be joy in the midst of pain? When someone is suffering from cancer and is given a short time to live, can that person rejoice despite his or her pain? When a loved one dies, can those of us who remain find joy in the eternal rest our loved one is now enjoying? We miss the deceased person terribly, of course, but can we find joy in the midst of sorrow?

I’ve seen it happen. Such times are never happy. But they can be joyful.

A friend of mine in his early 80s has suffered from severe, often debilitating, headaches since he fell down a flight of stairs when he was 14. He has suffered for decades, literally. He and his wife just celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. She has suffered alongside him all those years.

Yet, they rejoice in God’s goodness. Like Job in the Old Testament, they accept the bad with the good.

They persevere. Even more than that, they overcome. They continue to live life to the fullest as best they can.

If that’s not joy …

And yet I can’t explain it. I have never experienced anything like that. When all is taken away, we discover what we truly need.

The reason to live

President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un recently traded barbs about who had the largest “nuclear button.”

Soon after, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, sparking panic as thousands of people, assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mudslides in southern California killed at least 20 people.

And there was a fatal school shooting in Kentucky.

Lots of fear. Life at times flashes before us, unexpectedly.

Which leads me to this question: Are we ready to die?

What if one such emergency visited your neighborhood?

No guarantees …

We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us is.

We know this.

We eat nutritious foods, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle to try to prolong a happy, healthy time on Earth. Often it works.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy body, which I don’t take for granted. I enjoy ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone, but I don’t overindulge in them. I try to get some exercise once or twice a week.

All things in moderation.

It’s worth the effort. I rarely call in sick to work. I don’t sit on the sidelines because my body won’t let me do what I enjoy doing. I know many of you can’t say this. Each of us does our best with what we’ve been given.

… except death

But even in the best of situations, it won’t last forever. Our bodies eventually will wear out. It’s inevitable.

I am ready to die today. I’m not hoping to die or expecting to die; I’m not fatalistic about it.

But I’m ready.

It might not happen for another 40 years. That’s great, too. I’ll serve God on this Earth for as long as I’m here.

We all think about what might happen in the next life. We’re wired that way. We know we’re mortal. Some of us try to suppress those thoughts, but we all have them.

Especially as death nears, so I’ve heard.

Preparing for forever

Why wait until then to address the issue? There are things we can do now to prepare for forever.

I will be with Jesus Christ in heaven when I die. This I know. Whether it’s today or 40 years from now, it will happen.

The God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of any other religion or belief system. We do not have our own truth. Sorry, Oprah. There’s a bigger picture here, one that men and women must adhere to. (Men who abuse women will not be excused in the next life, that is certain. Even if justice isn’t served on Earth, it will be in heaven.)

The God of the Bible is the only god who cares about our welfare – on Earth as well as in the next life. That’s why we should look at this issue now, before we reach our deathbed.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

 

We don’t have to follow a list of rules before God will accept us. He takes us just as we are. Christians aren’t perfect people – far from it. We don’t have our act together, necessarily.

What makes us different?

We are forgiven. That’s all.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

 

That’s it. There’s no magic formula or ritual that must be followed.

Living forever

Of course, living that out isn’t easy. That’s why we attend church every week, and why we should participate in Sunday school or a small group for support and encouragement. It’s why we should read the Bible often – every day, if possible – to learn what’s in there.

Even Bible scholars, which I am not, have plenty of things to learn about God.

Does that turn you off?

It should excite you.

God is bigger than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, He is smaller than the tiniest detail of our lives.

He cares. To the point of death. His death. Our deaths.

His life. And our lives.

Am I weak or ignorant if I say that there are things I know about God, but there’s plenty I don’t know?

“Salvation” is knowable. That’s one thing we can be certain about.

Why does God save some and not others? That we will never know on this Earth.

All of us are sinners. No one deserves “salvation.” No one earns it.

Why God saves some, why He shows mercy, proves that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Including you.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask:

Why do good things happen to bad people?

All of us, every single one of us, is “bad.” You can find fault with me rather easily, and a few of you do. I could find fault with you as well if I wanted to look at you that way.

How do we break that cycle?

Only by following God’s example.

He sees the good in each of us, and wants to draw that out. He offers “salvation” as a gift.

But it’s not a gift until we accept it.

I can offer you a Christmas present, but if you return it to the store, you’ve rejected it. So, it’s not a gift.

God doesn’t do that. He offers us “salvation” even though we don’t deserve it.

Then, we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better.

It’s worth the effort.