Imagine the following scenario. A baby in a pram is being taken for a walk. Suddenly two cars pull up – a gangland feud – and shots are fired. A stray bullet kills the baby.
What are we to make of this awful tragedy? What especially can we meaningfully say about God in this situation? Was God there? Did He care? What did He do, if anything?
These may seem like pointless questions, and certainly for the shattered parents and family there are no answers. Moreover, thoughts of God may well bring anger and bitterness. As for words in general – words fall far short in the midst of grief. But can we try and make any sense of a senseless situation? Is there any healing? Is that baby, a unique person, gone from all existence?
In an earlier blog on the problem of suffering and a loving God, I stated that – in this life – God is impotent by choice. In other words, His key priority is to honour and maintain our freedom, and to do so He must stand back. Even more than stand back, He must begone and never interfere! So if I hold a gun to another’s head, and supposing God intervenes and takes the gun from me – then my freedom is compromised. The other guy may be saved from death or injury but something fundamental would have happened to my life and I, and all of us, would be little more than created robots, programmed to do God’s will in all things. This is a hard truth and there’s no getting round it: God cannot pull strings if we are to be free, free to choose good or evil.
In this life – but not in the world to come, the eternal life – God has to allow even bad things to happen. As I write this, Russia is waging war in Ukraine, and the suffering is obscene: indiscriminate death and injury, widespread destruction, families torn apart, wondering if they will see each other again – there are no adequate words to encapsulate the enormity of such suffering. Given the scale of such suffering, surely God might do something? How about a fatal heart attack on one of the key movers in this tragedy? That might change the dynamic and lead to an end to the war? Come on God, think of the benefits… But no, no discernable action on His part, no compromises on our freedom, no divine collusion.
Is God then heedless? Uncaring? Immune to human suffering? Too far above to be touched by our dramas? Did He kick start Creation and then left us to it, for better for worse? No wonder some people have conceived of a God who is little more than a cynical voyeur, sitting on high and enjoying the entertainment as His creatures bicker and fight.
Yet God still stands mute. In my poem God in the Dock, I wrote:
The case for the prosecution mounts:
Let the accused stand in the dock!
What blasphemy is this? Who are we
To call the shepherd to face His flock?
Can the creature demand that his Creator answer the charge? Where were You when the child was killed? Did You care?
I think one of the greatest compliments we can give to God is to be angry with Him. That may sound counter-intuitive but God Himself says: “I wish you were either hot or cold, but you are lukewarm! So I spit you out of my mouth!” (Revelation 3: 16) Strong words from God in scripture, suggesting that He would actually prefer us to be ‘cold’, as in, against Him, rather than being uninvolved or not passionate one way or the other. To be angry with Him is in fact to be engaged with Him!
To the question: does God intervene in human life, we must therefore say a fundamental no He does not. To ensure our radical gift of freedom He must begone from our midst, He must never pull strings, He must maintain an apparent silence (although He does speak in very many subtle ways). He simply must allow bad things when they happen.
One important exception: if any single person opens their heart and life to God’s will, then God can and does act through that person’s freely chosen stance. The individual’s freedom is not compromised and God can influence matters.
For our part, when terrible things happen, when suffering hits us, it is appropriate that we respond with honest questions of Him and yes, even anger against Him. He will bring all things together for those who love Him, and that means those who bother with Him. In His time, in His way. No easy answers, let’s be honest,