I used to think of God as a kind of harsh teacher who would send one lesson after another, periodically spaced, into my life. In this picture, I envisioned that I would head through a hard event and if I could learn the corresponding lesson quickly, the event would end, I would get everything right and then God could be happy and love me. I would then be free to scamper along merrily, until it was time to learn a new lesson. Then He could hammer in another scenario and I would repeat the scene of learning and pleasing Him. These events would repeat one after the other, Him smashing down the hammer of learning, and me responding appropriately and with complete surrender to make sure He was satisfied.
We do not want hard lives. We do not want to suffer. We do not want to be afraid. There are various levels of suffering in our world. There are places in the world that know of more intense suffering than I can handle mentally. Then there are troubles with money, sad relationships, divorce, infertility, monetary struggles, loss, and general fear. I don’t really feel like I have suffered in great measure. Life has been easy, and almost too pleasant. My cynical side says, “you have it too good, something has to correct itself.” After life goes along smoothly for a time, I begin to wonder what might happen next… But, then, everyone’s life is different and what is hard for one person does not come to another’s door. When the potential for hardship looms, it leads me into a place where I am forced to remember that God is loving. That even in the hardest circumstances, God is my help, my salvation. He is the resurrection and life.
I often live afraid of suffering. I’m more afraid of being afraid of suffering than I am afraid when actually going through something hard and trusting God in the process. But ironically, in some respects, it is easier to be in a place where I have no choice but to trust because the circumstances are so far beyond my control that I have no illusion of having options. I like to think I can control my life and minimize risk. That too is faulty logic. I admire people who say that they want to be closer to God and they know they will suffer in the process. I would never pray to bring suffering on myself. I am too weak. And yet, I know there will be hardness and pain in life, regardless whether I pray for it or pray to avoid it.
The hard part of living in this broken world is to understand why, if God is good, there is suffering. Really, the suffering is not because God is good or bad, but because there is systemic evil haunting us since the Garden of Eden. The fall and the resulting need of redemption is the root of suffering’s stem. The truth behind all of the brokenness is that God is there, always present, helping His beloved children along THROUGH the suffering that the fall has cursed them with, not sending hammers down on their heads to make them stronger or more valuable to Him. His children are of value, otherwise, why the need for a redemption plan? He is the one who said, “don’t”, in the beginning. But we did. So, now He holds us close as we suffer under the effects of that original disobedience.
I once thought God was the sledgehammer. I thought He dangled it over the heads of His children, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to judge us for our missteps, to teach us valuable lessons, to make us more incredibly and mindlessly obedient.
And then I became a parent. And I am by far not a perfect parent, as He is. But in no imaginable scenario would I ever tauntingly discipline my children “just because”. (I have read some sadistic discipline advice that does advocate creating teachable moments for children, to test their obedience, but that is wholly unbiblical or extra biblical, whichever word you like.) No, rather, when the child falls down because they were told not to walk on the ice, or the second child gets hurt because the first child created a harmful situation, or, fill in the blank…., that is when we remind them of how they could have avoided the situation, remind them that obedience matters, remind them that we all are in desperate need of Christ’s help, and comfort them and help them with every shred of breath we have. Of course there is natural frustration at times, because we are not perfect. No normal and healthy parent wants to see their own child suffer. But we know they will, at times. And so we prepare them and help them and comfort them and encourage them as much as we can through these hard times. And that is how God cares for us, but with infinitesimal perfection. The effect of the fall wasn’t God’s revenge on His creation. Instead, He took the evil of Fall and created good from it – the incredible path back to His arms through Christ on the cross.
There is no possible way in which a cosmic sledgehammer would create the plan to redeem His children when they had enraged his wrath by disobeying His command. A loving Father, however, would look at His children’s disobedience and find a way to rescue them from the tangles in which they were trapped. A cosmic sledgehammer would stand by and watch suffering of His creation with snark and cynicism. A loving Father sacrificed His son to rescue the poor souls who distrusted and still distrust Him. When children fail to trust, we reach out again and again, assuring them of our care and love. Most religions have a God or god like figure who exacts some sort of penalizing retribution upon disobedience. But our God is one who looks in pity with grace and says, forgive them, they do not know what they do. He looks at suffering children and says, come and rest, give me your burdens, cast your cares on me, I am the resurrection and the life. The perfect Father, the perfect Savior, is the one to whom we trust our lives and our souls, as little children who need to be held.