There are questions that often come up when I’m talking to people about Christianity, whether they are Christians or not. Questions like “If God is good why is there suffering?”, “Why would God send some people to hell?”, “Isn’t it unfair that some people don’t hear about Jesus?”, “Why doesn’t God just save everyone?” and “How can bad stuff be part of God’s plan?”
These questions, while all good and important questions to ask, often betray a fundamental misunderstanding that most of us have about God. The problem is that many of us think that God is about us. Of course, we know intellectually that God is about God, he exists for himself, but emotionally we feel like God should have to answer to us, that there should be some amount of fairness in his dealings with us, and and we define what is fair or not. We believe that if God is real then everything about him should feel good to us.
God should save all people. God should make sure we have lives that aren’t too hard. God shouldn’t be so harsh in his judgement. God should have a plan for my life and it should be a good one.
When we believe these things we can feel a sense of outrage or injustice at the suggestion that God might not behave in a way that is right for a loving God to act. We define what is good and what is loving by our own limited view and understanding of the world.
The problem is that God isn’t under requirement to behave in any manner other than the one he chooses to behave in. God is in no way beholden to us in either his actions or his character. If God is eternal and omnipotent, why should he even care about us? Why should he not do whatever he wants?
God and Spiders
Sometimes I find bugs in my bathtub. Before I get in for my shower I wash them down the plughole. This may not be right or fair, but I’m cold, half-asleep and not wearing any clothes. I don’t want to spend my time trying to save the life of some daddy-longlegs that has found itself in my bathtub.
Of course, spiders could ask “Why does Tom wash some spiders down the plughole?”, “Isn’t it unfair that just because a spider walked into the bathtub it was doomed to an eternity in the sewer?”, “Tom puts some spiders outside, why does he save some and kill others, isn’t that unjust?”
As a larger, more powerful creature, I feel very little obligation to tiny spiders. Perhaps I should, but I don’t.
God is not for you
Now think about God. God is not just larger than us, he is our creator, and thus our ruler and owner. He is not bound by any laws, not the laws of Australia, mathematics, physics, nor even the laws of time and space. He is not a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He is not bound by right and wrong, he defines right and wrong.
If this is who God is why should he be beholden to us? Why should he give us answers to our questions? Why should he feel compelled to save any of us? Why should he be concerned with justice, or mercy, or peace, or human life?
God is not for you. God exists for God. We exist for God. Everything exists for God.
When we get this straight many other things fall into place.
When God saves us it’s not because we deserve it, and it’s not because he is obliged to, it’s because it’s his desire and character to save. When God judges the world, it’s not because God must, but because God’s character is one that enacts justice.
God could be capricious, indifferent, or volatile. Instead, he chooses to be merciful, gracious, kind, good, just, and righteous.
We can still ask all the big questions, but our response to the answers should change when we remember that God is under no obligation to behave in a manner that is pleasing to us.
But God is for you
What’s more, when we remember that God is for God, but he came to us as a man to save us through his own death and resurrection, it all becomes more amazing. God who made the world becomes a part of it so that he might save us from his own justifiable wrath by enduring that wrath himself!
Why does God do it? For God. For his glory. That’s what we read in Ephesians 1:3-10. We are told that we are saved “for the praise of his glory… according to his good pleasure.” This seems incomprehensible. Would I become a spider so that I might be washed down the drain so the daddy-longlegs in the bath would not have to endure that? No. I want to use my superior power to have my shower in peace. I want my comfortable life, I don’t want to care too much about the life of a spider with absurd legs.
But God used his superior power and authority to become one of us, to die for us so that we might be saved. God loves us with our absurd sense of self-importance, and our inability to comprehend our place in the universe. He has “set us a little lower than the heavenly angels”, and made us in his image. He has invited us into his family, that we might be seated with him in the heavenly realms.
God does not exist for us, he does not owe us anything, but God is for us. He is for us for his glory. This should turn everything upside down, this should change how we see the world, how we see God, and how we live in light of his amazing grace.