Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Lord, thy will is hard

Jerry Stratton, May 25, 2008

It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve never delivered a sermon, so bear with me as I preach to the blogosphere. One thing that unites us on all sides of the political blogosphere is a belief in our own rationality. This leaves us ill-equipped to discuss matters of faith, even of the Christian faith in our own culture. Add to this a highly-charged political atmosphere where one side is trying desperately to catch McCain backers saying something outrageous, and you’ve got the latest outcry over John Hagee talking about the Holocaust as a part of God’s plan.

This strikes at one of the greatest impediments to faith among people of reason: the problem of evil. Bad things that happen are part of God’s plan in Christian faith. We even have a phrase for some of them: “acts of God”. If you ask most Christians whether everything that happens is part of God’s plan, you’ll likely get a near unanimous yes. If you move to specifics such as Hurricane Katrina or the Holocaust, you’ll find less agreement, even though the question hasn’t really changed.

Paul writes that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”, and the prophet Amos asks “shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord has not done it?” Evil is part of God’s plan for us. Human rationality can’t conceive of it, but it is Christian faith: everything that happens is God’s will. That is the teaching of every form of Christianity I know of (other than some obscure forms of dualism that postulate both an evil and a good god or that raise Satan to God’s equal).

We don’t get to question God’s plan, we can only accept it. And that’s hard; the problem of evil is one reason people become atheists. They can’t believe in a God who not only lets things like the Holocaust happen, but who calls it to Him as a part of His plan. When bad things happen it is not simply that God let them happen, but that they were and are part of God’s plan.

This doesn’t mean there’s no free will. It doesn’t mean that Hitler wasn’t evil nor does it mean that the Holocaust was good. But it did fulfill God’s plan, or it would not have happened. All good things and all bad things and all things in between are part of God’s plan for us. We are all of us part of His plan. Part of Christian faith is recognizing that all is the will of God, realizing that we cannot understand it, and learning to accept it while at the same time trying to do good ourselves and to oppose evil when it is in our power to do so.

Yes, it’s a paradox. There are many errors we can make in the face of God’s paradox short of becoming atheists or agnostics. We can fall into lethargy and not help others when evil befalls them; after all, it’s all part of God’s plan, right? We can fall into silence, leaving God to his Heaven, assuming that since God already has everything worked out, it isn’t our part to discern his plan for us.

It is also tempting in the face of God’s plan to attribute reasons to the bad parts of it, such as wrath and punishment, or look for a silver lining, such as—in Hagee’s case—the formation and success of the new state of Israel. But that’s just human rationalization in the face of the unknowable will of God, with perhaps an element of pride thrown in. It is our weakness to think that we can know the mind of God.

God is. God has a plan. That’s Christianity.

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