By John Pierce
The faith tradition in which I was nurtured emphasized that God was interested and involved in my every move. All along the way, there was a sense of divine direction and evidence of opening doors that were attributed to more than chance or my own skills.
In no way would I diminish those experiences now. However, the question of how God would do a relatively insignificant favor for my benefit while others suffered so deeply remains unanswered.
Upon continuing reflection through the various stages of life and faith, I tend to conclude that God is as interested in me as I ever believed — but perhaps less involved. But I’m not sure.
Trying to make sense out of what generations of theologians have called “the problem of evil” is beyond my capacity — and will remain troublesome, I assume, until the end of time. While we have clues (usually involving the up- and downsides of “free will), no one can provide a fully satisfying answer to why a loving, personal God does not intervene in such times of deep suffering.
A child experiencing abuse. A young parent dying of cancer. People starving by the multitudes. Gross injustices being carried out by one person against another. Why? Why? Why?
Why would God intervene in mere matters of personal scheduling or vocation or finances or relationships for my convenience and happiness — and take a pass on helping someone subjected to life’s deepest pain?
Therefore, the remaining choices seem to be that either God is less active or less loving than I once believed. And I’m betting my life on the all-encompassing, unconditional love of God.
So if God is defined by the very nature of love, God is therefore interested in all of us and all that we experience. But to what degree is God involved in every human experience?
I don’t know. If not less active, then God is at least active in different ways that I once concluded.
With any experience in reality, we know that God is not the “cosmic bellhop” who jumps at our every command (to use the image given by Harry Emerson Fosdick).
As is often the case, the truth about the activity of God likely resides somewhere between the extremes. Even so, it is hard to pinpoint that exact location.
In an attempt to identify the extremes, one could point to the popular Deistic concept of a divine clockmaker who created the world in all its glory, wound it up and let it go. This Creator, however, chooses to become a remote God.
The polar opposite would be the Creator who not only made everything but continues to pull all the strings. Whatever happens is the direct result of God’s hand. For some, this perspective provides all of the answers to all of life’s questions — and often comes with smugness to boot. Case closed. Mystery solved.
Instead of answering all of the questions for me, however, that perspective simply raises more troublesome ones. (I’d list them here but they tend to lead to unending, unproductive, tiresome debates.)
For many of us there remains a whole lot of space between the extreme concepts of a disengaged God and an all-controlling God.
In the simplest terms, the question could be phrased: “In everyday living, how much does God do and how much do we do?” Those of us who consider the Christian faith to be relational know that such clear divisions are not always easy to separate — and that our answers change from experience to experience.
Most honest believers will confess that there are times when God seems especially close and comforting and times when God seems rather removed. In those distant times, we try to make sense out of the feeling of abandonment. (Jesus knew something of that feeling as well.)
And speaking of Jesus, the Incarnation — the coming of God in flesh and the culmination of this good season — is a clear indication of both God’s incredible love and timely intervention.
Therefore, it is where I place my many unanswered questions and lingering doubts. This great event provides a perspective, a framework, a mystery among mysteries, that allows for placing trust and hope in a God whose activity and inactivity are baffling, but whose love is all-consuming and ever present through the trials and joys that make up this brief and mysterious journey we call life.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.