As I think through answers to my Board of Ordained Ministry papers, I'll be sharing them here as a permanent log of my thinking. I'm sure they will change as I am changed by God's Holy Spirit at work in me drawing and working me toward holiness. Please feel free to comment and question.
The second question seeks to explain the connection between God and evil. This is a question people wrestle with on a regular basis in life. The real question from our book of discipline is: What is God’s relationship to suffering and evil in the world? Here are my thoughts.
Why do bad things happen? We all ask this question from time to time and when we do, we are making an admission of faith. Why shouldn’t bad things happen anyway? We believe that since God is good, the bad stuff should somehow be prevented or at least avoided by God’s people. Whether it is the death of a loved one who lived a good life, the injury of an innocent bystander, or the destruction of a natural resource, we see these things as wrong. It’s important for faithful people to realize that the reason some things are evil and therefore “wrong” is only when they work against the purposes of our “good” God. So, the struggle with coming to a clear understanding of this “problem of evil” is actually a struggle of faith. Faith allows us to address the existence of evil with an understanding and faith that God, our creator, redeemer, and sustainer, has a plan - that through all things we can find God revealing his nature and understanding to us. Therefore, it is important for everyone seeking to live out of faith to discover “God’s relationship to the real suffering and evil” we experience.
Scripture gives us a clear indication of how God works in pain and suffering. First, God is relational. Our understanding of God as a Triune God is the foundation of this relationship. Because of this relational, loving nature, God is always seeking out those separated from him. From the beginning of scripture, we see a pattern of God seeking relationship with his creation. While the world constantly reveals its brokenness through pain and suffering, God is consistently pursuing those he created with the promise of delivery and provision. While these Divine promises may seem lofty and otherworldly, they provide for our hope and confidence that the current anxieties of this world will be addressed with finality by God in our future. While it may not neatly address the immediate pain and suffering, it is the promise, as displayed in the rainbow, which is the means for our hope in every situation, no matter the pain; God seeks to work through our circumstance to move into a relationship with his people.
This leads to the second Christian doctrine that I believe addresses the problem of evil. That God, the creator of flesh and blood, chose to come to earth in the created form; in doing so, in Jesus, God lived in our context, faced our sufferings, was hungry and in want just as we are, and provides us with a model as to how we should respond to our personal evils. We saw Jesus respond to the physical pain of the cross by moving closer to God the Father in prayer. We saw Jesus move in times of spiritual stress by moving to be alone with God. We see Jesus react to the emotional pain of life, such as the death of loved ones, not by blaming God, but rather moving closer to God the Father, his source of strength, peace, and joy. In fact it is in Christ’s response to suffering and evil that the fullness of God’s graces; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control are revealed and we are enabled to do likewise by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Wesley, Sermon on Special Occasions Sermon 59, 8)
Finally, we must consider God the Holy Spirit in order to fully address God’s activity with evil and suffering. The Holy Spirit is God’s resource for every believer living in a broken world. Romans 5:3-5: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to have an eternal perspective to our life as we participate in God’s process of sanctification at work while in our current state of existence. This process involves us becoming more Christ-like in our attitudes and behaviors even while our circumstances remain far from holy. The Christian’s understanding of the solution of the problem of evil is reflected in Romans 8:28 that God works all things for the good of those who believe; that while the current experience is dreadful, painful, or evil, the Holy Spirit is at work sanctifying the heart of the believer. Through the faithful response to the negative experience, the believer can experience good; though perhaps the only good may be a deeper dependence upon God. This is performed as the believer lives through the strength, encouragement, and promptings of the Holy Spirit on a day by day, moment by moment basis.
Explaining the reality of pain and suffering from the basis of a loving God is clearly difficult to grasp, but through faith, we can see a loving God at work in the midst of pain, suffering, and evil. Faith is our answer. I trust that God having the power to create and establish any order of creation he chose, did choose to create this one where people had the ability to exercise free will. The selfish direction of this free will resulted in the fall. While God could have prevented this, God chose to allow it. By faith, I find that in the midst of pain and suffering, the human to divine relationship is taken into its fullest. Something in the experience of pain, suffering, and evil brings humans into a more clear understanding of God’s love; and in this realization we can glorify God in the highest, as John Wesley concludes, “This God permitted, in order to a fuller manifestation of his wisdom, justice, and mercy, by bestowing on all who would receive it an infinitely greater happiness than they could possibly have attained if Adam had not fallen.” (Wesley, Sermon on Special Occasions Sermon 59, Para. 15) Therefore, whatever form evil or suffering take in our world, the faithful Christian response is to reveal Christ; to be present as the imago dei both as an individual and corporately as the church. While it is true that we can’t fully create heaven on earth, the church must take every opportunity to reveal Christ to a broken and hurting world. I understand my call as both a Christian and to the role of pastor not only to serve and bless those suffering under the familiar circumstances of earthly life such as poverty, greed, adultery, pride, drunkenness, or others; but also as a prophetical voice to the ones who knowingly or unknowingly foster the environments where pain and suffering thrive. It is in this way that Runyon sees us moving toward perfection in the “vocation to which we are called, to image and reflect to others what we have received and are receiving from God”. (Runyon 225)
 Imago dei – Referring to the image of God in which we were originally created, that as the image of God we are a re-presentation of God to the world. The church, as a redeemed and reconciled people, continues that purpose but now with God’s Holy Spirit at work within us.
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