All That Heaven Allows

[Note: This post contains serious and very unpleasant material that may upset small children and those who are squeamish. Do not read this message if you are someone who is easily disturbed or bothered by discussions of a serious and unpleasant nature. You have been warned.]

There is a common problem in the study of theodicy, a fancy word that merely means the justification of God’s ways, concerning God and Auschwich. According to this view, either one can see the horrors of Auschwich and deny God or accept God and deny the horrors of Auschwich. The same kind of choice seems to present itself to the survivors of rape and child abuse. Either one minimizes the horrors that result from sin and the spread of evil and corruption in this world or one denies the omnipotence and/or beneficence of a loving Creator God. There seems to be, for many, too much evil for a loving God to exist.

This note is not an attempt to solve this dilemma in all of its glory, for even if I could accomplish that, it would take far too long to research and write and for anyone to read. What I do wish to do, however, is tackle that problem on a personal level and seek to explain how, given the context of my own personal life, I have sought to solve the horrible enigma the problem of evil presents for me personally. If it has any applicability to the struggles of others with similar experiences to understand and accept what they have suffered, I will consider the effort a great success.

In Romans 8:28-30 we present the problem that needs to be answered: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Morever whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

This verse tells us that all that heaven allows is ultimately to work together for good for those who love God. It is hard to tell someone who is the survivor of rape and incest from very early childhood that such a thing could work out for the good, but so it is. It is hard to tell the struggling homosexual [1] or the recovering alcoholic that their suffering and stigmatization by the self-righteous among them is for the good, but so it is. To begin to entangle how this is so.

I would like to first begin with a somewhat intellectual argument, for those who believe in the Bible, before I go into more personal testimony. In Hebrews 5:1-4, the general requirements for a high priest are given: “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.” And of Jesus’ own experiences it is said in verse eight that “though he was a Son, yet he learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” Likewise, Hebrews 4:14-16 says about Jesus’ high priesthood that “seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in times of need.”

Why does this matter? What does suffering have to do with being qualified to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek as Jesus Christ Himself has been ordained our High Priest? Peter, in 1 Peter, sheds some light on this question. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter says “but you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mery but now have obtained mercy.” Peter then goes on, in 1 Peter 4:12-13, to say “beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

Paul himself, in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, is making the same point concerning those whom God is calling and working with in this life: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of this world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to put to nothing the things which are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written [in Jeremiah 9:24], “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a lecture about the problem of alcoholism from the sister-in-law of the man who is the president of my church. She mentioned something that I had mentioned this past weekend in a conversation about my own life, that our sufferings help us to be qualified to serve as the example to others who may feel as if their struggles are too much for God to work with, so that God can point to a believer who has overcome that problem or that trial and can be an encourager and sympathetic priest to the struggling and repentant sinner. Nothing is too much for God to deal with.

I attend a church that is seeking to expand its “focused education” efforts in a variety of ways. There are focused education efforts in alcoholism, homosexuality, addictions, and sexual abuse. As the survivor of early childhood rape and incest, I am familiar with the stigma attached to these problems, even when there is no fault on the part of the suffering survivor. As a person in whose family alcohol abuse and alcoholism is not unheard of, I understand the way in which alcohol is one of the ways in which people self-medicate their pain and suffering from other reasons and harm others greatly without evil intention or seeming awareness. Given this experience, I have volunteered to help in whatever capacity I can in some of these focused education examples where I have painful personal experience.

Among the addictions that are commonly suffered is the addiction to power. This past year has provided a fascinating and disturbing glimpse into what happens when people who are addicts to power cannot overcome their addiction and, when faced with a hostile “intervention,” seek to leave that now “unloving” family and find their own enablers to allow them to continue their addiction without any repercussions or consequences rather than admit they have a problem, show remorse, and seek restoration through service rather than domination. Perhaps there needs to be a 12-step program developed to help authoritarians overcome their addiction to power. Maybe it should be called “Authoritarians Anonymous” or something like that.

This world is divided into two groups of people: those who have stared into the chasm of wickedness and evil that is in this world, who have suffered unjustly and have survived to tell the tale, or those who are in denial about the darkness that is present in the world around them. Either way, you will feel that sense of identification with those others who are in the same boat you are in. There are no other ways to be. Either we are survivors in recovery or addicts to sin and corruption in denial. That is obviously a sobering and uncomfortable way to look at things.

There is much more than could be said, but the foregoing is enough rumination for one evening, I suppose. All that heaven allows is allowed for our own benefit, but it often takes great reflection and the intervention of God Himself, through His Spirit, into our lives in order for us to gain the insight we need to make sense of the world in which we live and the lives and experiences and struggles we have endured. Our sufferings and struggles do not disqualify us from being saved by God—rather they qualify us to be compassionate priests and servant leaders (kings) in the Kingdom of God. Our sufferings do not give us a stigma in the eyes of genuine believers, but rather they allow us to relate to others, and give encouragement to those who have suffered as we have, and as Jesus Christ did, without a cause, but according to the will of God Himself to provide a witness of the way in which God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Let us, depending on where we stand, either take comfort or warning from these words.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/identify/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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