Today: Psalms 15; Matthew 17:14-27; Matthew 18:1-9; Genesis 49 & 50
WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING? Ah, that’s the BIG question, isn’t it? So many people reject God because of this one singular sticking point. If God can do anything, then he could just end our suffering, right? Then why doesn’t he do it? Bitterness over God’s refusal to wave his magic wand and miraculously end suffering keeps multitudes of people from seeking relationship with him.
But God doesn’t see things the way we do. His ways are much higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is all knowing, all seeing. His vision is eternal. Sorry to disappoint, but our measly 70-80 years on this planet are really not all that significant compared to eternity.
God does CARE about our lives here; he makes that clear (“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:29-30). He is not indifferent. He took on the form of a human and lived in our physical world for a while just to reach out to us. So yes, he cares about our lives here very much. But God sees the WHOLE PICTURE while we can see only the smallest part. Our understanding of suffering is skewed by our incomplete vision.
We are also eternal beings. Our short time encased in these physical bodies here on earth is only a tiny fragment of our entire eternal existence. When God looks at us, he doesn’t just see our brief earthly life; he also sees the being we will be in a thousand years, in a million years. I imagine that a thousand years from now, our difficult little earthly life won’t seem very significant to US either.
God wants us to have eternal vision too. He wants us to invest our hearts and minds in what really matters, the eternal kingdom of God. He wants us to see our physical lives as they truly are – a fleeting, miniscule piece of our total identities.
Jesus tells his disciples that they couldn’t cast out a demon because of their “meager faith.” He tells them that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they will be able to move mountains. This is one of those passages that always confused me. The disciples had been casting out demons and healing people left and right. So what’s up in Matthew 17? What is Jesus really saying?
That mustard seed faith moving mountains statement is a doozy. Entire “name it, claim it” theologies rest upon this single verse. I did my own brief stint in such a church back when I was in college. How enticing it is to think that if we just believe hard enough, string the right prayer words together, we can make God do whatever we want. God is the genie in the rubbed lamp granting us wishes of wealth, health and success. Yes, a lot of people really believe this. Some of us can get away with such a faulty theology in our pampered, rich culture. But Christians in third world countries understand such fallacy. Name it, claim it faith is just yet another attempt to control God and replace him with ourselves. Ah yes, that old familiar sin of pride strikes again!
But God can’t be controlled or manipulated. So what does Jesus mean when he says we can say to this mountain “‘move from her to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (v. 21) I think our answer lies in the next passage when the disciples ask Jesus “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1)
“And He called a child to Himself and set him among them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:2-4)
Immediately after this Jesus offers his disturbing command to cut off your hand or foot or gouge out your eye if they cause you to sin. YOUCH! So again, what is up with all this crazy talk from Jesus!? Some of these kooky things he’s saying just aren’t true! We can’t really move mountains. Some things actually are impossible. And I seriously doubt he actually wants us to start slashing off our extremities.
Go back to the little child passage. Stay with me here… Jesus is trying to give his disciples ETERNAL VISION. He’s trying to show them that everything in our temporary physical world is upside down from the actual eternal reality. None of these physical things like mountains, or even our own bodies, matter very much when compared to eternal truth. So forget about those things and focus on the one thing that really matters – God. And we do that by having a childlike faith. Children are humble by default. They are helpless and powerless. They must rely on their guardians to care for them. Children also believe in magic. Get it?
Any power or control we think we wield is all illusion anyway. We truly are those helpless children whether we understand it or not. Pride is the biggest delusion we could ever entertain. But guess what… we can also believe in MAGIC. When we shift our focus from ourselves to our heavenly Father and depend upon his care and direction rather than our own, our lives truly become magic indeed.