Posted 19 Jul 2012
Jeremiah 2:5 says, ‘This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?’
That seems a pertinent question, & one which makes me wonder about atheists. What fault is it that unbelieving people/atheists find in God, or even the thought of God, such that they choose to ignore Him & go their own way instead? When God posed that question via Jeremiah, I wonder if He is really asking atheists & unbelievers, “Why have you forsaken me?” It isn’t that God has forsaken them, even if that is how they prefer to justify their move away from God!
What has God apparently done, or not done, said or not said, which is so unpalatable to unbelievers? It would be interesting to know what a non-believer (in God) thinks about why they believe they can not trust in God & his unfailing love for them. I wonder if 99% of the time people decide that they do not want to trust God because they have experienced a terrible loss or hurt, perhaps in early childhood, which has left them feeling that God is not worthy of their trust?
Personal suffering, & how we ‘square that up’ with a loving God could well be the prime reason for unbelief & scepticism in a loving God. It is difficult for everyone (Christians & non-Christians!) to reconcile their own personal suffering, with the concept of a loving heavenly God. Isn’t He supposed to protect us? Isn’t He supposed to stop bad things from happening to us… especially when we are vulnerable, such as when we are children? I think these are the questions that surface & often prevent people from believing in God.
Personal suffering IS terrible. Nothing can excuse that. There is no pat, easy, simple explanation about it. It simply has to be acknowledged… bad things do happen to us all.
A lot of time & effort has gone into trying to figure out why bad things happen to good people. A lot of books & essays, etc have been written on the subject. Far better, more eloquent writers have written an awful lot more about this subject than I am able too! I am only writing about what is occurring to me at this moment in time, as I read the above scripture. I am not trying to be exhaustive, all-encompassing or complete in writing this. I can’t do this enormous subject much justice at all. But here is one thought on the subject…
For me, I think I now recognise that God is utterly dedicated to providing us with freedom of choice. I have come to realise that over the last few years & certainly I have written about that before in this blog. God allows us the freedom to make choices: good ones & bad ones. If you think about that, then God allows us to choose to be kind, loving, caring, compassionate, etc, but he is also dedicated to our freedom of choice when it comes to behaving cynically, skeptically, & on into being unkind, unloving, uncaring, & on into active behaviours of violence & cruelty towards our fellow man. God will not step in & stop us from choosing unproductive, self-destructive or other-destructive behaviours, because he is utterly dedicated to providing us with freedom of choice, whilst we are on this Earth.
That is not to say that there is never to be a consequence for our deliberate choices. The Bible clearly points out that God will hold us accountable for our actions… all of them. There is a day of judgement coming. However, whilst we are alive & here on earth, we are free to choose what we want to do. That means that if we choose to hurt someone else, then God will not step in & stop us… that would contravene His own dedication to our freedom of choice.
Obviously (for a loving God) He hopes we will choose to behave kindly & compassionately to our fellow man, but there is actually no immovable heavenly directive to do so. Clearly, God hopes that we will choose to love Him & our fellow man, above ignoring & rejecting God & hurting our fellow man. But… the choice about which behaviour we will employ is ours, & ours alone. There is awesome responsibility in our ability to respond.
Part of God’s mission & purpose in sending Jesus the Christ to earth was to show us how we can live on earth in love. Jesus was & is the ultimate example of a sinless lifestyle of love towards God & towards mankind.
We could not truly have freedom to choose then, if God ever stepped in & actively stopped us from doing wrong things. Based on this idea, the responsibility for our behaviour is clearly our own. When it comes to the wrong things that have happened to us, the blame does not belong to God for not stepping in to help us, but to those who abused us… the human beings in our lives who chose to mis-use us & actually caused the personal suffering which we have encountered. It is not God who has caused the harm, it is our fellow man; fallen, imperfect human beings who have chosen to hurt us. The ‘blame’, if it is to be levelled at all, belongs squarely on the shoulders of the human perpetrators of our harm.
This raises the whole issue of forgiveness, which is another vast subject that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that the awesome responsibility we have for our own actions includes the incredibly powerful choice of forgiveness. A part of forgiveness that is seldom written about, much less understood, is the fact that when we forgive we actually unhook ourselves from the power of the hurt(s) which have befallen us & possibly plagued us for so long. Forgiveness of the human perpetrators of our harm actually releases us (rather unexpectedly!) to move forward into a more wholesome, complete, free life ourselves.
Therefore, when we accuse God of not helping us (when we were/are victim’s of another human beings choices), that belies a misunderstanding about the part we all play in our own freedom to act. God is not to blame. He is a God of love, & I believe He feels deep sorrow for any & all acts of violence & abuse on the part of the victim. God cries with us when we hurt. He identifies with our pain. He longs to sooth us & help us to overcome the awful acts that have befallen us… But God is not to blame for the occurrences themselves. Nor can we say that God doesn’t care about us, nor can we wrongly conclude that God doesn’t even exist because bad things have happened to us. Such conclusions are wrong & whilst they underscore the pain & suffering we have endured, they are still, nevertheless, errors in conclusion about the existence & nature of our heavenly God.
In the end, our personal sufferings should bring us to the conclusion that each person is utterly responsible for their own actions. What we ‘do’ with these incidents us up to us. I sincerely hope that all atheists will not use the awful experiences of personal suffering as a kind of ‘smoke-screen’ to shield themselves from the existence & true nature of our loving heavenly God. It would be utterly tragic if the awful experiences they may have had prevents them from believing in a personal God of love who acknowledges their real pain, but also wants to free them from the burden & the stumbling block it has become to them.
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