So let’s get a few things sorted out before we dive in:
1. This is the beginning of a blog series dealing with questions about God, life, joy, pain, sex, doubt, Satan, the church, forgiveness, regret, hatred, and my own inability to quit a troubling late night nacho addiction. It is meant to be a thoughtful exploration and an ongoing conversation; the first word and not the last word.
2. Questions are not dangerous. Questions are good for our souls. We can breathe when someone finally asks the question, the one that’s been lurking around the edges in whispers and shadows. Questions lead us somewhere; something good begins when we honor each other by asking them.
3. Questions require tension for them to take us where we need to go. I love what someone said, “Answers before questions do great damage.” Let’s let the tension linger and see where it takes us. Questions help us to move towards God, who is best understood with a healthy dose of mystery versus mastery. Mystery asks “what if?” Mastery demands to know exactly how we’ll get out of this mess. Both are good, but in most matters, mastery without mystery is dangerous (besides plumbing, of course, and perhaps algebra, neither of which I have any mastery over whatsoever anyway).
4. These posts will be relatively brief. I cannot possibly cover every nuance of such difficult topics. Hopefully my thoughts will lead to conversations and more questions.
So, let’s go. These are actual questions that actual readers have actually submitted. We’ll start with any easy one, submitted by my old friend Sara, who is feisty and funny and deep.
Question: If God is the source of everything, we cannot escape the fact that God created evil. He created Lucifer, an angel, who I always assumed never had free will, yet he chose to desire to be like God, thus casting him away from God. Satan provides us with the free will or choice. Is there true love without choice? Do I really love my husband if there are no other men that I am not choosing? God desires us and our desire for him. Does this even exist without the choice of evil. Thus does God love evil/satan?
Ok, to be fair, there are quite a few questions lurking within this paragraph, and all of them are delicious. Perhaps the biggest one is this: If God is love, how can evil run so rampant? And if God is love, what is the nature of that love? How are we formed by it and how do we participate in it?
So let’s answer a question with another question. When is love first mentioned in the Scriptures?
It may surprise you to know that love is first mentioned in Genesis 22, in the troubling story where a father is asked to sacrifice a son. “After these things,” we read in Genesis 22:1-2, “God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham! Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall tell you.”
The very first time love is mentioned in the Scriptures, it’s in the context of a father loving a son, and having to make a terrible choice. Can you imagine it? Taste the salty tears that must have flowed that day, collecting on Abraham’s beard. Watch him avert his eyes while explaining to his son’s mother what he is about to do.
What is a test? And why is God testing Abraham? Why does love put people through tests?
A test is designed to bring out something that is already inside. If what’s inside is evil, it will come out. If what’s inside is good, it will come out.
Love, by its very nature, invites reality to come forth. And the only way reality can come forth is when a choice is given. It is Love, not Satan, which provides human beings with choice. Satan also offers choices, of course, but is not the author of choice.
Love asks you with whom you will trust your future. Love gives you the opportunity to see what reality is, and to turn from evil and towards good. Love helps you to see. Love always gives you the opportunity to see what actually is, to bring it to God, and allow God to transform it into something beautiful.
What will you do when what comes forth is covered in hatred, jealousy, and death? Only Love is big enough to absorb all of that and transform it into something good, even beautiful.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, yet when he was released, he led a movement of freedom and reconciliation (it was equally possible that he could have led a movement of cynicism, bitterness, and revenge). To the degree that it is possible for Nelson Mandela to choose what he chose, it must by necessity also be possible for Kony to imprison 66,000 children as soldiers and sex slaves.
Love cannot create beings that do not have choice; that would go against the nature of Love. Love asks the question, whom will you trust with your future, even when faced with devastating circumstances?
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Perhaps the most defining and unique reality of Christianity has to do with a father having to make a terrible choice about a son. And this is love: the son willingly goes. Love walks up the mountain and chooses to sacrifice itself, rising again so that everything that comes forth might be transformed. What else could Love do?
Next Question, for next Tuesday: How Do we Know, without a question, without a single doubt, that God is real?
Very juicy. Can’t wait. In it together, friends.
Read other posts in this series here.