The Christmas card read: “In a moment…everything changed”. Down through the centuries worldwide this has been acknowledged by billions of Christians.
During another moment in time everything changed for Jane and Keith (not their real names). Such happenings often prompt difficult questions like: Why did God allow this to happen to us? The notoriously difficult exercise of trying to interpret silence.
A momentous moment
In their senior years this loving couple retired for the night as they had done thousands of times before during a long and happy marriage…but this night was different. Unknowingly, somewhere between about 1- 4 a.m. whilst asleep Jane suffered a stroke the effect of which was not discovered until morning.
If a stroke occurs during waking hours apparently an emergency dash to hospital can make all the difference to the long-term outcome, but this time significant change had occurred.
In different ways they are both victims of that unexpected, uninvited and unwanted moment, now having to adapt like anyone who has to live with the result of chronic illness. A sixty three year old lady friend of mine is effectively a quadriplegic, the devastating result of slowly advancing crippling multiple sclerosis, a personal tragedy also not of her wanting.
How to explain?
Hence the perplexing issue of what some call the permissive will of God. A severe event (perhaps with irreversible consequences) is said to be within His permissive will in that God did not prevent it from happening.
We know that He is not distantly indifferent to personal suffering and encourages us to: Cast all your anxiety on Him [why?] because He cares for you. (1 Peter chapter 5 verse 7). Nor does He cause bad things to happen to us. Natural disasters, birth defects and chronic illnesses are agonizingly difficult issues, whilst some situations involve divinely preventable abhorrent behavior such as the brutal actions of dictators.
The obvious go-to book of the Bible for seeking insight, an answer or at least some guidance or solace is the book of Job. The personal devastation that befell him was as extreme as it could get but Job never received from God an explanation or answer. Instead, towards the end of the book God asked Job seventy questions some of which appear below.
Would you discredit My justice? (Job chapter 40 verse 8)
Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? (40:2)
Who is this that darkens My counsel with words without knowledge? (38:2)
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? (38:4)
Who shut up the sea behind doors when I said: This far you may come and no farther? (38:11)
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? (39:1)
Do you know the laws of the heavens? (38:33)
Afterwards Job said to God: I know that You can do all things…Surely I spoke of things I do not understand…My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I…repent in dust and ashes. (Job chapter 42 verses 5,6). Graciously he was restored as: The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first…And so he died old and full of years. (Job chapter 42 verses 12 & 17).
Can any mortal question or cross-examine God and expect an answer? One may come promptly or not at all, maybe not yet but later or perhaps in a way least expected.
And the answer is…
Tantalizingly, the Bible does not give one. As excruciatingly difficult as that must be in the face of prolonged suffering (I have not yet experienced this), one may never come. Whilst not an answer to ‘why’, God tells us what we can do in response. He: comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from Him. (2 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 4).
Further, it records that: in all things God works for the good of [who?] those who love Him. (Romans chapter 8 verse 28). And Jesus says He is: with us always. (Matthew chapter 28 verse 20).
A preacher said the correct question is not ‘why’ but ‘where’ is God in suffering – such as at Jesus’ brutal crucifixion, the Holocaust insanity, and at 9/11. He was at Jane’s bedside that night.
One of the fundamental issues that has become so profoundly important to me as I reflect on my 73 years which bring me ever closer to the one event that every human being must face whether we are an atheist, dictator, king or president, butcher or grandmother is…how did it all begin.
This is crucially relevant to the necessity of Jesus’ rescue mission. It is no literary mistake that our Creator commenced His book saying “In the beginning God created…”, making the Old Testament (OT) critical to understanding the NT.
Back to the Christmas card
“In a moment…everything changed”, even our calendar. Instead of counting down from higher numbers as B.C. changed to A.D, we now live in the year 2021: from what? The world-changing moment happened when God lovingly entered world history through the birth of Jesus so that reconciliation between Himself and us could occur.
He alone decided when the time was right. God loved so much the world He had created that He gave Jesus to us so that whoever believes in Him will not suffer solitary confinement in hell forever separated from Him, but instead will enjoy life forever in heaven with Him surrounded by: a multitude that no one could count. (John chapter 3 verse 16 & Revelation 6:9).
We need to make the next move.