Thursday, May 7, 2015

Questions III

Yet another in a series of "questions" from our congregation which I shall attempt to address...

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? And why is God's answer sometimes "No"?

This is one of the timeless questions labeled the "theodicy" question by theologians. Of course there is, in this time and in this realm, no absolute answer possible for it; we can only speculate. If a person harbors a belief that all things about God have to make total, logical "sense," or fulfill some expectation of divine "perfection" whereby everything has to be in harmony, then a long, convoluted explanation would be in order. I am not one of those people, and I don't recommend the approach.

Instead, I will default to my "heavenly parent" model whereby God creates humanity and loves us like a loving parent does her or his child. When we love our children, we want the best for them, and we do our best to provide opportunities for them to grow and thrive. But our love also requires that we "turn them loose," at some point, and this necessary freedom puts them at greater risk. So it is with us, as God's children. The world is a beautiful place and a great blessing to inhabit, but there are diseases, dangers, and consequences out there that may befall us, as we explore this freedom and carve out our own life and lifestyle. When bad things happen to our children, we do all we can for them, surrounding them with love and compassion, or grieving deeply for them if they don't physically survive the particular malady. I think God does the same for us. I believe this is what love is all about. How loving would it be to so totally control our lives that nothing bad could ever happen to us? We know that "helicoptering" parents can rob the joy and potential of children, and making God the ultimate helicoptering parent would be antithetical to the love in which we were created.

And what of God's "no" answers to some of our prayers? Again, the parent illustration applies: Does a truly loving parent give the child everything the child asks for? It would not be prudent, and it would not be loving. It might even be dangerous, from time to time. Sometimes God's answer may seem like a "no" when it is really "not yet." Patience and preparedness are two qualities we learn form this "delayed" fulfillment.

I had a young church member who tried and tried to get into law school because he wanted to be a lawyer. He was a good student, and a friend who was his academic equal had no trouble being admitted to one. "Why?" was his favorite question. By not getting into law school, that young man started working with the youth at his church, met the woman who would become his wife, and got called into the ministry. Today he and his wife are each pastors, and he is an important leader in his denomination. What seemed like a "bad thing" turned out to be an integral part of a future opportunity and calling!

How about some tips or advice about how to pray more purposefully? You know, without "begging" God to work for you? Is it best to pray for general guidance or with specific desires?

Let me try to answer the last part of the question first: YES! I pray for general guidance daily in my life, while at the same time--and throughout the day--asking for specific things, including letting God know how I'd like things to go or be. There is nothing wrong with focusing one's prayers on a very specific concern or need. Neither is it ever a bad idea to pray for God's guiding hand in our affairs.

Prayer is just conversation with God, and as a child asks its parent(s) for the things it needs to tackle life, so we should make our desires known to God. It doesn't even have to be in flowery language. If you're not sure how to pray about something, use the Lord's Prayer. Years ago, someone taught me the ACTS model in a Sunday School class: Start with Adoration - that's the "hallowed be thy name" stuff; move on to Confession - tell God any things you are sorry for doing or thinking; then be Thankful to God for your blessings, and even name some of them! And THEN move on to Supplication, which is a 64-cent word for "the ask." What's nice about this model is that you don't just start with the laundry list of stuff you want/need. Imagine how hard it would be to begin a conversation with a friend with "Hey, give me a dollar..."

I don't think an earnest prayer can ever be "begging God to work for us," anymore than a child sincerely asking a parent for assistance or for some resource that the child deems--at that moment--necessary, would be considered "using" the parent. It's just what we do when we love someone and are loved by someone. Such it is with God and us.

Can we bug God too much? Jesus tells a story about a friend who has a stranger come by his house late at night, and because of the Jewish code of hospitality, he is obligated to feed the guest. Having no bread, he knocks on his sleeping neighbor's door until the neighbor wakes up and give him some bread for the stranger. Jesus says God rewards us for this kind of persistence! So, the moral is: never be afraid to pray for anything. But remember, sometimes God--for reasons which may not yet be clear to us--may say "no" or "not yet"!

More questions next week...Shalom!

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