Do you ever read a Bible verse and think, “Yea, right.” Here’s one:
The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
God executes judgment for all the oppressed, but how can this be? Neither history nor personal experience seem to corroborate this assertion. In fact, God’s own people, generation after generation, spent 430 years in slavery under the oppressive hand of the Egyptians. No doubt, even fifty years into this 430-year period of slavery, the Jews were wondering about the claim that God is on the side of the oppressed.
If the Bible communicates truth about God and the universe in which we live, then Ps 103:6 must be entirely compatible, not just with the Jewish slavery in Egypt, but with similarly difficult situations in our own lives. But, harmonizing Biblical doctrine with real life can be downright difficult. When hard times come, and they invariably do, we are told to cheer up, because “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him.” Yea, right! Tell that to someone who, 400 years before Moses showed up on the scene, died without hope that the Jews’ lot in life would ever change. Better yet, quote Romans 8:28 to a Jew whose grandparents died in a German concentration camp during WWII. Platitudes, especially Biblical ones, fall on deaf ears. It is too easy to cite the Exodus as evidence of the truth of passages like Ps 103 and Romans 8 because we know the end of the story. And as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. If it were not for the Exodus, there would not have been a Moses, a Torah, a temple, the prophets, the Christ. When it comes to post-biblical events, though, we do not have the luxury of hindsight, so we are left on our own to decipher their meaning and significance. Frequently, we draw devastatingly wrong conclusions. I have a Jewish friend who told me, “I don’t believe in God for one reason: the Holocaust.”
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“I don’t believe in God because…” What follows the ellipsis varies from person to person, but at bottom, the issue is a refusal to acknowledge the presence and the rule of God. That “things happen,” like the Exodus or the Holocaust, does not make belief in God harder. The shoe is on the wrong foot. Lack of belief in God makes it impossible to come to terms with the Exodus and the Holocaust. Every one of us has faced challenges and adversities, though they almost certainly pale in comparison to the Holocaust. How we think about our “everyday” adversities will inform us about our views of the Holocaust and other horrendous events in human history, which are practically without number.
In the midst of adversity, my natural tendency is to focus on my own fear and pain, which makes me a slave to adversity, unable to live free inside of it. Rather, I need to practice living in a place where God is central and I need to do this when life is reasonably good so that when hard times come, and they will, I will be ready. What does “God is central” mean? It means that His plans are the important ones. His ends need to be my ends. He tends to me because He wants me, not because He wants to coddle me and meet my every whim. He loves me, which is to say that He wants me for Himself and for His glory, not so that I will be a success as defined in my own corrupt eyes. He loves me for me; I must love Him, for Him, which is an arrangement that sounds a lot like marriage. He must become my beloved.
Let’s take two people who, presumably in love, are seeking the unity of marriage. While it is incredible to the rest of us, invariably, a newly-minted married couple believes that life together will be bliss. At the wedding, hope abounds, and the vow that each repeats to the other seems to them nothing more than a formality, really: “for better or worse…” Soon, though, life happens and half the couples bail on the vow and each other. Drawing from Ephesians 5 (not to mention many Old Testament passages), marriage is like the relationship that we have with our God. In the context of a commitment to unity with God, the serious disciple makes the same vow as a married couple: “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” But, sooner or later, everyone comes face to face with a frustratingly difficult question: if God is all-powerful, then how does the worse, the poorer, and the sickness every happen, never mind the Exodus and the Holocaust?
Sin has wrecked our world. Unless we accept this basic tenet of the Scriptures, we cannot make sense out of the Holocaust. And, frankly, we cannot make sense out of anything else, either. An uncountable number of horrors, large and small, have resulted from sin, and the bombardment is relentless. Day after day, month after month, decade after decade, millennia after millennia, sin penetrates and devastates our lives and our world. There are the obvious consequences of sin: dictators; drug dealers; muggings and murder; wars and other disputes between countries and groups. Sin also has consequences that I might not think about: the polluted air that I breathe every day; food that clogs my arteries; unequal (unfair) distribution of food, electricity, vaccines, education, the Internet, washing machines and flush toilets; being forced to pay (by taxes) for weapon systems that will kill thousands, if not millions, of people; advertising that very effectively convinces me that having some created thing is better than having the Creator, Himself; sensual pleasures that supplant spiritual joy and consolation; lies that attack our very faith in God every day. Do you own a cell phone? Think about this…
There is virtually no end to the list of sins for which we have paid a large price in our lives and our world.
After the Romans arrogantly nailed God to a cross, just to get rid of Him, can we imagine that there is any boundary or limit to sin? Should I even be surprised at my own sin? If I am surprised at anything, it is that God did not immediately effect a permanent and severe penalty for my very first sin, as He did for Satan and his angels. Imagine this for a moment: the Roman soldiers, after nailing God’s only Son to the wooden beams, stand the cross up in a hole in the ground. With a thud, the vertical beam strikes the bottom of the hole and Jesus feels the jolt through every joint in his body; the crude nails rip at his flesh and splinters dig into his back. The Father, watching all this from heaven, is getting more and more furious that the Romans are treating His thoroughly holy and innocent Son unjustly, and with scorn and contempt. The Father sent the Son to love people and then those same people are treating him horribly. In a flash of anger, the Father destroys the entire Roman Empire in one second. Gone is the mighty Roman Empire, its people, government, and institutions. Nicodemus and Joseph take Christ down off the cross. Together with Mary, they tend to his wounds.
If you can tell me why God did not stop the crucifixion of His precious Son in whom He was well pleased, I will tell you why He does not stop sin from wrecking our world and our lives. In the meantime, in submission to the wisdom of God, who is able to turn evil into good, for there is no one more powerful than He, my prayer must be… therefore, whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.