The Care and Feeding of the Heart: An Apologetic on Suffering—Part 1
race-runners for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:26; 2 Timothy 4:7)! We have a feast in store that will surely get you well-nourished for the task, trial, and treasure of perseverance that is so much a part of the Christian life.
Christian apologetics is that which deals with answering any and all critics, cynics, seekers who might oppose or question the revelation of God in Christ and the Bible. Every Christian to some degree of competence should be an apologist—offering a logical answer, argument, vindication, rejoinder, buttress or explanation, and a personal witness—for the faith.
Unfortunately, due to the absence or meagerness of Christian discipleship and the mixed blessings of our condition of many worldly comforts, most Western churches—especially in our day of the prevailing cultural milieu of relativistic thinking; a gross misunderstanding like “don’t ever judge”; or the supposed and acceptable disconnect between “faith and reason”—far too many Christians wilt when it comes to a reasoned, faithful, or testimonial defense of the faith.
This Training Table offering is the first in a 10-part series to help race-runners for Christ get settled the often-unanswered, poorly-answered, or avoided-at-all-costs… answer to, “How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?” The majority of the content is taken from my book, The Weeping, the Window, the Way. [Insert illustrations taken from the book.]
The first four parts of the series will do what I believe should be done MUCH more often when it comes offering an explanation about pretty much anything that’s clouded by ignorance or arrogance accumulated over a long time, but also by the simple fact that the subject matter is highly complicated: We should always patiently yet confidently recapitulate.
Honestly? Compared to the “gotta-have-it-yesterday” culture we scramble around in, it requires a great deal of patience to recapitulate… to help others slow down, breath deep, pay attention, remember, recount, anthologize, and re-assemble things that used to be relatively common knowledge about “the stuff of the God of the Bible, life, death and all things in between”.
We have forgotten much, my dear friends. And so we must recapitulate… go back, and patiently recount certain things in order to help others better understand the CONTEXT—in order to recall and piece things back together again.
Parts 1-4 will provide an overview of “God’s Story” SO THAT by way of Parts 5-10 we can apply “God’s protocol for redemptive suffering” as I experienced on Christmas night 2002 while with my father after he took his life; and as it is explained in great detail in my book.
Part 1: Creation—When everything was as God meant it to be.
“In the beginning . . .” (Genesis 1, 2), God in Trinity thought, spoke, and fluttered creation into existence. He culminated His work by creating man:
“Then God said, ‘Let us [Father, Son, Holy Spirit] make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27—parenthesis added).
“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7).
Even though there is no explicit Biblical evidence for my musings, I have long imagined God reaching down into the clay and forming Adam. He breathed life into his creation’s nostrils, and with great delight, noticed Adam’s heart (the repository of humankind’s core beliefs, loyalties, non-negotiable’s) instantly animated, and begin to beat. I imagine Adam’s beautiful heart as the dominant feature of God’s creative work, which initiated the creation of mankind.
God made Adam’s heart in his own image, albeit a “spirit image” (Genesis 5:1). Then I imagine the Triune God smiling and with deep satisfaction, celebrating with joy the “culmination and accumulation” of his now-completed work:
The culmination in the form of Adam and the accumulation in the amassing of all of the previous days’ work. All taken together, this is something akin to the crescendo in God’s marvelous creative symphony—the joy of this creative work within the Godhead:
“God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” Genesis 1:37—emphasis mine).
God’s Love Made Manifest, Mankind’s Free Will Then Put to the Test
By definition, God’s universe-and-beyond wide and deep love of humankind, of the first Image-Bearers of Himself, [as begun in Adam and Eve] had to include the possibility of UN-love. Love devoid of the possibility of loving or not loving in return would be nothing more than mere puppetry on God’s behalf—hardly a God-worthy or laudable creative act at all!
Adam’s heart, though finite, nevertheless mirrored the unblemished ecosystem of the infinite Creator’s own heart, mirrored it in goodness, truth, wisdom, justice, holiness, mercy, patience, compassion, righteousness, and sacrificial love. Adam shared—though in a finite, limited way—God’s own limitless beauty, His creativity, and His glory-filled, Trinity-bound, delight in Himself. Such was the heart of Adam in the beginning.
As God’s trusted stewards and beloved Image Bearers, the first man and first woman were free to eat from the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Adam’s heart was perfectly created by God’s love and truth. But, within the context of the definition of love (above), Adam was given a free will choice to love and obey God, or not. Adam chose poorly.
Yes, Beloved race-runners of God, here we sit on the edge of our Training Table seats! Please join us for the next portion of this incredibly important and heart-nourishing feast as we consider Part 2, The Fall—the tragic intrusion of sin and death, resulting in the pervasive brokenness of all people and everything God has made.
Please allow me to remind you again: Vacant this sort of 30,000’ view and remembrance of how reality exists, the explanation of God and suffering will most often take the form of unnecessarily inadequate categories such as, a) an unanswered riddle; b) a “God’s-so-inscrutable-and-higher-we-dare-not-question-such-lofty-things” tact; c) things too mysterious shouldn’t be questioned or conjectured upon by truly faith-full folk; and/or d) anyone’s demands to couple faith and reason are… unfaithful or unreasonable.
Any church leader or similarly “unprepared apologist for the faith” is hurtful NOT MERELY for the faithful, but for the majority of people who are unwilling to believe in such an inadequate god. This apparently unanswerable yet legitimate question [“How could a loving God allow such horrid and widespread suffering?”] leaves the unbeliever and believer in doubt, limbo, skepticism, distrust… and in an unnecessary state of anxiety and worry in our day. But does the Bible say repeatedly or for no reason, “The Lord lives; blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation…” (Psalm 18:46) for no reason?
Let me leave you with a seminal sort of question, “Would any god be worth placing our undying faith in if he… it… was incapable of supplying a wholly sufficient and satisfying answer to so fundamental and frequently-experienced problem such as the reality of universal, widespread, and horrid suffering in the world?”
One side-bar answer [not the crucial or key ones that we’ll discover] to this question that I dearly appreciate is that no other religion—or dumb idol—comes remotely close to answering this fundamental question! Only Bible-based Christianity does.
Praise God from Whom ALL blessings flow,