Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

July 27, 2012

COLUMN: Aurora, Penn State and God

— This week our world has been rocked by the senseless slaughter of movie-goers in Aurora, Colo., and the sexual abuse of children by a trusted coach at Penn State University. In the midst of such human tragedy, we all ask, “Why?” And those of us who believe in God maybe wonder deep down about God’s whereabouts while all of this was happening.

Christians have always struggled with these three irreconcilable propositions: God is all-powerful; God is all-good; yet, terrible things happen in God’s world. During World War II, Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist pastor in the heart of fire-bombed London, preached a series of five sermons to help his people deal with their loss and sorrow. The messages were later published in a remarkable little book entitled, “The Will of God.”    

Using the cross of Christ as a paradigm for understanding the will of God, Weatherhead suggests that Jesus' crucifixion was not God’s intentional will. The Father sent his Son so that people would believe him, not kill him. In spite of their rejection, God used Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection to achieve his ultimate goal - the redemption of the world.

Therefore, Weatherhead says, we should think of the will of God in three distinct ways. First, there is the intentional will of God - God’s original purpose was that his creation and our lives should be filled with good, not misery. Jesus said, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14). God has never been the author of evil.

But Weatherhead says we must also speak of the circumstantial will of God. Because of our freedom, we often choose to relate to God, each other, and nature in ways that create evil that cuts across God’s plans. Because we’re all part of the human family, what another does can even create circumstances that disturb God’s good intention for us. Therefore, God has a plan within his plan for dealing with those circumstances that he did not cause such as illness, suffering, and disaster. Paul declares, “God is at work in everything for good” — even the worst. Moreover, in the face of tragedy, God offers us the opportunity to join Him in helping to bring good out of evil.

Finally, Weatherhead asserts that we must look forward to the final realization of God’s purposes, the ultimate will of God. God’s intentional will may be temporarily thwarted but it cannot be finally defeated. Not only in spite of evil, but even by using evil for good, God will reach his original goal. In the midst of the fire we trust that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things God hath prepared for them that love him.”

Weatherhead’s little book, which is still in print, doesn’t answer all our questions about evil and suffering, nor does it take our pain away. But the clearer our thinking, the better we’re able to bear our own load and to come to the aid of those in need.

Julian of Norwich observed long ago: “If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God is always safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love.” God is with us in the dark valleys!

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Amen.

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