Those are two big topics I know, but I’ve been working on some stuff recently and want to share where I am right now…
Earlier this month, Ken Puent from Dyer UMC came to help lead our Senior High youth group. He led a discussion on prayer that was wonderfully stimulating.
In the conversation we turned to the question of evil – does God make bad things happen? Ken was working with the youth to help them understand that God doesn’t make bad things happen, but that rather, bad things happen as a result of the free will that we’ve been given (I’m oversimplifying the conversation of course).
One youth was particularly engaged in the conversation and asked a fabulous question. It was something to the affect of, “If we don’t want to give God credit for the bad things in the world, and want to attribute them to the random exercising of free will, why should God get credit for the good things happening in the world? Is it possible that God doesn’t make bad or good happen, but that good things, just like the bad, are the result of humans using the gift of free will?”
It was one of those wonderfully profound questions that hung in the air for what seemed like a couple of minutes before anyone spoke. I am still struck by the depth of the question and I’ve found myself thinking about it and wrestling with it many times since. Here’s what I’ve got…
To assume that good in the world (like bad in the world) is simply a result of human choices, assumes that God is nuetral. I don’t believe that the scriptures tell us about a God who is nuetral. When God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it, God declared creation to be good. God is, at God’s core, good. All that God is and is doing in the world is seeking to move the world toward an end that ultimately represents the perfection of creation.
God’s nature is good and God is constantly calling us (and all of God’s creation) to good. If we choose not to act, but to simply move forward with life, we’re still a part of God’s plan for good. When we intentionally choose to turn away from God’s hopes and dreams for the world, when we make decisions that distance us from God, then evil and pain and suffering happen (in our lives as well as in the lives of others, others we’ve maybe never even met).
Maybe God’s work in the world is like one of the moving walkways at an airport. It is moving forward, toward an end that is good, and it is taking us with it. We can stand and be neutral and will still move forward in life. We can choose to walk forward, to partner with God, and to help the world more quickly reach God’s hoped for end. We can also choose to turn the opposite way and walk against the direction God is moving; doing this makes for a more difficult and tiring journey, but in the end God is still moving forward. Finally, we can choose to step off of the moving walkway, to totally disconnect ourselves from God, but God is still at work, still seeking to carry us forward.
God is not nuetral. God is good, moving toward good, and calling us to move toward good. Thanks to God’s gift of free will, we now get to choose, will we simply be neutral, will we partner with God to work for good, or will we rebel against God and bring additional pain and suffering into the world.