Yesterday’s sermon on the Lord’s Prayer dealt with the petitions, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” My sermon ended up being mostly about God’s sovereignty. After all, we don’t pray, “God, what can we do to bring your kingdom to earth?” Or even, “God, how can we accomplish your will on earth?” We trust that God will ultimately see to both of those things, regardless of whatever role he wants us human beings to play in it. The inescapable conclusion—which so many Methodist clergy resist saying, for some reason—is that God is in control.
But to say that God is in control is to risk being misunderstood. I referred to this recent interview with physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose biggest objection to belief in God is human suffering. If God is in control (and good), and everything that happens is enfolded into God’s sovereign purposes, then he thinks that we theists must believe that everything that happens—even evil things—must somehow be good. He said he’s not willing to go there.
And I’m not either. As I said in my sermon, there’s an important difference between God’s permitting evil and God’s causing it or approving of it.
But we still have to deal with why God permits evil and suffering to occur. After all, we believe God has the power to grant our petitions in prayer. If we pray for God to give us something—even for God to enable us avoid suffering—and God doesn’t grant our petition, do we say that God is capricious in answering our prayers, or that God has his reasons? And if God has his reasons, we can only trust that those reasons are good—that he’s using our suffering for some good purpose.
To help illustrate this, I used the story of Daniel Kish, who was featured in this intriguing This American Life story. Daniel lost both his eyes to cancer when he was an infant, but using “echolocation”—the same ability that bats have—he has learned to find his way in the world without assistance. He can—amazingly—even ride a bike! As I said in my sermon,
Daniel learned to do these things because, for whatever reason, his mother wasn’t afraid to let him get hurt—she wasn’t afraid of her child getting bumps, bruises, scrapes and even broken bones if these things helped him find his way in the world. Most parents of blind children, by contrast, are afraid to let their kids experience this pain; they want to protect their children from suffering. According to one blind man who uses echolocation to get around, this desire to protect their kids from suffering ends up hurting them.
The reporter of the story kept saying that the parents’ love gets in the way of their blind child’s ability to overcome their disability. But I disagree. Maybe fear and ignorance get in the way, but not love. Because love doesn’t always mean protecting children from pain and suffering—not when pain and suffering would help us grow and become everything we’re capable of becoming.
God our heavenly Father loves us perfectly, which means he loves us enough to let us experience pain and suffering sometimes. Because it’s good for us.
Anyway, I hope you’ll listen to Daniel’s story. It’s astonishing.