I’m not a fan of reciting platitudes, so maybe I would avoid saying these ten things, too. But that doesn’t mean that these platitudes aren’t mostly true, despite what Sojourner‘s Mark Sandlin says.
Take #8 on Sandlin’s list: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” How is that not true? I just preached last Sunday on James 1:1-12, in which James tells us to “count it nothing but joy” when we suffer any kind of trial. I assume any means “any.” Or what about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:3: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle” seems like an accurate enough paraphrase of this scripture, right?
Sandlin writes, “Ever tried saying this to a person contemplating suicide? No? Well, of course not.”
Well, yes… We have to discern whether it would be pastoral helpful to say this to someone in the midst of suffering. But it’s still true, whether we say it or not.
Or what about #10? “Everything happens for a reason.” Sandlin writes:
Implied in this is a very specific understanding of how God interacts with the world. Specifically, it says God directs all things. So, mass murders? God had a reason for that senseless act of violence. Stubbing your toe on the door frame? I guess God wanted to smite your toe.
This way of seeing God turns us all into puppets — God’s little play things who really have no freewill. Do you truly think a god needs toys? If so, do you really think we’re the best toys God could make to play with?
I disagree: God does direct all things. This is clear on nearly every page of the Bible. God can direct all things, however, without at the same overriding human free will. So mass murders happen because people make evil choices under the influence of the devil. Perish the thought that this is God’s will! Every time someone commits mass murder, however, God had the power to stop it but chooses not to. We may even have prayed about it, and he didn’t grant us our petition. Why?
Unless we believe that God is capricious, it isn’t wrong to say that God let this evil thing happen for a reason.
Granted, in the old days of polytheism or even Manichaean dualism, these questions were easier to deal with. You had good gods and bad gods, forces for good and forces for evil: which one “wins” in any particular instance would be anyone’s guess.
But monotheism introduces an interesting “problem,” if you want to call it that. We believe that one God ultimately takes responsibility for good and evil. When evil happens, it isn’t his will, but it’s also not beyond his providential care to redeem.
Honestly, my favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. If that’s true, then I can’t see, logically, how “everything happens for a reason” isn’t also true.
I could go on to other items on the list, but you get the idea. As it is, I only agree wholeheartedly with Sandlin on numbers 6 and 9. What do you think?