My old blogging nemesis is at it again

May 18, 2017

My old blogging nemesis, Jason Micheli, a United Methodist pastor and author, is at it again. In this recent post, he describes a conversation with a father who lost his son to a tragic accident. Then he complains about Christians who tried to comfort this father with words about God’s “having a plan” for his son’s death.

Micheli writes the following (emphasis his):

Contra the false teaching of the “God has a plan…” variety:

The test of whether or not our speech about God is true isn’t whether it’s logical, rationally demonstrable, emotionally resonant or culled from scripture.

The test is whether we could say it to a parent standing at their child’s grave.

To preach a sovereign God of absolute will who causes suffering and tragedy for a ‘greater purpose’ is not only to preach a God who trucks in suffering and evil but a God who gives meaning to it.

A God who uses suffering and evil for His own self-realization as God is complicit in suffering and evil.

I don’t know what he means by a “God of absolute will.” I disagree that God uses anything for “His own self-realization,” since God is perfectly, fully realized. And I hope that God gives meaning to evil and suffering. But my point in the following comment, as I’ve said many times before, is that even if God merely allows evil and suffering—having the power to prevent it—God is ultimately responsible for it.

So here’s my comment. (Micheli recently wrote a book about his own experience with what he calls “stage serious” cancer. It’s in remission.):


I can’t comprehend the complete lack of engagement with scripture in this post. Providence is an idea that’s writ large across the entire Bible, and one endorsed by the consensual teaching of the Church. I’ve read the DB Hart book. It doesn’t, in my opinion, satisfactorily engage the question.

Does God govern the universe and our lives within it, or doesn’t he? Does God have the power to prevent the death of a child or doesn’t he? As long as God has the power to prevent the death of a child and doesn’t use that power, God is not off the hook for suffering and evil. Even if we say, in this instance, “God lets the laws of physics run their course,” we still ought to “blame” God (if you insist on that word)—first because he created these physical laws, and second, because we believe that God answers prayer, at least sometimes.

We pray for our children’s safety. God grants that petition or doesn’t. If he doesn’t, how do we interpret it: Did God not hear our petition? Does he not have the power to grant it? Does he act arbitrarily? Or does he have a reason for either granting it or not? Is there some alternative I’m leaving out? Surely I don’t need to cite proof-texts to back up my position, because there are plenty—whereas, on your side, you have David Bentley Hart and the “God of the philosophers.”

In your case, haven’t you thanked God for sending your cancer into remission? Or did God not have anything to do with it?

Anyway, I’d recommend this father read Tim Keller’s Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. And you too! You may disagree with Keller, but it won’t be because Keller hasn’t thought it through. Nor is he some kind of demon from hell because he disagrees with you.

3 Responses to “My old blogging nemesis is at it again”

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    Oddly enough, this question is not that far from the question of Election and Free Will. Does God plan and control everything, or only some things?

    Whatever you believe, presenting the issue to someone who is in the midst of great physical or mental anguish is not going to be productive.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Of course, Grant, and that’s a question of pastoral sensitivity. But do you see the problem with what Micheli wrote? “The test of whether or not our speech about God is true isn’t whether it’s logical, rationally demonstrable, emotionally resonant or culled from scripture. ¶ The test is whether we could say it to a parent standing at their child’s grave.”

      Really? The test of the truth about God is “whether we could say it to a parent standing at their child’s grave”?

      It burns me up—to take God’s Word so lightly! Does anyone wonder why our United Methodist Church is headed for a split?

      I would say it’s in the ballpark of questions about election and free will. But nothing I say above impinges on free will. God foreknew that, given this set of circumstances, the child would get locked in a hot car and die. God has the power to prevent children (or the rest of us) from doing harmful things that we freely choose to do. If God has the power (and would Micheli say that he doesn’t?), why doesn’t he use it?

      We can assume that God has a good reason for not using his power to prevent harm.

      Or—maybe from Micheli’s perspective—God is powerless to act in our world. Maybe he can only “be present” while we suffer. Maybe he can’t intervene in human history in any way. If that’s your belief system, however, you’re outside the realm of orthodox Christianity, to say the least. You don’t believe in the authority of scripture to any significant degree.

      By all means, the graveside isn’t the time to have difficult theological conversations about God’s sovereignty. But that doesn’t mean that those conversations shouldn’t be had!

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    No, I agree completely regarding Micheli. He doesn’t have a high view of God. In fact, he presumes to put God in the dock and question him; accuse him even.

    As for God looking down the corridors of time and seeing how all the circumstances have to come together just doesn’t work for me. It’s a convoluted way of saying that God isn’t in control. I know that a God that is completely in control of every molecule, every second, and every event is unacceptable to a free will, personal responsibility believer, but it’s what I believe. And, I trust that God has a plan that works for the good of all his sheep woven into it. It is not just about today; it’s about eternity. Those who are not of His flock are another matter.

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