People die every day.
You may try to run from taxes, but there is a grim inevitability about the event of death. In the last few weeks some more of my friends have died. I miss them, their place and presence. Some of them were elderly and some were sick, as if that somehow makes it more acceptable. It doesn’t. Death is always wrong, as is sickness, broken relationships, violence, betrayal, abuse and the seeming endless litany of damage we experience, perpetrate and grieve.
There are iconic death markers; events that stop us in our tracks as a culture or society. September 11th, the brutal beheading of Christians by ISIS, the rampant insanity of one gunman in places like Norway and Columbine …events that become raw symbols of loss and leave us reeling and grieving as a community much the way we mourn the death of a well loved child.
It is a temptation to be overwhelmed and swept away by the brokenness of the world, and it is understandable why at such times any affirmation of the goodness of God seems a travesty, an illusion to domesticate the fury of the human heart.
It is sadly fascinating that we will so easily place the blame for every evil in the cosmos at the feet of God, and every attempt at good (science, medicine, education, etc) at the feet of humanity.
It does make more sense to eject an evil God completely out of the picture than it does to try and live with a God who is, at best, an ambivalent force and, at worst, a malevolent narcissist. But doing so answers nothing, especially the cries of the human heart for goodness and justice. If there is no God, than instead of the Perfect Will of God, the end that now justifies us becomes the survival of the human race.
But God is not an individual. He is Persons in a community of relationship. Anything less and we have no hope. The point of the incarnation, that God would completely and irrevocably join the human race, was not not to humanize God, as if to somehow push God into behaving with deeper compassion, greater kindness and forgiveness.
Instead, Jesus comes to tell us how magnificent human beings truly are and how much more God-like is the truth of our being in the face of a multitude of lies we believe about ourselves. The declaration of Jesus is this: “I am what a free and true human being looks like.”
What if the image of God in us is our desire to forgive, to love others, to be authentic, to be compassionate and merciful? And what if God really is good. And not just good in a hidden and mysterious way—but actually good?
What if God has joined us to grieve evil with us and then participates with us to perpetrate good?
What if God rejoices and celebrates kindness and mercy with us, daily fanning the flame of the imago dei within each of us.
If being identified as a Christian, of any hue and shade, inherently means believing that God has a Perfect Plan that includes the killing of children, the destruction of cities, sickness and death, count me out. That is the same deterministic fatalism that continues to enslave masses of human beings in which there is no love. There is just karmic self justification.
That doesn’t look like Jesus at all.
God is no stranger to darkness. God is neither afraid nor offended by it. And even thought He is not ‘of’ it, He chooses to dwell in it, with us. God does not have two faces. Just one: the face of Jesus.
Deterministic ideology, be it religious or materialistic, will not allow us to be furious at evil. How can we be furious at evil if it’s part of God’s Plan or part of karmic servitude or survival of the fittest?
How can we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? How can we shout that Utoya, Columbine and 9/11 were wrong? Why would we stop being bystanders and start becoming perpetrators of good, actively participating in the world that God made instead of just observers in it?
We can because God is Good, all through time. God is Good, and we, you and I, are made in the image of God.
When I wrote The Shack, this whole idea of grief was a deep and important theme, and I’m glad it resonated with so many people. That same theme turns up in my new book, Eve, which comes out very soon. You can preorder Eve by clicking right here.