[This is my latest column, written for the Community Press newspapers here in suburban Cincinnati. Readers will see that the column, in part, flows from the Bible study I did with members of our congregation last evening. The link to it is here.]
He was distraught. His wife had just announced that she was leaving him and he'd called me, asking if we could talk. When he arrived at the restaurant for our meeting, he looked like a man who had just been picked up by an unexpected twister and set down miles from where he'd planned on being this quiet spring morning.
After recounting the conversation he'd had with his wife just before she got into her Mustang, promising that she'd be back for her things "in a few days," he sat for awhile with his head in his hands. Neither one of us was certain about what to say next. But we conversed haltingly for a time and then he asked, "How could God let this happen? How could God even let my wife consider such a thing, let alone actually do it?"
A similar question, this one not tangled up in grief or pain, came up during a recent Bible study at our church. We were looking at the Genesis account of God's creation of the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and their subsequent rebellion against God, something that happened when they ate fruit God had forbidden them to eat.
"Why," one person asked, speaking for all of us, I imagine, "would God give Adam and Eve this perfect world and yet plant within its midst this tree, the fruit from which had the possibility of ruining it all?" Why, in short, did God let this happen?
I suppose that we've all asked that question and I think that the person who offers facile answers is probably too big for his or her theological britches or else absolutely insensitive to the pain of others.
Let me give a quick, down and dirty response, though.
God made human beings to have an utterly unique relationship with Him. No other creature was created in the image of God, or had the capacity for sophisticated speech, or anticipating the future, or loving him back. All God's other creatures live on instinct. Humans have the capacity to override, control, or militate their instincts. (Granted, our ability to control instinct's power over us is marred by the common human condition of sin. But the power to rise above instinct is there nonetheless, a remnant of our original design.)
God is love, the New Testament tells us, meaning that God delights in nothing more than giving and sharing love. He doesn't need our love for Him. But because God knows what an absolute high it is to give as well as receive love, human beings, as part of being made in God's image, have the ability to return God's love to Him and so, experience all that it means to be fully alive.
But without the capacity for saying, "No" to love commitments to God, to His will for us, to our neighbors, or to our marriage partners, saying "Yes" is a meaningless thing. We aren't animals. We're human beings. God has taken the risk of our rejection, rejection which caused Him suffering on a cross when He came into the world in the Person of Jesus Christ, because of the possible rewards: our fellowship with Him forever.
God lets us live with similar relational risks because without them, saying Yes to God and to loving others would be meaningless. People will say, "No" to our love. But that hard possibility only makes the Yesses we receive from those who allow us to love them all the sweeter!
[You might want to read Genesis 2:4-3:19 for background.]
[Here's the sequel to this piece.]