I have been discouraged lately, pondering the age-old dilemma of why God allows suffering when He has the power to intervene and halt said suffering. I've also been troubled why He seems to allow evildoers to prosper while I'm allowed to languish, sometimes at their doings. Where, I've wondered, is the justice in all this? This has been especially troubling to me when the evildoer claims to be acting at the direction of God Himself but reflects an attitude or a characteristic that is far from the heart of God. Of course, anyone who knows me, knows that I'm the "Fairness Czar" -in my mind everything has to be completely fair down to the slice of cake I'm splitting with someone else.
This past Labor Day weekend, I had the opportunity to stay mostly by myself at our Lake Arrowhead home, although my brother and his dog popped by Saturday night and left Sunday afternoon. My roommate Laura had gone with her college students on a retreat and so there I was watching DVDs, resting, cleaning, and praying/complaining to God. As I mentioned, my brother came up Saturday night and so we decided to watch the DVD, "Gods and Generals"
. This is a four hour long Civil War drama, largely focusing on the life and death of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a devout Christian man. It recreates the bloody battle of Fredricksburgh in which the Union troops marched up a hill in an open field only to be massacred by Confederate rifleman and artillery shooting from behind the stonewall at the top of the hill.
One of the things that struck about this story was that on one side you have Stonewall Jackson praying fervently for God's blessing and protection in battle -he saw the war as the "Second War for Independence" and that he was defending his state from the tyranny and oppression of the Northerners. He attributed battle victories to God's divine providence and direct answers to prayer, even comparing his situation to Joshua fighting the Amalekites. He felt it was God's will to "kill every last one of the invaders." In contrast, Colonel Chamberlain of the Union Army, another devout believer, is shown writing to his wife about the "justness" of his Maine battalion's battle to preserve the Union. In one scene, Chamberlain explains to his younger brother that "while I don't doubt the integrity of the Southerners" who view this war as the means of protecting their homeland and freedom, "I take issue with those that would fight for their own freedom while denying the same to a whole race of men."
I had this epiphany - here were two men, both sincerely believed that God was directing them in their endeavors, both felt that he would bless and give victory, both prayed and sought God's guidance. One saw the slaughter of hundreds of his comrades, mostly due to the stubbornness of the commanding Union general, Ambrose Burnside while the other is later killed by friendly fire while riding to safety after a victorious battle. Whose prayer did God answer? Whose petition did He favor? This helped me immensely in my struggle because I often have opponents who believe that they are just as right, they are just as godly in what they are attempting to do (sometimes they think that they are even more right or more godly in their actions and thoughts.)
The problem is that we can be fully convinced of the "rightness" of our beliefs but that doesn't mean that they are necessarily in line with God's plan. One hundred forty-five years later, we can judge that Jackson's assessment of God's will for the North and the South was wrong, but how do we know in the moment? A person might be fully convinced in his own mind that what he is doing "is good, acceptable and perfect", but how can he really know for sure? Self-deception is an easy trap to fall into -this is what I want, what makes me happy and of course, God wants all that for me too. You can follow all the "right steps" in trying to determine God's will -reading the Bible, praying, asking the godly advice of others and still come to a wrong conclusion.
I would bring some additional caveats to this process:
1. Does what I'm about to do help or harm the message of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God? What will my Christian witness be like among the lost if I were to get "my way"?
2. God's says that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. So does what we are comtemplating sound like mere human reasoning? Is it about feeding the appetites of our flesh and/or stroking our own ego? Don't try to twist Scripture to justify these things.
3. How does what I am planning affect my fellow believers? Are they edified by my actions? Brought closer in relationship to God and others?
4. How do I now feel about those with a contrary view? Can I disagree agreeably or must I persuade them to adopt my side or else?
5. God is sovereign and He sees all. He sees what I and my opponents do not. Life has taught me much over the years. God has used life to school me and give me wisdom I did not have years ago. Younger ones (not necessarily chronological age, but young in spiritual experience) still need to endure that process themselves in order to gain it as well.
6. Sometimes people are just plain evil -their hearts are devising wicked schemes. They only care about themselves. Avoid these people. Know that one day, they will get theirs.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)