So what is it with life then? How do we get out of the bad things that happen, the people dying, the illnesses, the financial disasters, the unemployment, the flat tires, the broken water pipes, the misbehaving children, the divorces and heartaches and hurt feelings and estrangements?
The short answer is that we don’t. Life has its bad moments; life has its good moments. That’s just the way of life. Why would you think it would be something other than it is? Why do you look at life as somehow shocking and unexpected? Who made you think that life was a trouble-free zone? You put your right foot in, you pull your right foot out, you put your left foot in and you shake it all about. You do the hokey-pokey and that’s what it’s all about.
Life is a struggle; it has lots of good times and some bad times in it. But what we have throughout life is God with us and the knowledge that he will always be with us, that he loves us desperately, that he in fact adores us, and that we will get to live with him forever. What we have, if we choose to keep our perspective, is the chance to remember who we are and where we’re going and where we’ve been.
If you imagine God is a magic fairy sprinkling magic fairy dust on us and that everything will always be beautiful, you’re going to spend a lot of time getting disappointed. God is not dependent upon me, nor is he someone of my own making that I can freely build out of my imagination any more than I can build a person out of whole cloth and thereby make them real.
A human being is not meaningful and real only as I determine; her reality is not dependent upon my feelings about what she might be like. She is objectively there, objectively has certain qualities regardless of me or my feelings. Her reality or lack thereof has nothing to do with how I conceive of her. What she is—that’s what she is.
If I conceive of my wife as picking up after herself, but she in fact leaves piles all over the house, will I rightly be disappointed when I find a pile of stuff on the dining room table? Or if you conceive of your husband as a good cook, does that mean he will cook you dinner tonight and it will turn out well? How disappointed will you be? If my wife conceives that I have a good sense of direction and she lets me drive and we head off to Disneyland, how disappointed will she be when we end up in Sacramento?
People lose faith in God, get disappointed by God, get mad at God because he doesn’t live up to their expectations of who he is. I’ve known people who were devastated by what they perceived as God’s failures.
But it wasn’t God who had failed. It was their conception of God who had failed. Too many people, believers and not, make up a strawman God.
The real God cannot fail you; only the God of your imagination can do that. If you don’t really know God, then your mistaken expectations will get you down all the time.
The God we worship was there during the Nazi Holocaust that ended in 1945, he was there while King Leopold II of Belgium became responsible for the slaughter of millions Africans in the Belgian Congo (between 1885 to1908.) But he is also the God who counts the hair on our head and knows when a sparrow falls; so yeah, he knew what was happening.
Sometimes God intervenes, sometimes not. He raised some to life, left others to rot; healed a handful of blind people, left the overwhelming majority in blindness, left most lepers to lose parts of themselves and live in isolation from the rest of society, and so on. But sometimes he tweaks the world, sometimes he rescues.,
Is there a reason that some of the people of God prosper, while others are martyred? Yes. Is there a formula that will get you in the prosperous group? A ten-part step by step plan on how to avoid getting beheaded by ISIS? No. Time and chance happen to all. There is no pattern, no commonality between those spared, those blessed, those who suffer. No discernible difference between the family whose child dies of cancer and all those families who have children who never get it, or those who get well. We’d like it if there was a pattern. Some people write books and offer seminars where they claim to have the answer. My charitable response is that they are mistaken, on the order of someone who looks at a taco an imagines they see the face of Jesus in it. Or who sees the shape of a cow in the clouds. We can see patterns that are not necessarily there. My uncharitable response is that they are charlatans out to separate you from your money and to destroy your faith because if you put your faith in the God they are peddling, you’ll sooner or later find that God is not there for you.