Standing on our Heads
It seems to me that everyone who denies the existence of God does so for the same reason. Oh, they will give different reasons, some intellectual, others emotional. But when you dig down beneath the surface and examine the heart of their argument, it usually boils down to this: If I were God, things would be different. Things are not different, therefore there is no God.
We are told that God is omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing). We are also told that God is perfectly good and perfectly just. Yet we look around and see suffering in the world. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. How can a God who is both all-good and all-powerful allow this?
Philosophers have been addressing this problem for ages. Perhaps God is not good. Perhaps He is indifferent. Or perhaps God is not omnipotent and is powerless to stop suffering. But if God is not good then where does goodness come from? Why do we even have a sense of goodness and what does it point to if not God? And if God is not omnipotent then how did He create the universe? It takes an infinite power to create something out of nothing. Perhaps God does not exist at all, which is the position the atheists take. In that case we are the most pitiable of all creatures, with a finite, pointless existence that means nothing to an uncaring universe.
But we approach the question wrongly by thinking this is a problem with God. It is not. It is a problem with us. We look at the world around us from our limited perspective and declare it unjust. But what do we know of justice? We suffer and complain it is not good. But what do we know of goodness? We have a limited understanding of these concepts but God created them. So if God fails to live up to our expectations, which is more likely; that God is wrong or that our expectations are wrong?
God has a way of defying our expectations. Throughout the course of history, anyone who has had a direct encounter with God has been completely changed by the experience, from Moses and Job, to Peter and Paul. God changes our perspective. He shatters our assumptions. He stands us on our heads.
We demand explanations from God and expect Him to give us an answer. But God does not answer to us. It is we who must give answer before God. This is why Jesus never seems to give a straight answer to any question He is asked. He turns things back to the questioners in a way that demands a response from them.
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mk 10:35-45), James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, tell Him, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Isn’t this how we often approach God in our prayers? Do for me whatever I ask of you! And when we do not get the answer we expect, we find fault with God.
What James and John ask for is to share in Christ’s glory, which indeed is a good desire. But Christ shows them that they have no idea what that means. For His glory is not in His greatness and power, but in His meekness and weakness. His glory lies not in majesty but in humility. Of course Christ is great and powerful and majestic. But his greatness lies in His love, and lovers sacrifice themselves for their beloved. Christ loves more than anyone and so He suffers more than anyone. He is greatly humble. He is powerfully meek.
Christ turns our expectations on their heads. He says, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant,” and, “whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” He says He “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life.” When James and John ask to share in Christ’s glory, they are asking to share in His sacrifice. When we pray to become more Christ-like, we ask for the same thing.
When we ask God, “Why is there suffering in the world,” God turns the question back on us. If He were to look down upon you from the cross and ask you why He is suffering, would you have the guts to admit that it is for your sake? That it is because He loves you? He shows us that we are worth suffering for.
God’s answer to our big questions is not a formula or an argument or an equation. God answers us in a way that we never could have imagined, and certainly do not deserve. He offers us not an answer. He offers us Himself.