Not too long ago I was required to write a paper in a Question and Answer format via an imaginary dialogue between two friends for an online class. It was to begin with the first question found below and then to be followed by questions and answers I believed could naturally occur.
Two friends are sitting in their favorite coffee shop early on Saturday morning. Roger is sipping a medium cup of Sumatra with two shots of espresso floating on top – his favorite ‘wake me up’ coffee. Dean, meanwhile, is enjoying his favorite, a mocha latte. They have come together this rainy morning to discuss Roger’s questions about God and religion.
“I am going to start with one of my most difficult questions concerning God and religion”, Roger said. “How can you and other believers say God is loving and all-powerful, yet there is such evil and suffering in the world he made?”
Dean hesitated to answer. He wanted to get it right. “Well let me start at the beginning and then go past that. I’m sure you are aware of the story of creation and the sin of Adam and Eve leading man to a fallen state. Before you ask, a fallen state means that we are all born with a nature that will lead us to sin without God in our lives,” Dean said. Holding up his hand Dean continued, “Now no one really talks about it, but we don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden before they violated the one command God had given Adam. I think we can assume it was a long time.”
Roger interrupted, “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well,” Dean replied, “it shows they lived in harmony with their creator for some time with God as a normal part of their lives. Knowledge of that was part of their being and their memories. Are we okay so far?”
“Yes, but I really don’t know where this is going” Roger said.
“I know. It takes a bit. You see in the Garden, Adam and Eve directly experienced the love of their creator. It was not until after their fall, that people began to forget about God and went about doing more than eating forbidden fruit,” Roger explained. “You can see it when Cain killed Abel decades later. God was not involved. In fact God was excluded by Cain. Earlier, God had rejected Cain’s offering to Him, but accepted Abel’s. Cain became incredibly angry and when God saw Cain’s anger he lovingly intervened, explaining how Cain could make a proper offering and warning him about the great danger of letting his anger control him. It’s obvious Cain rejected God’s personal intervention and committed the first murder known to man,” Dean finished quietly.
Roger then asked, “Are you trying to tell me the evil and suffering in our world today result from us, humanity, rejecting God’s advice and love?”
Dean, looking directly into Roger’s eyes said, “That’s exactly what I am telling you.”
After a long pause, Roger said, “Okay, I’m not fully convinced, but let me ask another question. Can you show one example in today’s world where the reverse is true? Where people accept God’s intervention and his love and He changes their lives?”
“Roger, that’s almost too easy. Almost, because it is so sad,” Dean replied and then turned quiet.
“What do you mean, “too easy” and “so sad”,” Roger asked?
“It’s because it is so common and because it happens even when folks don’t necessarily accept Christ, but accept God,” Dean began. “You see Alcoholics Anonymous has a twelve step program where their number one step is to accept they have no power to overcome their addiction, their alcoholism, their sin without help. The number two step, they accept a belief in God or some higher power other than themselves is necessary to restore them to a life without alcohol running their lives. In fact, I have often heard number two said this way, “There is a God and he ain’t me and I need him”,” Dean said quietly.
“Is that it,” Roger asked? “Or is there more to it?”
“Of course there is more to it. I only gave the first two steps of the twelve, but those two steps are the foundation for all that follow. I personally know individuals who have found God through AA and with His help have made a life of sobriety for themselves,” Dean said. He then added, “Some of them are relatives of mine. I would be glad to introduce you if you like.”
“Maybe later and I will give you credit for this answer, but it’s not what I expected,” Roger said.
Both Roger and Dean had finished their coffee. The rain had stopped some time ago and the sun was shining.
Roger asked if they could go outside and walk while they talked. When Dean said okay they headed outside and Roger asked, “Ready for the next question?”
“As ready as God permits me to be,” Dean smiled in reply.
“This one is not going to be so easy,” Dean said and continued with, “Our fathers and uncles fought in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. How can God permit such suffering and war on a scale never seen before? And why does man need God to set the rules so to speak instead of determining the rules himself for the best of mankind?” And then he stopped.
Dean rubbed his chin as they walked and he thought for a minute before answering. “Okay, I will grant you, your double question, if I can use the answer to the second to help answer the first one. Agreed,” he asked?
“Answer them in any order you wish,” Roger replied.
“Okay, here goes. Man can determine his own rules to live by, but they will never be absolute simply because man made them. Look around you. We see it in politics all the time. Rules made for one purpose used for another or twisted to mean something else. Man will always find some way, some excuse to do something he thinks is more important than the rules he is living by, unless they are God’s rules and they are absolute,” Dean argued.
With raised eyebrows Roger said, “Is that it? Is that all you have?”
“Nope, just getting to the point,” Dean replied. He continued, “Even with God’s rules man will twist them from time to time to try to make them mean what he wants in his fallen nature instead of what God wants. This twisting happened a number of times in the Old Testament and continued in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it led to the fall of Jerusalem because God was so disgusted with how His people treated widows, orphans, and the poor. God, in effect, divorced His people as a nation for a time.”
They walked a little further before Dean said, “It was worse for our fathers and uncles and the rest of the world during and after World War II. Nazi Germany had no God except man. Communist Russia had no God other than the state and a leader after the war. It was the same for Communist China after the war. God was the state and Mao. Then after the Korean War, North Korea shut down entirely. After Vietnam, well we know what happened to the people of the South and the people of Cambodia.”
Waiting for a light before crossing the street, Dean went on as they crossed over, “There was no brake on the evil committed. God was not there. It was Cain writ large across the world, acting on a scale unknown to man before. Nazi Germany’s killing of those thought not perfect enough to contribute to the ‘master race’ along with the gypsies, homosexuals, and millions of Jews is well known. Russia and China killed tens of millions in their death camps after the war. The camps were known as re-education camps or labor camps. Vietnam’s re-education camps killed or tortured anyone with an education. Cambodia killed millions, over half of their own countrymen.” Dean added for emphasis, “Over half! Do you get that? That is evil without God, without His love!”
Spying a bench just a bit further up the sidewalk, Roger asked, “Hey can we slow down, sit down, and relax for a moment? You got pretty worked up back there.”
After sitting down and taking a few deep breaths, Dean said, “Sorry, but I get pretty intense about this. The twentieth century is an incredible testament of the evil man is capable of if he is not restrained or constrained by God. Now, did I answer your double question?”
“Yeah you did. But again not as I expected. Ready for the next question” Roger asked? Dean nodded his agreement.
“Okay, then I will go for a double again. Homosexuality? Why does God make men and women that way and why is wrong for them to love one another,” Roger asked?
“I guess this is the question of the day, but my answers may surprise you even more than my earlier ones. You see, I don’t know why God makes men and women that way or if he actually does,” Dean replied.
Dean held up his hand again to stave off Roger’s objection. “I know, I know. Many say homosexuals are born that way. I don’t really know. I personally don’t accept that they are from the evidence I have looked at. However, for the sake of argument and your question, I will accept your premise that they are ‘born that way’,” Dean said. “With that as a given, they do not have to practice or perform the acts associated with homosexuality. Feelings and acts are two different things. I know the argument, if you are born that way why is it not okay to act out how you are born? That’s a fair question right,” he asked?
Roger nodded in affirmation. Dean continued, “Well, I know you and I know myself. Neither of us was born monogamous were we? I mean I KNOW the kind of life we lived before we got married. If we wanted, we could live a lie, a life without monogamy and practice our non-monogamous nature couldn’t we?”
After a long pause Dean went on, “Sorry about getting personal, but this is reality. I don’t know about you but I have been tempted many times. A few times I almost fell to the temptation. Only prayer and God kept me monogamous on those occasions. It can be the same for a homosexual as well. He or she does not have to do what we are told is only natural. I have had a homosexual man tell me that I just didn’t want to let them love each other. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I love lots of men, but I don’t have sex with any of them.” He turned and walked off. We never talked again.”
Looking off into the distance, Dean asked, “Can I add a bit more before I let you ask your last question for the day?”
“Sure,” Roger replied.
“Imagine a world where any behavior was approved if it could only be shown to be how one was born. Ever been so angry you wanted to kill someone? I have. But again, I am glad I did not act on what I thought were my natural feelings,” said Dean. “Are we okay with my answer?”
Roger nodded yes, and then said, “Here is my last one for the day.”
Roger added, “Sorry, but it’s another double one. Why does God care? And how do we know he cares, that he loves us?”
Dean had been staring down at the sidewalk between his shoes, now slowly looked up and smiled, really smiled for the first time that morning. “I’m glad to answer your double again. Once again the answers are related. Remember my answers started back in creation, right,” he asked?
“Yeah, yeah, I remember,” Roger answered.
“Good because the answer begins there. You see the biblical account in Genesis tells us God made us in His image. We were not made as His image, but in His image. He made us different from everything else he created. He made us with love. He breathed His breathe into us to make us alive. He did that for no other creature. In fact Adam got a wife, because he did not want Adam to be alone, he loved Adam just as he loves us. Why he did this I am not so sure. But he did do it and it’s true he loves us,” Dean said.
“Now about today, how do we know He cares? That answer goes back about 2,000 years. God’s only son, Jesus Christ, died on a cross for our sins so that if we accepted His grace through His son, repented of all our sins, we could be reunited with God as our Father. Compare this to what AA does with their twelve steps. It is similar, but very different as it involves a specific knowledge of what God is offering – the sacrifice of his son for our sins so that we might join Jesus in heaven with His Father, our Father,” Dean said with a smile now covering his whole face.
Roger was quiet and so was Dean. After the silence had continued on for some time, Dean said, “Let me ask you a question now. Would you like to accept Christ into your heart, confess your sins to God – not me – and begin to know your heavenly Father?”
End or New Beginning?
McGrath, A. (Ed.) (2007). The Christian Theology Reader. (3rd
ed.). Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK
Online Bible (n.d.), http://www.biblegateway.com/