There’s an old adage that says, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." It means if you want to have a different outcome than before, then you must change what you are doing. I feel like we as a society are stuck in an insanity do-loop. We keep expecting a different result but we just keep doing the same old thing. When our nation experiences some tragedy, we all pull out the same old phrase “God heal our land” or “pray for peace.” But what does all that really mean? Are we really willing to do anything differently so that those things will actually happen? Are people really going to start praying? And to whom are they offering their prayers? We can’t expect God to come heal our land when we refuse to even acknowledge that He exists. When we start crying out to God in these situations, it’s typically because we just want the “good” stuff from Him, the blessings. But are we willing to accept the “bad” stuff too? You know, like that whole judgment of sin thing. Or repentance.
We parade around as though we are our own gods, refusing to bow our knees to the Almighty Creator God, yet appeal to Him only in times of tragedy and grief. God does not command us to love Him only when something bad happens. He doesn’t ask for our prayers only when in sorrow. He commands us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. We are to love God at all times. And how do we do that? By knowing God and by keeping His commands. We deny knowing there is a Creator and refuse to submit to his Lordship, yet we demand His mercy be upon us.
And then we hear phrases about how love should triumph over hate. If we only loved more, then all these problems would go away. If only criminals would love more. If only the police would love more. If only terrorists would love more. If only we loved the terrorists more. But we have to be careful about that phrase as well. Just going around loving is actually not helpful at all. The criminal and the terrorist love their crimes and terror. So just saying this generic “love” doesn’t accomplish anything. In fact, there are certain things that we ought to hate. The criminal ought to hate crime. The terrorist must hate the harm they bring to other people. We must hate injustice. We must hate evil. We must hate sin. Romans 12:9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.” That seems like a straightforward thing to do. We can’t only love - because we must hate evil. We can’t only hate - because we must love good. The difficult thing now is what is the “good” that we are loving and what is the “evil” that we are hating? Do we have them confused? Isaiah 5:20 gives a strong warning concerning this. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” We must first understand to hate evil and love good. But we must verify that we have correctly identified what is good and what is evil!
How do you think we are doing on this? Are we calling sin good and acceptable, taking darkness and declaring it as light? And what about the things that are good and those who stand for it? Are we also calling them evil, asserting the light they shed on sin is them being in the dark? Our nation has taken things defined as sin and held them up as good and profitable. And at the same time, those who point out those issues as sin have been labeled as evil, as bigots, and whatever kind of “phobia” fits the situation. What is it that causes us to do this? The very next verse from Isaiah tells us how this happens. It says, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!” It means that when we as humans think we are wise enough to determine right and wrong is when we better watch out. When we use our own judgments for light and dark is when we will get them wrong. That is when we will begin to call evil good and good evil. And that is when we think “love” will fix everything. But we are loving the wrong things! We are embracing sin and rejecting purity. We have to use the Word of God to distinguish what is right and wrong, good and evil, or else we will fail every time. Now, I am not saying that all tragedies are because God is judging us as a sinful nation. What I am saying is it is ludicrous for us to demand His mercy and His love when we won’t acknowledge His existence and we won’t accept His lordship.
So in our typical response to evil, people just cry out for more love. I think we renamed a whole decade on this idea. But when we reject the concept of God, then we reject any concept of what love truly is. 1 John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.” So if you remove God from the equation, then how does one define love? Love would be defined by people, and it then becomes whatever you want it to be. It means that man gets to decide who to love, when to love, and how to love. On the surface it sounds like we should champion that idea. But man’s definition of love is exceedingly selfish and fickle. It means each person decides their own definition of love. But man loves selfishly, looking out for our own interests, instead of truly loving others. Of course we may like to think we do a good job on our own of loving others. But do we really? We may do a decent job of loving those people who love us. But what about loving our enemies? Loving the people you like is easy. It’s loving the people you don’t like that gets hard. Or even just as a simple as loving the people you do like when they’re not doing likeable things. Man-created love will love only when it benefits him, only when it’s easy, only when that love is returned in some way, or maybe only those who are just like him. God-centered love will love your enemies, will love when it’s difficult, will love when no one else chooses to love and who no one else chooses to love regardless of how different they may be.
To fully understand this, we can turn to one of the more popular passages from the Bible, particularly during wedding season. It’s called the “Love Chapter” after all. 1 Corinthians 13. Paul gives us an understanding of what true, Godly love is all about. Granted, since we typically only read this during marriage ceremonies we tend to only think of a spousal relationship with it. But it is applicable to all relationships. Love is patient (it doesn’t get fed up with other people, but suffers alongside), kind (gentle, a grace that mellows our sharp edges), rejoices in truth (celebrates when sound theological truth is rightly understood and applied), bears all things (protects and shelters), believes all things (assumes the best in others), hopes all things (optimism for the eternal hope in heaven), endures all things (remains under pressure instead of looking for an escape). Love is not jealous (envious of others’ gifts), not proud (does not brag), not rude (unbecoming), not selfish (meeting our own desires instead of someone else’s), not provoked (not tempted to anger, goaded into evil to strike back), not keeping records of other’s wrongs (love lets it go), does not rejoice in sin (how could love rejoice in that which killed Christ?). Love never fails. Honestly stop and consider, how well do you do those things with your family (or your children!)? With your friends? With your co-workers? With those whom you disagree? With those you don’t like?
Without this kind of love, everything we do is like a clanging cymbal – no music, just noise. We like to think we do well at this but when we honestly consider it, we rarely love our chosen friends and special family like this much less those people we don’t like to associate with. To be able to have this kind of love, it requires a submission of ourselves to the One who IS Love. So when the world demands “more love” but refuses to submit to the authority of love, they are just a clanging cymbal. No melody. No beauty. Just noise. Just selfishly loving those they like, those that give them something in return. And that kind of love will never change the world. To change the world, we must have Godly love. Yet the world will always hate that kind of love. Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Now, is that to say that God-centered love is played out perfectly among God-fearing believers? Of course not. Because we are still selfish humans. But it’s the Christian God who demonstrated what a perfectly, unselfish love looks like. God commanded us to love one another the way He loved us. And how did He love us? John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And it is that sacrificial, undeserved love that Jesus showed for us on the Cross.
Is it ever ok to question God?
In the class I teach at church, we have a phrase called the “church answer.” It’s the typical response that you know you’re supposed to give in church. It usually is something like “pray” or “read your Bible” or “Jesus,” those answers that we are supposed to give to certain questions. It’s usually those things that we all agree are good and fitting. You know, the church answer. But for the idea of questioning God, I’m afraid the common answer, the “church answer,” that people give would be no. We are not to question God. He is the Almighty Creator and questioning God shows lack of faith. And that is not allowed here.
But is that right? Well, we have to parse out what we mean by questioning God. There are times when it is ok to question God or even to have doubts. Having doubts and questions does not mean that you have no faith. In fact, some have described it that you are only able to doubt something once you have faith in it. Doubts are therefore from those who do believe. Otherwise, it is not doubt, it is simply outright rejection. So there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Alister McGrath explains the subtle difference here:
“Unbelief is a decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that He stands for. But doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith. It is a wistful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust…Doubt is natural within faith. It comes because of our human weakness and frailty.”
There are many Biblical examples that highlight the difference between this believing doubt and unbelief, questioning God verses rejecting God. One such moment comes from John the Baptist. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist, from prison, sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are You the coming one or do we look for another?” Even though John had been preaching in the wilderness about the coming Messiah and the coming judgment, even baptizing Jesus himself, hearing the Father’s voice from above, and witnessing the Spirit descend upon Him, he questioned. He still wanted to verify that Jesus was that One. So how did Jesus respond? Did he scoff and ridicule John? Did he discourage his question? Did he tell him to just have faith? No. Jesus referred him to the proof of who He was in a definitive way for John’s assurance – “the blind have sight, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” And then Jesus publicly praised John the Baptist, telling the people that there had been born no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet John had a moment of doubt!
In the Old Testament, when Job was enduring unimaginable suffering, he questioned God with the natural human response of why. Did God get angry with Job? Did God tell him to just have faith? No. God spoke to Job and referred him to the proof of who He was – the powerful, Almighty Creator who made everything in this world. And then God restored to Job all that he had lost and then some. Even though in that moment, Job doubted what God was doing, he did not persist in unbelief. He still had faith in God in the midst of his questions.
Many times believers may find themselves doubting what the Bible says about God or whether the Gospel is real or whether God is really there during a difficult time. And because of the church answer, that we are NOT to question God, it makes these people struggle with much more than the problem right in front of them. It makes them doubt whether they’re really a believer at all. It makes them feel like they are a failure to ever struggle with understanding things about God. It makes them shove that doubt into a dark corner where it can’t be addressed. Or, worse, it makes them take that doubt somewhere else to be answered because the church stood silent on it.
Psalm 34:4 says, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.” Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” And Matthew 7:8 says to seek and you will find. God assures us that if we truly seek after Him, that we will find Him. The word seeking implies searching…and questioning, not in an unbelieving way but in a frailty of human understanding way. In the church, we claim to want a seeker’s heart yet we act like only those that have already found all the answers are allowed in. If we truly want people seeking God, then sometimes that requires answering the questions of why. When we don’t allow them to ask why, we encourage them to seek for answers elsewhere.
A few weeks ago, I met a young man who had an incredible story about this very issue. He had dared to ask questions of why to his pastor, but that church leader discouraged him from doing so. He was basically told that people who have faith don’t ask questions and don’t have doubts. With such a dissatisfying response, he chose to find those answers elsewhere, a path that led him through Hinduism, Sikhism, atheism, and agnosticism. By the grace of God, he finally encountered a Christian who allowed those questions to be asked – and was even able to address them in a reasonable way. Through that experience he was brought back into faith in the God of the Bible. It breaks my heart to consider the path this man could have walked through those years had the church welcomed his questions and been open to the challenge of digging deep into the questions of faith. It says that maybe that particular pastor was afraid of doing so to dismiss anyone having questions. But now I must ask the question, “Why?” Why would the church ever be afraid of people’s questions? We know we have truth on our side. God is not afraid of our questions. God and His Word can withstand any question posed so let’s welcome the challenge, and allow those struggles, doubts, and insecurities to be addressed through Him and His Word instead of being answered by the world.
May we be like the father who asked Jesus to heal his son in Mark 9. Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”