Last modified: Aug 21, 2016

Dark Night

It was supposed to be a fun weekend.

Major blockbuster movie premiere. Midnight shows at every theater around. Long lines. Large crowds. Painted faces. People bragging about how they watched Christopher Nolan films before he became the superstar director he is now.

And once you got seated in the theater, you expected to not be bothered by trivial matters around you. Your phones were off. Your bodies shifted from states of calm to states of anxiousness — all because of the impending brilliance you were about to behold on the screen in front of you.

And that was supposed to be it. It was supposed to be 2.5 hours of just you, your grossly expensive theater snacks and beverages, and the Christopher Nolan gem playing out on the screen.

And then it all changed.


The Senselessness

According to friends and family, James Holmes “exhibited no signs of a troubled mind.” He seemed normal. He washed his parents’ car. He was nice to little kids in his neighborhood.

Oh, and he was brilliant. How brilliant? In February 2011, he was invited by the University of Arizona to a weekend specifically designed for “outstanding” applicants for their graduate program in neuroscience.

And, maybe that’s why his senseless act of violence in Aurora, Colorado after midnight on July 20, 2012 makes even less sense than it already doesn’t.

Dressed head-to-toe in riot gear that would make even the producers of the Dark Knight trilogy jealous, Holmes walked into the crowded theater and carried out his methodical devastation. He hurled smoke bombs into the air, indiscriminately sprayed bullets at the crowd, and exited to the parking lot. Police found him “standing by his white Hyundai.”

And, even after the carnage and the blood and the screams that he single-handedly spawned behind him, he had the wherewithal to warn the arresting officers that his “apartment was rigged with explosives” — a warning that would undoubtedly save the lives of the officers sent to clear the trap-laden apartment and the lives of the people that Holmes knew as neighbors.

I’m not going to assume that Holmes actually intended to save anybody from the potential explosive mess at his apartment. It wouldn’t be reasonable for me to make him out to be some sort of misunderstood hero of sorts. Truth be told, he’s probably not. In fact, it’s inexplicable just how, in the span of mere minutes, “Holmes had gone from a proud example of a successful graduate… to one of the most hated people in the country.”

What do we make of the dichotomous killer? What do we make of any of the senselessness he exhibited?


The Loss

I remember sifting through Twitter the next day for news about the shooting. I was too lazy to read through long-winded articles on the plethora of news sites that were expounding on the massacre as more details emerged. I didn’t want to watch TV and sit through commercials about what happens when an M&M is mistaken for being naked just to figure out what was going on two time zones away from me out in Colorado.

So, I scrolled through the flood of tweets about the shooting and I came across a link to a memorial piece written by Jesse Spector, a sportswriter whose articles I had read in the past. I wasn’t immediately aware of his connection to Jessica Redfield (for whom the piece was written), but, as I pored over the honest article, things started to make sense.

And Jessica Redfield’s final Twitter conversation (along with one final sarcastic reply to Spector) became a harrowing reminder of the brevity of life.

28 minutes later, the movie started playing.

33 minutes after that, in the commotion and chaos of gunshots and screams, Jessica (her given surname was Gwahi) was gone.

She was 1 of the 12 that were gunned down and killed. 58 other people were injured.

Parents lost children. Children lost parents. Brothers, sisters, families, friends. Gone. Relationships forever shaken.

And for what? Is there any explanation that could make the hurt go away? Is there any way to undo the horrifying things that have already been done?

The loss is unbearable. Let me not, for even a moment, attempt to diminish that truth.

The loss is unfair. Terrible. Crushing. Depressing.

But there is hope.


Horrible Ambiguities

It’s tough being Christian when the suffering around us brings us to our knees. When bad things happen to good people. When tsunamis level shorelines. When earthquakes and hurricanes ravage infrastructure. When the stock market crashes and turns our prudent investments into pathetic follies.

Why does God allow evil? And bad? And struggle?

It’s difficult to explain.

On the one hand, we want to believe that God is good. We’ve read about those good things in the Bible. We’ve heard uplifting stories in Sunday School. We’ve got feel-good verses plastered across our bedroom walls.

And all of those things make it all the more difficult to reconcile the evils in the world.

But this irreconcilability often doesn’t fully resonate with us until the evil or tragedy hits close to home. We face the injustice of life’s briefness when somebody close to us dies. We face the fallibility of our bodies when somebody close to us suffers through a debilitating disease.

We realize we’re mortal when the gravity of our own mortality becomes inescapable. And, to be honest, this is difficult to wrap our minds around.

So, we ask questions. Often, they’re rhetorical, but we’d like to think there are concrete answers to all of them… Why is there evil? Why does evil happen? … And, even deeper still, why does God allow for evils to happen? Does He allow evils to happen? Didn’t God call His creation “good” all those years ago when Genesis 1 was coming to fruition? Why do things have to be this way?

Renowned theologian N.T. Wright addresses the problem of evil often in his literature and lectures. And, even though he’s a foremost thinker and respected scholar, it would be ridiculous for one to say that he has all the answers to all the questions we pose on the matter. But, his attempt at reconciling the problem of evil is worth reading. In a transcript of one of his lectures, Wright explains, “It’s a matter of God loving his world so much that, faced with evil within it, he will work precisely within it, despite all the horrible ambiguities that will result.”

This is where things get tricky. Evil isn’t pretty. And when Christendom talks of an omnibenevolent (i.e. an infinitely loving) God, one conjures up an image of a world that is only pretty.

But I find peace in Wright’s explanation. Specifically, I am content with the 3 assertions he makes: that God does love us, that God will work within this world, and that there will be “horrible ambiguities” that result from His work.

My goal in this post will not be to leave you with a flurry of thought-provoking questions. That would be too easy. Rather, I intend to share the answers which most resonate for me. I intend to explain how I make sense of the “horrible ambiguities” in the world around me, using Wright’s explanation as a model.

Maybe you will see things the way I do. Maybe you won’t.

But I hope this directly or indirectly helps somebody.


The Foundation

Let’s begin.

In order to reconcile the “horrible ambiguities” of this world, Christians must first have a foundation on which it is worth standing. We call this foundation “faith.” Hebrews 11 defines it as “trust in God… the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living… [and] our handle on what we can’t see.”

The best imagery I can produce to explain the importance of faith is found in Matthew 7:24–27. The stronger the foundation, the more resilient your “house” is. The weaker your foundation, the less resilient your “house” is.

At the core of Christianity, our foundation is a fundamental faith in God and the Word. Our foundation is not the leanings of the media, horoscopes, fortune cookies, luck, bettor’s odds, or how good we feel about our hunches.

Sounds simple enough. Maybe this is all a bit redundant for the Sunday School graduates among you. So, let me push the envelope a bit.

I’d like to posit that there does not exist a gradation with respect to faith. In other words, you can either fully trust in something… or not. You can’t have 70% faith. Or 60%. Or 50%. Or kinda sorta have faith. Or kinda sorta not have faith.

You can either have faith… or not. In other words, you either fully believe in something or you don’t… (Now, I understand that many philosophers would want me to believe that we cannot have complete faith without having some doubt — as paradoxical as that may sound. Some will say that God’s mysteries will naturally render us creatures of doubt — because we can’t ever fully grasp these mysteries. But, I disagree. I don’t believe “not understanding mysteries” means we necessarily “doubt” God. Rather, I believe coming to grips with our ignorance towards these mysteries strengthens our faith in a fully sovereign God. I’ll expound on this later.)

Suffering and evil prove to be profound tests of faith. But, if our foundation is wholly God and the Word, we can be buoyed by the hope that we find in Him. Maybe this is why C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” For Lewis and the whole lot of Christendom, the allure of the hope of heaven trumps the daunting entropy of life on earth.

In fact, the trajectory of scripture points towards a future of eternal life for those that hold on. For those that hang in there. For those that persevere. For those that live their lives “believing in Him.”

There is more to this life than suffering, tears, pain, and death. Much more.

Fully trust in the foundation.


In Control

Before sharing with you what I believe about sovereignty, I must admit that I am fully aware that my words are tinged with the beliefs to which I subscribe.

I’m what one would call a 4-Point Calvinist. (With regards to “TULIP” and soteriology, I find myself grappling with the explanations of “Limited Atonement.” I do believe that I’m coming to terms with it, however. And then, I guess, I can finally be labelled a 5-Pointer.)

So, when I start sharing about God’s sovereignty, you must understand that the topic holds a tremendous weight for me in light of my theological beliefs. I want to be fair and get that out of the way. Could you disagree with me? Sure. And, by all means, if you have any questions, feel free to pick my brain later. I’ll do my best to share what I’ve read, surmised, and learned.

To begin, I wholeheartedly believe in God’s sovereignty. I believe God is in control. That nothing happens outside the bounds of His omniscience — which, by definition, could have no bounds anyway.

I don’t need a head nod or an air high-five. Just follow me on this.

We stand up at church during our annual New Year’s Eve services, sharing our testimonies of God’s goodness in our lives over the previous year, making sure to emphasize that God single-handedly brought us there safely. We sing songs with lyrics that recognize the gravity of God’s control (e.g. “Grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home”). We spent the ’90s pumping up the volume to Twila Paris’ mega-hit and singing like fools into our imaginary microphones… (Ok, maybe that was just me.)

The truth is that we lavish God with a blinding recognition of just how sovereign He is… only to not really give much credence to what we’re actually asserting.

Do we realize that by uttering “God is in control” we actually mean that God is in control? Or is it just a really nice, poetic, pretty thing to say when we are around other Christians who are likely to smile and nod when they hear us say it?

And it’s not just “sovereignty” that we tend to gloss over. The harrowing thing about modern Christianity is that I can spend the next 5 minutes asking you about “mercy” and “grace” and “glory” and I am compelled to believe that a vast majority of the readership would not intimately know what each of those terms/phrases means.

We go to conferences, we lift our hands, we tweet all the great quotes we heard from the speakers, and we head back to our homes on the latest spiritual high. But do we even know what we’re singing about? When we sing about “mercy” and “grace” and “glory”, do we realize how heavy it is? Do we care at all?

Is this symptomatic of a rapidly-dying need to know what Christian tenets are all about or is it symptomatic of a rapidly-rising need to merely feel good about Christianity? I believe that we, as a collective church, unfortunately, have neglected the substance of the Word for the lights, color, and “splash” of modern Christianity. And that’s troubling. (I should clarify that I do believe there exists a balance between both avenues. We just need to find it.)

I believe in God’s sovereignty. I believe that He is in control. And this one thing helps to bolster my foundation of faith in Him and His Word. I believe that God is God and God is good — no matter how much evil or suffering or devastation I see in the world around me.

No, I don’t fully comprehend just how incredibly small Job must have felt when God reminded him of His sovereignty. Or when God reminded Isaiah. Or when Jeremiah came to grips with it.

I don’t fully comprehend any of it. And that’s okay! Because I’m forced to accept that I am absolutely, undeniably, wholly dependent on God. I’m forced to accept that the foundation on which I’ve chosen to build my “house” is 100% God. Not media hype. Not flavors of the month. Nothing. Except for God.

I can comfortably nod my head and give the writer of Psalm 86 an air high-five, because I have that same trust in Him. Through the good and the bad and all of the middle ground, my foundation has been established and nothing’s going to shake that.

It took me a while to realize that God’s sovereignty is not dependent on my understanding of His sovereignty. Just like Job and Isaiah and Jeremiah understood before me, God remains sovereign whether we accept He is or not.

Now, I understand that accepting God is sovereign won’t immediately and necessarily reconcile the problem of evil with His omnibenevolence. But it goes a long way towards it. Because you start accepting the chasm that exists between human understanding and God’s sovereignty over His creation. You start accepting just how little we comprehend of the world to begin with. The world He created.

You’ve got to ask yourself a few questions before continuing. First, do you believe God is sovereign? Secondly, are you just saying that?

Your answers to those two questions will color the way you view the “horrible ambiguities” of this world.


Greater Good

I was at Sunday morning Bible study at church a few weeks ago. It was right at the end of class and we had been talking about suffering and other related topics. As everybody was getting up and heading upstairs to the sanctuary, our moderator ended the class with a question that rendered all of us speechless. He pointed at a young father in our group and asked, “Would he knowingly give his daughter cancer?”

Amidst the noise of folding metal chairs and the boisterous exiting of the room, the few of us who had heard the question shook our heads. We knew what he meant by the dramatic query. If this young father, who undoubtedly loved his daughter with every fiber of his being, wouldn’t knowingly give his daughter cancer, then why would God — who is the perfect amplification of an earthly father — give any of us anything inherently bad?

I walked upstairs quietly. But, as I mulled it over in my head over the course of the day, I realized that it was a loaded question. What if we changed the perspective slightly?

Let’s say that Bob, the earthly father in this analogy, sits in his kitchen one morning and sees his 2-year-old daughter leap up and try to touch a hot plate on the stove. He scolds her for it and barks “No” at her. She turns, looks at him, realizes he’s telling her not to. And stops jumping.

The next day, Bob is back in the kitchen. His daughter arrives and promptly begins to leap up to try to touch the hot plate on the stove again. Bob scolds her… again. She stops. This goes on for a few days, until Bob realizes (because his understanding is greater than the understanding of his 2-year-old daughter) that the hot plate isn’t dangerously hot and that allowing his daughter to (i.e. not stopping her from) reaching up and touching it would potentially teach her not to reach for a hot plate ever again. The “greater good” here of potentially teaching his daughter an important life lesson (i.e. fire is hot!) would outweigh the pain she’d suffer from touching the plate.

Granted, real world pain tends to be far greater than the slight charring of fingertips against a hot plate on a stove. And, I’ll also concede that the analogy here fails a bit because the understanding of Bob is infinitely dwarfed by the understanding of God… But do you see that this scenario no longer carries the ho-hum reaction that the cancer dilemma posed?

I wouldn’t do justice to philosophy if I didn’t spend dozens of pages explaining the difference between “perfect will” and “permissive will.” But, I just don’t have the patience to do so. Simply put, God Himself carries out certain acts and He permits other acts. Where am I going with this? Maybe God doesn’t want you to get burned by the hot plate, but maybe He’ll allow you to touch it because He understands the greater good of the ramifications of your action. Much like the 2-year-old’s obliviousness to her father’s understanding, we may, also, be totally oblivious to the mechanisms God employs to accomplish the greater good in the world.

I’m not asking for you to buy into anything I’m positing here. Just mull it over like I did. I’m not telling you that God wants to give you cancer or that He wants to wreck your car or that He wants your house to burn down in flames. But I’m merely positing that God’s sovereignty and permissive will could give Him the freedom to allow for those things. As difficult as it seems to sound.

Now, I could go through the entire book of Job to explain how reasonable this position (i.e. God could permit bad things to happen at least some of the time) actually could be, but I won’t get into that yet. Just think about it. I’ll expound on this later.

What if God has a “greater good” in mind? What if we just can’t see it?


The Communication

My parents have always told me to let them know if I need anything. Big or small. Insignificant or pertinent. They promised to help me with anything.

To be honest, they’ve been incredibly reliable about their promise. From lunch money to a car repair, they’ve been there when I’ve asked. And it’s not that they’ve been there for every single request. They haven’t. But I’ve come to understand and appreciate how much they’ve helped me out when I truly needed it.

But what if 100% of my communications with my parents consisted of requests? What if there was no hello or thank-you or how-are-you or what’s-that-mean or where’s-that-from? What if my only form of communication with them was varying forms of can-i-have-something? They did tell me to let them know if I ever needed anything. I’d merely be accepting that offer, right? But, would I have any sort of meaningful relationship with my parents if I never bothered to talk about anything other than requests?

In many ways, Christians have run wild with “Ask and you will receive.” We have coupled that verse with 1 Thessalonians 5:17 so that our understanding of prayer can be broken down into our very own Prosperity Gospel twist on prayer. A kind of 1 Prosperity 1:1, if you will. “Ask and you will receive without ceasing and you’ll always get anything you want.” That’s become our very own verse. That’s become the gist of our prayer. That’s become our interpretation of the scriptures. And it’s troubling.

Now, I know that there’s truth in those passages. In the promises. That God hears us. But I’m convinced that the Prosperity Gospels and Feel Good Gospels and Get What You Desire Gospels have marginalized “true communication with God” in favor of “asking God for stuff.” We talk to God when we need something and not when we just want to talk for a bit. We want for things to go our way and not necessarily for His will to be done. (Remember that even Christ taught the disciples to pray by reminding them to pray for God’s will to be done.)

We need to change our perspective on prayer. It isn’t about merely getting stuff. It isn’t merely about having more stuff to be thankful about. The truth is that prayer isn’t about results we can brag about; it’s about a relationship that’s forged from the communication taking place.

The consequence of that relationship is something that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard understood well enough to explain: “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Prayer is transformative, and not necessarily just transactive… even though we have only bothered to understand it for the latter.

The important thing to note is that God doesn’t even necessarily answer all prayers. If you don’t like how that sounds, don’t read Proverbs 28:9 or 2 Samuel 12:15–18. Sometimes, the “greater good” that God has in mind for us requires that we, like the apostle Paul, are reminded that His grace is sufficient. That, through Him, we find strength in our weakness. That, in Him, we have everything we are looking for.

It’s not the healing for which we pray. It’s not the money. It’s not even the peace of mind. Or comfort. Or rest… We find, in prayer, Him. Our communications become more than a conglomeration of sophisticated requests and, instead, become discussions with the Father who knows what’s best, can give us what we truly need, and who is the author and finisher of our faith.

We need to shift our perspective on prayer so that it becomes less of “Ask and you will receive without ceasing and you’ll always get anything you want” and more of “God, I absolutely need You.”

God is not a conciliatory genie; He is a creative genius. Talk to Him. You’ll see it pretty quickly. And, more importantly, you’ll become lost in His indomitable sovereignty and inch closer and closer toward reconciling the problem of evil with a God who’s perfectly good.


The Beam

We must shift our perspective on suffering. On prayer. On what’s good and what’s bad… But how?

In his “Meditation In A Toolshed”, C.S. Lewis opens with a fantastic illustration concerning perspective and its influence on our interpretations.

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

“Looking along” and “looking at” something both produce totally different results. And that is something I believe that we need to understand.

Just like the aforementioned story of Bob and his daughter, what we see as “Bob wants his child to burn and suffer” may, in reality, be explained by a simple “Bob wants to teach his daughter a valuable life lesson so that she never touches a hot plate on a stove ever again.”

Just like when our prayers are anchored by our cries of “Me! Me! Me!” when God, on the other hand, views those moments as “We finally get to do some talking now.”

To fully comprehend how an omnibenevolent God could work within a world of evil to produce “horrible ambiguities”, we must realize that these matters may only seem ambiguous to us because we are looking at “good” and “bad” and “evil” in much the same way that Lewis initially looked at the beam of light. The truth is that God’s goodness defines “good” and “bad” and “evil” in ways we could understand only if we finally shifted our perspectives to look along Lewis’ beam of light.

I believe that many of us are still stuck looking at the beam of light. It’s time to shift our perspective.


The Germs

Why does God allow evil?

Our definitions of “good” and “bad” — and, thus, “evil” — are unreliable, and I’ll explain why. (Keep in mind that my goal here will not be to feign a thorough understanding of medical research and theories. I will not try to over-complicate my points, but I will link to any studies or sources that may be of interest to the reader — if one chooses to follow-up on anything I mention here.)

Let me start by unpacking something we deem to be “good.”

I believe that most of us would agree that getting regular check-ups is, inherently, a “good” thing. Specifically, screening for cancers would be a very “good” thing. It’s understood that these screenings may help to detect potentially lethal cancers — especially in their early stages.

Research has shown, however, that “overdiagnosis” can lead to pain and suffering that could have very well been avoided to begin with. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, “as it is not possible to distinguish between lethal and harmless cancers, all detected cancers are treated. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment are therefore inevitable.”

In other words, according to the research. when Bob goes for a cancer screening, the results will show all lethal and harmless cancers. And if all Bob happens to have are harmless cancers that would otherwise not be deleterious in any way, he would still have to go through the rigorous treatments and procedures designed to resolve actual deleterious cancers.

So, screening is “good.” We’d all agree that it is. But, we’d also have to agree with The Dartmouth Institute For Health Policy & Clinical Practice when they concede that “… it’s tricky.” On the one hand, screening catches malignant and harmful cancers; on the other hand, screening catches the cancers that wouldn’t normally progress to become harmful at all. And in the instances of overdiagnosis, the preventative or reactionary procedures with which the patients follow-up are clearly more devastating or harmful than simply not having been screened at all.

So, yes. It’s tricky. “Good” isn’t necessarily as good as we’d like to think. At least on occasion.

Now, let’s take a look at something we would consider “bad.”

When we see children play in dirt, or pick up a candy off the floor so that they can ingest it whole without first scrubbing it clean, we panic. It’s the normal response for many of us. Eating dirt or candy off the floor is “bad.” (Granted, “bad” in this sense may not adequately relate to the cruel evils of the world, but it serves as a launching pad for my grander point.) We protect kids from dirt. We sanitize everything around them. We make sure everything around them is as clean as possible, stopping short of purchasing a sanitary bubble in which they can live.

But research has suggested that we may be doing more harm than “good” by over-sanitizing the world with which our children come into contact. The hygiene hypothesis “suggests that exposing infants to germs may offer them greater protection from illnesses such as allergies and asthma later on in life.” The inspiration for this brand of thinking is research that suggests that children raised on farms (and, consequently, who happen to be in contact with dirt, feces, microbes, and cows) have lower rates of asthma than their peers in cities and more-developed areas.

Maybe it’s the raw cow milk. Maybe it’s the microbes. Maybe it’s the germs. But it’s important to realize that what we deem as inherently “bad” (i.e. letting children play in and get exposed to dirt) may not be as bad as we’d like to think.

The truth is that we color what’s “good” and “bad” based on our limited understanding of what’s around us. When research and greater sources of understanding reveal their positions, however, we realize we may not be as right as we think we are.

Here’s one last example of something we may consider universally “bad.”

I want to describe to you the career of an evangelist who has traveled the world, sharing the love of Christ through his own bright and beaming smile. He spent his childhood getting teased and learning to cope with vitriol spewed towards him. He contemplated suicide, but was able to hang in there because of a hope he had in God and in changing the world through his testimony. And he’s done that. You’ve probably even heard of him.

But the most fascinating thing about this man is our perception of his condition. I will posit that when I mention his name and reveal his condition, red flags will go up in your mind and you’ll immediately feel sorry for the man. Undoubtedly, your reaction will be the same as the reaction of those he encountered growing up. They must have told his parents that they empathized with how “bad” the situation was. And that they would be available for them if the “bad” situation got “worse.” Bad. Depressing. Terrible. Horrible.

But, here’s my point. And here’s what I’ve spent the last few chapters yapping about. Shifting our perspective requires us to realize that what WE believe is “good” or “bad” isn’t necessarily what GOD sees as “good” or “bad.” It’s not. It doesn’t matter how much dirt the child plays in. Or how many cancer screenings you go to. Or how much evil you come across every day before your head finally hits the cool side of the pillow for a 7-hour recharge before you go through the motions again.

If it was up to us, “bad” would be bad and none of us would have a hope for anything. But I am thankful that God’s understanding of “good” trumps our understanding of anything — despite what He wills, or what He permits, or what ends up happening. In Him, we have hope. Of peace. Of a chance to change the world. Of an eternal life that transcends this world.

God is perfectly good. And, because of that, the missionary I alluded to, Nick Vujicic, has grown up to become a breathtaking testimony of God’s goodness. Despite the fact that “his birth was considered a tragedy”, and he was born without any limbs, he has managed to rock the world with his smile and his story.

If it was up to us, “evil” and “good” and “bad” would dampen our existence. But, for the Christian, there is an understanding of hope in Christ, of God’s sovereignty in all things, and that His goodness redefines our hopelessness and our finite grasp of the world around us. And that’s something to be thankful for!


Good Things

There’s one last point I’ll make, but I can’t be the one to make it. You’ll have to hear it from Zac Smith:

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Creative on Vimeo.

Zac Smith’s testimony is one of the most remarkable you’ll ever see or hear, and it’s inspiring even if you don’t care about anything I’ve written here so far.

There is one moment that stuns me into silence every time I see the video. Zac explains:

The Bible says in Matthew 7:11 that God gives good things to those who ask. God cannot give me a bad gift. And it is through that lens that I can say that cancer is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

These aren’t the words of a sadistic soul who has lost his grip on life and sanity. These are the words of somebody who’s shifted his perspective and trusts that God has a greater plan even amidst his own great personal tragedy.

The phenomenal thing about God is that He can (and does) take our cancers and our sob stories and our messes, spinning them into what brings Him the most glory and what impacts the world around us. Like Zac or Nick, their “bad” situations have brought about the “good” around them.

Why does God allow evil? And bad? And struggle?

Specifically, how do I reconcile the problem of evil in the world with a God who I believe is omnibenevolent and the perfection of all things good? I trust that He alone is God. My faith is firmly planted on Him and His Word. I believe that, through His Son, I have a hope of a better world than the one in which I currently live — one that is in heaven. I believe that God is sovereign and that He allows things to disrupt my world — but I fully trust that He has a great good in mind in all of it. I believe that prayer isn’t merely about trying to get healing or stuff or responses; rather, it’s about forging a relationship with the sovereign, omnibenevolent God — so that I can find peace even when the disruptions in my world become too jarring. I believe that God’s “good” gifts are actually good gifts, despite the fact that my limited understanding tells me otherwise.

Loss is unbearable. Pain is terrible. “Bad” things happen.

But I believe in a perfectly good God — in whom I find the meaning of redemption — who constantly tells me I have a life worth living — despite the “horrible ambiguities” I find around me.

There is hope. ■