The one true God as he truly is is better than a thousand gods of our own design. A few days ago I posted a little thought about Iceland's economic and governmental collapse. It seems my sense of irony left a bad taste in at least a couple people's mouths. However, I think the issue is worth exploring a little because we all will struggle with difficult times at some point in our lives. How do we make sense of them? There are several ways.
1. Deny the existence of God altogether. When something like a financial or civil collapse hits a nation, we just accept it as the culmination of human decisions and natural forces all working together to bring about the resultant catastrophe. There's not God to turn to and no God to question and no God to bring relief. There's just the cosmos. Deal with it.
2. Acknowledge the existence of God, but get him off the hook. This is what theologians might label "theodicy." In some people's minds, God doesn't easily co-exist with evil. Sometimes people who want to deny the existence of God will say something like, "A good God could not allow so much evil in the world, so either he doesn't exist or he isn't good." Christians, suckers that we are, fall head over heals for this attempt of rebels to deny their Creator through self-righteous mental gymnastics. I can understand why non-Christians have a problem with God. They hate him. What I can't understand is why Christians feel like we have to dignify the rebellion. God doesn't. God never calls on Christians to get him off the hook for being God. Nowhere in the Bible do we see God apologizing for being God, and nowhere in the Bible do we see God as being anything other than absolutely sovereign over every single little thing that happens in his world.
3. Acknowledge the existence of God, and worship him in awe. I think this is the appropriate response. The problem of suffering and evil does not present a problem for God. It shows the stubborn rebellion of mankind in its love affair with death. We don't need to get God off the hook for the problems of mankind. We need to worship God in the midst of them. We don't have to give up central themes of Scripture in an attempt to make God look compassionate. His sovereign hand over the affairs of man is a beautiful part of who God is.
Here's what I wrote about Iceland: "Okay, this has nothing to do with anything except further proof that God's sense of humor is still intact. Only God could orchestrate the irony of collapsing the government and economy of the nation that the U.N. recently assured everyone was the best place in the world to live. Truth is stranger than fiction when all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols." In writing this I was asserting that God orchestrated the reported collapse of Iceland's government. I don't even know the depth of the "collapse," but I know whatever it is, God wants it that way. My reason for writing this was the irony of it. Recently, Iceland was named by the U.N. the best place in the world to live. If one knows anything about the success rate of any U.N. venture, one would immediately see the irony. "It's official. Iceland is the best place to live. It's got the perfect mix of socialist freedoms, low crime, good healthcare, high employment, and it doesn't even need a military because the United States is its protector." After reading propaganda like this, it's strange to see a headline about the collapse of its government. That was my point. My point wasn't the suffering of the people. My point wasn't that man's poor decision-making had nothing to do with it. My point was that God makes the wisdom of man look very foolish. Hence the last sentence where I asserted that "all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols."
Now, it might be offensive to some that I wrote that this whole affair proves God has a sense of humor. I didn't mean to offend at all. Maybe I should have written God has a sense of irony rather than humor. At least that way it wouldn't have appeared that God is in Heaven laughing at the suffering of a bunch of rebels in the midst of their rebellion. However, we've been going through the book of Isaiah on Sunday mornings in our church. Two things are certain in that book - all mankind is in deep revolt and God is sovereign over it all.
I don't think I overstepped Scripture writing what I did. "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 'Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.' He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 'As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill'" (Psalm 2:1-6). Here we see that people of earth are conspiring together against God and Jesus. What is God's response? Laughing wrath. Terrifying fury. I guess I could have written that instead. "The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming" (Psalm 37:12-13). Here we see the wicked plotting and oppressing the righteous. What is God's response? Laughing foreknowledge. Impending judgment. I guess I could have written that instead.
I didn't write this post to defend what I wrote about Iceland. I wrote this post because I'm a pastor, and people come to me often for counsel. Some may lament that, but it does happen. And when they come to me with struggles in their marriage or with a sick child or with a job loss or with a personal illness or with an addiction or with any number of other issues, I have to give them hope. That's my job. The Bible says of itself that it was written so that through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).
Each of the above methods of dealing with evil offers its own brand of hope. But only one offers real hope, a hope that lines up with what is really happening in the world. The first method says, "Take heart, this world is all there is. Make the most of it, and you can rest in the fact it will all be over soon." Does that bring hope? Yes. Is it real hope? Not so much. The second method says, "Take heart, God is just as shocked and dismayed and grieved by all this as you are. You can rest in the fact that God would have done something about all this if he was sovereign over the decisions of man. But some day you'll be with him in Heaven and he'll wipe away all your tears with his big soft hands." Does that bring hope? Maybe, but leaving more questions than answers. Is it real hope? Not so much. The third method says, "Take heart, God is on his throne. Mankind is in deep revolt and it has left this world a mess. But God is sovereignly working all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Not a sparrow falls from a tree without his will, and you're worth more than many sparrows." Does that bring hope? Yes. Is it real hope? Yes. It is real hope because it lines up with what is really going on in the world, not because it feels like real hope (although it does feel like real hope for those humble enough to accept it).
In revisiting Iceland, I hope you come away with: 1) the world is messed up because of man's sin, according to the plan of God before creation, 2) God is working all things in this world for the glory of his Son, Jesus Christ, from before creation, 3) that knowledge should both humbly terrify and joyfully comfort us as we worship this God in awe. "Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you" (Isaiah 41:23-24).