19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Read the rest of the chapter here.)
Now we get to the question at the base of it all, the unanswerable question, the one that we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another: “But why?”
Paul both asks and addresses this pervasive question in this section of his letter. First, he bemoans the lack of universal faith in Jesus within the Jewish community. “Why have a chosen people,” he’s essentially asking, “if they do not receive their Messiah, what was the point in choosing them to begin with?” And then, “why fulfill a promise to Abraham, even after he has had a son? Why invert the natural order of Rebekah’s children?” These were not idle questions, but truly perplexing as they challenged the very workings of a patriarchal society. Paul goes on to wonder with his readers, “why does God harden some hearts but make different ones – ones you might not expect – open to Xyr message?” Why does God appear so irrational, and quite honestly, sometimes very cruel?
The frustrating truth is we don’t know. I wish I could share some earth-shattering insight with you here, but I have none. I only have this cold comfort: We can’t see the big picture. At the risk of sounding trite in the face of so many anguished “why’s,” let me use this parenting story:
I was getting ready to take the kids to see their grandparents. I hadn’t said anything to them yet because I needed to get things done before I had two excited little humans swirling around my ankles like rabid ferrets. I was almost there – we were fifteen minutes away from starting the whole get dressed/go potty/get in the car routine. My youngest comes up and asks if they can watch a movie. Normally the answer would be yes in that situation, but like I said, we were so close to leaving, I just didn’t want them to know yet. So the answer was no, and I got to deal with a pissy two year old which is probably just as bad as a hyped-up two year old, but that’s beside the point. The point is, my irrational answer was actually very rational and pointed to a larger joy (going to Ninga and Grandpapa’s) than the small enjoyment of Madagascar 3. Betty just didn’t know the whole story, couldn’t see the big picture. I believe the same principles are at work on a much, much larger scale with God.
That doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and say that every bad thing that happens is “God’s will” so why intervene at all. Another parenting analogy for you: I’m watching very closely when the girls start getting testy with each other, but I try very hard not to swoop in and solve their problems for them every time (Chris still says I intervene too early, but that’s another story). Allowing them to sort it out for themselves gives them a chance to mature emotionally. Again, I realize this sounds trite to compare a siblings’ spat over crayons to an international war that kills thousands, but it’s the best I have. I did say this was cold comfort.
I do believe there is a larger picture – I do believe that this life is just one chapter of our existence. That makes it easier to believe in God’s existence and God’s goodness. I do believe God loves us as a mother loves a child, and as such I have to believe that there is a reason that God acts in the way Xe does. I doubt a lot of atheists are reading this blog, but if they are, this is probably where they roll their eyes at my desperate self-delusions. I have no answer for them. I wish that I had some clever words to change their minds, but I don’t. I wish I had more comfort for the questioning believer, but I don’t. What I do have is hope, hope that God will reveal Xyr larger purposes in due time. And that will have to suffice for now.
I wrote this post before the death of Kobe Bryant, pausing, as usual, for a bit before coming back to it with fresh eyes for editing. It now seems harsh, yet even more relevant in the loss of such a beloved public figure. It painfully highlights the fact that we truly do not know God’s full workings. My prayers are with his family and the families of the other passengers: may they find comfort in each other, love from the larger community, and may time to pass quickly, as it seems to be the only thing that truly heals in tragedies such as these. May God hold them in xyr hands.