We all wrestle with trying to reconcile what we see in this world with what we know of God from His Word.
Not long ago a well-known and much-respected journalist began his interview of a Christian leader by raising the issue of Japan’s recent tragedy with the earthquake, tsunami, and now the nuclear power plant. His opening salvo was this: “Help us with this tragedy in Japan. Which of these is true: Either God is all-powerful but He doesn’t care about the people of Japan and therefore they are suffering or He does care about the people of Japan, but He’s not all-powerful. Which one of these is it?”
The one being interviewed struggled, as we might guess, to provide an answer that satisfied his interviewer. So the one conducting the interview put it to him once again: “So which of these is true? He is all-powerful and He doesn’t care? Or He cares and isn’t all powerful?”
One thing that is certain: we’re glad we weren’t the one being interviewed! But now, with the leisure of time and reflection, how should we respond to such reasoning?
The interviewer has stated the problem precisely as it is so often held before us. Is God all-powerful and can do something to stop or relieve this suffering, but has not (and thus must not be all-good)? Or is God all-good and thus wishes to do something to stop or relieve this suffering, but is impotent to enact His wishes?
This pits God’s goodness and God’s power over against one another: Which one has the greater claim upon God — His moral goodness or His mighty power?
But this, it seems to me, is misguided reasoning precisely because it is built on the premise that these two qualities (goodness and power) must be the two highest claims upon God and are therefore the determining factor in the matter of judging His response or seeming non-response to this (or any) tragedy.
It is correct to say that God’s love is an all-powerful love and His power is a all-loving power. Neither violates the other.
But, how can this be maintained when we look upon suffering?
The mists begin to clear when we realize that Christian theology makes neither God’s goodness nor His power the highest claimants upon His actions. Rather–if it is possible at all to speak of God having a most fundamental, core or supreme attribute–Christian theology holds that it is God’s holiness which defines all else we know about God.
Yes, God’s love is an all-powerful love. But this is not the most fundamental thing we can say about God’s love. No, the most fundamental thing we can say about God’s love is that it is a holy love. And, yes, God’s power is an all-loving power. But this again is not the most fundamental thing we can say about God’s power. No, it is even more fundamental to say that God’s power is a holy power.
What, then, if we look upon this suffering (or any other example we may come upon) and instead of pitting God’ s love against God’s power and vice versa, we asked ourselves: Just what is a holy-love? And what is holy-power?
Holiness at its root means to be separate, to be set apart. God in every facet of His being is Holy. Utterly, awfully, terribly holy. He is “other” than, different from anyone or anything we can know. We cannot come at a right understanding of God in His holiness by means of comparison. He is simply other than, different from and beyond in nature and scope everything else we know. We do not learn what His love is like by looking at a human expression of love. This is to place the tape measure at the wrong end and measure in the wrong direction! This is to measure the Creator by the (now fallen) creation. No, we discern what is truly love here on earth by looking first upon His love. And that love is Holy . . . beyond, over, other than any other love we might see or know here. Thus there are dimensions and facets of love which we can never understand on this sin-cursed earth, through sin-clouded minds. As also there are dimensions of power for which we have no categories of understanding.
Where then might we look to see God’s Holy love and Holy power at work that we might set the end of our measure there and draw it out toward the tragic events of our earth? Just here: the cross. Here is HOLY LOVE! For God, looking upon a race which rebelled against and rejected His rule over them, now moved to redeem them by the sacrifice of His Son! There are simply no human categories by which to understand such a holy love (Rom. 5:6-8)! This is a love that did not take a vacation when God in His holy power judged sin. Rather it is a love that placed Him Son in the cross hairs of His holy, all-powerful judgment of that sin rather than pour it out upon us! What did God do in the face of a necessary tragedy, caused by our sin and rebellion? He entered that suffering, focusing it upon Himself and away from us. This is powerful Holiness–judging sin, the cause of all suffering. This holy love–embracing the judgment of His holiness and exhausting its penalty in Himself.
An answer to the age-old conundrum as articulated by this interviewer? The question is simply wrongly conceived from the beginning. For it is not love and power which most fundamentally define God. It is His holiness. What does holy love and holy power look like? Look at Jesus upon the cross.
There you find a God who does not run from tragedy, wishing He could do more. There you find not a God who does what He wishes, though with less than stellar motives. No, there you meet the God who in holy love removed the cause of the suffering by directing His own all-powerful, holy judgment against that sin now laid upon His own Son in our place.
Ponder. Repent. Live.