Steve Coburn’s tirade on Saturday about the unfairness of allowing horses that hadn’t run in either the Derby or the Preakness to run in the Belmont (his excuse for why his horse, California Chrome, didn’t win the Triple Crown) got me to thinking about human suffering, and the God who allows it. Weird, huh?
But really the comparison is not so farfetched. Steve Coburn’s gripe, essentially, is that a Triple Crown contender is practically set up for failure if horses who haven’t run the previous two legs of the Triple Crown (and thus are well rested) are allowed to run against a horse who has given his all twice in the previous five weeks.
This reasoning is similar to the line of thinking that calls unfair a God who would create the world and its inhabitants and then “rig the game” so as to make living according to the rules near impossible. Either there is no such God, some agnostics and atheists say, or if there is, He is malevolent for setting mankind up for failure.
A survey I once read of people’s faith choices cited suffering as the number one stumbling block to faith. As I consider my own faith walk I can sympathize with this…if God is good, why does He allow suffering? How do I deal with times when God doesn’t meet my expectations in what I consider to be truly important matters?
Framed in Steve Coburn’s line of questioning, are the rules fair, if we cannot reasonably anticipate a good outcome?
I do not pretend to have answers, but after years of pondering, a few more questions have arisen to help guide my path. First, do I really understand the rules (to like the rules is beside the point)? To be able to expect someone to act in a certain way assumes I know the person extremely well, along with the context of the situation. How well do I know God? How hard do I try to get to know Him? Is it even possible for me to fully comprehend the context of my life in the greater scheme of history and God’s plans?
If my answers to the above questions are no, not well, hardly, and no, then do I really have a right to have any expectations at all?
No, but now that I’m coming at the question with a better perspective, I do believe God wants us to have some answers as to the rules of the game and how they affect us (something Steve Coburn would have done well to reflect on). An important clue to the game of life lies in the creation and early history of Adam and Eve in the beginning chapters of Genesis, where God told His children they have full reign over the garden and everything in it, except for one tree. “Don’t eat its fruit,” God said, “or you will die” (my paraphrase, Genesis 2-3).
This one directive, Adam and Eve’s action, and the consequences set in motion from their choice, give tremendous insight into God’s ultimate love and respect for humankind.
You see, God gave the first man and first woman the freedom of choice—at that time the only rule in play. Freedom is something we Americans understand and cherish practically above all else. What we don’t appreciate nearly so well is the fact that freedom to choose extends to everyone…to people with different ideas, to those who might wish us harm, even to me and my own poor choices that negatively affect myself and others.
To a large degree, I think the suffering we see today is an extension of the freedom of choice passed down from generation to generation in a world that doesn’t see eye to eye, much less care about God’s way of life. And while God has added many guidelines for living since those days in the garden, one thing has not changed:
God has remained faithful to his original design by continuing to give us freedom of choice.
So the next time I am tempted to blame God for the hardships and suffering I see in this world (or in my own life), I will check myself and say, “It’s not God’s fault.” Yes, He is good, and yes, He could eliminate suffering in the blink of an eye (the Bible says He will one day, when the time is right). But if He abolished all suffering today, all of mankind would be wiped out in an instant, perhaps without the benefit of the plan of redemption God so very carefully executed in order to reverse death – the ultimate price we all have been paying for our poor choices since Adam and Eve – that is, the atoning death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.