Last week, I began to re-read NT Wright’s Simply Christian. It’s a tough little read about the basics of Who God Is. In chapter 5, he deals with the question, “Where is God?”- from a metaphysical standpoint and talks about the difference between the concepts of “Earth” and “Heaven.” If they are separate, then “Where is God?” becomes a practical question, one that many in Moore Oklahoma are likely asking at this very moment. Wright’s assertion is that the two “places” of Earth and Heaven are “Overlapping, Interacting” with one another. He says that this understanding is the classic Jewish and Christian thought and goes on to say that this “overlapping interaction” is complex and confusing and, it is in the complex confusion where we find the question of “If God is good, then why did 7 children drown in a pool of water which seeking shelter from a tornado 2 miles wide?” What’s more, “If God is good and loving, why was there even a tornado?”
Here’s a lengthy quote: “It is easy to think you have mastered Shakespeare’s plays if all you have on the shelf is the comedies. When someone brings you all the other plays as well–the tragedies and the history plays, plus a volume or two of the great man’s poetry for good measure–you will complain that things are getting confused and highly complex. But you are actually closer to understanding Shakespeare, not further away.”
Allow me to unpack this; each week, I write a devotional for those that teach our children in children’s ministry at Naperville Christian Church and for the parents of those children. This devotional is based on the upcoming lesson that they’ll be learning on the following Sunday. This week , the lesson was on Samson. As I read the story, I was reminded of a) how awesome this story is, b) how pathetically sad, stupid, sinful and wicked Samson really was and c) how complex the overlapping and interaction of Earth and Heaven is. To recap, Samson:
- Was a Nazirite- no alcohol, no unclean foods, no hair-cutting
- Was a womanizer, especially of women who were Philistines (the enemy of God’s people)
- Killed a lion with his bare hands
- Ate honey that grew in the carcass of the aforementioned lion
- Beat 30 men and took their clothes
- Had his wife given to another man after he beat the men
- Caught 300 foxes, tied their tails together in pairs, set the tails on fire, and turned them loose on the fields and crops of the Philistines
- Killed many of the Philistines that came after him
- Was turned over to the Philistines by how own people when they were threatened
- Used the jawbone of a donkey to kill 1,000 people
- “Saw” a prostitute
- Carried off the gates of a city
- Fell in love with Delilah
- Lied to her about the source of his strength
- Stayed with her despite her turning him in to the Philistines
- Gave in to Delilah
- Had the LORD leave him
- Was captured by the Philistines
- Had his eyes plucked out
- Had his hair grow long
- Killed thousands of Philistines in an act of suicide
Again, as I read this incredible story, I could not help but think of how often we focus on a singular aspect of God’s character.
- For some, it’s love or mercy. “Love Wins” as they’d put it. When faced with this God, eventually all people will choose the winning side which is why the gates of Heaven remain open. It’s simply a matter of time, whether 1 year or 10,000 years after death and of separation from God, everyone will simply “get it” and of course make there way to Heaven, where God is. In this scenario, God is not just.
- For others, it’s judgment. This shows itself in one of three ways: 1- Because bad things happen, God is wicked and is to be avoided and condemned, questioned and denied, and 2- things like free will, God’s sovereignty and the general brokenness of creation due to sin are overlooked and 3- God is a vengeful judge and everything bad that happens is a result of this judgment; Westboro Baptist Church posted some of the most disgusting things on Twitter yesterday in response to the tornado that hit Moore. Here, God is not good.
Reading the story of Samson, we find elements of both, love and mercy AND justice. We see how God uses the awful and vile Samson to deliver his people. To really grasp this, we must remember that God used the Philistines to bring judgment on his people because they wandered from Him in the first place. It was because of their free will that they ignored God, and God, in His justice, allowed them to do as they liked. And then, because of His justice, born of love and mercy, sent them Samson to be a deliverer for them from the Philistines.
Using Shakespeare as our metaphor, there is more to GOD than justice, than love or mercy.
When we struggle with the tragedy of life, the Moore’s and the Sandy Hooks, the Boston’s and the building collapses in Bangladesh, we must remember the child births, the chemotherapy’s that save lives, the seat belts, the wedding days, the kids that graduate from college, the smell of grilled hamburgers, the landing of a fish and the joy of worship.
And, when we complain that things are confused and complex we are actually closer to understanding God, not further away.