Friday, September 2, 2011

Faith -- In Fear & Trembling

In the August, 2011 online issue of Christianity Today, columist Mark Galli writes about the recent discussions among Christian leaders about hell. Along with Rob Bell, Francis Chan and other Christian leaders, Galli has written a book to weigh in on the question. Apparently, Galli's critics contend that his espousal of the traditional view of hell amounts to his "punting" on the entire question.

In response, Galli rightfully notes that accepting the traditional view of hell is not "punting" on the issue at all. Galli writes, “...God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and this we must proclaim right in the midst of the most awful circumstances and in the face of the most mysterious questions. But we proclaim it not glibly, not easily, but in fear and trembling, with nothing to hold on to but faith. We proclaim it not because we know exactly how God will work out his justice and mercy—for this he has steadfastly refused to reveal. What he has revealed to us is that he is perfectly just and perfectly merciful—as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ...” Mark Galli, Trusting God with the Ones You Love, Christianity Today, August, 2011 (web only version).

Certainly, traditional views of hell might seem paradoxical or troubling to 21st century sensibilities. But that is the point of faith in a God whose ways escape human understanding. If you signed on to Christianity thinking it would provide you with simple, easy answers to difficult questions in life, then you probably have been sorely disappointed. Rather than approach this issue with glib simplicity, Galli correctly notes that we ought to approach this question in faith, not knowing exactly how God is demonstrating His unmatched mercy and love, but trusting that He is (and will) demonstrate these attributes through His judgements of humans.

I resonated with Galli's comments, not so much because I have thought very much about hell, but because I think the same principle applies to those of us trying to wrap our arms around God's purposes in suffering. In trusting in God's promises for us, we are not "punting" on the philosophical and theological issues that accompany the "problem" of how a loving and sovereign God could allow suffering. When you have lost your child, then easy, simple, or glib theological answers won't do. Instead,fully recognizing our inability to answer all these questions, we approach our faith in humility, trusting that whatever joy God has in store for us by reason of this suffering, it will be great, eternal, lasting joy.

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