Is it a coincidence that life has its hurts as well as its loves? Is pain the one great mistake by the God of love?
Hopefully, the following selection from Philip Yancey’s Where Is God When It Hurts? will provide you a starting place for considering the love – hurt interface.
(Note: the selection is not meant to replace the book. FYI, today (4/30/2013) Amazon had the Kindle version of the book for $4.97, which is pretty hard to beat, especially when the Kindle app for your PC or Mac is free!!)
To understand the issue of human freedom, it helps me to imagine a world in which everyone truly does get what he or she deserves. What would a world of perfect fairness look like?
In a perfectly fair world, morality would operate according to fixed laws, just like the laws of nature. Punishment for wrongdoing would work like physical pain. If you touch a flame, you are ”punished” instantly with a pain warning; a fair world would punish sin just that swiftly and sorely. Extend your hand to shoplift, and you would get an electrical shock. Likewise, a fair world would reward good behavior: Fill out an IRS form honestly, and you would earn a pleasure sensation, like a trained seal given a fish.
That imaginary world has a certain appeal. It would be just and consistent, and everyone would clearly know what God expected. Fairness would reign. There is, however, one huge problem with such a tidy world: it’s not at all what God wants to accomplish on earth. He wants from us love, freely given love, and we dare not underestimate the premium God places on that love. Freely given love is so important to God that he allows our planet to be a cancer of evil in his universe – for a time.
If this world ran according to fixed, perfectly fair rules, there would be no true freedom. We would act rightly because of our own immediate gain, and selfish motives would taint every act of goodness. We would love God because of a programmed, inborn hunger, not because of a deliberate choice in the face of attractive alternatives. It would be a B.F. Skinner, automaton world of action/response.
In contrast, the Christian virtues described in the Bible develop when we choose God and his ways in spite of temptation or impulses to do otherwise.
Throughout the Bible, an analogy that illustrates the relationship between god and his people keeps surfacing. God, the husband, is picture as wooing the bride to himself. He wants her love. If the world were constructed so that every sin earned a punishment and every good deed a reward, the parallel would not held. The closest analogy to that relationship would be a kept woman, who is pampered and bribed and locked away in a room so that the lover can be sure of her faithfulness. God does not “keep” his people. He loves us, gives himself to us, and eagerly awaits our free response. (Yancey, Philip, Where is God When It Hurts? Zondervan (pp 90-91)