There is a phrase that my Old Testament professor has said several times that has stuck with me. When reading stories that are difficult to reconcile and don’t make sense, he says that those are the moments when he “gives God the benefit of the doubt.”
There are more than just the old Bible stories that make us wonder about God’s goodness…
Headlines about a toddler bound in a closet, only acknowledged when she can be sexually exploited. I read that story in the paper last week.
Stories of young women trapped in domestic violence. Every three days in Arizona, someone dies in a domestic violence related incident. Most of these domestic violence homicides are committed by men, and most of the victims are women and children. (http://www.azcadv.org/service-standards/)
People who kill other people because they claim God told them to do it. This happened not far from where I go grocery shopping.
How can we see such pain, suffering and injustice and not wonder how a good God could allow it?
I was preparing for a soul care class that I teach at a local women’s center for women in crisis, and the Lord kept speaking to me about mercy. We read through Deuteronomy in my Old Testament class, and I was overcome by the incredible mercy of God. It wasn’t the typical use of mercy that “doesn’t give me the punishment I deserve” that struck me. It was the mercy that “prevents something unpleasant” or “provides relief from suffering” that caught my attention.
Then I started reading Lamentations. I couldn’t contain my tears as I read Jeremiah’s anguish and turmoil of soul. He sees all the destruction around him and he even attributes it to God. He knows that it is the Lord’s judgment on Israel for the broken covenant. But he also knows that this same God loves justice and delights in mercy. He provides relief from suffering.
Today we are so afraid to claim any suffering and pain as coming from the Lord, because if it were he that caused pain, we judge that he would not be a loving God. We don’t want to deny that God is loving, so we come up with theology that separates God from all suffering and pain in our lives; he is only connected to blessing and favor.
Something about that doesn’t seem to line up with the way ancient Israel interacted with their deity. It doesn’t correspond with Paul’s exhortations from prison to the persecuted church.
I realized that whether it is because of my circumstances, the injustice I see around me, or the Bible stories of God wiping out entire nations and races…I do not give God the benefit of the doubt. Rather, God is often under the microscope and his motives continually examined. He is accused moment by moment, and yet He is the Holy One. He is the righteous judge, not ME. It is as if the blame has been swapped, removing the guilt from us and onto the Lord. What a great deception we walk in when we assume ourselves to be an adequate judge and to presume judgment on the Lord.
I think we need to give God a little break from the accusations.
So I am making a practice to give God the benefit of the doubt, to know that he is full of mercy and kindness, and to trust that he is a righteous and good judge. “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and he loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing (Deut. 10:18)” and his mercies never come to an end.
“For the Lord will not reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.”