By David Sielaff, Director, October 2003
Read the accompanying Newsletter for October 2003
Forgive God? How absurd! The very idea may seem ridiculous, even offensive to some people. However, Jeremiah and other prophets can be cited as examples of powerful spiritual personalities who have held a temporary resentment toward God for the judgments He brought down because of the sins and evils committed by His chosen people, Israel and Judah. The punishments often seemed worse than the crime, in their eyes.
Truly, forgiving God is never necessary, and yet ... have you had some residue, deep inside, of a secret resentment, even a hatred against God for the situations you find yourself in throughout your life? Or perhaps a loved one or an innocent stranger, perhaps a child, has suffered horribly, all because God did not rescue them or prevent evil from happening. Even after we understand God’s message that Christ has saved us from the foundation of the world, there is often some lingering resentment about evil in the world, evil we have suffered, evil our loved ones have suffered, evil our neighbors have suffered, evil from nature (that we label as “acts of God”) and the evils that the innocent in the world suffer. There are billions of such people who endure lives of constant suffering without cause. They suffer — every hour — of every day — without relief — for their entire lives.
Evil, unspeakable evil. I have met a few people who have experienced total evil in their lives. In this world there are instances of inexpressible suffering where people cannot even scream from the pain. Christ experienced it even to His death-cry of despair when the Father abandoned Jesus, alone, with the sins of the world upon Him (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34]). And this was after His flesh was ripped from His bones, and He was hung like meat on the tree of crucifixion. Jesus knew, intellectually, why God forsook Him. But it was not an intellectual moment. At that moment Jesus cried out in despair to His Father, was forsaken — and died.
Evil, unspeakable evil. Take the example of Nebuchadnezzar, God’s agent, messenger and servant in punishing Judah and the remnants of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar was also God’s agent in the creation and establishment of a new type of rulership, the Babylonian system, which is with us to this day. Jeremiah told Judah not to fight Nebuchadnezzar because to do so would only make their punishment from God worse. Daniel helped Nebuchadnezzar administer and make efficient that evil empire of man. During his lifetime Nebuchadnezzar was known as “the horror.” I will not elaborate as to why. Throughout history how many human beings have cried out to God for help, relief or rescue from within their suffering — and received only silence from Him who is called a merciful God who claims to love His children.
In my own extended family in the 1970s I had an aunt who had one of the “bad” cancers and was dying. In those days there were limits to the amount of painkillers that could be given. One day my uncle quietly related how the pain was so intense for his wife that he had to walk out of the house and go away while his wife screamed until she passed out from the pain. He could not give her more drugs for the pain because they would kill her. She lived a few weeks more and then died.
I knew a man who suffered pain through most of his entire life from a war injury. Intense pain was his constant companion for decades due to a spinal injury. He counseled new paraplegics, quadriplegics and their families to deal with their sudden circumstances, which are always so grueling. One time we were discussing his injuries and his constant severe pain. In my youthful foolishness and insensitivity I quoted Romans 8, as if I was going to instruct him about suffering,
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.”
Of course this man understood this verse, much better than I did. He lived it. But he leaned forward from his chair, bore down and looked directly at me and said, “David, there has been glory enough.” He did not deny the passage or the Scriptures, or the truth of God. His intention was to put me in mind that constant pain, evil and suffering now is real, and a reality for most people in the world for their entire lives.
What about all those who experience pain for hours, days, weeks, years, with no help, no relief and no rescue from God. Often all they have to look forward to is death, the last enemy! “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
Consider the evils of everyday life of the poor in the world today. It is difficult for us in the wealthier nations of the world to understand that the majority of people in this world struggle and scramble to survive, avoid pain, get enough to eat (regardless of its “nutritional” value) and eke out a bit of pleasure in life, usually in ways that you and I might consider ill advised or wrong. Billions of people today and throughout history have been malnourished for some extended period of their lives. This results in varying degrees of brain damage. Such people are sometimes classified by the well-fed of the world as “useless eaters.” These people are without God, without hope in the world, they truly wander about as lost sheep, yet they too are loved and conciliated to God through Christ just as you and I are. God has not yet chosen to reveal Himself to them in any way. One can legitimately ask, what kind of a loving Father treats His children this way?
I have a friend who supervises extremely mentally disabled and potentially violent youths. He says they are the saddest and most unhappy people he ever encountered. They are institutionalized. They have little hope of leaving institutions. Most have no future. They know they are different. They hear voices they do not want to hear, they think thoughts they do not want to think, and they act in ways they do not want to, even as they do the actions. These people are not possessed, they are mentally disabled and disturbed. Only a small fraction around the world receive attention, treatment or any real help because to help one such person is very time intensive, laborious and emotionally draining. Many of those my friend helps are on medications that are necessary (for safety) but which have severe side effects. Most were born that way and when they came of age, they were uncontrollable and institutionalized by the state. Most will never leave. There are millions of such people in this situation. Most are without help from anyone.
My friend asks himself constantly, why does God allow this? He does not wallow in the suffering of others, but he sees them experience it constantly. Oh, there are moments of love and beauty and happiness and joy to be sure, but the greater part of the life experience of these people is constant anguish and suffering and tears and desperation and mental pain. These people were born or damaged to be this way. Is this what a loving God intended? Apparently so.
I am sure you could give a litany of evil that you have seen or experienced. It is cliché but it is nonetheless true, “There but for the grace of God go I ...”
The problem of evil was what the entire book of Job was about. All of the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament could not deal satisfactorily with this issue. Such was the problem for the Jewish sages through-out the ages from the close of the canon of the Old Testament until the New Testament. The Problem of Evil has continued to plague the Church Fathers, the Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation until today. It is the problem that Jewish intellectuals deal with when they consider God’s abandonment of His “chosen” people during World War 2. There is no answer to the problem of evil outside of Christ, outside the Bible. Any attempt to do so is inadequate.
It is the main reason people reject God throughout history.
Yet in 2 Corinthians 5:20 the central message of Paul and his associates to the Corinthian ekklesia was “Be conciliated to God!”
Why should we?
Why should we be conciliated to God?
Is it now allowed for God’s chosen, His children, to shake their fist at God and say,
“You, You deserve to suffer as we have suffered.
You deserve the horror.
You deserve death!”?
If you ever had a period in your life when horror overtook you and you raised your fist to heaven and shook it at God, shouting to God your Heavenly Father with hatred and saying —
“Damn YOU for allowing this happen!”
Only then can you begin to understand the problem of the reality of evil — and God’s solution to it. Congratulations. You are human. In fact, this is exactly the advice Job’s wife gave to him.
“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and eschews evil? and still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause.’
And Satan answered the Lord, and said, ‘Skin for skin, yea, all that a man has will he give for his life. But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’
And the Lord said unto Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; but save his life.’
So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.
Then said his wife to him, ‘Do you still retain your integrity? curse God, and die.’
But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”
Job’s wife is criticized by most theologians, but I understand her feelings, as do most of you. Although Job called her comments foolish, in reality, she should be credited for correctly recognizing the source of Job’s suffering — God Himself. She’s one sharp woman! Job acknowledged that her analysis of the situation was true. Her reactions are very human and natural. Job’s reaction is exceptional. Few of us have the integrity of Job. In fact that was the very reason why God tested him so severely! By the way, there is no hint in the discourse between God and Satan that Job would be criticized if he would curse God and die. It would not have been wrong for Job to do so. Job himself said, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Life is not easy. It was not meant to be so.
Life is a lesson, a learning experience. For most people the learning is painful, without hope, without explanation and without a reason as to what the lesson is all about or what it is trying to teach. Those explanations will not begin for most people until their resurrection to the flesh after the Millennium.
For you it is different.
You have been told through the Gospels that God did suffer. God did experience horror. God was damned to the grave. God did die — through Christ.
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled [Greek verb, katallasso] to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled [Greek verb, katallage], we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [reconciled, also the Greek noun, katallage].”
Because God was conciliated to us first, through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, He makes us a new creation through Christ. Paul knew, understood and suffered more evil than most of us. He even knew death (several times) before being resuscitated. God promised no immediate solution to our suffering now, but because of Christ, through Paul, God speaks directly to you now, “I beseech YOU” — for Christ’s sake — “ be reconciled to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
If you feel the need — ever — to shake your fist at God, to vent to express your frustrations with God, feel free to do so. 1 Your Father understands. You probably have gotten a raw deal. Life is unfair. He will make it better. He will make it go away. He will heal the hurt. It will likely not happen now in your lifetime. It will occur all in God’s good time. Accept it. Be reconciled to God.
In the end the last great enemy, death, will itself be seen as a mercy and a way that God uses to end sufferings, end evils, end horrors and end the traumas of life. Then comes the judgment, which for most people will not be such a bad thing considering their ordinary circumstances in life.
To paraphrase what God told Job, “I will do what I will do, when I will do it, because I am God.” End of discussion.
For you it is different. You know and understand what God has done, when and why. The work of God through Christ is already finished. God gave us through Paul additional information about the problem of evil in 2 Corinthians. The full completion of that information came with the revelation of the Mystery of God to Paul, John and others. The apostle Peter writes about how the prophets of the Old Testament,
“Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To whom it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to us they did minister the things, which are now reported to you by them that have preached the gospel to you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.”
1 Peter 1:11–12
This message was motivated by what Paul wrote to the Corinthians that I quote in full for the larger context. It is in 2 Corinthians 5:16–20,
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead [for Christ’s sake], be you reconciled to God.”
Certainly God is reconciled to us. However, Reconciliation is a 2-way street. It means that both parties are conciliated to each other. First, God through Christ is conciliated to us, then we must be conciliated to God. This is where “forgiving God” comes in. Your reconciliation to God has nothing to do with salvation. That is already accomplished through Christ.
Paul develops this theme of reconciliation by repeating the word several times.
(1) “[God] hath reconciled [Greek verb, katallasso] us to himself by Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s entire message of reconciliation in that period of his ministry, and particularly in 2 Corinthians is “that God was in Christ, reconciling [Greek verb, katallasso] the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Then,
(2) “God was in Christ, reconciling [Greek verb, katallasso] the world to himself.”
This was the work of Christ on the tree of crucifixion.
(3) “We are beseeching: For Christ’s sake [you!] be reconciled [Greek verb, katallasso] to God.”
The term reconcile means to become friends. Many of you are not friendly toward God, and you know it! You are in awe of Him, you respect Him, you acknowledge Him as God, even as Father, but are you friends with God? That is His desire, to be friends with His children, in spite of what has happened. That takes maturity. God the Father is your friend and we can know that for a fact because of what He has already done for us through His Son.
Paul stated this in the strongest imperative in Greek, beseeching and begging the Corinthians for the sake of Christ, that they “be reconciled to God!” Why be reconciled to God? We should be reconciled to God because God is responsible for evil and suffering in the world. He created it. He made the world system since creation. God chooses not to stop the evil in the world — not yet. In fact in the present era evil will grow worse and worse as we approach the moment of Christ’s return (2 Timothy 3:13). Expect it, accept it and if you need to do so, forgive God and be reconciled to Him, become friendly with Him as Paul so strongly encourages us. Paul concludes the passage that God’s intention is this,
“For he [the Father] has made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
Should we forgive God? Perhaps. Must we forgive God? No. But if it helps reconcile you to God and gives you peace, then feel free to do so. That is what Paul meant.
We should be willing to forgive God for the evil He is responsible for allowing, and even for the evil that He Himself does in the world. He does evil in judgment (Daniel 9:11–14), He creates evil as Dr. Martin has written about often 2 citing Isaiah,
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. Drop down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Woe to him that strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, ‘What make you?’ or your work, He has no hands? Woe to him that says to his father, ‘What begat you?’ or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?’”
Stop striving with your Maker, be reconciled to God and, if necessary forgive Him for the evil He is responsible for allowing, and for causing. I am not talking about an intellectual response toward God. I am talking about your emotional reaction to God as your Father. The opposites of light/darkness, and peace/evil in this passage indicate that God is in control of everything and everyone, and that He has a purpose for each person. He is the Maker. He does “all these things.”
God has set in operation a creation that is basically bound up in evil, including evil spirits, messengers, principalities and powers, most all which delight in the suffering and death of God’s chosen people, and even all human beings. Even the creation cries out to be released from the evil. Paul understood your frustration in life.
“For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
Reducing the context to the words that describe your situation and feelings, and mine, Paul says,
“[We] ourselves ... which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, ... groan ... waiting for the adoption, ... the redemption of our body.”
Keep in mind that the groaning is much worse for those who do not know God, than for us who know Him.
The reconciliation of God will be complete. It will be total through all of creation. All creation will be friendly toward God,
“For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross [Greek stauros, or stake], by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister.”
Often when I read this passage I concentrate on the fact of the reconciliation of all creation to God, and gloss over what that reconciliation means. Moreover, the emphasis that Paul actually stresses is to note the reconciliation “in the body of his flesh through death.”
As with Christ, the Captain of our salvation, first comes the suffering, the evil, then comes the glory. Keep in mind as Peter wrote, that even the angels desire to look into the role of Christ in the salvation of mankind. The author of Hebrews (Paul) writes how Jesus’ death relates to you, me and all human beings.
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death [the suffering in death], crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him [Jesus], for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Believe it. Praise God for it. Forgive God if you must. If necessary repent for your honest but mistaken attitudes. But above all, be reconciled to God! God is reconciled to you. God is reconciled to all His creation, to be manifested in due time. It was the message that Paul preached. It is the message for you.
You will find your attitudes to events in life to be more accepting, peaceful and you will relate to others better in their sufferings, in their joys and even in their deaths. All this because you know that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” because “[God] hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ.”
Is it necessary for you to “forgive God?” No. God neither needs nor desires your forgiveness. God always acts with righteous judgment in spite of what your [mis]perceptions may be.
Is it necessary for you to “forgive God?” That depends on your attitude towards Him. You may need to examine yourself and take a hard look at your attitude toward God. Any resentment you hold toward God will not affect the Father or Christ (certainly you will be forgiven for it), but it will cause you unnecessary emotional pain and grief. Know that God understands your feelings and thoughts.
Apart from the Scriptures no one can understand the problem of evil. However, if we seek the wisdom of God,
“Then shall you understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom: out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.
He lays up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
He keeps the paths of judgment, and preserves the way of his saints.
Then shall you understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yes, every good path.
When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul;
Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:”
Your resentments toward God come from being hurt by the very real evils of creation that God is ultimately responsible for controlling. I question God’s methods and actions. I often do not understand them. I know Dr. Martin also puzzled over many of God’s actions and reasons for doing certain things. However, Dr. Martin understood — as we all must understand — what God said through Isaiah,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Resentment toward God comes from the direct confrontation with the “problem of evil,” how a loving God can allow so much great suffering. God’s reconciliation of you to Himself through Christ is the answer to the problem of evil. It will not take away your emotional anguish now. It will not take away your suffering now. The anguish is temporary and will end. The suffering is temporary and will end, although it is my fervent hope that any anguish and suffering you endure at present may be lessened or end quickly. Apply to yourself the words that Paul wrote to the Christians at Colosse and to the Laodicea. It was Paul’s desire,
“That their [your] hearts might be comforted, being knit together [united] in love, and to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Note Paul’s example and advice regarding suffering. Paul understood suffering. He speaks as one who was afflicted, suffered much and even died several times. Each time Paul was brought back to life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ and endured even further suffering (2 Corinthians 1:9–10),
“[God] comforts us in all our tribulation,
that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble,
by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.
And whether we be afflicted,
it is for your consolation and salvation,
which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer:
or whether we be comforted,
it is for your consolation and salvation.
And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation.”
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 (italics for emphasis)
God desires your love now. God’s love is unconditional and patient. If necessary He will wait for your love later when you understand the full knowledge of God (2 Timothy 2:4) and the full scope of His love and provision for you and all creation (Colossians 2:19–23).
In your own life now, much resentment will fall away, and it may change how you treat others in life, if you follow Paul’s admonition and “be reconciled to God.” If that requires that you forgive God, then feel free to do so. As a child of God you have that right.
David Sielaff, October 2003
1 However I recommend you do so privately. God is not mocked (Galatians 6:4). Such things are best kept between yourself, the mediator Jesus Christ and God.
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