Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In Dealing with Discrepancies

   For as long as I can remember I have vaguely understood the notion that God allows for bad things to happen to good people for purposes that we as individual humans can't always understand. That some extremely negative things are also extremely necessary when looking at the big picture. A picture bigger than most people ever have the opportunity to see in their lifetimes. Sometimes those negative things never play out for a positive result in that individuals life, but instead it affects someone else further down the road. Creation out of destruction. Good outcomes coming from terrible circumstances. Circumstances that God allowed to happen. Even, at times, had his hand in creating. A plentiful harvest of good fruit from rotten seeds planted in a dry and barren land.

   What I never could quite understand is how to logically reconcile my knowledge of that aspect of God with my knowledge of another, equally important characteristic of God. His righteous inability to approve of any sin for any purpose or reason. No sin is excused, except through the blood of Jesus. How then can he use evil as a tool for good? How can he use one person's sin as an agent for positive change and correction in another person? God does not approve of sin. But, isn't using the sin of one person to bless another person in essence excusing the sin? Aren't those bad circumstances in good people's lives a result of sin? Isn't sin at the root of every negative experience we have as human beings? Or at least most? I mean, I wouldn't claim that sin was at the root of someone experiencing a miscarriage or contracting cancer... but war? Rape? Even little conflicts within a marriage or friendship. Those are all the results of someone's sin. And all of those things can be, and are used by God in ways to positively affect the person harmed by that sin. To make them stronger, more humble, or simply to draw them closer to Him.

   So, manipulating that existing sin that originates in the heart of the person or persons committing it, is acknowledging that sin as useful. Which, is a way of approving of it. Right?

   That seems to be the logical conclusion doesn't it? The same way that, when applying our worldly logic to the issue of forgiveness it only makes sense to conclude that forgiving someone excuses their behavior. It turns you into a doormat to be stepped on. Right? ...well, No. Our God is not a doormat in the same way that a person who chooses the hard task of forgiveness is not a doormat by deciding to no longer claim a debt against another. I knew in my heart that there was assuredly a way that these two truths about God and about human nature could coincide with each other... but I could never for the life of me explain it. That is, until two things happened, one right after another, that cleared the fog for me. The first was my deciding to read the book "How to Forgive... When You Don't Feel Like It" by June Hunt, almost by accident. I had known that I wanted to read it someday but it had for a long time remained on the back burner of my to-read list... but that day I had approached the bookshelf after finishing the one I was working on prior to it, and there it sat on the floor. Alone. Books on the floor next to the bookshelf is not odd in our house, we do have a toddler. But, a single book, sitting by itself? That doesn't happen often. So I choose it instead of what I was originally planning on reading. Or rather, it chose me.

   Less than a week later my husband and I found ourselves at a Sunday morning service of a local church we were visiting in our search for a new, more local, church home. It just so happens that, that morning they were beginning a new series on the book of Habakkuk. A series about wrestling with God. Taking your doubts to Him, unabashedly and making your case. Asking questions, and seeking understanding where you find that based on your perception, His logic seems flawed. Because that happens. To ALL of us. And, this was one area in which it was happening within my heart. That morning we learned of how Habakkuk took issue with some discrepancies he felt existed in his knowledge of God and what he was seeing happen in the world all around him. We learned of how instead of deciding to dismiss God and his faith over this, he went to him and boldly questioned his creator. And, the kicker is that God engaged with him. He didn't rebuke Habakkuk but instead honored him for having the courage to wrestle with Him, instead of turning away.

   God's using sin as a tool for refining his followers and molding them into who He created them to be, on the surface seems hypocritical just as forgiving people when they continue to do the same hurtful thing over an over again. But, just as it is with many other spiritual principles, how these two things actually play out into real life is counter intuitive.  We assume that forgiving someone of a wrongdoing that is still being done, over and over again sends a message to that person that what they are doing is okay, and that it will perpetuate the cycle. But what really happens is that forgiveness forces us to, maybe for the first time ever, confront the behavior. Acknowledge it. Extending forgiveness, while cleansing your own heart, also glaringly points out to the person who harmed you that there is something that they are doing that requires that forgiveness. Whether they act on it appropriately or not, the message sent is really that they need to look inward at themselves and they are unlikely to be fond of what they find. This can lead to reconciliation, sometimes, other times it doesn't. But in the end forgiveness works in a way that seems foreign to us until we go through the actions and allow them to play out.

   God using the sin of a person or group of persons seems on the surface to be a sign of approval, in that He is not stopping them from doing it despite having every ability to. This is far from the truth however. In using the sin as an agent for good He is undermining both the sin and the heart behind it. Bringing it to the light. Because of free will this often does not result in the sinners repenting and changing their ways. It would be naive, though, to assume that it has no affect whatsoever on their hearts, or worse that it encourages them to continue on in their harm-doing.

  This new knowledge has answered a question that has long resided in my heart. Is sin a part of God's plan? If not then how is He able to use it for good the way that He does? Well, the answer is that No it is not in the plan it is a by-product of free will. God did not create sin, nor does he deal in it. But, His plan does take it into account. He allows it. He does not guide or approve of it. But because it does exist He allows it to show people on both sides of the equation where they are in need of Him. The same way that forgiveness does this on a smaller scale.

Let our questions and doubts lead us further into faith rather than farther from it. Go ahead. Ask.

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