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The Tough Questions of Faith

Courtesy of The B&B Media Group – Why is there evil and suffering in creation? Can someone explain what the Cross really means and how what happened there saves me? What are we supposed to believe about the so-called end of the world?

There are few who can truthfully say they have never had questions about things God has done and said.  Even the most beloved and devoted theological scholars and believers throughout the ages have had questions for which they’ve never found satisfying, understandable answers. 

So how can you have joyful, fulfilling faith where you find no answers to these and other of life’s most puzzling questions?

Dr. Chris Wright’s revealing new book, The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan), tackles tough questions and more.  He explores every facet and nuance of some of the most puzzling questions in the Christian faith and shares with readers how to find and maintain a joyful, soul-calming faith even when no definitive answers can be found.

He recently discussed the book.

Your newest book, The God I Don’t Understand, will be an eye-opener for those who are under the mistaken impression that scholarly theologians must have most of the answers about all things relating to God, or at least they know where to find them.  What is it you hoped to share in writing such a personally revealing book?

Everyone who has ever been involved in a relationship of any kind knows that knowing someone very well doesn’t mean you understand them fully.  Although I live every day loving and trusting God doesn’t mean I don’t have questions about how and why He does what He does.  I was hoping, with this book, to bring together biblical teaching, personal faith, important questions, and life experiences in such a way that it would create a more balanced look at biblical truth and Christian humanity.  I wanted honesty—my own, regarding what I don’t understand about God—and clarity—those things I think we can and should understand—to be the benchmarks of the book and to present a safe forum for those who also have questions to explore where and how, if possible, they might find answers.

The God I Don’t Understand addresses some of the most often-asked and always-perplexing questions asked not only by those of faith, but also by those who profess to be non-believers as well.  You mention Psalm 73 as being the biblical precedent for what you hoped to accomplish in writing the book.  Can you explain how that scripture was chosen as your guide and why it is significant? 

Psalm 73 begins by affirming the essential faith of Israel.  In it, the writer talks about a God he can’t understand because God seems to have left things unresolved.  But the writer is also very concerned because he doesn’t want to shake anyone’s faith by expressing the questions he has about God.  Although near the end of the psalm the writer comes to a place of trust and contentment regarding what he does and does not know about God, he still lets the readers experience his struggling lack of understanding while witnessing his restored faith in the God he doesn’t always understand.  With this book, I have prayed that I would be able to build up God’s people, not betray their faith.  I don’t want to disturb the faith of those who already are uneasy.  But I do want us to face the limitations of our understanding and ultimately be able to say, like the Psalmist, “God is in charge and I trust Him.  I will stay near Him and make my refuge in Him, telling everyone of His deeds.”

What are the important questions regarding evil that most people find puzzling?

Everyone who has experienced or observed pain, cruelty, illness, violence, accidents, bereavement, torture, emotional and physical suffering, and death has theoretical questions about the Christian perspective on suffering and evil.  How can we possibly explain evil and the suffering of those who clearly don’t deserve it?  Why does evil exist at all?  What is its purpose?  Where did evil come from?  The Bible affirms that God is all-loving and all-powerful and yet it also confirms the reality of evil.  People want to know if the Bible offers answers regarding evil that they can understand and, more importantly, that they can trust.  The ultimate answer is that, although we may not find the answers we want, we can find—and trust—the answers provided in Scripture.

What is your understanding about why God allows suffering in the world?

God, in His infinite wisdom and perspective, and for reasons known only to Himself, knows that humans are incapable of understanding evil and suffering.  In fact, He knows we MUST NOT make sense of evil and suffering because evil has no proper place within God’s original creation, and when God redeems creation, evil will not be restored.  When something horrible happens and we find ourselves screaming, “Where is the sense in that?” and there seems to be no answer from God—that is our answer.  There is NO sense.  Do I understand it?  No.  But I can see that God wants me to concentrate not on my understanding of suffering and the allowing of it, but on how He will defeat and destroy it.

And most importantly, we have to think about suffering and evil in the light of the cross of Christ, which is where God not only chose to bear it Himself in the person of His Son, but also where God’s sovereignty accomplished the ultimate defeat of evil.

The issue about the destruction of the Canaanites seems to be a stumbling block for believers and non-believers alike.  Why is this such a difficult subject to grasp for so many?

The God most people don’t understand is the God of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament tells stories that non-believers use to portray God as unforgiving, unjust, and petty, among other things.  They look at the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites as religious genocide and ethnic cleansing at its very worst.  The violence of the Old Testament is a difficult thing for seekers who are trying to reconcile their picture of what a loving and forgiving God should be like with the God of the Old Testament.  But the Old Testament also strongly shows God’s love and forgiveness, and the New Testament equally clearly shows His judgment.  So we can’t just set one part of the Bible against the other.  The Bible presents the conquest of Canaan as an act of God’s judgment on a wicked society—and that makes a moral difference, even if it doesn’t make it “nice.”  I may not understand it.  I may deplore the violence and wish that God had found another way, but at some point I must step away and understand that this was an act of God that was a limited part of a history that ultimately led to the world’s salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Humans have a very difficult time understanding things for which they have no answers their minds can comprehend.  I have learned to accept that we aren’t capable of understanding everything about God and His ways.  If we could, He would hardly be the God we worship.

Purchase The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith.

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Dr. Wright is the international director of the Langham Partnership International, a consortium of trusts founded by John Stott, including John Stott Ministries in the United States. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland to missionary parents, the Cambridge University educated Wright has authored many books, including Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, Salvation Belongs to Our God, The Mission of God,and commentaries on Deuteronomy and Ezekiel.

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