A recent joy of mine has been to be in Bible study with a small group of men from our community. Presently, there are just four of us. We are slooooowwly working our way through the book of Colossians. We have been meeting for over 2 months and we have still not exited chapter 1. We may give D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seven year journey through Romans a run for its money. However, the glacial speed with which we are approaching this study permits us to really chew on what we are reading and studying. There is a high level of questions and searching for answers. Really it is one of the highlights of my week to be with these men in the Word.
During one of our studies, a familiar question appeared. I’ll spare you the precise interrogative cartography that led us to our destination, but we were considering the existence of evil when the question was asked “why did God allow this?” There was a series of almost answers, before getting quickly tucked back behind the teeth, and silence reigned over those next few moments. Heads and eyes shifted towards me because at that moment they wanted to hear from the pastor. Immediately the way back button in my mind was pressed, and I conjured up an answer I first heard when I was a teenager: “You are asking the wrong question.”
For generations, teenagers with their hormones ablaze have wanted to have an answer to the question “how far is too far.” I’ve heard many clumsy responses, all of them cringe worthy, and all of them unhelpful. Except for one. I wish I could remember where I heard the best answer given so I can rightly credit them – if it is you, then know I give you credit. The best answer I ever heard (and have repeated innumerable times) is “you are asking the wrong question.” So what would be the right question to frenzied 16 and 17 year olds? “How can I honor God with this relationship?” Changing the question changed the focus of the question.
Fast forward 30 years. I responded with “you are asking the wrong question” in trying to understand God’s permission of evil. I wanted to change the focus. What I offered up as a better question was “why has God been so repeatedly gracious to me?” Upon unveiling that question, the chatter began again, and each of us were profuse in our appreciation and worshiped God for His kind work in our lives. Do you see what happened? The focus went from “poor me” or “poor them” to “how great is our God”. The focus went from us to God. In so doing, it reveals errors about that initial question that are so easy to slip into:
1. As asserted above, it makes us the focus and not God.
2. It (wrongly) presumes that God could not possibly have a purpose for evil, and that it can not be used by Him.
3. It lends itself towards bringing an accusation against God and assault His character. “God permitted this evil, so God is either not good or not powerful enough to deal with it.”
4. It is a fertile seed bed for grumbling and complaint. “There is no reason for this” or “I deserve better than this.”
5. Take those first four, and here is the essence of what that question is about: “I function as my own god, and since I serve as my own god, the goal is for me to be pleased at all times.” I don’t know anyone brazen enough to actually say those words, but that is often the heart attitude at work. Admittedly, this is not always the case and many times the question of God permitting evil is a seriously handled query; but more times than not the question is not being handled in a humble, respectful, seeking understanding way.
Exceptions and outliers aside, that question exposes the idolatry in our hearts. We ask the question not because we want to fully know God’s intentions and plans, but because we convince ourselves that we have been wronged. Do you see the italicized we in that last sentence? Our interest is in how we have been wronged, not in either God’s purposes or how God has been wronged. So, if we are more concerned about ourselves than we are God, we have taken the place of God in our hearts. What do you call anything that takes the place of God? An idol. We fashion idols of ourselves, for ourselves.
I would encourage you to examine your questions. Be careful and cautious in your questions. Be circumspect in evaluating your heart. Daily. If you are stubborn and suspect your heart like me, hourly. If you have found you have made an idol out of yourself, repent. Begin asking better questions, starting with “God, how are you glorifying yourself in this?” “God, how would you have me respond in light of this in a way that honors you?” Yield yourself to God’s plans. “God, I trust you and your plan. Your ways are perfect. Anything you bring into my life you do so to reveal even more of yourself to me and the world around me. I may not like it, but I will still trust you.”