“God’s Only Excuse is Easter!”

flowersIn Disappointment with God, author Philip Yancey describes a series of conversations with a young friend named Richard, who has turned away from the faith.

One of Richard’s big beefs with the idea of God is the conundrum of suffering. This one gets us all. Why does a loving and powerful God allow suffering, and all that.

Over the last few years, I’ve felt a part of me becoming impatient with that question, as I’ve found too many skeptics to be merely hiding behind it rather than honestly seeking an answer. And there are answers. But I’ve tried to hold off my cynicism and remain understanding, for I know suffering weakens and disheartens. It’s especially true for the skeptic, as they have no hope of an “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8) to sustain them.

After lambasting God for his treatment of Job, his apparent detachment from mankind, and every other angle he can, Richard eventually rounds it out with an interesting phrase:

“God’s only excuse is Easter!”

It was one of those phrases that sums up everything you’ve ever suspected but never quite has the eloquence or brevity to say.

I wouldn’t say Richard is theologically correct in saying that. God has, off the top of my head, at least one other great excuse for allowing suffering: the chance to demonstrate his ability to sustain and empower us in the middle of it. It’s quite Scriptural to say that this is sometimes the sole reason for our suffering: creating an opportunity for him to make our hearts ironclad, untouchable by despair and brimming with joy even in jail or on the sickbed.

But you have to admit: even if Easter were God’s only excuse, it’s a whopper of an excuse.

If the claims of Christianity are true, an afterlife is available whose gladness far outweighs any pain we experience on this earth (Romans 8:18) – and for those who reject it, a penalty whose horror far outweighs any peace, prosperity, or good we achieve on this earth.

Which means that judging God by what happens on this earth is…well, you can hardly call it a worthy verdict.

The ideas of heaven and hell may feel like cheap cop-out and motivation, respectively, for a church trying to boost its numbers. It may feel ridiculously out of touch with our modern era’s respect for what can be seen, felt, and proven. It may feel like the last thing you want to hear in the midst of today’s suffering.

But how it feels has no bearing on whether its claims are true.

That is why the claims of Christianity are too great to ignore, or dismiss as good-for-you experiential truth. They demand examination.

And if the story of the resurrection of Christ truly happened, if it bears examination then it’s all true – making the Gospel a message of enormous generosity, and enormous warning.

Though God is bringing all things together for his own glory first and foremost, he is hardly callous enough to leave our groaning hearts out of the equation. He has promised us rewards. He has prepared a great many things for those who will believe; he asks only that we receive him.

I pray fervently that the unbeliever might examine these claims.

The Ache of a Cubs Championship

celebrateHere’s the 0-1…this is gonna be a tough play…Bryant!…the Cubs!!!..WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!! Bryant makes the play!! It’s over!! And the Cubs have finally won it all, 8-7 in ten!!”

Joe Buck’s words reverberated across the nation, Chicago erupting into bewildered revelry, a 108-year-old curse shattering into pieces. The Chicago Cubs, known for generations as the “lovable losers” who could find a way to choke in any circumstance, were now the undisputed top dogs – winner of the 2016 World Series.

“No more waiting until next year,” as Buck so eloquently put it – no more next game, no more tough practice session tomorrow, no more drowning in negative headlines. The players could finally let it all go. You could see the worries drop from their shoulders, the internal pressures released. Kris Bryant, having nailed the final toss, leaping across the field like Neil Armstrong on the moon; Anthony Rizzo pocketing that winning ball and flinging his glove aside to leap into a bouncing throng of teammates; fans nationwide collapsing in relief as they watched, their blood pressure dropping just as quickly. Their team…not a newly adopted playoff favorite, but their long-cherished team…had finally won it all.

For me, the most heartwarming moment of the night was watching YouTube videos of elderly folks reveling in their homes. There was none of that when my Seahawks won the Super Bowl; they’re a younger team in a younger sport, no fans in their nineties to watch a lifelong dream come true. That night, ninety-year-olds Cubs fans clapped gleefully like kids from their rocking chairs, their bodies even remembering how to dance for a few moments. They had hung on, disappointment after disappointment, for almost a century. At long last, they had been rewarded.

And thinking of that, I felt…an ache.

It was not the ache of worrying about next season. (By the way, while I have you here – don’t do that. Don’t let your thoughts start turning to whether they’ll repeat next year, to worrying about the draft and free agency, to wondering whether this was all a fluke. Not so soon. They just won the World Series. For goodness’ sake, rest and enjoy it. That’s my advice, from someone whose football team won it all three years ago. Some fans will never know this joy.)

No, this ache was something else.

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