CHAPTER FOUR

IS GOD AS MEAN AS A SNAKE?

 

††††††††††† God is. God is near. He hears our prayers. He has the power to give us what we request. So, why doesn't he?

††††††††††† Everyone who struggles with the question of why a prayer is not answered is tempted to wonder if perhaps God is something different from whatwe've been lead to think.

††††††††††† If God is good and if, being an all-knowing God, he already knows what we want or need before we even ask, then why doesn't he cooperate?

He knows?

††††††††††† Sure he knows. The Bible says he knows every hair on your head; he knows every sparrow that falls; he knows every star and calls each one by name; he knows the thoughts and intents of the heart and... he knows our every need before we even ask.

††††††††††† "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him," Jesus said.

-- Matthew 6:8 NIV

That sounds terrible!

††††††††††† What kind of Father is it who knows his children are in need, who hears them ask him for help and who yet refuses to?

††††††††††† When we think along these lines, we are apt to conclude that God is -- like some earthly fathers -- too mean to help his own children.

††††††††††† In Restoration London back in the 1660s, dentists used the teeth of children to make dentures for wealthy clients, so some evil fathers pulled out all of their own children's healthy teeth to sell for drinking money.

††††††††††† For some of us the image of a divine father is not one to make us regard him fondly; some earthly fathers fall way short of heavenly so we can well question just what kind of Father is the one in Heaven.

††††††††††† We know that God reveals himself in the world he created.

††††††††††† "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made..."-- Romans 1:20 (NIV)

††††††††††† Well, what do we see when we look at what has been made?

††††††††††† Depends on what you look at.

Big fish eat little ones.

††††††††††† In Shakespeare's play Pericles two fishermen stand on the deck of a ship looking down into the water. One idly remarks, "Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea."

††††††††††† His companion answers, "Why, as men do aland; the great ones eat up the little ones."

††††††††††† We do live in a world where big fish eat little fish. Where deformed babies are born to wholesome young couples. Where little kids die of AIDS. Where petty tyrants threaten world peace. Where thousands lie down to sleepin gutters hungry every night. Where gangs of hoodlums beat up choir boys. Where old people languish neglected and lonely in nursing homes. Where brilliant students can't afford an education. Where chicken hawk pimps snap up runaway children in bus terminals. Where centerfold bunnies earn more money than nurses. Where ministers get arrested on vice charges. Where snapping turtles pull under baby ducklings. Where drug pushers drive better cars than teachers. Where dirt makes newspaperheadlines while heroic deeds go unreported.

††††††††††† Thinking about these things alone might bring a different shade of meaning to the old hymn, "This Is My Father's World".

Grackles sometimes win.

††††††††††† Outside my window last spring I watched a pair of downy woodpeckers diligently tap a hole for a nest in an old palm tree. The flash of sunlight on their red heads brought me joy. But, no sooner than the nest was built than a pair of ugly black grackles drove out the woodpeckers and took over the nest in a messy squabble.

††††††††††† What kind of Father made a world where the grackles win?

These poor fish climbed out

††††††††††† Once while walking along a river bank in a state park I saw something black and silver thrashing in the water right at the edge where a little ditch emptied into the river. Fascinated, I drew closer and found thousands of fish fighting to get into the little ditch of water. The water boiled with them. They pressed each other so hard that the ones in back actually had pushed the ones in the front ranks out of the water. I asked a park ranger about this strange phenomena and he told me that a factory upriver was polluting the river, the little ditch contained fresh water and all those fish from the river were fighting to get into it so they could breathe!

††††††††††† I cried.

Hard world = hard God?

††††††††††† So, What does nature as I observe it teach me about the character of God?

††††††††††† Is the God who created this world a person I would trust to answer my prayers to him?

††††††††††† OK. I know that the world in its present state lies under siege by sin. The scripture tells me that Satan has usurped a place here and corrupts our whole planet.

††††††††††† "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." Romans 8:20-21 NIV

††††††††††† That being so, then why did Paul tell the Romans to look at the world to learn about God's eternal power and divine nature?

††††††††††† It looks to me as though he would have told them to look at nature to see how mean and bad Satan is.

††††††††††† But what we learn from God in nature depends on our own perspective.

Love and the professor

††††††††††† Once years ago back when I was driving a truck cross country for a living, I made a delivery to the Airforce base in Dover, Delaware, and had to lay over a weekend before I could pick up a return load. To pass the time I toured some of the lovely homes build by Quakers during colonial days.

††††††††††† I wore my trucking company uniform and I must have looked relativelytrustworthy because in the garden of one home a vacationing family asked me to use their camera to take their picture against the backdrop of a rose arbor and fountain. The gentleman and his wife were enjoying a second honeymoon with their young son. The little boy obviously doted on his Daddy and his wife clung to the man's arm and whispered tender nothings as they strolled in the garden.

††††††††††† The gentleman told me he taught philosophy at an Ivy League University and just before vacation he had been awarded tenure. He showed me a watch his students had presented him as a token of their esteem and affection.

††††††††††† The couple asked me to watch their little boy while they toured a fine crystal display in the kitchen of the old houses so the kid and I hunted frogs by the fountain while the parents walked arm in arm through the exhibit admiring antique glassware and furniture.

††††††††††† Later, with the adults sharing soft drinks on a balcony overlooking the gardens while the little boy played below calling up now and then to show his Daddy some prize butterfly he discovered, the professor and I got to talking about God.

††††††††††† The professor began to lecture me about the ignorance of Christianity in the face of natural evidence. He said that atheism is the only position any reasonable person can take. He saidthat nature teaches us that ifthere is such a being as a god, it must be cold, harsh, cruel and capricious.

††††††††††† He told me about big fish and little fish, about deformed babies, wasted lives, polluted air, cancer, abusive parents and more such "evidence" from nature.

††††††††††† He refuted arguments from teleology and cosmology and a bunch of other ologies I'd never heard of before.

††††††††††† He soundly denounced the very idea of God.

††††††††††† All I could do was listen till he wound down. I really didn't know what to say to the pure force of his intellect. I doubt if I've ever talked with a smarter, better educated, man.

††††††††††† "That's really impressive," I said. "But I'd like to make one observation."

††††††††††† "What's that?"

††††††††††† "I've noticed that you are greatly loved. Your wife is obviously crazy about you. Your little boy worships you. Your colleagues at the university have honored you and that watch tells me that your students hold you in high regard... Where did all that love around you come from? It has to have a source. Wherever there is love, there has to be a Lover."

††††††††††† I don't know how that idea popped into my mouth. I thought the professor was going to cry.

††††††††††† He appeared to be absolutely smitten. "I've never thought of it like that before," he said.

††††††††††† His wife hugged him andlaughed, "You ought to know better than to talk theology with a truck driver."

††††††††††† Well, sometimes God does use the weak and foolish to nudge the wise.

††††††††††† The point I want to make here is that while there is evil in the world, that's not all there is. There is love. There is nobility. There is selflessness. There is honesty. There is honor. There is beauty. There is goodness.

††††††††††† These things do have an origin.

Good is.

††††††††††† Oddly enough, evil makes the headlines because it is evil. By and large, goodness needs no publicity; it is so commonplace that we tend to overlook it.

††††††††††† Susannah Wesley, a Christian mother who lost ten of her nineteen children in infancy and who raised her remaining nine in stringent abject grueling poverty, said, "Though man is born to trouble, yet I believe there is scarce a man to be found upon earth but, take the whole course of his life, hath more mercies than afflictions, and much more pleasure than pain. I am sure it has been so in my case."

††††††††††† Yes indeed.

††††††††††† Taken as a whole, the lives of most people do contain more good days than bad. Even if you feel bitter about your own lot in life, think about it a bit; your bad days stand out because they are framed by normal, good, more or less, contented days. This appears to be true for most of us.

††††††††††† We are saturated in goodness because God is good and the world he made is good even though sin tries to spoil it.

††††††††††† Satan never laughs. He never enjoys anything. He gets no pleasure from ruining people. Demons have no fun.They gain nothing from destroying people. They act out of utter meanness. Sheer nastiness, Pure spite. Vile bitterness. Sneering contempt.

††††††††††† But even all their meanness only contaminates God's world: goodness is here. Goodness is the thing they pollute.

††††††††††† The trees are good trees. The grass is good grass. The rocks are good rocks. The sand is good sand. The air and rain and seas and rivers are naturally good. Pollution is not their natural state.

††††††††††† The scriptures tell us again and again that God is good.

††††††††††† The very first chapter of the Bible uses the word "good" over and over. God saw the light was good; the waters and the dry land, good; the fields and the trees, good; the day and the night, good; the great whales and the winged fowl, the creeping things and the beasts of the forests, the man and the woman -- the word "good" is used in each case. And when you read to the end of the chapter where God surveys everything he had made -- "Behold, it was very good".

††††††††††† At the end of the story of Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 50), when his brothers had knocked him in the head, dumped him in a pit, sold him for a slave and God finally delivered him, Joseph forgave his brothers and told them, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good..."

††††††††††† When St. Peter spoke to Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, he said, "You know... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good..."--Acts 10:37-38 NIV

††††††††††† III John 11 simply states "He that doeth good is of God".

††††††††††† A quick check of my handy vest-pocket edition of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance To The Holy Scriptures (which lists every word in the Bible along with each one's Hebrew or Greek roots) shows that the word "good" occurs 705 times in the Bible; the word "bad" occurs 17 times.

††††††††††† You suppose that's why they call it "The Good Book"?

Good and crazy

††††††††††† A person who can not tell the difference between good and bad, between right and wrong, is judged to be legally insane.

††††††††††† You'd have to be crazy not to know what good is; but just to be sure, I checked my dictionary to see. There's a huge listing defining the word "good" and virtually every shade of meaning dovetails with character traits which theologians refer to as attributes of God!

††††††††††† Good means --of a favorable character, certain to last, wholesome, deserving respect, honorable, setting a standard, kind, benevolent, upper class, competent, of the highest worth, well-behaved, conforming to the moral order of the universe, praiseworthy, healthy, having intrinsic value, permanent, giving the best results, an affable companionable person, having a generous disposition, cheerful, attractive, cooperative, marked by principles of friendship, supportive, agreeable, pleasant... and the list goes on!

††††††††††† When we say God is good, we mean all that -- infinitely. Without limit.

Our God is a God of pleasure.

††††††††††† Once when Jesus told his disciples to sell all they owned and give to the poor, he prefaced this with the words, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

††††††††††† Every healthy thing, every thing you truly enjoy, every pleasure you feel, every bit of fun, every smile, every laugh, every joy -- all these things come from the hand of God untwisted by sin.

††††††††††† "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows," said the Apostle James.

††††††††††† Yes, God is the source of all pleasure: King David rejoiced, "You will show me the way of life: in Your presence is fullness of joy -- at Your right hand are pleasurespleasures forevermore".-- Psalm 16:11 KJV

††††††††††† Pleasures forevermore!

††††††††††† A good God giving good and perfect gifts because it is his good pleasure for us to enjoy good pleasure.

††††††††††† When we pray for good things, we echo God's will for us because He also wants good things, the best, for us.

††††††††††† Now I'm not advocating a pollyanna world view saying that this is the best of all possible worlds. It ain't -- yet. But I do believe that the underlying world structure created by God shows that the Creator is good.

Why do we expect good?

††††††††††† Strangely enough, in spite of all the bad nasties we see around us, virtually all of our expectations argue that God is good:

††††††††††† When a used car dealer palms a clunker off on you, you feel frustrated, outraged, disappointed and cheated.

††††††††††† Why?

††††††††††† Because you expected good.

††††††††††† And when that good does not come, you know that it should have. Some internal sense causes you to expect good.

††††††††††† You didn't get that internal sense from observing that big fish eat little ones.

††††††††††† Good is what ought to be. Everyone knows that. And we know that something is out of whack when bad happens; we all act as though good were the norm for the whole world system.

††††††††††† Yes, you do fear bad and protect your self against it as best you are able, but you really expect good and are disappointed if it does not come about.

Good people abound.

††††††††††† The woods are full of them. Not a day goes by that some fireman does not risk his life to save a stranger; he's motivated by something more than merely holding a good civil service job. Policemen put their lives on the line to protect others. Nurses risk horrible infections to care for the sick. Parents work night and day to provide for their children. Child care workers put up with obnoxious brats day in and day out because even brats need care. The world abounds with good caring people and when one shirks duty or falls to corruption, that dereliction is so unusual that it makes the headlines. Could it be that the bad guys make the front pages because they are the exception!?

††††††††††† No doubt that ours is a sinful fallen race but even our first-father's fall in to sin, even the bad-nasties that plague the world, even the tyranny of Satan over our world, even with pollution, AIDS, abortion, nuclear weaponsand sit-coms -- even with all that, the original underlying good of the Creator can not be erased from his creation.

God and Father

††††††††††† Even with fathers who pull all the kid's teeth, even with dads who abandon the family for some floozie, even with dead-beats dads who skip their child-support payments, even with dads who never look up from the tv --- Father is still the term Jesus uses of God when he prayed.

††††††††††† But that does certainly not mean Jesus was ignorant of how earthly fathers can be. He once asked the gang, If a child asks for fish, or for bread to eat, will you give him a scorpion, a snake or a rock?

††††††††††† Jesus full well knew that some fathers might do just that. After all when Jesus was born, the king of his nation was Herod, who had killed most of his own sons -- some by poisoning them and some by starving them to death. Everyone in the crowd knew that Caesar had said of this Jewish king, "It's safer to be Herod's pig than Herod's son". -- Even knowing all that, Jesus still uses the term "Father" and told the crowd, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

-- Matthew 7:11 NIV

††††††††††† But when I pray and I don't see an answer, I still wonder what's wrong.

††††††††††† I mean, if there is a God, and if he is available, and if he is able to help me, and if he is a kind and loving Father but nothing happens when I pray... I just don't understand

††††††††††† Jesus promised that when we pray we're sure to get an answer --Well, didn't he?


 

 

You have been reading Chapter Four of the book Why Donít I Get What I Pray For? by John W. Cowart (IVP, 1993)

Click here for Chapter Five

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