I’ll be blogging through Christopher Wright’s book by the above title (subtitle: Reflections on tought questions of faith) published by Zondervan, 2008. John Stott writes the forward. Unlike his “Mission of God” book, this is personal, and just over 200 pages. I am finding it a treasure to read. He tackles the problem of suffering and evil and the mystery/unanswered questions we have with great faith and trust–and does so looking at Ecclesiastes. He avoids easy answers but you also sense his basic trust and worship of God on every page.
In 4 sections he considers the problem of evil and suffering, the problem of the Canaanites (violence in the OT), the mystery of the Cross, and the mystery surrounding the end of the world. To whet your appetite, here’s some of his thoughts in the preface and introduction.
Right off on the first page he reiterates his joy of knowing and trusting God. “But knowing and trusting God does not necessarily add up to understanding.” He goes on to talk about the common experience of thinking that some suffering “just isn’t fair.” And he admits that his lack of suffering sometimes seems unfair too. “There seems to be no rhyme or reason to explain such unevenness of experience, when all of us are believers. None of us is any better as a saint. None of us is any worse as a sinner. Yet God has permitted great suffering for some and spared it for others” (p. 15).
Again, he clarifies his position: “It seems to me that the older I get the less I think I really understand GOd. Which is not to say that I don’t love and trust him.”
But still, “why Lord?” and “How long Lord?” are frequently part of his conversations with God.
He goes on to say that those who claim to have answers to the deep problems of life on earth are fooling themselves, “living in some kind of delusion.”
he finishes the introduction by exploring 5 different kinds of “not understanding.”
1. Things I don’t understand that leave me angry or grieved. He says here that the “very essence of evil is the negation of all goodness–and ‘sense’ is a good thing. In the end, evil does not and cannot ‘make sense’.”
2. Things I don’t understand about God that leave me morally disturbed. Such as the violent way God gives Israel their land.
3. Things I don’t understand about God that leave me puzzled. (ex: how Christians have so abused parts of the Bible and why God allows it.)
4. Things that I don’t understand about God but that flood me with gratitude (ex: the cross)
5. Things I don’t understand about God but they fill me with hope (ex: heaven)
Finally, he ends with reminding us that our questions have good company. Abraham, Sarah, Hagar (he mentions that Hagar was the first to give God a name in the OT), Moses, Naomi, David, Elijah, Job, Habakkuk, etc. all question God with WHY, HOW LONG, and WHEN.Even Jesus asks WHY on the cross.
Here are some last choice quotes:
“…faith seeks understanding, and faith builds on understanding where it is granted, but faith does not finally depend on understanding. (p. 22)
And he says something I say in my suffering lectures, that Psalm 73 brings our lack of understanding into faithful worship. It is in the context of worship that the Psalmist, who had been struggling with understanding God’s goodness when seeing life around him, has his perspective changed. His perspective, “does not change the realities of the present.” …the author does not go back and erase all that he has written in the first half [of the Psalm]. He lets us hear both his struggling lack of understanding and his restored, worshiping faith.” (p. 23)
4 responses to “The God I don’t understand 1: Introduction”
It sounds like he is waiting for the rapture.
“He goes on to say that those who claim to have answers to the deep problems of life on earth are fooling themselves, “living in some kind of delusion.””
Is this statement directed at all people in general, or Christians in particular? I have found that many of the “problems” of life that are extremely difficult for people with one set of metaphysical beliefs to answer, are ridiculously easy to answer for other people with a different set of beliefs.
“…faith seeks understanding, and faith builds on understanding where it is granted, but faith does not finally depend on understanding. (p. 22)”
I’ve heard this argument before. I’ve yet to see anyone have faith in anything that they don’t already have at least some prior understanding of, at least in their own minds. Wouldn’t that mean that faith, in practice, does depend on understanding?
Lightbearer, I think he is saying that “ridiculously easy” explanations often fail to take account for the complexity of “deep problems.”
Per your second observation, I think he is not saying “no understanding” but not complete understanding. Faith doesn’t depend on making everything make sense. Sounds like you might suggest faith comes after understanding (belief?). I think Wright is saying faith happens first and then looks for understanding. I tend to agree with him that we make our leap and then look for evidence.
Thanks again for your comments.
I agree with you on the first issue.
I also agree with your assessment of Wright; that was my assessment also, and I think he is partially wrong. I agree that we make our leap and then look for more evidence. I don’t agree that we make blind leaps; there’s always a certain amount of authority, reason and/or evidence that convinces us to make the leap in the first place. My observation is that the conception of what you have faith in is, by definition, required prior to having faith in it, therefore, even the smallest amount of understanding is required as the catalyst for faith.
I am distinguishing faith from belief as, in this context, conception, belief, and understanding are in effect the same thing.
If faith didn’t depend on and grow out of understanding, then scriptural study wouldn’t be necessary in order to deepen one’ faith.
Complete understanding, for a finite creation like ourselves, is impossible by definition. But to say that faith is somehow detached from understanding, or that understanding is unnecessary, I believe will eventually lead one to fall into hubris and/or fanaticism.
Regardless, Wright’s book sounds fascinating; I’ll be looking to pick up a copy over the Xmas break.