belief … the problem of evil and forgiveness (RJS)

Francis Collins, in the brief stretch between stints as head of the Human Genome Project at NIH and, now, Director of NIH, put together a book, Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith, an anthology of readings he finds helpful in discussing rational reasons for belief in God. The anthology is, in some sense, a supplement to his book The Language of God. The essays  and excerpts in this book will not provide a proof for the existence of God – no such proof is possible. But they do provide arguments and reasons for belief.

Three of the excerpts or essays included in this book explore faith and the problem of evil and suffering with emphasis on ideas like Moral Law. We dealt with the excerpt from Art Lindsley exploring the concepts of good and evil in post modern thought last Tuesday. Today we turn to excerpts by Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel that put flesh on the abstract. We live in a world where evil – true evil exists. And yet both Tutu and Wiesel, especially Tutu, cast a vision of faith and hope.

As we look at these excerpts, especially that of Desmond Tutu, I would like to focus on restoration and forgiveness.

What are we called to and how are we called to live in the face of injustice? Is forgiveness the ideal or is it a miscarriage of justice?

What is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ for those facing grave injustice?

How does this connect with our image of God and his justice, mercy, and holiness?

The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu was the Anglican Archbishop of South Africa before he retired (image above from wikipedia). He is best know for his role in reconciliation. The excerpt included is from God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time. He tells of once sitting in a garden in winter, at a time when apartheid was still the law of the land.

During the discussions I went into the priory garden for some quiet. There was a huge Calvary – a large wooden cross without corpus, but with protruding nails and a crown of thorns. It was a stark symbol of the Christian faith. It was winter, the grass was pale and dry, and nobody would have believed that in a few week’s time it would be lush and green and beautiful again. It would be transfigured.

As I sat quietly in the garden I realized the power of transfiguration – of God’s transformation – in our world. … The principle of transfiguration says nothing, no one and no situation, is “untransfigurable,” that the whole of creation, nature, waits expectantly for its transfiguration, where it will be released from its bondage and share in the glorious liberty of all the children of God, when it will not be just dry inert matter but will be translucent with divine glory. (p. 150)

After the fall of apartheid Desmond Tutu served as the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.  About this he writes:

As we listened to accounts of truly monstrous deeds of torture and cruelty, it would have been easy to dismiss the perpetrators as monsters because their deeds were truly monstrous. But we are reminded that God’s love is not cut off from anyone. However diabolical the act, it does not turn the perpetrator into a demon. When we proclaim that someone is subhuman, we not only remove for them the possibility of change and repentance, we also remove from them moral responsibility.

We cannot condemn anyone to be irredeemable, as Jesus reminded us on the Cross, crucified as he was between two thieves. (p. 152)

Hearing these stories from the era of apartheid in South Africa, and later being in Rwanda after the genocide that claimed some half a million lives, seeing skulls with machetes and daggers embedded, he wondered how there can be any hope for human kind.

Yes, each of us has the capacity for great evil. Not one of us can say with certainty that we would not become perpetrators if we were subject to the same conditioning as those in South Africa, Rawanda, or anywhere that hatred perverts the human spirit. (p. 153)

Here I think we can pause to consider the hatred that has at times invaded even the US – slavery, racism, antisemitism,the treatment and even massacre of native Americans. Would we, given the same conditioning, have behaved any better? For most of us the answer quite likely is no. We certainly behave no better confronted by the “little” things.

Rev. Tutu continues with an aura of hope though:

It is only because we believe that people should be good that we despair when they are not. Indeed if people condoned the evil, we would be justified in losing hope. But most of the world does not. We know that we are meant for better. (p. 153)

Although we lose sight, are swayed by conditioning and self-interest, yet there is something throughout humanity that yearns for better and knows better. There is a moral law written on our hearts, however much we push it away and deny it.

We are better when we justly condemn what is truly evil and yet respond with mercy and reconciliation moving forward for all humanity rather than looking back and bearing grudges.

In the reflection of another great atrocity – the holocaust – Elie Wiesel, in an interview published in Evil and Exile comments

In my view this is the only meaning: queri means chance. On another level, it also connotes chaos, which is the enemy of everything the Jewish religion holds dear. Chaos is worse than chance, worse than anything, because if there is chaos, then Good is not good and Evil is boundless. It is the original tohu va bohu. Queri is therefore chance and with chance anything is possible. Covenant, on the contrary, is a response to chance. (p. 160)


Hatred is Evil and Evil dwells in hatred. The two go hand in hand. They partake of the same phenomenon, the same source.  But that is not the problem. The problem is that evil is sometimes done not in its own name but in the name of love. How many massacres have been planned and committed in the name of love! Which brings us back to what we were discussing earlier today: chance and chaos.  … The first thing God did in Creation was to divide the higher from the lower waters. Let good be good and evil be evil; then we must know that we must serve one and combat the other. (p. 164)

… But I repeat, I must try to do good not simply because it is written, but also because it is human duty and we cannot shun that which is human. The Bible, in fact, only makes explicit what we must do. (p. 165)

Both of these men are honored for an approach to injustice that is rooted in mercy and humanness – the humanness of all including, at least on the part of Desmond Tutu, the humanity of the perpetrators and defenders of injustice and terror. Both Tutu and Wiesel see this in the Judeo-Christian view of God. It is written into our being. Elie Wiesel’s  understanding is not entirely consistent with God as he see revealed in Christ, but Desmond Tutu roots his understanding in the Christian story of God’s love in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. It seems right and honorable when forgiveness and mercy grow within us, even in the face of the sometimes unspeakable inhumanity of man. This provides a path for moving forward where revenge and rights simply propagate the cycle of violence and destruction.

But there is something more here. The moral law, which I believe was written by God into our being, tells us that we should love, and we should love sacrificially, preemptively, and reflexively. We don’t live up to this – but most of us instinctively we feel that it is good, something we should aspire to and honor when we hear of it. We don’t shake our heads at forgiveness, but wonder at it.

The teachings of Jesus in this respect are profound. Consider Matthew 5, after a number of “extreme” statements about relationships Jesus talks about love and concludes with a comparison to God, our heavenly Father.

You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The end of this passage gets me every time – the love of enemy is connected with “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But this connection leads to a question.

Is this love and mercy we, most of us at least, feel intuitively as good and right, a dim reflection of the love, justice, and mercy of God?

Or is this love and mercy for us because we are not God? (We cannot judge, but God will judge – and we can turn to Romans 12:19-20 in support of this idea.)

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Alan K

    Great questions that get at the heart of God. When we forgive we are trusting that Jesus Christ is a just judge. When we don’t forgive, we pull the burden of justice onto our own shoulders to make sure no one gets away with anything. The burden of being judge is something that we cannot carry as human beings as that burden will crush us even quicker than guilt. I can now see why Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

  • Dan Wilt

    Re-humanizing in a dehumanizing world, as we ourselves are being rehumanized, seems to be the both the missional work of the Christian and the explicit work of Christ.

  • rjs

    Dan and Alan,

    I think we are missing something here when we look at these kinds of examples and the passages on forgiveness and come away with the idea that “because we are human” Jesus taught us to forgive, because we need to be rehumanized we give forgiveness and mercy.

    It seems to me that we are to love and to forgive because that is part and parcel of being humans created in the image of God. Mercy, love, forgiveness, are part of the nature of God in whose image we are created.

    We are coming up on the Easter season.

    Is the message of the cross that God in his awesome holiness sacrificed his son so that the law would be satisfied and he could save a few (or more than a few) from just and deserved eternal conscious torment?

    Or is the message of the cross that God out of the very nature of his being loves and forgives? That he became one of us to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven as the pivotal point in history to date because he loves and forgives – not frugally but in the very depth of his being?

    We are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

  • MatthewS

    What is the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ for those facing grave injustice?

    This is somewhat tangential to your point, rjs, but I really like how Bob Kellemen emphasizes how important a suffering savior was to the African American slaves. The gospel involves a suffering messiah who groans “Why?” in the language of human poetry on the cross. He did not merely observe from a distance. After this, he rose again, bringing new life after death.

    Another point but still connected is a vignette in Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Debbie Morris, a survivor of the “Dead Man Walking” story, describes the limitations of earthly justice when she says that even if the perpetrator could have been put to death 5 times in a row in the electric chair it would not have healed her. (The man was executed but once.) There are so many stories of how God can redeem and heal. “As We Forgive” is another example, from Rwanda.

    I guess the message is, in part, that whatever vengeance you’d like to take out on a person – a) it won’t work, and b) God already did it to Jesus on the cross. However, whatever healing you’d like to receive, Jesus the suffering but victorious savior has it to offer.

  • rjs


    Is the message and achievement of the cross satisfaction of the need for vengeance? Or is the message and achievement in part an overturning of all of our notions of vengeance, an overturning that is right because it is rooted in the nature of God?

    I don’t think this is the whole story – and would like to get some conversation here. Paul says in Romans 12 “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” Does the cross overturn all of our notions of vengeance – including what we often read into this verse? “I will repay” says our heavenly Father … and we have the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection. Not our kind of vengeance or satisfaction … but apparently God’s.

  • MatthewS


    Are those first two questions mutually exclusive?

    I know there is a spectrum of thought here beyond what I’m able to engage. But I find the cross a violent place both at the hands of the Father and of sinful man. I think Jesus’s “Why?” comes from a human brain that is absorbing so much it can’t do much else.

    Without the cross and the empty tomb taken together, a violent offender and his victim could not sit peaceably side-by-side in heaven.

    Reconciliation is a core concept of Christianity. Reconciliation to God, reconciliation to each other. The making of a new relationship, not merely the glossing over of former sins.

    I think that what Jesus experienced along with his response to it form a package where sin was answered, punished and Jesus made something new possible. He became a curse to redeem us (Gal 3:13) and he who never sinned became sin for us in order to reconcile us to God (2 Cor 5:17-21).

  • Paul D. Adams

    In the FWIW column…

    N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God has much to say here.

    When coming to the final chapter, “Deliver Us from Evil”, a unique alignment is offered between two unlikely subjects: evil and forgiveness. Admittedly (it was certainly true for me), “many readers will be familiar with the [inner dynamic of forgiveness]…but fewer will have connected it with the larger overall problem of evil itself” (p. 135). Exactly how does forgiveness relate to and satisfactorily answer the problem of evil? While forgiveness may not speak to the origin of evil, says Wright, it does set things right in the present as it certainly does in God’s future. Forgiveness is the means whereby evil is conquered as we move forward on our journey to the new heavens and new earth.

    In effect, what Wright says is that the act of offering forgiveness to an offender essentially overcomes evil by empowering the offended with the requisite freedom necessary to love the offender. Love has the final word, not the offense [with no Rob Bell pun intended]. Before forgiveness is offered, the offended is rightfully angry with the offender because of the offense. Yet this anger, Wright contends, becomes the controlling influence over the relationship when a breach is realized. Thus, there is a kind of psychological bondage whereby the relationship is held hostage to the evil committed. Offering forgiveness loosens the bonds of emotional slavery and opens the doorway to love the evildoer.

    In Wright’s own words (borrowing from Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace): “If I have named the evil and done my best to offer genuine forgiveness and reconciliation, I am free to love the person even if they don’t want to respond” (p. 133) or “when we offer genuine forgiveness to someone else we are no longer conditioned by the evil that they have done—even if they refuse to accept this forgiveness” (p. 141). Since “we are in fact called to be people of forgiveness in the present because that is the life we shall be living in the future,” the master of evil can be conquered now by offering forgiveness, the same forgiveness that someday will characterize our future when the “mental pain of unresolved anger and bitterness will be done away with, as we are enabled fully and finally to forgive as we have been forgiven” (p. 145).

    Forgiveness, then, “releases not only the person who is being forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving.” Forgiveness is saying in effect “I release you from any burden of guilt, any sense that I might still be angry with you when we meet tomorrow, or that I will treat you differently in the future or try to get even with you. But I also release myself from having to go to bed cross, from having to toss and turn wondering how to gain my revenge” (p. 159).
    According to Wright, forgiveness is not only a healing power but the reigning power over evil. And so, “the continuing presence and power of evil in the present world cannot blackmail the new world and veto its creation because the power of forgiveness, organically linked to the power of Jesus’ resurrection, is precisely that it enables both God and God’s people to avoid the imposition of other people’s evil.”

    And, right in step with Chris Brauns’s work Unpacking Forgiveness (my review here or reviews of Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge here and here), Wright warns that “the faculty we have for receiving forgiveness and the faculty we have for granting forgiveness are one and the same thing. If we open the one we shall open the other. If we slam the door on the one, we slam the door on the other” (p. 158; see also Matthew 18:23-35). God’s people must be a forgiving people. Freely we have received forgiveness and freely we must give it. Failing to do the later hinders the former.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    #7 Paul

    Matthew 18:23-35 was the Scripture lesson for last Sunday’s sermon. I think it is one of the most powerful stories Jesus’ tells.

    I’ve heard it said that refusing to forgive is the same as holding an offender accountable to be the person you don’t won’t them to be. We make their offense their defining quality, blocking any transformation. Failure to forgive is to participate in the perpetuation of the very world we say we do not want.

    Our pastor referenced Desomond Tutu in his sermon, talking about his visits to Rwanda after the genocide. Over and over again he kept remarking, “There is so much to forgive here.” It was his way of both acknowledging both the horrific depth of the evil and stating what the only avenue of transformation was.

    Yesterday, I was reminded of the lyrics by T-Bone Burnett in his song “The Wild Truth” and I posted them at FaceBook:

    “Are we supposed to take all this greed and fear and hatred seriously? It’s like watching dust settle. It never changes. It’s too consistent.

    Mercy is not consistent. It’s like the wind. It goes where it will. Mercy is comic, and it’s the only thing worth taking seriously.”

    Mercy and forgiveness are the dynamite that blasts free a world encased in evil. Or to quote T-Bone again (quoting Chesterton), it “makes room for good things to run wild.”

  • rjs

    Michael and Paul,

    In a longer version of my thoughts here I had the MT 18 incident and parable included. This is certainly food for thought.

    MT 18: When Peter asked how many times he should forgive Jesus answered by a very large number and a parable with a rather severe warning.

    And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.

    Here is a hard saying of Jesus we waltz around. I agree that failure to forgive is participating in the perpetuation of the world we don’t want. But I would like to ask a question here that gets deeper than this and into our understanding of the nature of God. How does forgiveness and mercy relate to the nature of God?

  • Michael W. Kruse

    It seems to me that two aspects of God’s character, justice and love, are not separable. (hesed) Love can’t exist if you aren’t free to choose the other. Real freedom means the real option of rejection. Humanity rejected God. But God still loves humanity. How can can God get humanity to chose God? Forgiveness and unmerited love.

    Yet God’s justice does not allow for endless injustice. Out of mercy he will one day bring about perfect shalom.

    For us, as image bearers, it means working for a just world. It means helping the oppressed. But, this is the hard part, it also means seeking transformation of the oppressors. We have been freed from the need to exact final retribution with the confidence that final retribution well be exacted.

    We are free in two ways. We are free from this world because it’s hold on us fleeting. Yet we are also free TO the world, to risk our lives for it’s transformation. 

  • Dana Ames


    You are asking some stupendously good questions. Wish this post had the traffic of the Bell book reviews…

    I have come to understand that the Eastern church’s way of describing things makes the best sense. There is a differentiation between “nature” (the ontologic being of a person), “person” (the unique expression of that ontology) and “energies” (actions and effects thereof which we experience). The only way we understand anything about “the nature of God” is through a relationship with the Person, Jesus of Nazareth, and experiencing his actions (including “invisible actions” like Love) and their results. The only way we understand what it means to “be human” is through relationships with unique human persons, in which we participate in one another’s actions and effects thereof. (Forgive my clumsy language in trying to summarize what has been written about in volumes.)

    Trying to categorize bare “nature” is what, according to the later Eastern thinkers (13th c. onwards to contemporary), led Western theology astray, and into defining truth as propositions only, among other things. Curiosity about God’s nature is not seen as unreasonable as humans seeking understanding. I think Nature/Person/Energies is a better way to talk about what, in many aspects, is unknowable.

    So yes, we know that mercy, love and forgiveness are part of God’s nature because we experience them in relationship with Jesus and as we observe them poured out generously, without measure, in his action of loving self-offering on the cross, absorbing every evil, taking all of that down into death as he identifies with humans in death – all the way down to the bottom, and demolishing death from within to give us back our freedom to love and forgive, unbound by death and the fear thereof which makes us sin.

    “Mercy and forgiveness are the dynamite that blasts free a world encased in evil.” Quite so. Vengeance and satisfaction of offense can *never* do it.


  • rjs


    I like the discussion of freedom here – and this is the way I lean. And I do think that there is judgment and justice, and I agree that justice and love are inseparable in God’s character. But I don’t think we really comprehend what this means.

    In your description isn’t forgiveness and unmerited love then just a “tool” to achieve a desired outcome, to manipulate humanity to choose God? This doesn’t seem consistent with “genuine” love.

  • rjs

    Thanks Dana, right now I’d be satisfied with as much traffic as “Into the Depths of Why?” The two posts really touch on different aspects of the same conundrum.

  • Richard

    What’s intriguing about this post is that it tangentially connects with where the phrase “Love Wins” comes from. Rob preached a series of sermons on the cross several years back, here’s a summary:

    “Several years ago Rob Bell launched a sermon series entitled “Love Wins,” a rethinking and re-treatment of the cross and what it means for the Christian. What Bell called his congregants to was to look beyond this idea that the cross is merely this sort of get-out-of-hell card, readying people for soul-evacuation when Christ comes to destroy the earth and the unrighteous. We are missing the point if all we see is the “eternal” redemption and salvation. This salvation and love is here, present among us. It is to be lived out now. In his introductory sermon to “Love Wins,” he said,

    “If the cross is just about getting you out of Hell and into Heaven, than we’ve missed the cosmic significance of it. The cross is God’s way of pushing the way the universe works into an entirely new realm. Jesus overcame death so now the universe functions in a different way. It is not like it use to be because God defeated evil.”

    Christ had choices. He could have burst off the cross and slaughtered all of them with his justified wrath. But He chose love and He continues to do so through the Church. “The cross, then,” Bell says, “is God’s way of saying ‘love wins’.”

    And now we stand here in the same position with the ability to make choices. Love always wins. When we are hurt, abused, harmed, and harassed—love wins.

    This call for the Church to support and love the community around them with unconditional love is much in line with what Christ taught—radical service and love even in the face of evil and oppression.”

    Source for the Summary can be found here (not my blog):

  • SamB

    MatthewS@5 – Can you please help me understand how the extremely savage death of the best and kindest human being who ever has lived at the hands of his father could help me sit next to someone who has killed in a horrible way someone I love?

  • Rick

    RJS #13-

    I thought you and Scot coordinated your various posts that appear on the same day, since it seems that so often the posts are related in some way.

  • MatthewS

    SamB, obviously anyone who offers up easy answers to deep tragedy is full of it.

    (BTW, You have framed the question to focus on Jesus’ death only, without the resurrection. This misses the point.)

    But to address the question: what justice would you like to reign on that offender’s head? Everything you want to do to that person was effectively accomplished on Jesus when he became sin, when he became a curse. Jesus suffered whatever agony you’d like to do to this person.

    Also, the agony you would be feeling in this lifetime (no agony in heaven) – the loss, hurt, pain, anger… as a man, Jesus experienced all that as well.

    To restate: Jesus absorbed the punishment rightfully due the scum who is your offender and he also felt the pain you would feel as a victim in this life.

    I would contrast this to 2 Sam 13:20 where Absalom told his sister Tamar who had been raped to keep quiet and “don’t take it to heart” and she lived as a desolate woman. I see that as hiding things away, sweeping it under the rug, not dealing with it. Absalom tried to get revenge later but didn’t fix anything, he just made things worse. This is an example of ineffectively answering sin. I look at Jesus on the cross and then the empty tomb as an effective answer to sin, actually answering it and taking it away.

    Another aspect of this that we might overlook is that sometimes we are the offenders, against God and against others. If you have deeply offended someone else, how can you repay them? Obviously you do whatever you can but what if you realize you have more to repent for than you can repay – On what basis then could you sit next to your victim in heaven?

  • rjs


    The other thing that is missing in SamB’s summary is incarnation. This is, I think, a key piece – and more important than some of those you list.

    This isn’t God sending someone else to take the wrath … this is “God with us,” God become human to dwell among us.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

    I don’t fully understand the Trinity – I doubt anyone does. But the image is not really the same as me taking out my wrath on my child. The incarnation makes it different in a significant way.

    This is really what I am thinking around in this post, with love as the nature of God.

  • rjs

    Rick (#16),

    No coordination here – I had no clue what Scot was going to post on today. But the posts definitely fit together.

  • Sherman Nobles

    This blog and thread is powerful stuff! Thanks everyone, especially rjs! There is so much running through my heart and mind after reading this thread that I can’t begin to organize it, get a handle on it. Forgiveness, love, grace, mercy, overcoming evil! Reconciliation is the goal! And reconciliation is attained through both forgiveness and punishment. Some lessons are learned only through suffering; and others are learned only through grace. “There is so much to forgive!” How powerful is that!

    Like I said, so many powerful thoughts and feelings surfaced while reading this thread! Thanks!

  • Andy W.

    I just heard a great quote today from an Eastern Orthodox Priest. He said, “Forgiveness is not a moral act, it is an existential act.” Forgiveness, as Christ has shown, has everything to do with our very being and existence.

  • Randall

    Dana, that post is so good I am going to hang it up somewhere around here. I do think alot of mischief has evolved from trying to comprehend the incomprehensible and basically divorcing God’s revelation of Himself in the incarnation. Knowing God in relationship and trust is the only way we can ever go forward into Who is is. Thanks.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    #12 RJS

    Hmmm… I’m not sure I entirely you get your drift about “tool.” God desired to create human beings for a loving relationship. God was willing to risk rejection and rebellion. That is precisely what happened. At least three options present themselves: A) God could destroy everyone. B) God compel obedience and worship, which is not freely chosen love, C) God can “win back” the unfaithful lover.

    I think the human condition is largely one of thinking that God somehow has it in for us. In the garden, the serpent’s lie is that God is somehow holding something back from Adam and Eve that is rightfully theirs. God is falsely cast as an enemy of our best selves. He has been framed. Human societies perpetuate this illusion in one form or another. How does God break free those he loves from the spell? He dis-illusions us from the lie with self-sacrificing love, to see the love he has for us.

    I don’t see this extravagant love as a “tool”, but rather the natural outworking of a passionate lover.

  • rjs


    I think what struck me as not quite the right idea was the question in your earlier comment… “How can God get humanity to choose God?” This is what gave me an impression of love as a “tool.” Maybe a better way to say it would be:

    How does God get humanity to choose God? Forgiveness and unmerited love.

    There is still more to think about here though.

  • DRT


    Oh yes. He lets us go. ….. ….. it’s not what we expect.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    #24 Thanks. That helps.

    I think there is probably much more to think about here. But I do have some concerns about our probing.

    I think it is perfectly legitimate to probe the depths of these mysteries about God and ultimate purpose. But I frequently get the sense from too many that if they can’t have a logical tightly formulated construct that shows how all this works together and how it all plays out, then they chose not to believe or to trust. I think there is mystery involved.

    Many aspects of God’s plans are very opaque. God revealed what he needed to accomplish his purposes with the Israelites but no one saw what was coming with Jesus and the church. We’ve been given Jesus and the church. That is sufficient for God’s mission for us now. But what makes us think there aren’t more surprises, that we aren’t in the same position as Israel thinking we’ve got all the data and just need to piece it together just right?

    There is mystery. Part of faith is embracing mystery. But I fear too often our Western drive for cerebral exactitude blocks faith and appreciation of mystery.

  • MatthewS


    Incarnation, excellent point.

    It’s a good day for more wisdom from the Greek Fathers: “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved”

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Interesting post. I so much appreciate the thoughts of both of these men.

    Yes, this is part of our god-ness, to want to love, forgive, and extend mercy. But sin has disrupted that. Of course our limitations keep us from seeing clearly and completely, something only God can do–true forever, even when we are no longer encumbered in this present existence.

    Good point, Michael. I so much agree. Love is love. How can we nail it down? We have to look to Jesus, and the cross. Certainly mystery in this love. And yet humanity in our blindness can see enough to see it is good. And the gospel says it is for us and through us for others.

  • Ann F-R

    RJS, your question in #3 helped to clarify what you were asking: Or is the message of the cross that God out of the very nature of his being loves and forgives? That he became one of us to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven as the pivotal point in history to date because he loves and forgives – not frugally but in the very depth of his being?

    I think in stories. I recall a S. African telling me, “we should have done to the [pejorative word for S. African blacks] what you did to the natives in America.” This was said to me on the steps of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria which friends had taken me to see: It took me aback & shocked me to be included with those who’d slaughtered native Americans. Facing our heritage is traumatizing to all we think we are.

    I’ve personally experienced, in part, what a S.African non-white co-worker in mission told me of. He returned from Europe to S. Africa because he missed the immediate presence of Christ beside him daily. In Europe, he found he could forget his need for Christ & even Christ because there wasn’t the constant barrage of demeaning, dehumanizing racist slurs. In S. Africa, he felt God’s presence as if he “could touch God” next to him, empowering to walk by grace & empowered by love.

    He expressed what I’ve experienced, too: that in the darkest times when we most need God’s presence to forgive the person(s) we face, God is fully there and our humanity is confounded by the immensity of God’s love. Grace super-abundantly overflows, God’s presence is solidly known.