More Reflections on Life's Harsh Boundaries
More Reflections on Life's Harsh Boundaries
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, MDiv
The article I wrote for the December, 2012 on-line newsletter, “Experiencing Life’s Harsh Boundaries” prompted the following response from a reader. I have included the response along with my response in the hope that this dialogue might be helpful to those who ponder theological questions related to their experiences of loss and grief. (Click on the following link to read the full article: http://www.griefwatch.com/experiencing-lifes-harsh-boundaries.)
The reader wrote:
Good afternoon, Rev. John. I just read your article in the Grief Watch newsletter [where you said:] “But it’s much more likely that neither of these suppositions is true, and that we have simply come up another of life’s harsh realities—a barrier or boundary that we cannot get beyond and that not even God can change.” I’ve faced the boundary or barrier twice, with the losses of both of my adult daughters in the last three years. My faith was strengthened, then severally tested, and now rebounding. But if I ever thought that God COULD NOT break the barrier if He so chose, then my faith would flee like vapors in a strong wind. If He couldn’t have saved my girls, then then how could I believe in His ultimate victory? I would rather believe that, in His providential wisdom, He chose not to save my girls; I don’t want to believe that He couldn’t save them. I don’t claim to know that every action under the sun is pre-ordained. In fact, I tend to believe that we are given some leeway in how we live and act here under the sun, and that bad things are going to happen to people due to their own actions or actions of others. But I don’t think I can believe that He couldn’t step in and change things if He chose to. I would love to hear what you meant with that statement. God bless you,
Here is how I responded:
You wanted to know what I meant when I said, in my recent online newsletter article, that “not even God can change” a harsh reality of life (a barrier or boundary) that we find ourselves up against. You saw that the death of your two adult daughters was definitely such a barrier or boundary for you. You said that you found it easier to accept the barrier by believing that God could have stepped in to prevent your loss if He had chosen to (than to suppose, as I did, that God could not do so) but that in your case God must have chosen not to step in because of His providential wisdom—a reason or reasons that were known to God but not fully understandable from the standpoint of human wisdom.
Or, to put it another way, I think you were saying that you could trust a God who could allow something bad to happen for reasons you could not understand, but you had difficulty with the idea that God might be helpless to intervene at all. Have I represented your point correctly?
Actually you and I may not be so far apart as it may seem in how we understand the meaning of God’s ability (or inability) to intervene in our lives. I agree with you that God’s non-intervention is a matter of choice and that it is based on what you call a “providential wisdom.” However, when I read the Bible what I see is that God’s wise decision not to intervene is not a decision that God makes on a case by case basis but rather is a part of the act of creation itself.
The stories in the early chapters of Genesis, for example, suggest that in order to create the human race in love and freedom God had to choose not to nullify the consequences of the choices that humans might make. Thus the choice offered to the archetypal man and woman (in Genesis 2 and 3) was either to trust God and eat of the tree of life and live freely and fully (i.e. without harsh boundaries) or eat of the tree of the knowledge (experience) of good and evil and expect the harsh boundary known as death.
They had clearly been notified of the consequences of a wrong choice by they chose to trust another voice different from that of God. Adam and Eve represent all of us because all of us are living out the consequences of this universal bad choice.
But the New Testament suggests that God, (in God’s wisdom again) is acting to recreate humanity with a “new Adam”—Jesus as the prototype of a new humanity where all come to trust God fully and in so doing receive “eternal life,” that is, life without the harsh boundaries to which we have become accustomed.
This is another way of saying that God chooses not to save only some people from harsh consequences while leaving other to fend for themselves. Divine wisdom is wiser than that. Instead God is working to bring all of humanity to a place of complete trust in our creator which the original human race, represented in the Adam and Eve of Genesis, has failed to embrace.
So we live in this hope, even as, for the time being, we still sometimes find ourselves up against harsh boundaries that God cannot erase piecemeal, but that God will ultimately overcome.
I welcome your response to this interpretation.