(I wrote this a couple of years ago, October of 2012, during a women’s conference. Just a reflection on what we were talking about at the time. I think about this question a lot, but this one kind of blew my mind.)
I was thinking the other night about the fall and sin. I mean, God allowed the serpent to be there. He allowed the devil to go there. One lady pointed out that Satan must have asked permission. Like in the beginning of Job. And I know people wonder why. I know I did. I still do sometimes, when it gets hard to wrap my mind around. I mean, why, if God is all-powerful (and he is) does there have to be sin and the fall and all of human history? If God wants us all with him (and the Bible says he does) why wouldn’t he just make us and not allow sin?
I started thinking maybe we ask the wrong question. I mean, maybe the question isn’t “If he is powerful, why did he do this?” but, rather, “Since he is good, what does this mean?” Maybe this is what it takes for God to show us how deep his love goes, how far his forgiveness will stretch, how much his grace will cover. If he were to just say, “I know you never did anything wrong, but, if you had, I would have forgiven it, all of it. Forever. I’m God. It’s no thang.” We might have believed him (okay, maybe not if he said “thang”…), but we would be left with what we can imagine. This way, we have a very real picture of what God can forgive – and does. And it goes far, far beyond our imaginations. It stretches through thousands of years of humanity, countless lifetimes, endless amounts of unspeakable evil. Maybe that’s the only picture that allows us to really begin to even glimpse the immensity of God’s forgiveness for us. His love for us. To create us so that we can’t take the punishment for our sin so that he can show his love by taking all the sin of human history on himself.
And why doesn’t God save everyone? Why so many souls clearly going to Hell when God has the power to save them all? Why is the road narrow? Maybe that’s the only way we get a picture of how precious it is. Maybe our gratitude needs to be measured not in dozens or thousands or even millions – but in billions and trillions and numbers too big to really fathom. And why do the unbelievers have to be tormented for all of eternity with screams and groans and gnashing of teeth and billowing smoke of endless suffering – forever? Is it because God enjoys suffering? The Bible says no. Is it because God needs vengeance? Well, he is a wrathful God and vengeance is his, saith the Lord. But it seems like there might be easier ways to exact that vengeance and rightly punish the wicked. And even if eternal suffering is the only right punishment for the injury that disbelief does to God, why so public? Maybe the publicity is the whole point. Maybe that picture of eternal torment is the only way we understand the vastness of God’s pain at and the heat of his hatred for our sin. Maybe it’s the only reasonable picture of how much God sets aside to forgive us. Maybe it’s not even accurate. Maybe it’s a paltry shadow of it. Maybe if every human that ever lived burned in Hell for all of eternity, it wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket compared to God’s sorrow and anger and pain from our sin. That is a staggering thought. More staggering is this one: He set that aside to sacrifice himself to forgive us. Bore that to have us with him – because his love is even bigger than that.
But what goes beyond staggering right to soul-shattering is the question that is raised by all this: What should be our response to a God who loves us like that? What is appropriate and what does he deserve?
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? -Romans 9:20-24