Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Guest Post: The Love of God and Suffering- Pt2

Excerpt from the book Is This A God Of Love
by A. E. Wilder-Smith

Chapter V
The Problem of Rebuilding

Just what would we expect a God of
love to do after his creatures had chosen
the wrong road — turning their backs on
the only good?

The Scriptures say that even before
the wrong choice had been taken either by
man or angels, God, because he is omniscient,
knew all about it. He had even
drawn up careful plans in advance to cope
with the situation that would arise, even
though he was in no way responsible for
it, nor did he cause it (cf Rev. 13:8, Eph.
1:4, Heb. 4:3, 1 Pet. 1:19-20).

This last fact—that God, if he is God,
must obviously have been omniscient
with respect to the fall long before it
happened — has been a stumbling block
to many. Actually, few real intellectual
difficulties are involved in this matter if it
is considered carefully.

If I observe a person carefully over a
period of time, I may notice some of his
little idiosyncrasies. He may say “Ah,” for
example, as a prelude to every difficult
word he has to pronounce. Or he may
twitch his eyebrows (or his ears) before
relating a good joke. Gradually I learn to
predict just what he is going to do before
he actually does it. My previous observations
allow me to do this with a fair
amount of accuracy.

However, my ability to foretell his
actions in no way makes me responsible
for them when he acts. Similarly, the fact
that God was able to foresee what Adam
and Eve, the angels and mankind in
general, would do, does not necessarily
implicate him in the sense that it makes
him responsible for initiating their actions
and choices. The only implication is that
involved in his having given them a gloriously
free choice of action in order to
create the possibility of their love.

The Problem Of The Consequences

At this point many will maintain that,
if God saw in advance the chaos, misery
and suffering which would certainly follow
the gift of the possibility of love, why
did he proceed with his plans to create.
Was he not rather sadistic to have persisted
in these plans, knowing the consequences
in advance?

In principle, the same type of questioning
arises every day in our own lives,
but seemingly we don't recognize this fact.
Consider, for example, the decision we
must make on whether to marry. Even the
marriage ceremony emphasizes rather
drastically that the same question is involved,
for the clergyman says our marriage
vows are binding until death us do
part. Surely there is scarcely greater grief
than that experienced by a really devoted
couple when separated by death. We could,
of course, avoid this terrible grief by the
simple expedient of not creating a marriage
relationship at all! Avoid marriage
and its love relationship and no grief of
parting by death will ever overtake you.

Yet, we rightly go into marriage with
our eyes open. We know that in normal
circumstances, death and all its sorrows
will overtake us and will separate us. Most
of us fear this more than we could ever
say. In spite of all this we marry, because
we believe that the joy of love and the
ennoblement of giving ourselves to another
in the abandon of devotion even for
a day (and forty or fifty years pass like a
day) is better than no love at all. It is
written of Jesus Christ that he endured
the sorrows of death on the cross for the
sake of the joys which would result from
the sorrow. The same principle is involved
here. The joy of love, even "short" love,
because it stems from a God of love,
compensates for even the sorrows of a
cruel death such as that which Jesus
suffered for all mankind, and the death
which separates all lovers.

The enrichment and ennoblement of
the human character brought about by
the experience of even the brief joy of love,
as God intended it to be, compensate for
certain future death, separation and
present trials. It is a question of balance.
Those who know the love of God in Christ
and those who have experienced a faint
taste of that same quality of love in God given
marriage will confess that it is worth
the certain severe suffering which it brings
with it. The principle is that even a little,
short-lived love is better than none at all.
The reason is that even mortal love changes
the eternal human psyche.

Evidently the Creator, being love personified,
thinks this way too, for he did
indeed create us and the rest of the fallen
creation, in spite of the foreseen mess and

All the same, many people — including
ourselves sometimes — feel tempted
to say "God, forgive God"  when contemplating
the dire mess in which the world
finds itself. Yet if it is true as the Scriptures
assure us that temporal sufferings
can and do bring eternal recompense, if it
is true that suffering is not necessarily
punitive but can be remedial as well, then,
relying on the Scriptures, we are able to
accept the anguish, just as God did when
he crucified God to remedy the fall of man.

The next question is: what would we
expect God to do to pull us out of the mire?

The Problem Of God's Answer

Now that the fall has taken place and
sin and anguish are in the world, what
would we expect God's answer to be? The
answer we give will depend entirely on our
conception of God's character.

If God is a God of love, then he is our
loved one. What would we expect a true
loved one to do who had been misunderstood
and rejected? Perhaps the scriptural
answer is the best one here: Love
"suffereth long, and is not easily
provoked, thinketh no evil... beareth all
things... endureth all things... (love) never

Surely that is the reaction we would
expect of someone who truly loves us.
Love endures all these things in the hope
of ultimate success in the wooing process
of love. God saw man's wrong choice and
all of its consequences which would lead
to chaos and anguish, long before the
wrong choice was made. When it did
come, however, we would not expect a real
God of love to impatiently and disgustedly
dismiss and destroy the object of his love.
Many who have difficulties with these
points apparently expect God to act like a
hard-hearted unforgiving tyrant rather
than a forgiving father. Such an expectation
probably arises from the fact that
such action is typical of short-fused people
like ourselves. But then, we are no real
examples of love in being short-fused.

In actual fact we would expect a God
of love to try to salvage what he could out
of the carnage. It takes the patience of
genuine love to set about this process. He
had warned in faithfulness and sternness
of the consequences of the wrong choice
—men would surely die of it—but neither
angel nor man heeded. One thing God
would not be expected to do, once the
wrong choice had been taken, would be to
block the way back to himself by attempting
to threaten, cajole or force us back.
Force cannot restore anything in the way
of love. That would be to cut off all possibility
of a way back.

How To Restore Love

Thus, in order to restore love, there
remains only one way open—the exercise
of further patient love. Accordingly, God
exercises long-suffering and patience in
trying to win us back freely to love and

Therefore, we should expect the consequences
of the fall not to be "fire and
thunder," but rather the "still small voice"
in the attempt to realize the word said
about God by the apostle: “who desires all come to the knowledge of the

But this attitude of quietness and
perseverance can be mistaken for passivity
or even inactivity. A large part of the
Scriptures is devoted to just this point in
fact. God is not inactive; he is not indifferent.
He is certainly not dead: “The Lord is
not slack concerning his promise, as some
men count slackness; but he is
longsuffering toward us, not willing that
any should perish, but that all should
come to repentance.” This means just what
it says: not all men will repent and come
to a knowledge of the truth. But it confirms
that God is a God of love and
patience who is ready and willing to receive
all who do turn to him.

The fact, then, that He has waited so
long before judging sinful man is, in reality,
another indication of God's true
character — loving-kindness, patience,
long-suffering, not being easily provoked.
Only by looking at the situation in this
way can I see any explanation of why God
has not long since exercised general
judgement on all of us and set up a
"puppet state" on earth and in heaven to
slavishly and immediately carry out his
every demand, just as any dictator would
do if he could, particularly if his will had
been thwarted as God's will certainly has

Thwarting God's Will

Some will feel shocked. Can, then,
God's will be thwarted? The fatalistic
Muslims think not. Is it possible that his
will may not be done on earth as it is in
heaven? Anyone unsure about this point
should ask himself whether God planned
any act of sadism that has taken place.
Was it his will to kill six or seven million
Jews in gas chambers simply because
they were Jews? Was this not rather,
thwarting God's perfect will? And does not
any other sin also thwart it?

Sinning is one way of thwarting his
will. Another way would be to set up a
dictatorship to "restore order to the chaotic
creation." If this route to rebuilding
creation were adopted, it would just as
effectively thwart God's real purpose of
setting up a kingdom of love. Under the
present circumstances of freedom to do
good or bad, there are still a few people
who see the situation as it really is and
who turn to God to be refreshed by his
love, even in the midst of the general
anguish of creation. Even a little of such
love and refreshment is better than none
at all. If the Lord had judged immediately
after the fall or after any sin, how many
who have since drunk of the water of the
well of life and love would have been lost
to him and his kingdom of love for ever?
His patience has been rewarded with
responding love which would have been
impossible if immediate judgment had

King George VI Of England

A story is told about King George VI of
Great Britain and how he won Elizabeth.
As a young man the future king fell in love
with the charming young Scottish lady.
After a long time of reflection he plucked
up his courage and approached her on the
subject although he was rather shy, especially
with the opposite sex. He had
never been much of a lady's man and was
neither very robust nor strongly masculine
in the film-star sense of the word.
Moreover, he had a slight speech defect,
which added to his difficulties. His proposal
was rejected.

The young prince, greatly upset over
this rebuff, asked his mother, Queen Mary,
for her advice. The Queen listened sympathetically
to her son's tale of woe. Then she
told him she just wanted to ask one
question before advising him. Did he really
love Elizabeth only? Would he be able
to find a substitute if Elizabeth proved
reluctant? After a moment's consideration,
he replied that he would marry
Elizabeth or no one else. "Well then," said
his mother, “there is only one way open to
you. Go and ask her again."

So the young prince put his pride in
his pocket, gathered up his remaining
courage, and arranged another interview
with Elizabeth. He probably stuttered as
he repeated his proposal, remembering
what had happened to him the first time
at her hands. She refused him again.

Not knowing what to do then, he
returned to his mother, Queen Mary, for
advice. Again she listened quietly—some
say, severely — to the whole story. She
showed him every sympathy, and, after
hearing all he had to say, indicated that
she had one question to ask before she
could advise him. The question was: "Do
you really want her after this rebuff?
There are plenty of other young ladies
around who would be delighted to have a
prince as a husband. I myself could show
you some.” But poor George was quite
clear about his feelings. It was Elizabeth
or no one at all. “Then," said his mother,
"in that case there is only one way open to
you. Go and ask her again."

So, after a considerable period of
mental preparation, the young prince
approached the pretty young Scottish
lady the third time. In the meantime, she
had noticed how serious the prince was.
His love and determination to win her had
indeed been constant. She saw that the
great effort he made in coming the third
time, putting his pride in his pocket demonstrated
his singleness of purpose. And
she began to recognize something new in
herself. His undoubted love toward her
was beginning to kindle an answering fire
in her own heart. His warmth of love, even
though he was awkward and not very
good at courting a young lady's affection,
was beginning to warm her affection towards
him. In short, his love was beginning
to kindle her love, and she began to
transmit some of the love she received
from him. She began to feel she was able
to say that she loved and admired him in
his singleness of purpose and constancy.
Thus, the story goes, began one of the
really happy families in the annals of royal
households. This love lasted until the
king's death.

Love begets love. But it often has to be
very patient, longsuffering and kind until
the fire is kindled in the prospective
partner's heart. The Scriptures say that
God woos in one way or another every
man and woman ever born. Through the
circumstances of life, or through the
Scriptures, he quietly goes on as the years
pass, until we begin to return to him some
of the warmth of love which he has for us.
For we are told that God has his delight
among the sons of men.  He loves us,
indifferent or rejectors though we have
been of his overtures towards us. He is
working toward the day when we may
begin to return to him the same love, and
to delight in his friendship as he will
delight in ours.

Once kindled, this love must be regularly
tended in order to maintain the
warmth of the blaze which God intends
our love to be — warming and refreshing
to both partners, so that both can rejoice
in the happiness which love brings. God is
love and we were so constructed in his
image that we can only flourish when
bathed in such love—breathing it in and
giving it out.

But it would be one-sided to leave the
story here. All love stories do not end this
way. We must look at one other less
pleasant possibility.

The Final Refusal

There comes a time in every love affair
where a final answer toward the wooer
must be made. This final answer may be
either yes or no. One day the wooed one
may make a rejection which, although she
perhaps did not know it, was the final one.
It turns out to be permanent. In the one
case, she may, of course, die. That finishes
the wooing of a mortal man—when
immortality lays hold of the prospective

Another possibility is that the wooer
may cease to woo. The “wooed” is not the
only one who has a free will to accept or
reject the wooer. God as the wooer has a
free will too — to stop or to continue
wooing according to his infinite wisdom.
He can decide how long to woo and be
rejected and also when to stop wooing
altogether. Even this final decision to stop
wooing, will, we are told, be made on a
basis of love. It will, accordingly, be put off
as long as possible.

There is a third and last possibility. If
the wooed marries another, then further
courtship by the first suitor would be
thoroughly out of order and outside the
confines of love. The Scriptures say quite
clearly that this state of affairs may be
reached in the spiritual sense. There comes
a time when a man “marries this world,”
and after that God no longer offers his
salvation, his "marriage relationship" to
him. His Spirit strives with him no longer.
A man's spirit and God's Spirit become
forever estranged, for man's spirit finally
"marries another," selling itself to this
world and its rebellion against the Most

We humans can seldom clearly see
when such a final act takes place. We
cannot determine when God's Spirit gives
a man up forever. But that such does
occur is perfectly clear, even though it is
invisible to man's mortal eye. We can give
ourselves entirely over to material things
such as a career, money or social standing.
It may be the love of things more
definitely sinful that cuts us off. In extreme
cases, we can "sell ourselves to the
devil'' quite consciously—as many Nazis
did when they knowingly cooperated with
Hitler in liquidating human beings in the
interests of their own promotion within
the party. Many do the same just as
effectively when they value promotion in
their jobs before promotion in the kingdom
of heaven. They do not seek "the
kingdom of heaven first.” Some men resolve
never to discuss spiritual matters
again because "they disturb." For them,
the courtship is over; they're married to

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews
speaks of that cessation. "Today,
when you hear this voice, do not harden
your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day
of testing in the wilderness, where your
fathers put me to the test and saw my
works for forty years. Therefore, I was
provoked with that generation and said,
‘They always go astray in their hearts;
they have not known my ways.’ As I swore
in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my

The context of this statement shows
that the Lord spoke and spoke again, and
wooed and wooed again, but the Hebrews
of that generation closed their hearts and
inward ears. In the end, God gave them up,
and that generation, except for Joshua
and Caleb, never entered the promised
land but perished in the wilderness. This
serves as a parable for us, to whom God
also speaks. We can be so occupied with
the joys and trials of this life that we, too,
do not hear. We, too, can miss the joy and
rest of his love by acting as did the Hebrews.

"For it is impossible to restore again to
repentance those who have once been
enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly
gift, and have become partakers of
the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness
of the Word of God and the powers of
the age to come, if they then commit
apostasy, since they crucify the Son of
God on their own account and hold him
up to contempt (Hebrews 6:4-6, RSV).”

This warning is to those who have at
one time responded to God’s wooing, and
have therefore tasted his goodness, and
then cease to respond. A time comes when
it is impossible to renew them, for the
striving of God’s Spirit with them ceases.

Another Scripture passage speaks in
exactly the same tenor: "For if we sin
deliberately after receiving the knowledge
of the truth, there no longer remains a
sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of
judgment, and a fiery fire which will consume
the adversaries... How much worse
punishment do you think will be deserved
by the man who has spurned the Son of
God and profaned the blood of the covenant
by which he was sanctified, and outraged
the Spirit of grace?.. .It is a fearful thing to
fall into the hands of the living God
(starting at Hebrews 10:26)."

I take this warning for myself, believing
that I can learn from all Scripture. The
point is, God can and does speak to men;
he does woo. If they respond, he allows
them to taste in this life the things of his
kingdom of love. But his wooing is dynamic,
and it is dependent on our daily
response. Continual spurning may end in
our "marrying another forever." Then his
wooing stops. Rejecting God’s grace in
Christ simply means declaring ourselves
as candidates for no grace, which is the
same thing as being ripe for judgment.

This raises the whole question of
judgment at the hands of a so-called
loving and gracious God. Can we accept
this? Is all suffering a judgment? Or must
suffering and judgment be kept apart in our minds?