Creative Suffering

Today, a friend posted this quote from the book Don’t Blame God- A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin, and Suffering by John W. Schoenheit, Mark H. Graeser, John A. Lynn. I haven’t read the book, so I have no idea if the rest of the book is any good. Probably 99% of what Christians write on the subject of evil, suffering and sin is unhelpful in my experience, so I’m always a bit wary of those claiming to explain it. However, this quote captures perfectly my own ideas and understanding, so I thought it would be worth passing on to y’all.

In the early days of television in the USA, a children’s show featured an artist whose creativity was astounding, and illustrative of God’s resourcefulness. This artist would sit beside an easel with a large pad of white paper. Randomly he would hand a piece of charcoal to one of the children and have him make any sort of scribble he wanted. He would then ask the children what they would like him to make out of the scribble. It might be an animal, a clown, or anything that appealed to the children’s imagination or seemed to pose a big challenge to the artist’s skill. The artist then went to work transforming the scribble into the requested image with amazing ease and skill. It didn’t seem to matter what the scribble looked like or what he was asked to make out of it—he could do it.

We must see God in a similar light, and appreciate His creative genius. He can take any set of circumstances and, with a few master strokes of grace and mercy, bring a new picture into view, one that shows His love and will. There is nothing that Satan and sin can introduce into our lives that God cannot transform into something that will glorify Him. There is one important difference between the artist and God, however. The artist took the charcoal from the child and drew the picture himself. God works with us to guide us as we and He draw the picture together. He asks us to work together with Him to achieve His will—by praying, trusting Him, obeying Him, and speaking His Word. As the English proverb well expresses it: “God supplies the milk, we bring the pail.”

Richard Rice points out that such thinking may seem to some as though it compromises God’s “sovereignty,” and leaves Him at the mercy of what people do. He then gives two ways to answer this objection.

In the first place, God has voluntarily limited His sovereignty over the world in order to leave us free to choose. When He created morally free beings, He, in effect, shared with them the power to determine what course history would take. So whatever limits there are to God’s power, they are limits which He voluntarily set when He decided to create the kind of world He made.

In the second place, the ability to respond creatively to events as they happen, so that they contribute to His purposes, takes, if anything, a higher kind of power than the ability to plan to the last detail everything that happens.

2 thoughts on “Creative Suffering

  1. There’s less to explain here, if we and God are not as disjunct as people tend to think.

    The Artist could let that child finish the scribble perfectly — if the child’s scribbling was analogous to the movement of another muscle in the same body. If a muscle in my arm decides to set up on its own, flailing results. If it waited for explicit instruction from me for every movement, my coordination would get very stiff and clumsy. If it works as part of me… it tightens as an element of my coordinated motion, and does things a randomly twitching muscle could never accomplish alone.

    Our apparent independence is evidently precious to God, a quality God has leaned over backwards to nourish… yet we seem to work best when we move as part of something God is doing. Although these two aspects of our condition seem incompatible, “It takes a paradox to keep us sane.”

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