In my last post about Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, I mentioned the (false) theology of glory.
The theology of glory is basically the incorrect belief that we can determine God’s will and mind by what we observe. Associated with it is the belief that we can explain why things happen in terms of God’s will.
How does this play out in practice?
When bad things happen
“Oh, I’m sorry that <some bad thing> happened to you. It was probably for the best, because ….”
I’ve heard this one. Most of us probably have. Unfortunately also, it is often at the worst points in our lives when otherwise well-meaning people feel the need to explain why bad things happen. If you’re the one hurting, though, these explanations do not really help.
A better response is, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll be praying for you. Is there anything I can do?”
This response simply expresses sympathy and doesn’t try to explain things, because ultimately we don’t know specifically why bad things happen (other than in the general sense that we live in a fallen world).
When good things happen
“Wow, that’s great that <some good thing> happened to you? God must be really pleased with you.”
I’ve heard variations of this as well. Again, well-meaning people offer these types of comments, and it is at least not as painful as the response above. Yet, it still misses the mark. Again, we can’t explain things in terms of God’s will, if He hasn’t told us the answer.
We do know that if we work hard and follow God’s Law (to the extent that sinners like us can), then good things will “tend” to follow. But, there are a great many people who suffer difficulties in this life (all of us, really) and are loved by God.
The Main Point
Really, the main point is that when we try to explain exactly why something good or bad happens in terms of God’s will, we are speaking where God has not spoken. When we do this, we often end up calling evil “good” and good “evil,” as Martin Luther said. That is because if something bad happens and we attribute it to God’s will, then what we’re really doing is calling that “bad” thing “good.”
Let God Be God
So, we’re called to recognize that we don’t know everything and that we are not inside the mind of God. So, instead of speculating about God’s hidden will, we rely on what He has clearly revealed to us.
What He has revealed to us is that He is saving us through Christ and that Christ is restoring this fallen world. This is the hope and promise we point people towards in the midst of pain and suffering.
I like the book of Job in the Old Testament for this reason. Job’s friends try to explain his suffering in terms of God’s will (theology of glory). They all miss the mark, because they really don’t know the reason. They also fail to actually take their complaint to God; they talk about Him, but not to Him.
Finally, it is Job himself who complains to the Lord about his suffering. And this is ok. Children would complain to their earthly fathers if something bad was happening to them. Likewise, we as God’s children can complain to Him directly. That’s better than talking about Him; we’re finally talking to Him in prayer.
So, Job complains and God answers, but never really tells Job why he’s suffering. He just makes the point that the Lord is God and Job is not; just trust the Lord.
This is hard to do many times. It was certainly hard for Job. But, it’s better than being told that we deserve our suffering, or that our suffering is being inflicted upon us because God wants it to happen. These were things Job’s friends told him, but they didn’t know if these explanations were actually true.
So, instead, we trust in what we do know to be true: that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for it (John 3:16). This is what God has clearly told us. This is the true Theology of the Cross. And within this theology is the same hope that Job trusted in (Job 19:25-27):
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
(Image, Job and His Friends, By Ilya Repin – http://lj.rossia.org/users/john_petrov/854534.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2538610 )