100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

We’ve all heard the phrase “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t...” We say this when we find ourselves faced with two courses of action, neither of which are desirable. It causes me to wonder, are there really any situations in this world we might find ourselves in where, no matter what course of action we take, we will be forced to sin in some way? Some theologians have said “Yes, in a fallen world we can find ourselves in such a situation.” That is, because sin permeates every aspect of this world, there may be times when we simply cannot escape sinning. That’s what we should expect in a fallen world, and we should just choose the lesser of two evils and call upon the mercy of God to forgive us. And when we wonder how a perfect world will be different so as to alleviate this problem, I suppose we have to just throw our hands up in the air and say “It is just beyond the capability of our imaginations to even imagine how God might design a perfect world...” And fair enough, I suppose. But there’s one thing that bugs me about this idea... Jesus lived in this fallen world, and yet was without sin. How did He manage to remain sinless even in this fallen world of ours?

Consider how in Luke 4, at the start of Jesus’ ministry, He spoke in a synagogue and what He said upset the people so much that they essentially formed a lynch mob and took Jesus to a cliff, intending to throw Him off. If Jesus had let them He would have remained an innocent victim of violence. But Jesus had a mission ahead of Him, according to God’s plan of salvation for the world. And rather than fighting them off and becoming guilty of violence, the Bible says that Jesus simply passed through their midst and went his way. This certainly sounds like the supernatural intervention of God. I don’t imagine that the people of that lynch mob suddenly found that their muscles stopped working so that they couldn’t grab Him. And I don’t imagine that Jesus suddenly became like a ghost so that He physically walked through the people. I don’t really know what happened, but to many there it may not have looked overtly supernatural at all. Perhaps, rather, all of those involved who were intending to throw Jesus off the cliff suddenly lost their nerve. And I wonder whether, maybe, this kind of thing doesn’t happen all the time? Like maybe when I’m walking down a dark alley past some guy standing against the wall, what I don’t realize is that this guy is a desperate drug addict who, for the past 20 minutes has been psyching himself up to mug the next passer by... but then, as I walk past him within striking distance, he suddenly loses his nerve. And neither of us are ever aware that it was God who intervened in that way.

So this is how I see not only a perfect world working, but our own world too. No world created by God doesn’t involve God interacting with it. The Bible says that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3). Whilst I think people usually see that as God being responsible for the forces which bind matter together, I think it goes beyond just interactions between particles and covers every aspect of the system, and includes even our social interactions. We also read in the Bible that:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

If God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”, He must be intervening in every aspect of our reality to control the situations you find yourself in. And the reason there is probably never really a genuine case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”, where no matter what you do you will end up sinning, is because God intervenes to prevent situations like that. And in a perfect world, for example, there might be no car accidents because God would always intervene to prevent them. And there may not even be any disagreements amongst people, because God may intervene in our minds to create empathy and understanding, taking away pride and envy, and so on and so forth.

People should see this relating somewhat to the “problem of evil”. If God is intervening in this world, He doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job... there are car accidents and major disagreements all over the place! But this is a fallen world according to God’s plan. God put it in its fallen state and He will restore it from it’s fallen state, according to His plan and in His time. He has made the world fallen because He has good reason to. Let’s not forget that, while God intervened in Luke 4 to save Jesus’ life, He later allowed men to lay hands on Him and torture Him to death on the cross, all according to His perfect wisdom and plan. And whereas I might be saved from a mugging, another man passing down that dark alley might not. But why God might allow a mugging is a topic of discussion that can go for hours... But possibly God allowed evil so that He could demonstrate His love in sending Christ and saving the world from it.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

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