And in some ways, I don't blame them. In fact, I'm glad they care so much about the plight of starving children in Africa, if indeed they do. Not enough people on this earth have that much compassion for those outside of their own line of vision (and we've become very good at averting our eyes when they are in our line of vision, as if pretending they don't exist is somehow the better option). However, these are not people who believe in God in the first place. The underlying theme of this "attack" was not so much to do with helping these children as much as it was that a good God would not allow so many children to starve and die without providing them food and then go ahead and provide me with a stupid hard drive. Fair point, despite the completely unnecessary personal judgment and hostility.
So is it right for me to be thankful to God for something trivial when clearly there are much more devastating things going on around the world? And could God even exist if he cares about seemingly insignificant things like locating car keys or scoring a touchdown while children in Africa are literally starving to death? These are the two issues at hand.
I've taken a while to respond, partially because of not having the time or energy to address the point until now, and partially because I would rather not respond in haste or emotion. My first reaction probably would have been a defensive one, but the more time I've had to think about it (and pray about it), the more I think I might actually agree with the person who posted this, or at the very least with the point that the picture is trying to make (to a certain extent).
Three other people shared the above photo on their own Facebook walls after the original post. One of them is a friend of mine who is a Christian. She posted the photo on her wall with the caption "Please forgive me." I was momentarily shocked when I read that. Shocked, I think, mostly by her humility. Her reaction was not a defensive one at all; it was a self-reflective one, one where she, as Dawson Trotman once suggested we all should do, sought the truth in every criticism. That is what I desire to do as well.
The answer to the question of whether I believe there is a loving God who cares for the poor, the sick, the suffering, the persecuted and the hungry in this world is "yes" to the core of my very being. The answer to whether I think he helps any of those people is also yes. The answer to whether I think God cares about me finding my car keys is a slightly more difficult question. I still think the answer is yes and I will briefly explain why, but I also think after reflecting on it that the problem with this kind of situation or "request" is not God, nor even his plausibility. It's me.
That being said, to deal with the first issue at hand, is it wrong for me to thank God for help with the small problems in my life? I don't think so. I'm still thankful to the person who lets me into traffic, even if a fatal accident looms ahead. The two issues are nowhere near equal in importance, but I'm thankful nonetheless for even the trivial things which are done for me. I'll tell you what. I care about starving children in Africa. But I also care about finding my car keys. These are two very different things, and I care about them in two very different ways. Nevertheless, I do care about both of them. If it came down to saving a child in Africa or finding my keys, I would without the slightest moment of hesitation save the child. There is a vastly different prioritization there between the two issues for me. And I fully intend to do whatever I can do in my life to help the plight of starving children in Africa. I also fully intend to find my car keys. Caring about my own seemingly insignificant needs certainly does not come at the expense of caring for those needs of others. But that's only one of the issues. Even with this example, my own prioritizing of helping children in Africa over finding my car keys would suggest that God would intervene in the much more serious issues of our world over the relatively unimportant ones too. Could God even exist if he supposedly helps only with those things which absolutely pale in comparison to the world's larger problems? To again use the car keys and starving children example, I believe God cares about both of these issues too (again, in two very different ways).
I think God does care infinitely more about the suffering of his creation than for me to be 15 minutes late to a meeting. Since he allegedly cares for all people, clearly it makes sense that he would care about both situations, but on very different levels. But how could he sit back and not just solve every problem of human suffering around the world if he is so caring and loving? The assumption is that God could not possibly have good reasons for temporarily allowing evil and suffering in this world. Here are at least four reasons why that is not necessarily the case.
Firstly, the question of whether God could allow temporary evil and suffering in the world for good reasons partially depends on the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. If you believe that this world is all that there is, then it absolutely makes sense to focus on the suffering of so many people around the world as the primary issue on this earth. If this world is all there is, then addressing the physical and emotional suffering of people should be the first priority above all else. The assumption is that this world is the point. However, if it's not--if there is actually an afterlife, as the vast majority of people around the globe believe there is--then that means that this life is not the point at all. This would in no way belittle the suffering of so many afflicted people around the world, but it affects the scenery heavily in that there is a promise of something beyond what we currently experience, where there is no suffering for the afflicted and the righteous, and eternal suffering for the wicked. Such an afterlife would make this life just a blip on the radar in light of an eternal existence. It would offer eternal rest for many who have suffered in this life and eternal unrest for many others. Again, this in no way gives less significance to the suffering of so many, but it does mean that God would not be in the position of having created people exclusively for an experience of suffering. It opens up the possibility for there to be a greater purpose for even the deepest suffering. "The Biblical view of things is resurrection--not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had, but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater" (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God). The skeptic will likely not be satisfied with this proposal and will claim that it does indeed belittle the suffering of so many, but their sensitivity to others' suffering (which I respect and appreciate as I resonate with it also) does not affect the legitimacy of this proposal that this life may not be the point.
Secondly, and related to the first point, God's primary concern (at least according to the Bible) is not our physical afflictions, but rather our spiritual ones. God's first concern is where we stand in relationship with him. Again, this certainly does not mean that he does not care for the physical suffering in this world. The Bible is riddled with exhortations to help the poor and the afflicted, and as with the previous example, in the same way that I care for both starving children in Africa and finding my car keys on two totally different levels, so God cares for both our physical and spiritual afflictions, but on two totally different levels. If there is an afterlife, and thus if this world is not the ultimate point, then God's first priority is our afterlife. Therefore, in using this life to bring us into a willing relationship with him, he would thus be giving us access to that eternal experience of total peace and rest as opposed to total unrest and separation from him as the alternative. The choice is ours as to whether we turn to God and to a relationship with him or turn away from him and choose to be separated from him. However, in my experience, circumstances are a powerful method of bringing people to a place where they are more or less likely to turn to God and not away from him. Thus, if God's primary concern is our spiritual well-being, it is not only possible but highly likely that he would use our physical circumstances as opportunities to try and bring us to a place where we may be more open to his presence in our lives, or where we might recognize our need for him. Some circumstances and tragic events in this life seem overwhelmingly evil and as if no end could possibly justify their means. I get that. But if temporary suffering could lead to eternal joy and peace and rest...well, I think it may actually be worth it in the end. C.S. Lewis put it this way: "They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory" (The Great Divorce). I know many people who would consider themselves to fall into this category of actually having been brought into a relationship with God through tragic circumstances. Again, the skeptic is likely to disagree on the basis of their sensitivities to the physical suffering of others, and this I respect and appreciate. However, again, it does not alter the legitimacy of this suggestion about reality. As minister and author Timothy Keller points out in his book The Reason for God, "Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless. This reasoning is, of course, fallacious. Just because you can't see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn't mean there can't be one."
Thirdly, God actually chooses to use people as one of his primary means of intervening to ease both physical and spiritual suffering in this world, again at least according to the Bible. A lot of skeptics fairly question whether God ever really intervenes in the world today. I believe that he most certainly does and that there are a plethora of examples of him doing so, but it is also important to realize that the suggestion of Christianity is that God primarily chooses to use people for his purposes, as his agents of change in the world. We see this in the command of Jesus for his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20), and we see this in the history of the early church recorded for us in the book of Acts where physical healing, financial giving and loving their neighbours as they loved themselves were all integral parts of how Jesus' command to make disciples played out in his followers' lives. And we can see this today through organizations like World Vision, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse and Gospel for Asia, organizations which exist to show the love of God to suffering people all over the world through helping them physically. I actually think it would be an incredible gift for us to get to be a part of participating in God's plan to change the world and bring physical and spiritual healing to people everywhere. It would also be completely consistent with what the Bible says about God's purpose for our lives. This would mean that God is in fact intervening in the world, both directly and through those who believe in and follow him.
Finally, another premise of the Bible is that God has suffered incredibly too, both physically and spiritually. The ultimate climax of this suffering obviously is in the person of Jesus, who according to the Bible, was God in the flesh who came down to die in our place. In doing so, he not only endured incredible physical torture, but also spiritual torture in his separation from relationship with God the Father.
"Christianity alone among world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows firsthand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture and imprisonment. On the cross he went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as his knowledge and power exceeds ours. In his death, God suffers in love, identifying with the abandoned and god-forsaken. Why did he do it? The Bible says that Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us" (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God).
This, of course, does nothing to answer the "why?" of suffering, but, if true, it does everything to show that God does indeed care for the suffering of his creation, so much so that he stepped into it intentionally. Keller also raises perhaps a fifth point, which I will not address in detail here, that God would in essence need to erase humanity in order to erase all evil and suffering.
What I see as a problem here is my own lack of recognition of how insignificant some of the things I ask God for help for really are in light of what is going on around the world. Of course, I pray for those things too, so there really isn't a huge amount of inconsistency here. I thank and praise God for the lives I believe he is saving, both on a physical and spiritual level all around the world. But I also realize that the difference in prioritization in my life needs to be clear, both to me and to the world around me, not just in my words, but in what I do with my life. For that, I am thankful for the wake-up call.
Please forgive me.