Befitting Rewards: A Theodicy (Part 1)

Rain trickled down the bus window. Maybe it was the grayness of the day which enhanced my melancholy mood. Whatever the case, I saw him, then another, and then all of the “deficient” group from my high school. They were being wheeled and walked on their way to I don’t know where; and there I sat… in my bus seat, awaiting a trip to Chicago with the German Club. Much like the rain’s path on the window, tears formed in my eyes and trickled down. I didn’t look away from the window, so that my classmates would not think I was saddened by my own problems. The fogged glass at the bottom of the window allowed me privacy enough from those on the outside who might look in. So, I sank down a little. Then, as loud as my mind could silently say it to God, I thought, “Why did you make them, if they are like that? Why?”

My question wasn’t spiteful or angry. I didn’t ask it to prove a point. But, I’ve never forgotten that day, nor the answer God gave me within my spirit. The memory stuck, as it was one of the factors which made me consider theology as a college pursuit.

While in seminary, part of my duty was to continue exploring how a good God could allow evil and suffering, disease and trial, disability and dysfunction. In classes, I was taught the many ways theologians and Christian philosophers defend God’s goodness in the face of evil. I learned about the fall of mankind and the resultant entrance of death and blight into the world–not the fault of God but of mankind’s choice. I heard that God is to be praised for allowing life to continue at all, despite our continually choosing evil and destructiveness contrary to his design, character and desire. [please see If God is so _, then why _?] I understood he provided a perfect provision of redemption at his own severe expense, though he himself was the offended, innocent party. If one doesn’t like the present, evil world, then he can repent and “save himself from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40) by joining God’s plan of rescue and future restoration (Rev. 21:5).

I also saw he is allowing free will to have its course while sovereignly redeeming evils (weaving them into a higher, greater plan for good). As Martin Luther King, Jr. undeniably observed,

In a real sense all life is inter-related. All persons are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.

That is, God allows the choices of others (whether witting or neglectful) to affect us; but by some divine magic He can turn the effects of those choices into something meaningful and awe-inspiring within the grand tapestry of the universe, which might well be called “God & human existence.” This is meant to comfort, because we humans can endure almost anything if we know our hardships serve a greater good and definite purpose superior to ourselves, even if we can’t see its coherence.

On top of these arguments, I studied the book of Job, which some have said is the greatest debate on God’s character that history has ever seen. Apologists point out that God is holding back untold amounts of evil. On the other hand, one finds there are things (even realms) we don’t know as finite humans; and so, life’s circumstances only seem to have no rhyme or reason. In fact, we would not desire such an eternal perspective (to see the end from the beginning), if eternity were not a realm (“world”) for which we were made (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). [please see Eternity in Your Heart]

All of these arguments are sound and valid. God is indeed very good, despite mankind’s fallibility and attempts to malign him. Yet, if I am honest, the above lessons still leave an aftertaste of unfeeling quality in one’s mouth. They don’t meet the need for direct restitution, for compensation, for the upholding of fairness on a personal level. I am still left with the emotional register of seeing a human life wracked with disfigurement and deficiency. I still cry out, “Why?”

Few Christian apologists explore God’s economy of rewards when making defenses of His character. In the following blog posts, Lamb’s Harbinger will provide examination of this system of befitting rewards, which answers directly the individual’s claim to personal restitution. May I highlight that this work, for which God rewards someone, is not the kind of thing which involves actions?

I am not presenting God as the Eternal Judge who can be bribed with “good deeds.” Rather, the reader will take special care to note how I began this series–as a theodicy regarding inherent, genetic, or passive suffering. What I am saying is that one MUST trust Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection as the only merit for being reconciled to and regenerate by God. Moreover, God views the individual’s faithful struggle against the blight of a fallen world to be a work worthy of reward. He means the promise and description of reward to console and satisfy one’s senses of goodness and personal justice, which cry out when we look on either ourselves or others who are born with congenital disease or deficiencies, or when one otherwise has passively suffered at the hands of others.

It is surprising that many Christian apologists seem to neglect this aspect of theodicy… but, perhaps the lack is due to the unverifiable nature of these particular defenses. They are admittedly based on prophetic promises, a Divine IOU of sorts. Still, claims against God’s character are just as unverifiable as their counters. The real issue at hand centers on a combination of how God presents himself in the Bible and also whether biblical prophecies are reliable, seeing God’s economy of rewards will be realized in the future.

To further clarify what I mean by “passive suffering,” part of Christ’s passion was his passive suffering both in life and on the cross–to which he joyfully submitted, because he considered the shame and suffering to pale in comparison to the glory he would receive afterward… which, after all, is nothing less than title of King of Kings and Lord of Lords on an everlasting Throne, the Author and Finisher of our Faith (Heb. 1:3-14; 12:1-11). That is a pretty good trade theoretically. But, he got there by first willingly becoming the Man of Sorrows. He is our example in these things. When a faithful one suffers, God rewards. This is an anchor for the soul.

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