Why Is Life So Messed-up?
Reflections on the omnipotence of God
By Israel Banini
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were caught up in this same situation during Jesus’ crucifixion. We hear their words in Matthew 27:42, 43: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him.…” They were amazed that God, a Being with all power in His hands, should be slow to lay bare His arm and save His Son, with the force of lightning, if need be.
And why was that so?
Lesson From a Game
I was watching a football (soccer) match between two old African foes, Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Ashanti Kotoko, at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana. Just five minutes after the referee whistled the two teams into action, Hearts of Oak went down by a goal. The coach of Hearts, voted the best coach in Africa that year, stood on the touchline watching his players commit penalty offences on the field—out of ignorance or folly or carelessness.
What I noticed was that the coach didn’t rush onto the field to help his players. Instead, he suffered the disappointment of seeing his team go down, while offering, with tremendous patience, all the counsel and tips he could to them. In so doing, he helped his players to come up again.
Human free will has become a self-imposed obstacle to an omnipotent God.
God is like that coach standing on the touchline, His heart grieving at our stumbling, our ignorance, our folly, our sin, our suffering. It would be easy for Him to rush onto the field and play the game for us, but that would be weakness. It would contravene the rules of the game.
So He watches as red and yellow “penalty cards” are thrown at us, His players. My son dies; my wife is in agony; my brother’s house burns down; other calamities arise. Some out of our own folly, others not of our doing. But through it all God comes to us—helping, counseling, guiding.
To rush onto the field would be a confession of failure on the part of the coach—an admission that his plan for the match, as conceived in the beginning, was inadequate. Our God is not a careless, capricious interferer. He helps us play according to the rules with His infinite wisdom. But as an expression of His omnipotence, He has imposed a limitation on Himself by giving us free will, something He’d never take back; and there are some things He simply will not do without our cooperation.
When God wants something important done in the world, He does not mobilize His angels. Instead, He brings together two people, not by force, but by the winsomeness of love. They have a baby who becomes a David or a Samson, an Abraham or a Noah. He wants to build a temple, He gives the direction to a Solomon. And when He desires to build a free world, He cries out in His self-imposed limitation: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And until we say “Here am I, send me,” this omnipotent God is, so to speak, helpless to reveal His nature fully or to accomplish His purpose, so deeply has He condescended to cooperate with us.
He can express His terrific power in the rushing waterfall, the tearing wind, the angry wave, the furious storm, the flashing lightning. He can provide enough water to meet the needs of humanity. But He will stop short of using His tremendous power to block us from polluting the water. Human free will (and folly) thus becomes a self-imposed obstacle to an omnipotent God. There’s a sense in which God is helpless to make a college student become a medical doctor, if by misuse of their free will the student continually refuses to learn. Every decision is our decision; every choice is our choice.
God’s refusal to interfere in human freedom cost Him Calvary. His power, expressed as we would have it, would bring to an end our human resourcefulness, which in turn would defeat God’s plan to educate us, to have us develop character.
What then is the purpose of God? Can we have a world without poverty, without sickness, without ugliness, without death? Can we have a total outward condition of happiness and prosperity?
From God’s Perspective
We must always ask ourselves the frank question: “Are we keeping our part of the contract to learn our way around in the world and to engage in useful work for the good of society and the uplifting of humanity? Are we not ourselves shutting out a perfect world? Can we in the silence of the soul, even if we’re suffering, reflect on where we went wrong instead of where God went wrong?”
Let us then ask Christ to put His finger on that place in our lives where our own hearts are resisting His power, our sin polluting the river, our ignorance building a stone structure in an earthquake-prone area.
If only we stop resisting Him, He will let go His power as mighty as on the day of Pentecost when “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2). If we can do that, then not only will the final result be a complete victory for God and a display of His omnipotence, but the steps up to it, which now seem like defeat, will themselves be transformed into victory. Indeed, the biggest humiliation of Christ—the cross—is now the biggest sign of victory for Christianity.
The happenings we now label “disasters” will, with our cooperation, end up to the glory of God, far beyond every human thought or imaginations. To cooperate with God is to help fulfill His mighty purposes—purposes vast and glorious, beyond all present guessing, beyond our present sufferings, sorrows, agonies, and disasters that overwhelm us and nearly break our faith in Him. In the end, His omnipotence made clear, His power on full display, we shall sing, “Glory, glory to God in the highest.”
Israel Banini has worked as a frontline reporter during many United Nations operations, the latest being the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone.