Trust God or trust in man? The Cross, Evil, and Faith

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In her book ‘Evil in Modern Thought’, Susan Neiman, a modern philosopher uses 2 events to kind of put place marks around the modern era. „The modern era began,” she said, „in 1755, in Lisbon, Portugal. On All Saints Day of that year, there was an earthquake. Some have put the estimate that it was about 9.0 on the Richter scale and it lasted for a full 10 minutes. It was followed by an enormous tsunami that essentially wiped out almost 80% of the buildings were destroyed, and it was followed by fire. The estimates put the death toll as high as 60,000. One of the reasons that the death toll was so high was because it was All Saints Day. And the Cathedrals that collapsed, collapsed on so many people who had gone to worship that day. And for so many intellectuals in Europe, who were already kind of grumpy against the idea of God, that was it. This was a time when God could either no longer be believed as either all powerful, or all good, and therefore He could not be trusted.

In fact, one of the great intellectuals of the day was Voltaire. And Voltaire actually wrote a poem on the Lisbon earthquake, and he talks about his concern. He writes,

” Are you then sure, the power which would create
The universe and fix the laws of fate,
Could not have found for man a proper place,
But earthquakes must destroy the human race?

Wherever you put the start of the modern era, we can say that it was a huge shift in human history, particularly the history of western civilization. Whereas, prior to modernism, most institutions, most cities, most countries’ laws understanding of the world were centered around a belief in God, quickly, the trust in God was replaced with a trust in man. And, of course, at this point, science and technology were booming, medicine  was booming, human understanding was booming, and the arrogance that came with the scientific knowledge was quite hard to resist.

But, there was another event, according to Susan Nieman, that puts the end of the modern era, an end to the trust in man, and that was Auschwitz. You see, the Lisbon event was an event of what we call natural evil. Who do you blame for natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis? You put that at the feet of God, and that’s what shifted the trust to man. But, Auschwitz is what we call moral evil. That’s the evil that people do to each other, against each other. See, there is this belief in modernism that the most scientifically enlightened we would become, the less evil we would become to each other. But, of course, the 20th century destroyed any notions of that sort of optimism.

So what are we left with? We gave up belief in God and trust in God. We gave up belief in man and trust in man. We’ve got two options.

  1. We can just give up hope altogether. And many in the post modern camp kind of live in this state of perpetual despair that the universe is so broken, that the best we can do is try to overcome structures of power, but realize that we’ll never be able to fix it. 
  2. The other option, of course, is to go back and reconsider God. But, let me make a suggestion: The God of christianity isn’t just a god who stands up in heaven, aloof from His creation, sending natural disasters and allowing people to commit acts of moral evil without caring. The God of christianity is a God on a cross. As Dorothy Sayers said once: The God who chose to get His hands dirty, and the despair of the human condition, and the depths of the depravity in this world and our own hearts.

And I think it’s precisely at that place that christianity leads those of us who suffer. Where do we turn when we’re deeply suffering, under the human condition? How about – the God who suffers? In fact, if you look through the trajectory of the Scriptures, we have a God who continues to come down and be with His people. Whether we’re talking about God coming to Adam and Eve, God coming and dealing with Cain, God coming and choosing Abraham, God coming in a body in the Temple, and of course,most of all- Emanuel, God coming to be with us. And not just be with us, but, to swap His nature for ours. To allow us to share in His perfection, taking on our sin, taking on our suffering and our grief. There’s a very powerful poem written about this, by a brit who saw the destruction of World War I. His name was Edward Shaleido. And he penned a poem called ‘Jesus of the Scars’.  A poem by Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a Free Church minister in England during World War I:

Jesus of the Scars

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Published on Mar 25, 2013 ColsonCenter When confronted with natural and moral evil, people lost hope in God and Man. John Stonestreet explains why people should reconsider hope in God.

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