Amazing Grace

24 02 2008

           One of the perennial questions we (Christians and non-christians) have about God is, “If God is all-powerful, why does he allow so much suffering in the world?”

          I have two quotes from the introducton to Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song by Steve Turner that I want to share with you.

“I no longer felt in control of my life.  I was devastated, I was hurt, I was broken…. I told my running buddies that I was thinking of going to church and they said, no Sherman, it couldn’t have got that bad… So I went to church that night and I heard the word of God preached and at the end of the sermon the choir got up and they started singing the song:
                   Amazing Grace! (how sweet the sound)
                   That saved a wretch like me!
“When it got to the ‘wretch’ part of it, I said, Wait a minute!  He’s in the wretch-saving business?  I said, I qualify.  I qualify!”     – Sherman Whitfield, p. XXIX

“The first verse was a reminder of how far he [John Newton] had come and the change that had taken place both in his circumstances and his behavior.  The second verse reminded him of where he had come from and he never let himself forget that.  He never forgot the time he spent enslaved on an African island, the time when he realized that he was not the captain of his soul, that he was not the Man.”   – Steve Turner, p. XXXI (emphasis added)

We were talking last weekend in the class I’m taking… a woman was sharing who had been brutally, terribly, fearfully abused as a tiny child.  And the question came up again- why does God permit it to happen?  Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing God permit terrible things to happen?

When I read these quotations and thought about all the personal stories I have heard, the answer seemed to become blindingly clear.  Because we don’t feel our need for God when we’re the captain of a sucessful trading ship.  We need him when we’re enslaved by savages who may kill us at any moment.  We don’t look for God when our marriage and job are peachy, we look for Him when we walk in and find the preacher fooling around with our wife.  We don’t cry out to God for help when we can handle school and job and relationships, we cry out when our past has come back to torment us, and we recognize that we’re destroying ourselves and everyone around us with our inability to cope.

We suffer, and we realize that we don’t have the power to make it stop.  The realization dawns that I am not empowered, I am not intelligent, I am not sucessful, I am not in control, and I cannot handle what is happening.  And then, for the first time, we turn and ask, “God, are you real?  Because I am in a real mess here, and I need a real God, not some pretend one that I made up, not some theological system of beliefs, not a soothing philosophy, and not a comforting lack of judgement that ends in nirvana or nothingness… I need HELP!  Can you come through for me?”  And time and again, he does.

            There is no way to explain to someone who has not yet sensed their need for God how real He is.  Let me tell you a story.
            When I was in college, I developed an interest in rock climbing.  My brother was experimenting with rappelling, and I had done a little.  When he wanted to take a rock climbing class, my father bit the bullet and paid for me to take the class, too.  It was an amazing experience- incredibly empowering, beautiful, exhilarating and terrifying.  The next year, when I went to college, I joined a climbing club.  I did pull-ups on the shower bar every day when I got out of the shower and began developing some upper arm strength.
             The first time I made a top-rope climb I was so proud I like to died of it.  The guy who was belaying me from above was so tickled at my happiness, he gave me an oreo and a free trip back down (he made my boyfriend climb back down, which he did whining the whole way, “Where’s my cookie?”)
             I went on several more climbs, but with each new success, I became more afraid.  Finally, my fear became so overpowering, I stopped climbing.  I stopped when I had never slipped, never fallen, never lost control…  Actually, I stopped because I had never slipped, fallen or lost control.  I had never let the rope catch me.  I had never felt my need for the rope, trusted the rope, or let the rope save me.
             If I had just fallen one time, I would have known the rope was real, that my belay man was on the job and would save me.  But I was so grimly determined to do it myself… that I eventually became unable to do it at all.  Do you know anyone like that?  Anyone so busy hanging on by their white knuckle fingertip grips, that they can’t acknowledge their need for God?  They’ve got to keep their life disciplined and under control, not realizing that someday their control will be their final failure.
              It takes the smash up, the disaster of suffering, to break our hold on our self-confidence.  Knocked off the rock, we can’t help but grab for the rope.  More people in the Southeast have prayed as a result of this drought than would ever have thought of praying without it.  Suddenly mention of God is allowed back in the municipal buildings and stadiums again!  Everybody at the Braves game is praying for rain. 

           That little girl endured horrible suffering, but the end result is a beautiful, sympathetic woman with a gift for ministry and the ability to hear God’s voice.   Perhaps in the house next to her was a little girl who grew up petted and priveledged, but who now is growing old in isolation and hardness of heart.  Why is there so much suffering in the world?  God knows why, because over and over he sees the fruit that he labors so hard to produce: another child found, another drowning man saved, another woman healed.
          Amazing Grace, amazing joy.




2 responses

24 02 2008

That is some wonderful insight. The analagy of not ever falling, therefore, not ever learning to trust the rope is spot on. Good food for thought.

27 02 2008
Grandma Wilhite

YES!! But don’t let anyone tell you that God “tortured that child” or endangered any of his children with cruelty. That’s us. God is there to support us all the time, and God is there to pick us up when we fall. The actual fall in on us.

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