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Pastor Glenn McDonald: That's How Love Is

What is God’s greatest miracle? Is it the parting of the Red Sea?  Feeding thousands of hungry people with a few loaves and fish?  Raising Jesus from the dead?

Interestingly, we can make the case that the most compelling of all God’s miracles is the miracle of restraint.

Why doesn’t God heal every disease?  Or thwart the tornado that’s approaching a subdivision?  Or incapacitate missiles that are heading toward helpless non-combatants in a war zone?  God has plenty of such opportunities to reveal himself to a fearful, spiritually famished world. 

Likewise, God is roasted on social media every hour of every day.  He is mocked and cursed by people who are offended by how he runs the universe, and offended by others who seem furious that he doesn’t exist, since that prevents them from mocking him to his face. God could wipe out all those social media posts with a wave of his hand.  Why doesn’t he do so? 

Cambridge biologist Richard Dawkins, who wears his atheism as a badge of honor, seriously unloads on the Almighty in his book The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Imagine Dawkins doing a live TV interview.  Suddenly a deep, resonant voice from heaven breaks in: “So, you think I’m a delusion, do you?”  And with that, a well-placed lightning bolt turns Dawkins into a six-foot tower of toast.  Wouldn’t that be an unusually effective way for God to bolster his public relations? 

Instead, there is silence. Perhaps God’s silence betrays the fact that he doesn’t care.  Some years ago a national religious radio host made this remarkably transparent statement:

“I have no trouble believing God is good.  My question is, What good is he?  I heard a while back that Billy Graham’s daughter was undergoing marriage problems, so [they] and the in-laws all flew to Europe to meet with them and pray for the couple.  They ended up getting divorced anyway.  If Billy Graham’s prayers don’t get answered, what’s the use of my praying?  I look at my life – the health problems, my own daughter’s marriage, my marriage.  I cry out to God for help, and it’s hard to know just how he answers.  Really, what can we count on God for?”

Many of us assume three things: If God is really there, and really cares, and really has all the power in the universe, he would always intercede to help us according to our hopes and prayers.  Likewise, many of us assume that if we can’t think of a good reason why God doesn’t intercede every time we suffer, there must not be any good reasons – as if the infinite-personal God, the creator of the cosmos, can’t possibly have his own rationale for exercising restraint.

Actually, it’s easy to see that choosing not to intercede – as dreadful as that may seem in the moment – is often the ultimate way (and perhaps the only way) that genuine love can be expressed.

Author Philip Yancey recalls sitting outdoors at a Chicago restaurant and listening to a broken man recount the story of his own prodigal son. Yancey writes, “Jake, the son, could not keep a job.  He wasted all his money on drugs and alcohol.  He rarely called home, and brought little joy and much grief to both parents.  Jake’s father described to me his feeling of helplessness in words not unlike those Jesus used about Jerusalem.  ‘If only I could bring him back, and shelter him and try to show how much I love him,’ he said. “He paused to gain control of his voice, then added, ‘The strange thing is, even though he rejects me, Jake’s love means more to me than that of my other three, responsible children.  Odd, isn’t it?  That’s how love is.’”

Why does God allow us to experience so much pain and loss, when at any moment he could silence his critics, devise supernatural shortcuts, and set everything right?

The answer seems to be that God’s love is always persuasive, never coercive.

Think of Jesus on the cross.  Although he acknowledged that at any moment he could snap his fingers and summon a cadre of angels, that would have been utterly contrary to his mission.  His call was to suffer and die.  To hear the jeers of his opponents.  To pray to his Father that they might be forgiven.

Thus, most of the time, God remains silent.

He waits as our trust grows.  He watches as we take baby steps toward deeper maturity.  He keeps on performing the miracle of divine restraint.

Because that’s how love is.


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