I became a Christian in 1978 when I was 12 years old. My stepfather’s parents dragged me to church with them and one Sunday I heard a message that made sense to me, and kneeling at an altar with members of the church surrounding and praying over me, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.
By the time I was 15, however, though I still attended church with family, I had come to renounce what I once believed and declared within myself that Jesus was just a wise teacher but not the Son of God and, furthermore, that there was no God. I became an atheist.
This decision hinged on arguments that have plagued mankind from the beginning. How could an all-knowing, all-powerful, loving God allow evil to exist? Why does God allow suffering?
Those questions came up for me almost immediately because of things I was dealing with in my own life.
I had a perfectly miserable childhood filled with every form of abuse you can imagine. I was physically and emotionally abused by my stepfather and sexually abused by my maternal grandfather and many others who were strangers.
I guess I thought that, as soon as I became a Christian, God would protect me and all the abuse would stop. That didn’t happen, and over time I lost my new found faith in God and Jesus Christ. When I lost it, I knew I had lost something very profound and I missed it. I missed the love and the peace I felt. It was the only genuine feeling of love or peace that I had ever found in my life. But I just could not accept that evil and suffering could exist in the presence of a loving God.
Many troubled years went by and I was well into my adulthood and had gone through even more terrible things including 3 suicide attempts and an 18 month stay at a state psychiatric facility where I was diagnosed with mental illness. At first I was diagnosed with Chronic Major Depression, but that has since changed to Bipolar II Disorder.I was also told I have Borderline Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While, on one hand, it was a relief to have a diagnosis, on the other hand, it made that longing to feel that love and peace in my life again almost unbearable. But I still could not bring myself to believe.
Then one day, while still in the mental health facility, during a group session, something happened that changed the way I looked at the whole situation. One of the other “clients” was worked up about having to take medication and be in the group, or in the facility at all. Suddenly, at the top of his voice he said, “No once can tell me what to do! I get to choose for myself! I make the decisions, not you!” And then a thought occurred to me…
We all make our own decisions.
God gave all of us free will, starting with Adam and Eve. God told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But He didn’t stop them when they did just that even though He already knew what the ultimate consequences would be.
Yeah… free will. It’s one of God’s greatest gifts to us. The right to choose. Will I use my life, my talents for the good, or will I use them to do things that I know are wrong? Will I love God or will I refuse to believe He exists and turn my back on the gifts He has offered.
When God gave us free will, He had to step back. He had to let us stand or fall for ourselves, just like any other parent must eventually do with their children.
Once I realized that, I began to read the Bible again and came upon the story of Job. Now, this was a man who had every right to denounce the existence of God. Everything but his life was taken from him. His family, his friends, his home and property, his health… all of it gone. Through it all, His faith in God never wavered. He continually cried out to God to help him in and through his suffering, but he never once said, “There is no God, because a loving God would not allow this”. The kicker of Job’s story is this. it was the result of a bet. A wager between God and Satan, if you will.
You see, Job had a wonderful, large family, he also had a great deal of property and possessions. He was wealthy by the standards of the day. When God pointed Job out to Satan and said there was none more righteous than, none more devoted to God than he was, Satan said, of course he is, you’ve given him everything, why wouldn’t he be? Take it all away, though, and he’ll curse you to your face! (Job 1:8-11) So God gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted, without causing physical harm to Job, himself, to try to prove his point. (Job 1:12) In one fell swoop, Satan took away everything from Job. His livestock were slaughtered along with his servants who tended them and his sons and daughters were killed when the house they were all in fell in on them. All of these losses in a very short span of time, yet Job didn’t curse God,,, He instead BLESSED God. (Job 1:13-22) And it didn’t stop there! When God said, see? You did all of that and he is still faithful to me. Satan said, maybe so… but he’s still healthy. Take that away and he’ll curse you for sure! So, God allowed Satan, once again, to do his worst without actually taking Job’s life. He endured every kind of physical and emotional suffering imaginable. He didn’t know why it was happening. He couldn’t imagine what he might have done to cause it. He could have, at any moment told God to kiss off, he wasn’t having the notion of their being a loving God anymore… but he never did. Satan did his absolute worst, yet through all the losses, illnesses and captivity Job still kept his faith! Does that mean he never questioned why these things were happening to him? No. He did question. But he never ceased believing that God was there and would see him through in His time. Job suffered greatly and he did curse many things… but never God. In the end, because he did remain faithful, God blessed Job with twice as much as he had originally lost. He also blessed him with more children.
I’m not saying that every incidence of suffering or every evil act is because of some cosmic wager between God and Satan. Most things we see today are directly related to an act by a human being or a group, thereof.
It goes back to free will.
We all get to choose how we will live our lives. God gave us that gift. Why? With the hope that we would choose good over evil and choose to love and follow Him.
A gift far greater than free will was given when God knew that we would sometimes choose not to do good. That we would, in fact, choose to sin and that the act of sin would cause a separation between Him and us that could not be removed without intervention and atonement of that sin.
In comes Jesus Christ…
But that’s a topic I will discuss on another day,
My discovery of the concept of free will helped me to finally reconcile how a loving God could exist despite the evil so prevalent in this world. God exists, and I try to live each day in such a way that I am deserving of His grace.
I’m not perfect. I still make mistakes and doubts do creep back in. But I pray for strength to keep my faith in the face of day to day struggles, mistakes and doubts. So far, God has been good. That’s all He can be!
copyright 2011 Michelle Wampole.(Ordained April 13, 2011)