I’ve been thinking a lot about complexity recently. I grew up in wonderful little conservative churches being taught great answers to tough questions. I say this not because I still believe they were great answers, but because they made sense, were easy to explain, were easily understood, and were easy to memorize. In the worldview of most people I know, this constitutes a great answer.
However, my worldview refuses to behave itself and get with the program.
Everywhere I look I see incredible complexity, and spiritual matters are no different. If anything, adding a spiritual or theological element to a thought makes it more complicated and harder to wrap my mind around and explain. I never seem to have simple answers anymore. Every question I try to answer is laced with nuance and apparent contradiction. Thinking about and trying to understand God, a task I’ve been told over and over is a simple thing, has become incredibly hard. Not hard like a chore or a construction job, but hard like a puzzle. It’s rewarding, often fun, and well worth the trouble, it’s just so complex that it’s anything but easy.
I think though, that this is what it should feel like when we try to comprehend an infinite God with a finite mind. We shouldn’t be able to put him in our nice, neat little boxes and label him accordingly. He shouldn’t fit into well laid out categories, and we definitely shouldn’t claim to be able to predict what He will do.
I was reminded of one of these complexities the other day when I heard a pastor quote C.S. Lewis from, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” When the children are first told of Aslan and hear that he is a lion they ask if he’s safe.
“’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, but he is good,. He’s the king, I tell you.’”
It’s a great quote, and it’s true. Not only does it illustrate the complexity I’ve been talking about, but on it’s own it’s a concept I would like to explore a bit.
Our human understanding of God naturally wants to make Him linear, and His goodness is no exception. We usually feel like good equates not only to safe, but to our cultural definitions of protected and prosperous.
We think that if God is being good to us that means he is prospering us in the way our culture defines prosperous, protecting us in a way that we feel safe, causing our children to turn out the way that we want them to, and guiding our lives to be all that we have ever dreamed they should be.
The truth is so much more complex than that.
Scripture is full of the reality of God’s goodness. It’s there right alongside the descriptions of the destruction of Job’s life, the captivity of the Children of Israel, the persecution of the early Church, and the thorn in Paul’s side. We are given a picture of a God who is good to his people through incredibly un-good things.
None of this fits if we look at God linearly and culturally. If we step outside of our expectations and fleshly desires, it works though. God’s goodness is expressed through His love and His growing us toward Himself. It is not expressed through earthly protection or prosperity because often the very things that draw us to the heart of God are things that make us the least comfortable or safe in this life. Often these are things that will never go away. God often works with lifelong lessons, not a one time course in patience and then we’re good. Remember Paul’s thorn? That’s what I’m talking about here.
More than that, God often works in eternal, infinite ways that we simply can not understand. Think of Job’s children. What was the endgame for them? Or how about the Philistine people? Was God loving and good to them? If we believe that God doesn’t change and what he says in John 3:16 is true the answer has to be “yes”, but how do we explain that? How do we understand it?
No, He’s not safe, and He’s not simple, but He is good.
He’s the king, I tell you.