“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:20)
We may not always believe that we are finite. Oh, we would have admit to finitude if asked, but our self-confidence can lead us to believe we have a corner on the truth. In my early twenties I entered the dark tunnel of agnosticism – from knowing “everything” to knowing nothing for sure, especially about God and his Book. I wasn’t arrogant, affirming that no god existed, just that I, at least, couldn’t find him. When by God’s grace, I emerged from that dark tunnel, I had great confidence in the basics, you can have that confidence as well; that God is, that the Savior actually saves, that God has purpose for our life. We are shorn of any pretense of infallibility about the details. Our expectancies- for ourselves and others – are lowered to the realities of human finitude.
We exult in the confidence of what God has revealed for sure- so sure that all believers of all time would affirm it. But most things we’d never figure out no matter how long we investigated and contemplated – things about God’s infinities, and things about our finitude. Like the meanings of the past, the hopes for the future, the reasons for our circumstances, the goings-on of our inner self. We can be comfortable with that ambiguity about life, now, though others may not be. Some seem to need to have everything settled for sure.
For an inquisitive thinker and an intense activist, the realization of one’s finitude can be a marvelous relaxant and stabilizer. Besides, lowered expectancies of oneself is a doorway to making room for others. Maybe they’re finite, too—and in a different configuration, yet! That realization could make a peacemaker out of a person. For example, when Mack set out to get rid of me as leader of the ministry, I didn’t have to try to “be good” and not get angry, fight back, or hold a grudge against him. After all, he saw things differently than I saw them. Besides, maybe he was right. I didn’t think so, but neither did I conclude he was devilish. Our finitudes had clashed, and we both thought we were doing God’s own service. My theology had protected me in the crisis.
We believe we are fallen and so are others. So we expect them to behave as fallen people and that helps make allowances for their failures, which doesn’t come to us naturally. What comes naturally is to be easy on myself and hard on the other fellow. So it’s a trick to be realistic about my own fallenness without justifying my own ungodly behavior because I’ve been easing off on the other fellow. I haven’t figured out all the ramifications of the doctrine of the fall for protecting me from wrong thinking about myself and others, but on the larger scale, that doctrine has been a powerful deliverer in my life.
Here’s how. The whole of creation is under the curse of the fall and you are not exempt, because of God’s love for you, from the consequences of living in a world of vicious cancer and violent winds. Nor from a world of finite and fallen people who inflict harm on you, wittingly or unwittingly. You may expect the worst and rejoice when, by God’s grace, it usually doesn’t happen!
Sometimes when I wake in the morning I muse, Lord, lots of folks died last night. Why not me? At my stage of life so many of my dearest family and friends suffer painful, debilitating illness and agonizing death. Why not me? That’s the only reasonable “why” question for one who lives in a fallen world.
I don’t want to oversimplify the problem of evil; a whole complex of theological issues intertwine. For example, if God made his own people exempt from the human condition, who wouldn’t become a believer? But what kind of believer would they become? Again, when does God heal and to what end? For what purpose does God protect or remove the protection? The theological questions seem endless, especially when faced with personal tragedy, but the bottom line for me is this: I’m fallen and so is my world. Not, “why me, Lord?” when trouble strikes, but “why not me, Lord?” when it so often misses.