Even in old age, my mom is still a head turner. She’s always been pretty. Always been hard working and always persevered. When we were kids, mom worked three jobs to keep us in an expensive apartment in Midtown Manhattan. Back in the 80’s I remember how hard she fought to support us when my dad tried to hurt her and withdrew her child support.
I’ll never forget when my dad was high on cocaine and demanded that young 12 year old Graham, buy a costly Brooks Brothers toggle coat (to replace the one stolen at one of his wild sex and drug orgies). I knew I could never afford such a thing. It was mom who ingeniously came to my rescue. She found a toggle coat in the closet and to fool my dad, she sowed a fancy Brooks Brothers label into the inside lining.
Mom was and is tougher than I’ll ever be. She is smart, and was so hard working. But now at the end of her life, my mom is going blind. Sometimes in her misery and self pity, she cries out to me in anguish, “Why me? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
At times my heart goes out to her. Mom doesn’t understand suffering. Mom doesn’t understand why this is happening. Or why a good God would allow bad things to happen to her. Perhaps she never will understand it. In mom’s eyes, she’s a decent person. So any God that would do this to her must be unfair, unjust or indifferent. Assuming that God exists at all.
The Real Question About Suffering
The real question about suffering shouldn’t be “why me?” Rather, we should be asking ourselves: “Why NOT me?” What is it that makes me so special that I deserve to be free from suffering? Should I have a happy carefree life simply because I think I’m more good than bad?
And who or what is it that decides who is good? Is it a great impersonal wheel of rotating Karma? Something that mechanically dispenses justice in some unseen, unknowable way? Or is there a law giver? A divine judge that objectively decides right and wrong? And lastly, is there meaning to our suffering? Or is our main purpose in life just to love our families and die comfortably?
The Injustice of It All
Everyone knows that bad things happen in this life. Yet we’re so outraged when it happens to one of us or our loved ones. We think our creature comforts are key because we only get one shot at life and this is all there is. But the truth is there are two parts to our existence. There’s where we are now. And there’s where we will be once our life ends.
The physicists say energy can never be destroyed. It is eternal and everlasting. Energy goes on forever. And so it is with our soul.
Our life on Earth is just a blip on the radar screen. The smartest, wealthiest, most talented and prettiest of us all will die. Just like my mom, we grow old and we suffer.
A lot of people are like my dad. They do what they want in life, and run from the idea that there’s a judgment. They want a hall pass for all the bad things they do. And they hope that once they die, they will cease to exist. Or at least be blissfully unaware as if death were a dreamless sleep.
But in death we don’t become a fuzzy cloud of energy that dissipates into nothingness. Our souls live on forever. We will always be eternally self-aware.
For Christians this puts our present suffering into perspective. Like an Olympic athlete who endures severe and rigorous training, we realize that the pain is worth it. There’s a reward in this life, and also in the next. We see that our suffering and hardships have a deeper meaning. These trials perfect us in the here and now, and the results carry on into eternity. But for those stuck in the moment: life seems so unfair. So painful and so senseless.
It Gets Worse For Some
Here’s the spoiler. For many of us, it gets worse from this point onwards. Before the soul gets to its eternal destination, there is judgment. Everybody gets judged. Whether you are Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler, every little thing you’ve done will be examined under a microscope. No one escapes this.
Those who lead perfect lives get to Heaven. And those who didn’t are eternally separated from God and go to a place of eternal anguish. Hell. So which ones of us get to Heaven? Surely some of us are good?
Here’s the bad news. NOT ONE OF US MAKES IT ON OUR OWN. Not a single one of us can make it alone, because no one can meet God’s standard.
The Standard To Get To Heaven Is Infinitely High
The standard to get to Heaven is absolute, unmitigated perfection. A god that made the galaxies, quantum physics and the preciseness of DNA, demands no less precision with our moral choices. This is a holy, all powerful god. A god that gets it perfect every time. He gets it perfect morally. He gets it perfect intellectually. He gets it perfect philosophically and He gets it perfect scientifically.
God’s absolutely standards don’t change simply because the dust mites on the third planet have a lower standard than He does. Two plus two is always four whether the math is done by Einstein or Bobo the retarded monkey boy. Even if Bobo tried real hard and worked at it all night and day, 2+2 will never equal 5.
Math is independent of our emotions. It’s independent of our intellect, and it’s independent of how we want things to be. Like math, God’s standards are immutable. They remain true whether we like Him, whether we don’t believe in Him or whether we think we deserve a hall pass because the standards are too difficult.
Why Your Good Deeds Are Never Good Enough
Let’s assume you are better than sort of good. Suppose you are very good. Every day you give to the poor. You tend the sick at the hospital and you never bad mouth anyone. Sure every once in a while you may think bad thoughts. Or maybe lose your temper a bit. But virtually all the time, you’re spot on.
With the analogy below, I’ll explain how even a saint like this Girl Scout can never do enough to meet God’s holy standard.
How God Sees Even A Little Sin
Suppose in front of you is a gallon jug of your favorite wine. (Mom and I love Anthony Hill Chardonnay). Now imagine that just as you open the jug, you see two little rat turds floating up top.
I ask you: Would you drink this wine? After all, there’s a 128 ounces in a gallon, and the rat turds are only a few grams at best. Isn’t it fair to say that the wine is still 99.8% pure?
So what’s stopping you from taking a swig? Wine has antibacterial properties. The rat turds have been there a long time, and you could always remove them and just give the wine a little stir. Yet, you won’t drink it will you?
The reason? Because as a human being, you have standards. And the standard you have for wine is that even one rat turd is completely unacceptable. Nor will removing it do the trick. The tiniest taint pollutes the whole jug. And it doesn’t matter that the jug is 99.8% pure. Only 100% purity will do.
Now think of that rat turd as your sin and the wine jug as your life. A good, perfect, holy God is going to have more exacting standards than a flawed human ever would., His math will be perfect. His standard will be utter certitude. He is not going to accept even one rat turd in your life. Because one little sin spoils the whole jar.
What Is Sin?
Sin is not a mystical term. It means any thing in thought, word or deed that falls short of God’s standards. The best of us sin all the time. We do rotten things and then provide a backstory as an excuse for ourselves. But when someone else wrongs us, do we give them a backstory? Do we assume that just like us, they were having a bad day? Or were stressed-out or abused as a child? Or that they too were somehow hurt and just reacting?
Who among us has never lied? Never exaggerated, never tried to make themselves look good? Who among us has never felt disdain or contempt for someone else? Who among us has forgiven everyone for every wrong, never holding a grudge, never being passive aggressive, never been argumentative? Never distancing themselves from the offender? Never accusing? Never wrong about a thought, word or judgment? Always quick to forgive?
The fact is that we are all guilty of being unloving, unforgiving, or worse, utterly indifferent to those who are outside our close circle of family and friends. And even within our family, we miss the mark. We divorce, we distance, we crush the spirit of our children. We fail to honor our parents.
If we truly examine ourselves, we must see that every day, in thought, word and deed, we fall utterly short of God’s standards. This is sin. And our sins accumulate over time.
Sin Demands Punishment/Sin Must Be Atoned For
We all know how we feel when someone wrongs us. We all demand a sacrifice. We expect and yearn for payback. No one has to be taught to want a piece of someone who has betrayed them. This desire is built into us. It is natural and comes from outside of us. Sin always demands punishment. Watch the sandbox at the playground and you can see that even a child knows this.
Good intentions are never enough. There is a universal understanding that in order to be forgiven there must be an atonement for the wrongdoer. Even the wrongs done by accident must be paid for.
Innocent mistakes even when trying to be helpful, are not exempt. Consider a trusted friend who at the office party, drank too much and accidentally blurts out to your colleagues that you’re dying of cancer. Or what about the house guest who while carrying your groceries, accidentally shatters your Grandma’s antique vase? (Yes. the one she gave you as a wedding gift.)
Is it all right simply because they didn’t mean to do it? No, of course not. A wrong is a wrong. And all wrongs require an atonement of some sort.
At the very least, you’d expect the wrongdoer to make an apology. But for more costly wrongs like the broken vase, the wrongdoer would be expected to replace it if they could. And often, even with accidents, there is no way to undo the damage. No way to make things right. So the sin remains.
And that’s just for accidents. Intentional wrongs are even more serious. If someone lies to us, hurts us or steals from us, we expect the wrongdoer to show a genuine sign that they want forgiveness and won’t do the same thing again.
We even say “they don’t deserve forgiveness” because we don’t see proof they care about their wrong or have had a genuine change of heart. They haven’t shown any remorse. They haven’t repented. Yes, even die hard atheists feel this way. They somehow know that
A. Sin exists. and
B, Sin must be atoned for. (It requires an honest confession of wrongdoing and reparations.)
All humans agree (if not in word, then certainly by their actions) that wrongs accumulate and must be paid for. If they don’t believe this about themselves, they certainly believe this is true for those who’ve hurt them!
The philosopher king at Starbucks who says right and wrong are merely opinions, cannot explain away rape, murder, and incest. These atrocities outrage our standards of justice and decency. Even if we object to Hell on principle, we figure that for these lawbreakers, Hell is true justice.
For real bad sins, even the most enlightened of us suddenly demand an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Our hearts scream out that a severe price must be paid. And no, an “I’m sorry” simply won’t cut it. In our gut, every single one of us knows that the greater the crime, the greater the need for more extreme punishment and atonement. This is what our law (the standard of the land) says. It’s also what our hearts require.
Where Does This Demand For Atonement Come From?
This sense of right and wrong and the need for atonement… it’s not just an American thing is it? So where does it come from? As I noted above, it comes from outside of us and is independent of us.
It comes from our Creator. The fact is that our imperfect standards of right and wrong flow down from His perfect ones. What God plays for us in stereo, we hear in mono.
But even so, the message is clear. The God of the Universe wants every one of us to know the nature of sin. Sin never goes away on its own and it must always be atoned for. Like radioactive fallout, the accumulation of sin is a universal law.
Think of what would happen, if each day, you broke into a museum and spilled ink on a priceless Mona Lisa, Picasso, or Rembrandt? What would you tell the judge when you were finally brought to justice? How could you possibly atone for all the evil you did? How could you make amends?
You might think, “This is just a foolish hypothetical” But it’s very real. The fact is that we hurt others all the time. We disrespect them in thought and deed, we trounce on their feelings, and we ignore and distance those who need our help. We cripple them with our words.
Surely the people around us are more priceless than paintings. So every day we are sinning big time. Think of it like playing each day with radioactive sand. The harm to your body accumulates more and more every minute. Your sin is the radioactive fall out of all the times you fell short. All the times you missed the mark. And like mold on bread, this sin grows and spreads until it taints the entire loaf.
So how do you plan to remove this sin? As with the wine, removing the turd does not remove the taint. The wine is still unacceptable. All your good deeds in the world cannot make you acceptable to a God who cannot tolerate sin in His presence. So how can you possibly atone for this?
But If God Is All Loving? Why Won’t He Tolerate My Sin?
So far I’ve spoken about God’s Holiness but have yet to mention God’s abounding love. I did this because I wanted to dispel the myth that God is some celestial Santa Clause. God is no Heavenly Mr. Magoo.
Our sins are an abomination to Him. Something He will not tolerate. To get an idea of how God sees sin, picture an oily black rat as it scurries over a table of your finest silverware and china.
Surely the table is big enough for the both of you? So why not you take one side and let the rat have the other? There’s plenty of room for sharing isn’t there? The rat is fairly small and it won’t eat much, will it? Of course, the size of the rat makes no difference to you.
With the rat there is no compromise, There’s no making friends with it. There’s never enough room for it. The table could be gigantic and yet one of you has to go. This is how a Holy God feels about sharing you with just a little bit of sin. There is no room for it at His table. There is no compromise.
God is Both Holy and Infinitely Loving
You’d think from my description that God enjoys hurling angry lightning bolts at ignorant sinners. But this is far from true. Another important aspect of our God is that He is infinitely loving. God wants no one to perish.
The God of the universe cares for the poor. God’s heart reaches out to the heartbroken. He knows the number of hairs on your head, and when each one of them falls out. Our God who spins out the galaxies, is so big , that He can create quasars and black holes in an eye blink. And yet, as big as He is, He can still stoop down low and delight in the tender joy of a small child.
God delights in families. God loves creating tropical fish. He revels in the tiniest most insignificant unnoticeable details of our lives. God loves to create, loves to cherish and wants us to flourish. Our God is so big, He has the power, desire and gentleness to pay attention to the very small.
Did you know our God actually wants to be in a relationship with us? No, not because He needs us, but because He loves us. This is the God who defends the widow and the orphan. The God who has bailed me and my brother Joshua out of horrific circumstances, simply because He chose to have mercy on us. I could talk all day about this God. But I have neither the skill nor the room to do Him justice.
So how can a loving God, who’s standards are as perfect and as immutable as He is, impassively stand by as we trip over ourselves in sin? Worse, will He just close his eyes to the fact that there’s no atonement that we can do to remove the taint of sin we’ve accumulated throughout our lifetimes?
God’s Dilemma: Holiness or Love?
If God is truly this loving, then He has a serious dilemma on His hands. God’s holiness requires that sinful humans are eternally separated from him. His perfect light drives out our oily darkness. The rat and the King cannot dine at the same table. And yet, despite our sins, God’s tremendous loves yearns for all of us to be saved. God hates it when even one of us perishes. So how can God do what His holiness requires, and yet be true to His all loving nature?
A note about God’s Holiness: While we say that God is all powerful, we do not say God can make a square circle or a rock so big that He cannot move it. Those are word games equivalent to “Heads I win, tails you lose.” The fact is that God is constrained by His holy nature. His standards are not a decision He makes. His standards are an integral part of Him. So here are God’s options as I (a flawed mortal) see it.
God’s Options On How To Deal With Our Sin:
God remains holy and righteous; He condemns our sin and when we die, everyone on the planet is separated from Him and His goodness. (Hell)
God totally ignores our sins. (He somehow eliminates His Holy nature, lowers his perfect standards and everyone gets into Heaven. So no one gets judged, whether it’s you, Hitler or the serial child molester. Rat turds are just rat turds: your 1 lb bag is much the same as my 20 lb bag or the child molester’s 100 lb bag.)
God avoids the sin issue entirely (He transforms us into mindless robots who never sin, or He chooses to never create us in the first place).
God provides an atonement for our sins so we no longer stand condemned by His holy and perfect nature. All we have to do is repent, believe and accept His atonement.
In His infinite love, God has chosen the last option.
Two thousand years ago God gave us the ultimate atonement. The ultimate sacrifice. The Lord of the universe came down as a man who was without sin. Jesus was that man. He lived among the people. He performed a great many miracles. He healed the sick. He fed the poor; He forgave the adulteress. He set a new standard and told us to love not just our neighbors, but even our enemies.
Jesus: A Liar, Lunatic or Lord?
So who was this Jesus? Was he God who became man? Or was he something else? And what did Jesus say about himself? This was the Jesus spoken of as early as the 1st century by non Christian sources. This was the Jewish messiah foretold 700 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah. And yet, Jesus was far more than that.
Jesus was not just a wise teacher. Jesus actually claimed to be God. The people of his day knew exactly what he was claiming. Jesus said “My father and I are one.” He also said “before Abraham existed I AM.” And most controversial, He said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the father except through me.”
The people around Jesus knew that he was different. Some worshiped him. Others took up rocks to stone him for claiming to be God.
So whatever you believe about Jesus, do not fool yourself into thinking he was a mortal man with lots of wisdom. Jesus really said He was God.
So Either He is God or He isn’t God.
Jesus was either a LIAR, who knew he was deceiving people. Or a LUNATIC who insanely believed his own lie, Or, Jesus was telling the truth about himself. God sent His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, to atone for the sins of us all. This is where you make your choice.
Setting Up Your Divine Appointment. Humbly Ask, Seek & Knock and Jesus Will Answer
I don’t expect everyone to suddenly believe in all this. I didn’t, and neither did my twin brother Joshua. Both of us were agnostic Jews from Manhattan who never cared about God; nor did we believe in the Bible.
But both of us took the plunge and humbly asked Jesus to reveal himself to us. And to our amazement Jesus did just that. It was in 1991, that Jesus showed himself to my brother and healed his asthma which he had from age 9 to age 23. Three years later in 1994, Jesus met me right then and there in the shower, when I earnestly asked him to reveal himself to me.
This is your opportunity to do as we did. To boldly and yet humbly ask God for a divine appointment. To ask Jesus by name: “Jesus, are you real? Are you Good? Are you God? If you are God, please reveal yourself to me in a way I can understand. Whether it’s immediate or over time, I want to know who you are.
I admit I have made many mistakes, (or sins if you will) and I realize I truly do need forgiveness. I am sorry. I put no conditions on You. Please show me if you are God, and I will follow you. You say to Ask, Seek and Knock. I am sincerely asking.
Songs of Encouragement
Holy Water (Your Forgiveness Is Like Honey on My Lips)
The Forbidden Chapter: Isaiah 53 in the Hebrew Bible (YouTube)