Why did God do it that way? Dealing with our Doubts1
People often mistakenly think I never have doubts about my faith in Christ or that everything in Christianity makes perfectly good sense to me. Quite honestly, that’s not true. I often find myself asking why God did what he has done. What reason did he have for doing it this way and not that way? On occasion, to be honest, it doesn’t strike me as being the best or most efficient way of doing things. On occasion, I say to myself, and to God, “That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems really odd that this is how you have chosen to go about achieving your ultimate glory in creation and redemption.” Continue reading . . .
People often mistakenly think I never have doubts about my faith in Christ or that everything in Christianity makes perfectly good sense to me. Quite honestly, that’s not true. I often find myself asking why God did what he has done. What reason did he have for doing it this way and not that way? On occasion, to be honest, it doesn’t strike me as being the best or most efficient way of doing things. On occasion, I say to myself, and to God, “That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems really odd that this is how you have chosen to go about achieving your ultimate glory in creation and redemption.”
I have to guard myself because I don’t want to be guilty of unbelief or cynicism. But why, for instance, was it necessary for the Second Person of our great Triune God to become human? Why did God create the world and permit the fall into sin and orchestrate human history in such a way that it became necessary for God the Son to take to himself human nature and become a man? Why was it necessary for him to suffer and endure the mistreatment that he did? And why was it necessary that he die by being impaled on a cross? Of all the ways that God might have gone about reconciling us to himself, why did he choose this way? Could he have chosen another way?
Just so you know in advance, the Bible doesn’t always answer those sorts of questions in the way we might prefer. Sometimes we are simply asked to trust God and his wisdom and to realize that his ways are infinitely above our ways. Sometimes I just have to put all my reasoning and my questioning and my doubting on hold and read one more time what Paul said in Romans 11:33-36 –
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
This issue became even more urgent for me as I meditated on Hebrews 2:10 this week in preparation for preaching on it. There we read: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
I find it interesting that Paul and the author of Hebrews both use almost the same language in their portrayal of God. Paul concludes his doxology by declaring that “from” God and “through” God and “to” God are all things. “To him be glory forever.” And the author of Hebrews describes God as “he, for whom and by whom all things exist.”
The more I pondered Hebrews 2:10 the more this question cried out to be answered: Why insert this statement here in v. 10? What reason could there possibly be why it’s important for us to know and believe that this is actually true of God, that he is the One by whom all things exist, that he, through the Son, is the One who created everything that is. Why is it so important that we hear it stated yet again that he is the One “for whom” all things exist, that is to say, that he and his glory are the goal and aim and purpose of why there is something rather than nothing; that he and his fame and praise are the ultimate explanation for why everything is done the way it is done?
I think the answer to that question is found in the opening words of v. 10. Here we are told that “it was fitting” that God the Father, in saving many men and women and bringing them into the experience of his own glory, should do it by making God the Son, Jesus Christ, “perfect through suffering.” So, when I ask the question, as I often do, why did God have to send his Son into this world as a human being, and why did God require that Jesus suffer as he did, and why did God believe it necessary that in order to save us and bring us into glory Jesus had to endure the shame and pain and horror of suffering on a cross . . . when I ask those kinds of questions, the author of Hebrews tells me: “it was fitting,” or “it was appropriate,” or “it was in perfect harmony with God’s nature and character,” or “it was compatible with God’s intentions to glorify himself,” or some such rendering.
In other words, Christianity is what it is because it perfectly expresses the perfections of God. The way in which God has gone about securing your salvation and my salvation is entirely “fitting” and “good” and “proper” and “reasonable”, at least to God’s way of thinking! It is coherent and symmetrical and beautiful and grand. There is nothing illogical or absurd or immoral or unsavory about the way God saved you and me, namely, through the sufferings of his Son, Jesus Christ.
People who lived in the first century, when Jesus walked on this earth, would strongly disagree with that conclusion. They would have insisted that nothing could possibly have been “less fitting” than to save and reconcile people by having the Messiah suffer the way he did and ultimately die on a cross. You may recall that in the ancient world crucifixion was obscene. It was morally and socially repugnant. It was a horribly inefficient way to execute a criminal. It often took hours, and in some cases days, before the victim finally died. If you wanted to dispose of some social outcast or kill a criminal why not use beheading as the form of execution?
What we’ve learned from scholars is that crucifixion was regarded as utterly shameful, not just physically painful but emotionally repulsive and aesthetically disgusting. It was against the law for any Roman citizen, regardless of his/her crimes, to be crucified. Only slaves, criminals, and the utter dregs of society were allowed to be nailed to a cross.
This is why the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And again, in v. 22 he says that to speak of a crucified Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
For the author of Hebrews, therefore, to state in no uncertain terms that the suffering of Jesus by which we are saved and brought to glory was “fitting” would have sounded indescribably stupid and contrary to all reason and aesthetically repugnant and out of harmony with everything that people thought they knew about the nature of God.
As some of you know, in the past few years there has been an increase in the number of voices from within the professing Christian world who likewise find repulsive the idea of Christ suffering the penal consequences of our sins. They think that requiring Jesus to suffer on a cross as the sacrificial victim who endures and satisfies God’s wrath against our sin is barbaric and is tantamount to what some call “cosmic child abuse.” They contend that it was profoundly “unfitting” that God would do it this way. So, when we read later in Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus made “propitiation for the sins of the people” they squirm and grimace and set themselves to finding out some way to avoid the meaning of that term. Somehow, in some way, they say, to “propitiate” does not mean to satisfy and appease God’s wrath against sin.
I, on the other hand, notwithstanding my doubts and confusion and struggles when it comes to why God does what God does, . . . I prefer to trust God’s wisdom and his kindness and his infinite knowledge and the inspiration of Scripture and believe that when the Bible says it was “fitting” for God to do it this way that it was “fitting”! Case closed.
So, do you see now why the author of Hebrews inserted this doxological portrayal of God smack dab in the middle of his declaration that it was “fitting” for God to save us in precisely the way and manner that he did? The reason we know that it was good and “fitting” for God to do it this way is because he is both the origin and aim of all creation! This is why our author throws in what at first sight appears to be a doxology that serves no purpose. But it does serve a glorious purpose: it tells us why we should trust God’s judgment in saying that this was the most “fitting” or appropriate way to accomplish salvation.
Simply put: Don’t you think that a Being who can bring everything into existence out of nothing knows what’s best? Don’t you think a Being for whom all things are designed and for whose glory they are being providentially directed knows what’s most “fitting” when it comes to achieving our salvation? Well, don’t you? I do.