In a previous essay, we discussed God’s purpose in this world. We argued that God is trying to show us our need of his love and forgiveness in order that we might accept his assistance and become true children of God. Because accepting God’s assistance requires “dying to ourselves” and allowing God to live “through us”, this is a very difficult thing to do.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
In order for us to see the need for such drastic medicine, God has placed us in a world which makes our need as obvious as it could possibly be. If you do not accept your need to die to yourself in this world with all of its horrible suffering, then there is no conceivable set of circumstances under which you would accept your need of God’s help. Another aspect of this truth is that in order for us to accept our need of Jesus Christ as quickly and painlessly as possible, the pain of this world needs to be very great. Though this may seem counter-intuitive, I discussed this idea in A Rational Faith.
Paradoxically, God shows us mercy by making this world intensely painful. If it were any less painful, the lessons that we need to learn in order to experience eternal life would require a longer life resulting in more pain overall. Consider using sticky tape for hair removal. If you pull the tape off slowly, the pain is slightly less intense but lasts for a much longer time. If you pull the tape off in one swift jerk, on the other hand, the intense pain is fleeting. Given the choice, most human beings opt for the intense and fleeting pain rather than the less intense longer pain. For this reason, God gives human beings four catalysts to speed up the process of seeing our need for him.
The first catalyst that God has given us is this world. This world is a world of shortage where we only eat by the sweat of our brow. Famines and droughts can cause shortages of food, water and arable land. How does mankind react when these shortages occur? Do we work together to solve the problem and tighten our belts to help our neighbors? No. We kill one another in order to take what we need from those who have it. In this way, we demonstrate our desperate need for a savior.
The second catalyst that God has given us is our flesh. Our bodies are designed in such a way as to be the slave of our various appetites. People who are addicted to drugs, for example, will do virtually anything to ensure their supply. Alcoholics will deny they have a problem until they kill someone on the road. Smokers will tell you they can quit anytime until they can hardly speak because of the cancer. When we see our own inability to control the self-destructive impulses of our own bodies, we see our need for God’s help and forgiveness.
The third catalyst that God has given us are the demonic powers. As we have seen previously, the demonic powers have been given the ability to bring disasters upon humanity when God does not explicitly protect us. When we see the work of our hands destroyed by a natural disaster, we see our need for God’s protection. When we see people dying in large numbers, we fear for our lives and turn to God.
The fourth catalyst that God has given us is the Mosaic Law. In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that the law of God brings out our evil. “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” (NIV Romans 7:5) In the common vernacular this is known as making something a “forbidden fruit”. When God gives us commands, this stirs up our desires for that which is forbidden. In this way, the law helps us to see our evil nature and our need for God.
When we consider God’s work in our lives, we can see God struggling to show us our need for his forgiveness and help through these four catalysts. We have all experienced hunger and thirst. We have all struggled to control urges we knew to be bad for us. We have all seen the horrific consequences of natural disasters. We have all known what it is to desire the forbidden fruit. In these common experiences, God continuously struggles to show human beings our need for his love and forgiveness.