Why Did God Make Things So Difficult?

Although I’ve read through it before, I’m currently reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity again.  I’m finding myself enjoying it even more this second time around.  Which leads me to something he says in his book that I’d like to bring up for discussion.  Lewis notes that many people seem to want “God” and “religion” to be easy subjects to think through.  If I were to put it in my own words, the questions people have might go something like this: “If God wanted everyone to believe in him and find salvation in Christ, why didn’t he make it easier for us to believe in him?  Why did he create a world in which evil and suffering are a reality?  Why didn’t he make the search for truth easier?  Why so many competing truth claims?  Why so many different religions?”

The questions could go on and on.  Lewis calls these questions “boys’ philosophies.”[1]  In other words, the real world is filled with difficulties, so why would we expect things to be different with God?  To use Lewis’s words, “It is no good asking for a simple religion.  After all, real things are not simple.”[2]  Think with me for a moment: What, in life, is simple?  Depending upon one’s upbringing, a child’s life may be filled with difficulties.  Maybe your parents died when you were very young.  Maybe you suffered from some traumatic experience.  What about relationship?  Are relationships ever easy?  As any married couple will tell you, maintaining a good marriage requires hard work, patience, compromise, and self-sacrifice.  What about for senior citizens?  Is anything easier later in life?

My point in writing this is not to be a downer but simply to draw attention to the fact that life is filled with hardships.  Life is jam-packed with beauty, to be sure; but it is also challenging at times.  Although we’re all aware of this, we seem to want things to be different with God.  Oddly enough, Lewis didn’t see things this way.  Even though he professed to being an atheist at one point in his life, he didn’t expect his search for the truth to be easy.  He said it made sense that Christianity was complex.  He wrote, “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd.  It is not neat, obvious, not what you expect. . . .  Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.  That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.  It is a religion you could not have guessed.  If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. . . .  The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either.”[3]

In light of Lewis’s points above, I’d like to ask a question and provide a brief response.  I’ve been asked each of these questions before by people close to me.  (Indeed, I’ve asked myself these questions as well.)  First, why did God make believing in him so difficult?  Why did he place us in a world filled with pain and suffering?  Why is the search for truth so laborious?  Why so many religions?  Of course I confess to not having exhaustive answers to these questions.  I don’t know all the answers.  But I do know that God is not hiding himself from us.  When Paul confronts the philosophers in Athens, one of the things he says is, “he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27, emphasis added).  As Don Carson says, “God’s purpose in his ordering of history is to incite human beings to pursue him.”[4]  This pursuit of God involves study and reflection.

If we’re troubled by the presence of many religions, perhaps we should be moved to study the different religions and see which one is the most coherent and historically reliable.  Although not all religions claim to be exclusively true, (i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.), Judaism, Islam, and Christianity do.  In addition to all three of these religions claiming to be true, they also assert that the others are wrong.  Thus, since all three religions present competing truth claims, all three religions cannot be true at the same time.  Contrary to what our culture teaches us, the truth is not relative.[5]

Continuing on, maybe the reason we think God has made believing in him difficult is because we wrongly assume that God would make believing in him easy?  Put differently, perhaps our presupposition is wrong?  We all approach the world with presuppositions.  The problem is, our presuppositions are not infallible.  Therefore, the way we interpret life and reality is not infallible.  We approach the world (and Scripture, by the way) with certain “filters.”  These “filters,” as Richard Lints calls them, are 1) tradition, 2) culture, and 3) reason.[6]  Unfortunately, our reason was also affected by the Fall (Gen. 3).  This means that in our reasoning, “ . . . we place rational restrictions on the very notion of God instead of allowing God to define the notions of rationality.”[7]  Scripture must inform all of our thoughts and reasoning about God.  We are not at liberty to believe whatever we want about God.  To use the language of philosophy, Scripture is our only epistemological warrant for believing anything about God.[8]  In sum, our thinking that God would make it easy for us to believe in him is questionable.  That being said, not everyone’s conversion experience is the same.  Maybe some people do a lot of study; maybe others don’t.

In my view, God has given us ample evidence of his existence.  The created order testifies to it (Ps. 19:1).  Everything is intricately woven together and held together by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).  Our eyes need to open to see it and take it in.  Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning puts it well:

 Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

 While we’re wrestling with life’s most important questions, let us remember that God calls us to use our minds.  Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matt. 22:37, emphasis added).  Although we will never know things as God knows them, we should seek to use our minds for the glory of God.  Most likely not all of our questions will be answered, but we can rest in the truth that God is for us and not against us (Rom. 8:31).  He is our sovereign King.  And our sovereign King has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).  And at last our eyes will behold the King in his beauty (Is. 33:17).

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1952), 40.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 41-42.

[4] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 500.

[5] See, e.g., Francis Beckwith, “A Critique of Moral Relativism,” in Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy, ed. Francis Beckwith (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2002), 12-21.  For a more comprehensive treatment see Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).

[6] Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 82.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The language of “epistemological warrant” is borrowed from Stephen J. Wellum, “God’s Sovereignty over Evil,” in Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy, eds. Matthew Barrett and Thomas J. Nettles (Cape Coral: Founders, 2012), 231-268.  See esp. 240.


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