Proof of a Good God: 'Crucified Under Pontius Pilate'
When it comes to that Buddhist child, what will God do? We don't know. This has not been revealed to us. What has been revealed is that God has come to us in Jesus Christ and shown himself to be perfectly just and perfectly merciful.
This is the God who is in charge of all those scenarios that keep us awake at night. We are not called to reject or believe in a God who would do this or that to a Buddhist child—or whatever other scenario whose possibilities alarm us. We are called to believe in the God who has died for us in Christ, and trust him to do what is just and merciful for all.
During the fascist rule in Nazi Germany, many Christian leaders were killed—some in war, some while resisting Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian famous for his radical commitment to Christ and his own courageous (and ultimately fatal) resistance to Hitler, once comforted his fellow believers upon hearing of another spate of deaths:
Who can comprehend how those whom God takes so early are chosen? Does not the early death of young Christians always appear to us as if God were plundering his own best instruments in a time in which they are most needed? Yet the Lord makes no mistakes …. We should put an end to our human thoughts, which always wish to know more than they can, and cling to that which is certain.
Coming from the lips of some people, this advice could be scoffed at as simplistic or naive. But Bonhoeffer was neither; he was one of the most realistic Christian theologians the church has known. In fact, Bonhoeffer expressed a biblically informed response to our nightmares about God's apparent injustice: the one who has shown himself in Jesus Christ to be perfectly just and perfectly merciful will do what is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. We can let it rest with him. Thus we can pray not hoping against hope but with abiding confidence, like the Psalmist:
Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty.
I don't concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother's milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—now and always. (Ps. 131, NLT)
In the face of the most perplexing questions, we put our hope not in the God of our nightmares or our dreams, but in the God who came to us in Christ and died under Pontius Pilate, died not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world. To whom can we go if we cannot wholly and completely trust this God to be good?
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is author of God Wins: Heaven, Hell, and Why the Good News Is Even Better Than Love Wins (Tyndale, 2011), from which part of this article was adapted.
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Previous articles in the Global Gospel Project include:
Vicarious Humanity: By His Birth We Are Healed | Our redemption, it turns out, began long before Calvary. (March 9, 2012)
A Purpose Driven Cosmos: Why Jesus Doesn’t Promise Us an ‘Afterlife’ | Jesus Christ embodies the meaning of life, the goal of history, and the pattern of the future. (February 24, 2012)
Jesus and the Goodness of Everything Human | Why it matters that God became the human prototype. (January 27, 2012)
Learning to Read the Gospel Again | How to address our anxiety about losing the next generation. (December 7, 2011)
Why We Need Jesus | Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation. (December 2, 2011)
Making Disciples Today: Christianity Today's New Global Gospel Project | Introducing the magazine's new five-year teaching venture. (December 2, 2011)