by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
This is an article entitled, “Thy Will Be Done,” by Lloyd C Douglas, published while Douglas was pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester, Indiana (USA), sometime between 1903 and 1905. The date and name of the periodical are not given, but he is identified as being in North Manchester, which was his first pastorate. The essay is on p. 23 of Scrapbook 1 in Box 5 of Douglas’s private papers at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
Even in his day, people questioned why bad things happen to good people. Douglas doesn’t answer that question, but he challenges the belief that such tragedies are God’s will. The last paragraph is especially noteworthy:
A steamer burns just off the New York coast and brings destruction to hundreds of our own faith, and before we recover from the shock the newspapers tell the story, in broad type, of a wreck on the railroad near Chicago, that sends more than a score of Sunday-school workers to instant death, and twice that number to the hospitals, from which they will be taken later, maimed and invalided.
And we are all praying, ‘Thy will, O God, be done!’ I am wondering what we mean when we offer that petition. Can it be that we conceive these tragedies, which bring suffering and sorrow into hundreds of homes, to be the will of our Heavenly Father, who proclaims himself the Strong Tower of Defense and Preserver of his children? Has not the Great Ruler a right to better treatment at the hands of his friends, who have taken a vow of fealty to him?
When Christ came to earth his supreme mission was to do the Father’s will. Being of one purpose, the Second Person of the Trinity manifestly dare not overthrow or thwart the designs of the First Person; yet, with this fact facing us, we find the Master-Man healing all manner of diseases, proving that diseases were not in accord with God’s will: opening sightless eyes and soundless ears; causing the lame to walk and the dead to return to life. It is not to be thought of that the Savior would defeat his Father’s plans; so the conclusion is inevitable: God did not and does not approve of the affliction of humanity.
Christ did not come heralded as the Great Tormentor, but as the Great Physician.
To lay these afflictions at the charge of God, therefore, is to do him grievous wrong and dishonor the attributes of divine goodness. It is no more God’s will that men and women should suffer pain, illness, or bereavement than that sin should have entered into the world and victimized the human race.
The statement, ‘Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth,’ is inspired and true; but does he send his chastisements in the form of wholesale slaughter? God imposes tests of faith upon his children, but does he ordain general massacres as such tests? The hero of the greatest faith-test in Old-World story was asked to conclude his operations while the knife was still upraised.
The Christian world does not want to believe in a God who manifests no mercy—nor need it, if his Word is properly interpreted.
At the time of the fall, man received the threatened curse. Not only was this divine judgment levied upon man, but applied quite as forcibly to nature. Nature has been made for man, and, in a sense, her destiny was coupled with the destiny of man; so when he fell, nature fell too. ‘Thorns and thistles’ were to grow unhindered. The winds, that had gently stirred the foliage in the Garden of Eden were now to blow unbridled. Storms would rage; conflagrations destroy; floods devastate. What sin was to man’s soul, nature’s ravages would be to his body. And nature inflicts her depravity upon the just and the unjust, because her redemption, while provided in the atonement, has not yet been accepted.
Redemption, to be efficacious, must be embraced by its object. The oak tree cannot say: ‘I accept the redemption provided for me in the atonement.’ Man can say that, and secure for himself the personal application of such salvation, but not until this redemption of individuals shall have been perfect—in a word, not until all men have been judged in the light of this redemption will nature be restored; which restoration is foreseen in the ‘new heaven and new earth.’
Until that time the ‘rain falls on the just and the unjust,’ and the floods come, and the wind blows and beats upon the house on the rock, and the house upon the sand. And he, who told the story of the two foundations, would prefer his friends to think of him rather as the rock than as the devastating flood.
North Manchester, Ind.
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