When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages (Pt. 2)
“What in the world is wrong with the world?”
As we watch our friends, siblings, children, and spouses suffer we can’t help but ask disturbing questions. If God exists, then why didn’t he merely create a world free of pain and suffering? Why even allow the possibility of evil to enter a world he created? To answer this question adequately we must consider God’s perspective.
Central to effective communication is the ability to engage in perspective-taking with another person. Perspective-taking is the ability to assume another person’s point of view and see the world through his or her eyes. The choices an individual makes will only make sense if we understand how he or she views a particular situation and the choices available to him or her. The same is true with God. To understand the world God created, we need to know the choices available to him. Would God create a world of robots that would never disobey him, or create human beings who could? Christian philosopher Norman Geisler puts it this way: “To be free we had to have not only the opportunity to choose good, but also the ability to choose evil. That was the risk God knowingly took.”[i]
The following illustration helps us understand why God chose humans over robots.
One of the hottest gifts today for female shoppers is the Mr. Wonderful Doll. He’s 12 inches tall, handsome, and most importantly to women, sensitive. This perfect man is programmed to always say the right thing. Simply push a button to hear him say one of sixteen phrases:
“You take the remote, as long as I’m with you, I don’t care what we watch.”
“The ball game is not that important, I’d rather spend time with you.”
“Why don’t we go to the mall, didn’t you want some shoes?”
“You know, I think it’s really important to talk about our relationship.”
“You’ve been on my mind all day. That’s why I bought you these flowers.”
The best thing about Mr. Wonderful is that he never disappoints! He’s never irritable, sarcastic, or selfish. So long as you keep putting in three AA batteries he’ll continue to affirm and compliment whoever is pushing his button. For those of us who are married it’s certainly understandable to see why such a doll would be desirable – a spouse who always says the right thing.
God could have done the same. He could have created a world of Wonderful Human Dolls. Each time God pressed our button we’d be programmed to say:
“God, you have been on my mind all day.”
“So long as I’m with you, God, I don’t care what we do.”
“God, you are holy, perfect, and worthy of my love.”
“God, I would never disobey you.”
In a world of human dolls there would be no evil. Why? Because lying, cheating, rape, murder, abuse, racism, sexism, would not be part of our program. All we would do, like the Mr. Wonderful Doll, is to continually fawn over God. It would be a perfect world free of evil.
But would a relationship with a doll really satisfy?
Take time to list out the negatives of such a relationship. For example, while Mr. Wonderful can say, “I love you” does he mean it? Would mindless compliments really satisfy? The great atheist thinker Jean Paul Sartre doesn’t think such programmed responses would be meaningful. He writes: “The man who wants to be loved does not desire the enslavement of the beloved. He is not bent on becoming the object of passion which flows forth mechanically. He does not want to possess an automaton.”[ii] For Sartre, to know that your lover has been programmed to love you cheapens the love.
God paid the human race the greatest compliment we could receive—he didn’t program us to mechanically love him. The decision not to make us love God is graphically seen when Jesus stands on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the symbol of Jewish pride, and says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks.” Jesus summarizes the people’s response to him in four tragic words: “You were not willing” (Mt 23:37). Like the people of Jerusalem, we can either cultivate a relationship with God or resist his invitation. Unfortunately, we have chosen to spurn his offer. As a result we created a world of pain and evil.
It is in this world of pain and evil that we—Christian and non-Christians alike—seek to cultivate flourishing marriages. What’s hard for followers of Christ is that God doesn’t always protect us, or our marriages from suffering. However, he does promise—through the words of his Son who also suffered—that he’ll always be with us. “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20 NLT). At every stage of pain and suffering we can be sure that God is with us.
In our next blog we continue this conversation by asking: When God sees that my spouse is about to be hurt, couldn’t he simply step in and protect him?
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.