I officially declare this blog post a safe place to talk about depressing things that are difficult to understand and highly unpopular. Because who wants to think about the problem of evil, anyway?
Besides, you know, me.
Last Monday, I talked about how we often use Ecclesiastes 3:17, “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” to only mean that God makes beautiful things beautiful.
You can go back and read the whole thing, but here’s a summary: some things that are tedious and hard and unwanted can also be beautiful because they’re what God has for us at the time.
I ended with this side-note: “Please notice what I didn’t do here. I didn’t screenshot a picture of some tragedy and then say that God makes everything beautiful in its time. I do believe that God can work in spite of evil, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea and think I’m saying that evil is less evil because God can use it to bring about good.”
And I realized I had brought up a serious theological can of worms that needed to be dealt with on its own. So here we go.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Which brings me to the question: when is it the right “time” for something that was never supposed to exist? How can we say that suffering and hatred and death have their place when they weren’t part of the original plan?
In some ways, it’s theologically accurate to say that God can make evil into something beautiful. But, in a way, that trivializes evil. Sort of like making a pastel picture book about death.
If you’re feeling argumentative, you might point out that cold weather and difficult stages of life, the examples I used last week, weren’t part of the plan either. Would there be moody adolescents before the Fall? Or sub-zero temperatures? Maybe not. But now that those things are a part of our lives, we should probably learn how to deal graciously with them.
I’d argue that the same is not true with death. Death is always an interruption. I understand the sentiment behind saying an old man’s funeral is beautiful because “it was his time to go,” because that’s just admitting that, while death is an unwelcome intruder, so is prolonged suffering. But never, ever say that at the funeral of someone’s little girl.
At first, I wanted to point out that the cross is an example of evil turned into beauty, which is technically true but makes sin seem a little too harmless.
Jesus’ death is not about the beauty of evil in its proper time; it’s about the beauty of love declaring with the greatest act of sacrifice that there is never and will never be a proper time for evil and death and separation.
Am I contradicting myself? After all, doesn’t the same passage in Ecclesiastes say there’s “a time to die”? Yes. Yes, it does. And I think the author of Ecclesiastes wrestled with questions like these. The entire book is a struggle where the author says that everything is meaningless and that some things still have meaning.
And maybe that’s what’s really wrong with the way we use Ecclesiastes 3:17: we expect it to resolve things too easily.
We want everything to be wholly beautiful, and in a way that is immediately apparent to us, like the rosebud or the butterfly or the woman sitting on the seashore.
What we have is…this world. Headlines of people risking their lives to save strangers and people ending their lives to kill strangers. There is God’s perfect timing, and there is the way we’ve messed things up. Things are broken, and things are beautiful, sometimes both at once.
We are broken, and we are beautiful, always both at once.
I’m learning to be okay with that, slowly. I’m learning to take each day and be thankful for the good in it while still remembering that some parts of it were not meant to be.
(I could have used this song last week. But I was saving it. Because it makes this post end on a less depressing note. Hooray!)