For some people, the idea of a loving and powerful God present in a world marred by evil and suffering is a contradiction--irrational and illogical. They would argue that you cannot maintain all these beliefs at the same time.
- If you take as foundational that the world does include suffering and that God is all-powerful, then God can't really be loving.
- If you take as foundational that the world does include suffering and that God is loving, then God can't really be all-powerful.
- If you believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving then our experience of suffering and evil must be illusory.
Yet if we look at both the baptism and temptation of Jesus it would seem that all three realities are held in tension.
At his baptism, Jesus is spoken of as the beloved. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” says the voice from heaven. (Matthew 3:17 NIV).
As was self-evident in today's lesson Jesus endured suffering in his obedience to God the Father.He isn't coddled but is sent to battle with the enemy at the outset of his ministry; he is "led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." (Matthew 4:1).
But that same verse notes God's authority in setting up this confrontation. The rendering of the Gospel of Mark makes it more obvious: "the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness." (Mark 1:12 NRSV). God's power and control are made plain in the arrangement of Jesus' encounter with the Devil. And God's power and control are made plain the results of the encounter: after their fight, the Devil leaves with his tail between his legs.
What we learn from these accounts, Jesus' baptism and his temptation, is that God is both loving and all-powerful but allows evil and suffering this world. The beloved will go through hell and back to achieve God's purposes. He will suffer greatly, but God will be with him through everything.
Since a servant is not greater than the master we should expect that our lives of faith will also include trials and temptations. But these difficulties should not shake or shatter our confidence. For God still remains loving and sovereign.
The Heidelberg Confession declares this with poetry and precision:
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life,
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
May we face suffering and temptation in the comfort that through all of this we are in the hands of an all-loving, all-powerful God.
*image "The Temptation of Christ by the Devil" by Félix Joseph Barrias (1822 - 1907) (French)Details of artist on Google Art Project - 3QEGFuTo_jzXog at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23599104