The Cruelty of God

After I cleaned up dinner, I walked out into a cold Wisconsin evening with a garbage bag in tote. One of the neighbors was burning leaves. The late fall smell calmed me. I flung the day’s garbage into the large bin as if I was tossing it overboard. A friend was going through a rough time. His struggles weighed on me and felt as if they hung in the chilled air.

I stopped in the middle of the yard. My eyes had almost adjusted to the dark as I stared into the night sky. It was beautifully clear. There was depth to the layers of starlight. A slice of a waning moon hung in the treetops over the house. Orion was drawing back his bow, his belt tight around his waist. I have always loved looking at the stars here, where no city lights pollute the horizon.

I folded my arms across my chest and stood still. I felt cold, not only because of the dropping temperatures.

“Lord, sometimes it seems as if you’re cruel.”

I remembered another time I looked up into the stars for an answer. I recalled the night when my mother took us to the observatory on top of the hill. She was employed there as a secretary during the day. Kind, bearded professors had invited us to join them in their work that night as they studied far off mysteries. I remembered my excitement walking up to the white building with its dome. I climbed the winding metal stairs gripping the steel rail, sliding my hand upward until it hurt with cold. Soon, I would be able to understand the universe. All I had to do was look through a telescope. Maybe I would even see God at work. He was up there, somewhere. One just needed a big enough lens. And I was about to look through one.

The smell of old, damp wood greeted me. It made me feel like I entered the sanctuary of our small, stone church with endless wooden pews. I climbed higher and higher until I arrived in a frigid, spacious room with a rounded ceiling.

There it stood, bigger than I could have imagined, a telescope so large it had its own set of stairs with a platform. Suddenly the room shifted. The floor turned and the ceiling opened. The telescope appeared to move. But it was the entire floor that shifted the large instrument in the direction the astronomer needed it to be. The wood creaked and groaned under the pressure. Then, as the ceiling unfolded, the universe flooded into the room.

Just like I waited at Christmas for my turn to open my gift, I waited to finally see heaven. I imagined a world different from this, a better one, without cruelty. I wanted to know the truth about the stars and wanted to see how they really looked.

Finally. I was able to walk up the last few stairs. I stood in awe on the platform in front of the giant lens. I hesitated while the professor showed me. Then, as I listened carefully to the instructions, I peeked through the lens.

“Do you see that dot in the middle … well … that’s … “ I couldn’t hear the rest. The sound of his voice was swallowed by my disappointment. I didn’t see a thing. Only stars slightly bigger. Yeah, maybe there were a few more than I could see with my naked eye. I felt as if Toto just pulled the curtain on Oz. There was nothing. No God on his throne. No angels. No other beautiful places. No heaven.

Today, decades later, I still stare into the night sky. Sometimes, I admit, I’m tempted to look for a glimpse of heaven there. Then, in the silence of God, in what seems to be a cruel absence in the mind-staggering largeness of the Universe, in my prayers void of answers, I remember a deserting God who left his son for the sake of mankind hanging on a lonely cross. In this one act of cruelty, on an abandoned hill, he allowed for heaven to come to earth and made a way for me to be able to come close. Heavenly bodies disappeared and darkness entered there, when God left. Yet, through this cruelty, he remained Emmanuel, God with us. As King, he has no need to reveal his majesty. But … I wonder if he is as excited as I am for One Day, when his cruelty will finally be revealed for the Love it is, and we will have no more need for telescopes. 

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

CS Lewis, from The Screwtape Letters

Observatory Hoher List … closed in recent years for lack of funding.

37 Comments »

  1. What came immediately to mind was Job. What followed was the thought that we cannot know the goodness of God without first suffering. Without evil, we cannot ever know or understand good. It isn’t that God is cruel, it is that we need to have a basis for understanding not only His goodness, but also our brokenness. For example, one of the most outspoken women fighting to end child marriage in the state of Florida, Sherry Johnson, was herself a child bride. It was her suffering that eventually led to her decision to bring about the end of such suffering for other little girls stuck in the position she was in. Had she not gone through the horror that she went through, she likely wouldn’t have known to seek to end it for others. Does this make what she went through right? No. What does this have to do with the Lord? He chose to use her suffering to bring an end to the suffering of others. While some might call this cruel, I tend to disagree. The Lord is righteous, good, and just. He is more than able to use the horrible things we’ve been put through in order to bring good things for us and others.

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    • Dearest TEP336 … Yes. I agree with you. Job did come to mind as I worked through this piece. But even more than Job, I thought of Ecclesiastes. One of the major themes of Solomon in this book is “vanity”. Though Solomon possessed more wisdom and resources than any single person in the world (step aside Bill Gates) … He still came up with a statement that is not true in its essence. He only processed the mere fact that man is incapable of reasoning with God and come up with eternal conclusions on earth. Yes, we do know He is good … however, let’s never become so wise, namely wiser than Solomon, to be able to make sense of it all. Let us conclude with C.S. Lewis that even though we can not see nor comprehend, we can still obey.
      (BTW … one of my life verses is Ezekiel 33:1-6 … keep blowing your trumpet, dear friend!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Heidi, I remember reading this last week and being deeply moved. I remember ‘liking’ this post, and struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words for a comment. I finally gave up on commenting, because the memories and emotions this post evoked were too overwhelming for me to express in words.

    I am having the same struggle again. All I can say is: Yes. I understand. And your writing is amazing. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic read. Your visuals made me crane my neck to see what you would see and I felt the cold metal of the hand rail, the swing of the garbage into the can, the tense anticipation as the ceiling creaked open… Great, great metaphors.

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  4. Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:
    My Featured Blogger this week is Heidi Viars of Taking a Closer Look. I’ve been wanting to share Heidi’s work with you for some time, and finally found the right time to do so. Heidi is a poet, essayist, wife, mother, and much more. She not only strives to live her life-roles to the fullest, but to live in the light of her Creator. Her posts offers not pat answers but meditations on questions we humans don’t have all the answers to. Still, through all of her writing runs a steady stream of hope and trust. Because she knows the One who does have all the answers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A profound and moving post, Heidi. This walk of faith is not an easy one. We wrestle w/ questions of innocent suffering, questions to which no human being can find a satisfying answer when God is left out of the picture. Truly, His ways are not our own.

    The night my grandmother died I ran out of the hospital into the darkness, tears rolling down my face. But under the stars, in the presence of His majesty, I somehow found comfort. As you say, He sacrificed His Son for our sake, creating a bridge to the stars for us by restoring our relationship w/ Him. My grandmother knew that. Despite years of atheism on my part, she passed that knowledge onto me, a gift for which I will be forever grateful. ❤

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    • Dearest Anna, thank you for sharing a slice of your life with me. Yes, I so agree with you. When I stare into the depth of that night sky, at the millions and millions of galaxies, and ponder on the smallness of my tiny existence, two options always arise in my heart…. Either nothing is about God or everything is… I always walk away knowing the latter is the truth.
      It sounds like your grandmother was an incredible person. I look forward to meeting you both one day in Heaven ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I remember questioning God’s goodness as an 11 year old after an accident where both arms and all my nerves were cut near the elbows to the bone. To this day much feeling has not been regained. I so relate to the CS Lewis quote and the shifting circumstances in life banging away at our perceptions of reality. It’s easy to draw evil horns on a good, good, all loving God who can work more good out of the evil and accidents of a sin causal world. A Good Post to draw us out and cause us to look beyond ourselves Heidi. It’s cold here in Minnesota. Our lakes are freezing over.

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    • Thanks for reading, Gary. When I look closely at the Scriptures, I am encouraged to know that our questioning is not new to our time and place but is born of a universal and ancient problem. Deep in the heart of man there is a desire to see what is wrong made right. To look to God for answers is good … to blame Him is not. Yes, He alone has the ability to make good from seemingly terrible situations.
      Your lakes are already freezing over??? We started with our cars here this morning … deep frost. Lakes are next 🙂 Stay warm, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is wonderfully written, but I do not believe cruelty ( at least the way we understand it) is a part of God’s nature. If God is love, and the Bible confirms this, then how can this divine love be cruel?
    I’m not being accusatory, as I have shook my fist at heaven on more than one occasion. However, I am uncertain how this post is supposed to make me feel. Tricked and disappointed by God, or realistic about by limits to experience Him?
    Blessings.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, David, for you honest response. I actually agree with you. God is always good. He cannot be contrary to His character. The perception of “cruel” is often a human response to the pain and suffering and, like you put it, we are limited in our experience. In my (I now see, weak) conclusion, I did speak of our inability to comprehend and our misinterpretations of His character. Maybe it needs to be re-worked toward a better summery.
      Thank you for reading. I am grateful it stirred your heart to think about His goodness. Blessings, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Heidi, you always have a way to bring me to visualize your descriptive scenes with the shadings of your words. Thanks for being an artist with a writer’s paintbrush. While reading your post, my mind went back to the passage concerning how one day He will roll up the universe like a scroll. What beauty will be revealed we have yet to gaze. God’s grip – Alan

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  9. Some may see recent events as God’s cruelty: Covid, civil unrest in our cities, a contested election, etc. After all, God could have intervened in any of these situations. Yet through it all–and whatever is to come–he remains our Emmanuel, God with us. One day (perhaps soon?) we WILL be perfected upon seeing Jesus as he is (1 John 3:2-3), and that includes our understanding. We’ll see the over-arching plan God designed and implemented for our times. And you are so right, Heidi: his cruelty will finally be revealed for the Love it is. Until that time, We trust in his goodness and righteousness; Lord, help my unbelief!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Nancy … I pray we will “work while it is day” … work to show Jesus is our only Hope. We don’t know when night is coming and no one can work. He is good. Blessings to you, dear friend. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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