By Jim Denison (revised)

Unjustly jailed for 39 years

Craig Coley
Craig Coley before he went to jail, and after his release.
Craig Coley
Craig Coley before he went to jail, and after his release.

Much about today's news leaves us feeling powerless. The death toll from the recent Brazilian dam collapse exceeded 99, with another 259 missing and feared dead. A gardener in Toronto has pled guilty to killing eight men, some of whom he buried in planters. Floods in Saudi Arabia have killed at least twelve people.

If we believe in an all-powerful God – or even if we don't – we wonder why He allows so much suffering in His creation. If a car had as many problems as our planet, we'd hold the manufacturer responsible.

Of course, this analogy breaks down when we discover that the Fall [ when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit, allowing sin to enter the world], not divine mismanagement, led to the brokenness of our planet (Romans 8:22).

Dostoevsky notes in The Brothers Karamazov that, after centuries of living under Christendom's authority, humans have finally declared themselves free from God's sovereignty. We're convinced that we can do what we wish, when we wish, with no divine consequences.

But we can't have it both ways. We cannot refuse to live by God's word and then fault God for the consequences of our disobedience. That is like driving our car into a tree and blaming the car company!

We have a choice.

One the one hand, we can reject God's goodness and presence when they seem to be contradicted by what we understand of our present circumstances. If life becomes difficult, many blame God.

Atheist Sam Harris claims that in the face of catastrophe, "God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary."

In short, when life is hard, people ask God, "Why?" When life is good, however, people tend to ask, "Why God?" We credit ourselves with what we have and have done.

But the fact that we were conceived through no action of our own literally gives the lie to the "self-made" person. A turtle atop a fencepost had help getting there.

The better approach is to judge our circumstances by God's character and trust that the King of the Universe is still in charge.

Craig Richard Coley, wrongly imprisoned for murder for 39 years, was formally pardoned in November 2017.

The Governor of California commented at the time on "the extraordinary grace with which he endured his lengthy and unjust incarceration". How did Coley do it?

By actively practising his Christian faith, starting a prison Bible study group and later earning degrees in theology, biblical studies, and biblical counselling.

"My way of looking at things changed," Craig said. "I believed whatever happened was what God had in store for me, and everything I get is a blessing."

When those who call God 'Lord' face suffering for no apparent reason, they can know that their Father knows. Nothing about their present circumstances changes His eternal character. The Bible promises that He is working all things for their good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)

And they, like Job in the Old Testament, can rest in His presence when they do not understand His purpose; they can trust His heart when they cannot see His hand.

Kate Bowler says of our broken world: "The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here" but "God is here. We are loved. It is enough." She's right.

The Bible claims and the cross of Jesus proves that God loves us unconditionally and passionately.

Trust the challenges you see to the God you cannot see, and you will experience answers that you could not have imagined.

This is a compliation of three abridged articles by Dr Denison. See his full articles online at the Denison Forum.

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