1. Mack’s encounter with Sophia, the personification of God’s wisdom (pg. 171) shows how foolish we are to judge God for the tragic circumstances in our lives. Sophia starts by sincerely complementing Mack on his fatherly love for his family. She asks Mack to take the judge’s seat. She lists people who should be judged for greed, abuse, and for causing the suffering of others. Then she mentions the man who murdered Missy. Mack screams, “Yes! Damn him to hell!” Sophia responds, “What about his father, the man who twisted his son into a terror, what about him?” Mack responds, “Yes, him too!”
“’How far do we go back, Mackenzie? This legacy of brokenness goes all the way back to Adam, what about him? But why stop there? What about God? God started this whole thing. Is God to blame?
‘The woman was unrelenting. “Isn’t this where you are stuck Mackenzie? Isn’t this what fuels The Great Sadness? That God cannot be trusted? Surely, a father like you can judge the Father!’ (pg. 151-161)
Q. Imagine that you had been given the authority and power to judge the world? What would be your first act? Is there someone you would ‘damn to hell?’
Q. Have you ever been disappointed or angry with God? Why? How did you handle your emotions?
Q. The Bible gives many examples of people who have been angry or disappointed with God and expressed it either in anguished questions (Psalms), angry outbursts (Job), or sad poetry (Lamentations). Sophia tries to help liberate Mack from ‘The Great Sadness” by challenging him to come to grips with his emotions and express them. The Psalmist tells us to “Pour out your heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8). Do you have unresolved feelings about God? If so, take time now to honestly tell him how you feel.
2. “Sophia continued. ‘Isn’t that your just complaint, Mackenzie? That God has failed you, that he failed Missy? That before the Creation, God knew that one day your Missy would be brutalized, and still he created? And then he allowed that twisted soul to snatch her from your loving arms when he had the power to stop him. Isn’t God to blame, Mackenzie?’
…Finally, he said it, louder than he intended, and pointed his finger right at her. ‘Yes! God is to blame! The accusation hung in the room as the gavel fell in his heart.” (pg. 161)
Q. The Apostle John tells a story of disappointment with Jesus (see John 11). Two of Jesus’ friends, Mary and Martha, had an urgent need for his Jesus’ help. Their brother was dying. They had seen him heal many others, so they knew it wouldn’t be difficult for him to reverse Lazarus’ sickness. They sent a message asking him to come, but he didn’t. Finally Lazarus died. When Jesus finally did show up, how did the sister’s response differ? (see John 11:21-27 and John 11:31-32). What was Jesus’ response to their pain? (see John 11:33-35)
Q. Have you ever felt that God failed you? Did he allow something to happen that he could have prevented or failed to answer a desperate prayer? If you could meet with God in person, what would you say?
Q. After losing his wealth, family, and health, Job said “As for me, I would speak directly to the Almighty. I want to argue my case with God himself.” (Job 13:3) Could you win the argument? Why or why not? (See Job 38:1-3)
3. “’…If you are able to judge God so easily, then you certainly can judge the world.’ Again she spoke without emotion. “You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God’s new heaven and new earth, but only two.’
‘What?’ he erupted, turning to her in disbelief.
‘And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell.’
Mack couldn’t believe what he was hearing and started to panic.
‘Mackenzie, I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does. He knows every person ever conceived and he knows them so much deeper and clearer than you will ever know your own children. He loves each one according to his knowledge of the being of that son or daughter. You believe he will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?’
“I suppose I do. I just never thought about it like this. I just assumed that somehow God could do that. Talking about hell was always sort of an abstract conversation, not about anyone that I truly…’ Mack hestitated, realizing that what he was about to say would sound ugly, ‘not about anyone that I truly cared about.’ (pg. 161-162)
Q. Do you believe in a literal hell and heaven? Why or why not?
Q. The Apostle John wrote, “And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13-15) Jesus described hell as “unquenchable fire.” (Mark 9:43) How could a loving God allow any human to endure eternal torment?
Q. Imagine you were given the responsibility for deciding who would go to heaven or hell. How would you make the decision?
Q. According to the Bible, how does a person make sure he or she will not be sent to the eternal torment of hell? (See John 3:16, 5:24)
4. “’So you suppose, then, that God does this easily, but you cannot? Come now, Mackenzie. Which three of our five children will you sentence to hell?
‘I don’t want to be the judge,’ he said, standing up. ‘I can’t do this. I…will…not…do…this!’ Mack yelled.
‘You must,’ she whispered.
‘I can’t. I can’t. I won’t!’ he screamed. Finally he looked at her, pleading with his eyes. ‘Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place. Would that work? Could I do that?’ He fell at her feet, crying and begging now. ‘Please let me go for my children, please, I would be happy to… Please, I am begging you. Please…Please…
‘Mackenzie…now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well…You have judged them worthy of love, even if it cost you everything. That is how Jesus loves. And now you know Papa’s heart,’ she added, ‘who loves all his children perfectly.’” (pg. 162-163)
Q. Would you be willing to be tortured for eternity if you could be assured that every member of your family could go to heaven?
Q. The Apostle Paul would have sacrificed himself for his people, the Jews (see Romans 9:1-3). Would you be willing to offer your eternity for the people in your community?
Q. Paul wrote, “our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies.” (Romans 5:10) Would you be willing to endure the torture of hell forever for your enemies? (See Luke 6:35)
5. “’But he (God) didn’t stop it (the murder of Missy).’
‘No, he didn’t. He doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those that he is especially fond of.
‘Then why doesn’t he do something about it?’
‘He already has…’
‘You mean what Jesus did?’
‘Haven’t you seen the wounds on Papa too?’
‘I don’t understand them. How could he…’
‘For love. He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he had chosen justice for everyone? Do you want justice, ‘Dear Judge’?’
‘No I don’t,’ he said as he lowered his head. ‘Not for me, and not for my children.’” (pg. 164-165)
Q. We’ve all heard our children say, “It’s not fair!” Do you wish life was fair? Why or why not?
Q. If you received pure justice, where would you be?
Q. Paul wrote, “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone. Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:32-33) Is God’s mercy fair?
Q. What does the Apostle James mean by his phrase, “mercy triumphs over justice?” (James 2:13)
Q. Paul explains God’s mercy in Ephesians 2:1-8. “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” Based on this passage, why is bragging about our religious beliefs or actions so offensive to God?
6. “’But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.’
‘She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness. What happened to Missy was the work of evil and no one in your world is immune from it.’
‘But it hurts so much. There must be a better way.’
‘There is. You just can’t see it now. Return from your independence, Mackenzie. Give up being his judge and know Papa for who he is. Then you will be able to embrace his love in the midst of your pain, instead of pushing him away with your self-centered perception of how you think the universe should be. Papa has crawled inside of your world to be with you, to be with Missy.’” (pg. 165)
Q. Are the tragedies in our lives part of God’s plan for us? Why does God allow bad things to happen?
Q. How does God ‘redeem’ our trials for his purposes? (See Romans 8:28, 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, James 5:10-11))
Q. What do you think Sophia means by her invitation to Mack to “return from (his) independence?”
Q. How is it possible to “embrace (God’s) love in the midst of our pain?” (See 1 Peter 1:3-8)
Q. Does it help you to know that God has “crawled inside your world to be with you?” (See 1 Peter 5:7)