May 11, 2018
This article is a bit long. I suggest a fastening of the seat belts! Ok….it is probably the oldest theological question of all. Namely “If God exists, and if He is all- powerful and if He is all-loving, why does He (did He) allow evil into His world?” Or, as C.S. Lewis supposedly said: “I can believe that God is all-powerful. And I can believe that God is all-loving. My problem is believing He is all-powerful and all-loving at the same time.” That makes sense. If God is who the Bible says He is, why does he allow so much suffering? Or, as a young friend said to me recently “I can’t believe in a God who will answer your prayer about some little thing but allow a young girl to be raped and murdered. I want nothing to do with such a belief system.” But…God does answer prayers, sometimes very small ones. And, as we all know, God does allow a great deal of evil. So…how are we to possibly reconcile these realities? Let’s consider…
Before saying more, let me point out that this article is not meant to persuade anyone that God exists. Although I do not believe that anyone anywhere is really an atheist, despite their claims to hold that position. I say that because Romans Chapter One points out that everyone knows there is a God. The creation itself makes that clear. Those who insist there is no God are simply at enmity with him. They insist on being their own God; idolatry begins with self.
Awhile back I asked a self-avowed atheist a question as we sat in his beautiful home. I said “Would you take me seriously if I suggested that this house got here because of an explosion at a lumber yard and at a fine furniture store? That it all simply came down…just like this?” Of course not, although he was quite unwilling to acknowledge my point. It was obvious that a designer and architect and builders brought that structure about. He was not persuaded. In the same way, the creation itself with its order and seasons and design make it obvious that there was a Creator. The Apostle Paul put it this way:
Romans 1:19-20 (NIV) 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Setting those thoughts aside, this blog post is directed at people who are prepared to say that there is a God somehow, some way. And it is also intended for Christians who struggle with the question: “Why Does a Good God Allow Evil?”
There have been suggestions offered by some writers of theology. One “solution” came in the form of a book by a Rabbi named Harold Kushner. Published in 1981, “When Bad things Happen to Good People” was quite popular. Kushner had endured the early death of a beloved son. He wrote with compassion and depth. But, in my view, his book was unhelpful. Why? Because its basic thesis was that God is finite in his abilities to control the world he has made. In other words, “God is doing the best he can.” We should understand this and not expect God to always “come through” for us.
That line of thought is nonsense. The God of the Bible is all-powerful. He created the heavens and the earth. He created the nation of Israel and called it to himself. He opened the Red Sea and delivered his people from Egypt. He revealed Himself again and again and raised Jesus from the dead! Re-defining God is pointless. In any case, that is exactly the issue. If God exists, He must be able to break in upon our world and when He does not do so it is not a matter of in-ability on his part. It is his sovereignty at work.
So. Rabbi Kushner meant well but did not provide a solution. But going much further back, we are confronted with the theological system known as Deism. A quick review here: Deism began in the seventeenth century in England and spread across Europe. Before long, it became popular in the American colonies. Colonial leaders like Franklin, Jefferson and Payne were Deists. Why did they embrace it and what does it assert? Deism argues that yes, there is an all-powerful God and yes, he is just! And yes, there will be a Judgment Day. But, according to His own good pleasure, he is watching his creation, and he does not intervene in it. He is like a great clock-maker who made the time piece and wound it up. He set in on the table and he has stepped back to watch it but he will not touch it again until the end.
What is the appeal of Deism? It allows the theist, the believer in God, to believe without expectations. It solves the problem of evil by assuring us that God hates evil, but he does not break in to impede it or defeat it. It appealed to the early Deists because it was the perfect solution to the riddle. God, according to the Deists, IS THERE and HE DOES CARE but don’t expect him to get involved supernaturally.
The quintessential example of Deistic thinking was found in the “Jefferson Bible.” It was a very thin New Testament. Why? Because Mr. Jefferson took out all the miracles insisting they were mythical nonsense. But he did like the ethical teachings of Jesus, so he left them in! Of course. For a true Deist, miracles do not happen. Thus, Deism was the “perfect” solution. Jefferson and others could believe in a just and Holy God, but they were relieved of the angst that comes when man contemplates evil.
In my view, most Americans are Deists without knowing the word Deism. They are theistic. They believe in God. But they have rescued God from the accusation that he should do more. They understand the “Rules of the Divine Game.” They believe in God; they simply expect very little from him. Thus, they do not wrestle with the question at hand. Namely, why does a loving and all-powerful God allow evil? For the Deist, God takes note and God hates evil, but he will deal with it later when Judgement comes. For now, he simply watches.
Here’s the problem for Deism. If we can observe even one miracle, Deism collapses. So, Deism craters immediately if Jesus was raised from the dead (which he was!) The many proofs both internal and external to the Resurrection are not in our purview in this article. (Any reader desiring to discuss the veracity of the Resurrection accounts is invited to interact on this topic; debate is welcome! And I will respond.)
The Resurrection is the ultimate undoing of Deistic theory…the idea that God does not break into human events. To say nothing of the many other miracles found in Scripture. For me…it contradicts the healing of my back many years ago after an injury…and the millions of other testimonies to healing. God does break in! But, truth be told, often He does not. So, in the end, Deism is not helpful. (Believe me, as a Pastor who has seen everything in the way of suffering, I have often thought it would be easier to be a Deist. It would explain suicides and disease and broken families…everything. I could simply tell suffering people “God loves you, but He will not break in on your life. He’ll make everything better…later.” )
As has been said: “A God who could be fully understood could not be God.” In the end, judging God is the ultimate expression of pride and a lack of humility on steroids. I might liken it to an event years ago when one of our sons was small and requested permission to stay over-night at a friend’s house. In his mind, it was a reasonable petition because they were a nice family. But I knew that the husband and wife were locked in mortal combat and their household was characterized by tension and fighting. I told him we’d rather he did not go there. He was insistent. Almost demanding to know why we were not agreeable. But, of course, I could not tell him. Finally, I asked him if he was willing to simply trust us that we had a good reason? He hesitated. I closed the discussion by saying “Look…there are things you do not know. You’ll just have to believe me.” He was not happy. The Holy Spirit is always saying to us “There are things you do not know.” Often, we are not happy.
Actually, this whole issue revolves around what Lewis called “God in the Dock.” Stay with me here. This is interesting. Lewis suggested that man approaches God as if he (man) had him (God) in the courtroom dock being examined by man the prosecutor. Filled with indignation and certainty, the man demands that God explain his actions and choices. The man IS QUITE PREPARED TO FIND GOD GUILTY ON SEVERAL COUNTS. After all, God unwisely created a world that allowed evil. He neglected to remove that evil. He even took part in it through wars and genocide (see the Old Testament ). One big et cetera here! Man has God “in the dock” and man is going to let him have it!
The absurdity of this word picture should be obvious. God is not a human responding to man’s indictment. Man may think that is so, but it is nonsense. The fact is that God is God and his ways are certainly beyond our comprehension. This is why when Job finally appeared before God, the Almighty spoke to him. We read:
Job 38:1-6 (NIV) 1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? 6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone?
This line of thought goes on for several chapters until Job finally confesses that he is way over his pay-grade bringing charges against God. Our suffering friend admits:
Job 40:4-5 (NIV) 4 “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. 5 I spoke once, but I have no answer– twice, but I will say no more.”
In other words, Job has just realized that he must love God and seek God and serve God UNCONDITIONALLY! God does things HIS WAY and that includes allowing evil to be in our world. Indeed, God did not just allow evil in general, he even ordained it in the life of Jesus. Peter put it this way when he preached in Acts Chapter Two:
Acts 2:23 (NIV) 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
Did this make God an accomplice to evil? No. It showed the world that God used evil (the Crucifixion) for his own purposes and ultimate good. So…there it is. The ultimate decision. WILL WE BELIEVE IN God AND LOVE GOD UNCONDITIONALLY? OR WILL WE ONLY LOVE God IF HE EXPLAINS HIMSELF TO US AND EVEN APOLOGIZES TO US FOR HOW HE DOES THINGS?
In closing, we do well to consider the plight of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they refused to worship the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They were headed to the blazing furnace. Yet here is what they said:
Daniel 3:16-18 (NIV) 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Do we have this attitude of “…even if he does not?” Can we accept the reality that God is involved in his world but does things contrary to how we would do them? Can we accept the fact that God saves one person and not the other? That when Jesus healed a blind man, other blind men remained blind? Will we tell God that he may not answer our small prayer until he answers bigger more important prayers that are being offered up? Will we demand that God must do things…our way?
Two things cannot help us. ONE: Deism, because God is involved. TWO: Telling God what he can and cannot do is blasphemous. As the Prophet Jeremiah said:
Jeremiah 10:7 (NIV) 7 Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.
God be praised! Blessings! Pastor Alberta