I’ve been talking about deeply entrenched beliefs, or assumptions, that people hold about about God that keep them from Him or make them doubt His intentions or demean His character. Last time I shared my thoughts on predestination. Today, I would like to talk about why God allows what He allows in this life.
A big issue that people seem to have with God is that if He is good, all powerful, all knowing and can do anything, why then…
…does He allow bad things to happen to good people?
…is there so much suffering, hunger and poverty in the world?
…does one person get healed and another doesn’t?
…did my baby die and a crack baby lives?
…did He allow _____ in my life?
…does He allow evil at all?
Before I continue, I want to give a plug for a book by Gregory Boyd on this subject titled, “Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering.” There’s no way to exhaustively answer these questions in this post, or treat every seeming contradiction in Scripture to my view, so I heartily recommend this excellent work on the subject. I believe it will help you navigate these sometimes confusing and heartbreaking issues about our journey through this life.
In our struggle to find answers to these hard questions, we have come up with a lot of pat answers, going all the way back to Job’s comforters, that have not been helpful. And what Boyd points out, and I agree with, is that the most damaging is this idea that all things are ultimately God’s will and for His higher good. But this logic breaks down when you consider some of the atrocities have have taken place on the earth.
Deconstructing our Augustinian worldview of God’s providence
The subject of trying to make sense of God allowing evil is called theodicy. It comes from our need to explain the seeming arbitrary nature about what happens to us, attempting to reconcile the goodness of God with the existence of evil.
As Boyd points out, according to these church fathers, the ultimate reason anything happens is that God decided it was better to have it happen that way. He calls this the “Blueprint worldview” and contrasts this with Jesus’ and the early church’s “warfare worldview.” He also deals with this in his book, “God at War,” which I talked about here.
The blueprint worldview is that God is the Great Architect of all human affairs, meticulously micro-managing all things. Therefore all things, even the most evil things, happen for some mysterious greater good.
This view has us saying absurd things like “God gave me cancer” (or other types of suffering) so that we can make sense of what happened to us. But, ultimately, it’s not logical, biblical or helpful to do so.
Adopting this worldview has needlessly made Christians powerless victims for centuries, abdicating our Kingdom role on the earth while propagating a theology that turns people away from a God of love.
Yet, it’s this very view that most people in the Western world have about God–Christian or otherwise. Again, while it may provide some strange kind of comfort to some, this blueprint view has also been a major reason why people reject God.
Considering the atrocities committed in the world, who would want to follow a seemingly arbitrary and partial sadistic tyrant? And it doesn’t help to say it’s for our greater good!
For we cannot honestly look at vicious brutalities in history like the rape and disfiguring of women in Africa, or the sadistic mutilation and gassing of innocent children in Auschwitz, and say that God was behind this for our higher good. That idea is utterly repulsive to me. There is nothing good to be gained from this evil.
But if we follow the logic of Augustine and the Reformers we must conclude that if these horrors serve some greater purpose, then more rape, mutilation, racial genocide would be more glorious! Of course we don’t believe this, yet we’re left with some hopelessly convoluted answer that no one with a brain and a heart really buys.
Restoring the goodness of God in our thinking
Thankfully, God IS good and He allows what He allows for a very different reason. Briefly, here are just a few points I could bring up (some of these are explained in greater detail in Boyd’s book)…
– First and foremost, God is love, and everything He allows is because of love. Just like the laws of nature dictate that a triangle cannot be a circle, or a horse a cow, love cannot be coerced. (And we wouldn’t want it any other way!) Love can only exist where there is freedom to choose. God, in His sovereignty, chose to give seven billion people living today, and angels and demons, all free will to choose to receive His love or reject it. I talked more about this last time.
– Just because God can do something doesn’t mean He must do it. As Graham Cooke says, God permits in His wisdom and love what He could easily prevent in His power. For power does not compel the human heart, love does (2 Cor.5:14-15).
– Love necessitates risk. For God to allow His creation to be free agents, He must also risk the consequences. As I said last time, while He exists outside of time, knowing the end from the beginning, He does not violate our freedom to choose or not choose to do His will.
–Giving freedom of choice prevents revocation. Since God chose to limit Himself this way for love, He also restricts Himself in revoking human or angelic freedoms when they choose to do evil. This doesn’t mean that God never intervenes against evil, He does. In fact, this is our ministry in Christ. But the reason He does so is for love.
– There are malevolent forces in the spiritual world who have freely chosen to hate God and His creation and are bent on our destruction. Frankly, it’s beyond me why so many Christians seem to discount and even ignore this reality since Jesus Himself attributed sickness and evil to Satan’s work, not God’s. While this doesn’t mean that everything bad comes directly from the devil, why are we so quick to give him a pass?
– God gave the earth to us to take care of! (Gen.1:26-28; 9:1; Psalm 115:16) So when we ask why there is evil done on the earth, we need to at least partially blame ourselves. Furthermore, He has given us enough natural resources to feed and clothe the whole world (Gen.8:21-22), so when we ask why there’s starvation and poverty, we must point the finger squarely at ourselves.
– The seeming arbitrariness of life speaks of the complexity of creation, not of the nature of God. Imagine the endless chain of events in all of human history that have cause and effect on our lives today. Add to that, science has postulated that there are least nine dimensions to our Universe. That means that there are at least five dimensions outside of the space-time continuum we understand with our natural senses. So it’s utterly naive, or foolishly arrogant, to think we know why everything happens.
This is why faith is required, for faith informs us that the world we see was framed by a world we cannot see (Heb.11:3). Sometimes, we must just be content with the mystery and say we don’t know. But it should never lead us to question God’s goodness and character.
– While God is not the author of evil, nor does He will it, He can and does use it, after the fact, for good (Rom.8:28). This is an important distinction. Evil, sickness and disease are never God’s will. But what His creation meant for evil will be turned to good, if we will but trust Him (Gen.50:20).
– Finally, and most importantly, God took responsibility for all that’s wrong with creation by sending His Son to die for its redemption (Rom.8:19-23). He also gave us His grace to live a godly life in this world (Titus 2:11-12) and empowered us by His Spirit to continue His ministry of defeating the devil’s work and overturn injustice wherever we go (Acts 10:38; John 20:21). And by His resurrection and prophetic promises, assures us there will come a day when all evil will be eradicated and only love will remain (1 Cor.13:13).
Again, this list is not exhaustive. If you would like a more scholarly study, I highly recommend the two books by Gregory Boyd mentioned.
I will close with a brief video clip where Boyd briefly deals with the question of what it means for God to be in control.