God is in complete control of everything in existence. He does not make mistakes, yet profound evil exists in our world. Awful things happen to people who do not deserve it. It seems like evildoers go unpunished. Why does God – who is utterly good – permit such evil?
It is impossible to do justice to this question – the subject of weighty theological treatises – in a blog entry. That understood, here are some musings – food for thought, if you will.
Our existence is not random. There is a purpose and a pattern, to each infinitesimal tick of our existence. There is a masterplan underlying the dense fabric of human existence in history and time. God is working eternally in the inconceivably multiplied effects of our exercised choices.
In the dense tangle of the many googoleplex decisions of human beings – distinct micropurposes being worked out, simultaneously, ceaselessly – God is working His purposes out.
Why do bad things happen? Seems to me that this question invites both a broad perspective, and a narrow one.
From a broad perspective, bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Following the Fall, the earth was cursed such that it would no longer easily bring forth for humankind. From that point it would resist man’s efforts, producing only with pronounced effort. Reading up against man, the earth would present worsening climatic conditions and more frequent natural disasters as signs of its aging existence that is prophesied one day to come to an end. As terrifying a thought as this is – considered in isolation – there is a point to such a cataclysmic end. From the christian perspective, the broad purpose of the end of the world is to complete the ushering of all souls into eternity1.
Human sinful tendencies – another result of the Fall – are another reason why bad things happen in our world. We all have sinful tendencies. All of us. We inherited this sinful nature from our prime ancestors, Adam and Eve. Christian doctrine thus distinguishes between the flesh (our human nature) and the Spirit (our nature once we are redeemed by faith in Christ Jesus). The flesh produces wrong desires which, unchecked, result in eggregious acts. The earlier references to the deliberate burning of an innocent baby and the cruel witholding of care from a childneedlessly suffering from cancer are heart-wrenching examples.
The Fall corrupted humankind, yet it was no mistake. There was a purpose to how things played out. God created humans to be in companionable fellowship with Him. [Get that: God made us because He wanted our company! What an awe inspiring thought that the Almighty Creator of all things should deign to desire the company of humans: the gracious love that transfuses that divine impulse takes my breath away.] He knew, however, that humankind would rebel, choose to sin, and thus would require restoration. He also knew that the restoration of the God/human relationship would be possible only by payment of the penalty that divine justice would require: the payment of restitution by one who himself was untainted by the Fall. This was a price that only a perfect human being – perfect as in sinless member of the human race – would be able to pay.
In the garden, God allowed Adam and Eve to choose whether to obey His instructions to not eat from a certain tree in the garden: they chose to disobey. Though when God created Adam and Eve, they had no choice about whether to be with God or not, God did start them off with the power to choose to obey or disobey. This determined, in turn, whether Adam and Eve could remain in Eden, in close relationship with God – or not. The Fall which was only possible because God granted human beings the choice to obey Him or to disobey Him certainly had a purpose. The Fall was proof of our tenderloving Father’s willingness to truly grant us the power to choose. It also led to our need for a Savior.
Zooming in to reconsider historical events earlier mentioned:
– The destruction of all in Sodom and Gommorrah, save for one man and his two daughters was not by chance. Willing to spare the city if even ten righteous people could be found in it, only four – the man Lot, his wife and his two (married) daughters – could be found. His two sons in law refused to flee, and his wife – one of the four – perished because she looked back against instructions. Of the destruction rained down upon inhabitants of those two sister cities – because they insisted on behavior God prohibited as abominable – only three people survived.
– The rivalry-turned-to-enmity between the two sons of Abraham – Issac and Ishmael persists. The Jewish/Arab conflict rooted in the dysfunction of this ancient family still convulses our world with hatred and violence today. Threads of this conflict, including the ancient vow of Jihad and aspirations of certain Arab groups toward the annihilation of Israel are woven into human history. Yet, significantly, the extremely politically charged question of the existence and scope of Israel’s right to exist according to biblical doctrine – fruit of that enmity – has implications for the ultimate destiny of humankind.
– The heartbreakingly repeated betrayals of Joseph bar Jacob were no accident. His sufferings opened up the avenue for his family to escape a terrible famine to multiply and prosper in a land of abundance. A family that became a vast people group that was eventually subjected to slavery in that land. After years of servitude, they were led by a rescuer the Lord raised up to lead them in an exodus, to their Promised Land. The geographical location of their Promised Land – Israel – is the epicenter of a spiritual struggle that – according to the Bible – also has implications for the future of mankind.
– The perishing of an entire generation of wandering Jews in the wilderness was deliberate. Their wanderings were punishment for spreading dissention, for stubborn disobedience, for a lack of faith and for rebellion. Thr long journey however also birthed their culture – rooted in the Mosaic law – and a zealousness for nationhood that persists in some form until today.
– The violent obliteration of all in the city of Jericho – except for one prostitute and her family – was according to a plan. Because of the discernment of that dishonored woman, she and her family were spared by the Jewish invaders, only to become a generational link in the lineage of the coming Messiah.
– The tragedies and tormenting of Job were permitted for the testing of his faith and the proving of his loyalty to God. Job’s reaction to his trials showed that he recognised God as the true source of his tremendous wealth, and that he held all that he had lightly, with a heart full of gratitude to God. As a result of his travails, God’s confidence in Job was vindicated, the devil was put to shame, and Job’s wealth was multiplied far beyond what he had to begin with. Predictably perhaps, the book of Job is a go-to for wisdom on how to maintain faith during hard times.
– Echoing of the bitterness of their forebearers – Jacob and Esau – cruel, ruthless efficient Rome (Esau) was an instrument of a diabolical force – the immutable enemy of humankind – that hasperiodically sought to eliminate the Jews (Jacob) from existence. How amazing to realize that the ruthless conquest and horrifyingly cruel subjugation of Israel by Rome was was preordained and that it unfolded according to a deliberate timetable. It transpires that the violently unstable political backdrop of the Roman-Jewish struggles provided the precise context necessary for the fulfilment of ancient prophesies about the promised Messiah. Details of when, where, and how He would be born were fulfilled at that time, down to the smallest details.
– Much more recently, the holocaust – a world-shaking event still shaping our world today – was also permitted for a purpose that only God fully understands. A truly diabolical effort to wipe out Jews, the Holocaust however fostered a deep sense of abandonment (by the rest of the world) in Jews. This profound sense of being able to trust no-one, and having nowhere to lay their heads, fanned a desperation for a homeland, a place that would be theirs, where they would never again be resident aliens at the mercy of a hostile native citizenry. It was from this tragedy and desperation that the modern state of Israel emerged. Millions of Jews, from all countries and cultures, out of the Jewish Diaspora, have migrated to Israel in a stready stream. Ancient biblical prophesies foretelling the birth of the state of Israel as well as the migration there of Jews indicate that this was not a coincidence of history, rather a deliberate event within God’s cosmic timetable.
So, the Fall corrupted humankind, yet it was no mistake. It created the need for a Savior. But why not avoid that entirely? If God knew Adam and Eve would choose to disobey His instruction, why not simply make them incapable of disobeying God? Surely that would have been a much tidier plot? It’s true that it might have led to a tidier humanity story, but to my way of thinking, it would have been a boring, more pathetic one too: imagine God, who wanted our companionship, surrounded by hordes of humanity that had no choice but to involuntarily and robotically adore Him – for eternity. Seems a lonely, unsatisfying arrangement to me. Who prefers involutary servitude to willing allegience?? I do not believe that anyone does, not really, and we were made in his image after all. Truly God wants us to voluntarily choose to love Him.
God not only gave Adam and Eve the power to choose, He extended that power to choose to us, descendants of that first couple. We get to choose whether we will believe that God has a divine plan worth staking our future on. A plan that involves putting our trust in Jesus Christ as the only possible Savior and restorer of the relationship with God. A grand plan that transcends time yet was conceived in the person of the Almighty God even before creation.
All of human history, every generation, down to every single soul that has, does, and will exist, is woven – intricately – into the tender drawing, by God to Himself, of those who will acknowledge and willingly choose Him as Lord.
The purpose of this? God wants loving, voluntary companions – not involuntary robotic creatures – with Him in eternity. He wanted us to choose to be with him. Declining (as He always does) enforced intimacy, God – wanting our willing presence – chose to make our relationship truly voluntary!
God has a plan and He is utterly in control. Though He is permitting evil for a season, He is watching over humans with a profound love, yearning for our willing relationship. From this perspective, the violent convulsions of our world as it progresses towards the fulfilment of God’s complex need not cause despair. Knowing that God is incomprehensively loving, with no darkness – or meaness – in Him at all, realizing that He is the architect of the Masterplan, we can take heart that despite appearances, everything is going according to plan.
Whew, this was a long one, but Selah……What a relief to know that there is a point to this curious state of being – life. Hallelujah!
1. For now, suffice to say that at the point of death, the human soul exits time and physical space to enter eternity – a state of existence that transcends time.
(originally posted 11/30/2014; 1918 words)