Where is God when bad things happen? (Third and final part in a series.)
- Two weeks ago, we talked about mass shootings and other evil: “The message of Christ’s resurrection is that, come the worst this world can deliver, this world is not the end of the story.”
- Last week, we talked about how to make peace with God when we are angry about the evil that touches our lives: “Christ found his way to peace with God despite the evil that befell him; so can you and I.”
- This week, we get to the hard question: how there can there be evil in the first place if God is all-powerful, made the world, and is good? Isn’t it all God’s fault?
Remember in the movie City Slickers? That scene where Jack Palance reveals to Billy Crystal the secret of life, only he doesn’t reveal anything? “It’s one thing.” “What thing?” “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.” Answers to life’s hard questions are like that: regardless of what someone tells you, it’s meaningless until you find the way there yourself. Today’s posting is about my journey and some of the answers I found. The intent is only to encourage you that finding these answers is possible. I can recommend some initial approach vectors that got me partway, but in the end, you must undertake a journey of your own.
Approach #1: What we’re made for
To me, it clears God from some of the blame for making us live where evil can touch us when I remember that, according to the Bible, this isn’t really the place he designed us for.
Think about this: why does evil bother us so much? Tragedy is an everyday part of life. Why do we get so sad when people die? Death is our one certainty; why should it be such an uphill battle for us to accept it? I have read both secular and spiritual answers to these questions, and I think both have value, but if you want to know whether the existence of evil disproves the Bible, you have to focus on the spiritual side.
The Bible says we were designed to live somewhere else. All we had to do was turn away from evil, but we messed it up. Aren’t we just paying for Adam & Eve’s original sin? Nope, we’re no better. We brought this on ourselves. Think about your own life: how many of us have a life with no regrets, nothing we’ve done wrong, no act that caused pain to ourselves and others? All of that is what the Bible means by the word “sin”. If we don’t even measure up to our own standards, is it such a stretch to consider we might not measure up to God’s? I am not saying our sins one-for-one deserve our misfortunes; I know from first-hand experience that, once you’re out of the immaculate world of pure good, some very disproportionate evils become possible.
So, maybe a good God couldn’t (a) create us with a longing for good and then (b) send us to live in a world of evil to torture us. But that isn’t the Bible’s explanation of why we live here. To my mind, a good God could make us for a better place, but then when it was clear we had some growing up to do, he could hustle us out of there to keep it nice for when we’ve finally learned a thing or two and are ready for it. Meanwhile, he could send us to stay temporarily in a place where we’re going to get religion about why evil is so destructive, why turning away from it is so important.
Approach #2: “Sorta bad”? Or “Really bad”?
My son and I had a rocky time during his teenage years. He doesn’t remember it now, but I have been compared to a police state, martial law, and dictators from Slobodan Milošević to Mao Tse-tung. What was the problem? The two biggest issues were (1) limiting his Internet time to just two hours a day and (2) asking his employed adult brother to pay steeply discounted rent. He literally moved out the day he turned 18 in order to escape from the oppression.
A few years back, I related that story in a public park with a gentleman who called himself Rob The Atheist. Rob had suggested to me that a loving God cannot exist because, if he did, he would never allow the horrific evils of this world. But, I said, I am a loving father, yet I deliberately inflicted situations that my son found intolerable; after that I allowed him to suffer months of semi-homelessness. Could a loving father do that? “Those things,” Rob countered, “are only sorta bad. I’m talking about the really bad stuff.”
But I would submit that the difference between “sorta bad” and “really bad” is only a matter of perspective. Rob saw the things I did to my son as only “sorta bad” because he has the same perspective I do; whereas my son saw them as intolerable human rights violations, readily compared to acts of genocide. Isn’t it just possible that, from the perspective of eternity, the tragedies of this temporal world are less all-important to God than they seem from our current worm’s eye view?
Certainly scripture repeatedly makes that point:
- For now we see only a reflection in a mirror… (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
- As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
- Do not fear those who can kill the body and afterward can do no more. (Luke 12:4)
- Blessed are those who mourn… (Matthew 5:4)
Finally, as to the contention that God, if truly all-powerful, should simply prevent evil: in the final analysis, the moment God gave us free will, by that act he voluntarily surrendered some part of his power. Thus, we have a God who says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,” a Christ who laments over those he longs to gather together but cannot, who begs to bypass the cross but knows it to be impossible, and a Lord’s prayer that simply asks for a day when God’s will is done on Earth— unfettered, unclouded by sin— in the same way it is in heaven.
Until that day, both we and God will always have the same problem: that we live in a place where bad things happen, that we love what death can touch.