Where is God When Bad Things Happen? (Or, If God is Good, Why Does Evil Exist?)

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Podcast Audio:

Don’t You Care?

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:35-38)

Let’s stop there and dig into that question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The Wrong Ending

Do you ever read spy or adventure novels? Imagine this scene occurring in the middle of your book.

The hero, Ace, has tracked the diamond thieves across the whole globe, finally reaching their secret hideout deep in the woods. But things have turned for the worse! As he was taking pictures with his spy camera, he fell through the roof right in front of the leader of the gang. Oh no! Ace has been captured!

Now, there sits the hero of the story, bloody and bruised, tied to a chair in the middle of a cabin, deep in the woods. His enemies have left him there to die as they run outside to finish off Ace once and for all. Our hero looks around, wondering what he can do. His hands are tied, the chair is made of heavy wood, and he’s weak from the beating he’s just taken.

The villains outside are drenching the cabin with gallons and gallons of gasoline. Ace can hear their leader laughing and mocking him – and in good evil villain fashion, telling Ace his whole dastardly plot for world domination. Ace pulls against the ropes with all his strength, turning over his chair, landing with a crash on the floor.

Suddenly, outside there is silence… and Ace hears the click-click of a torch being lit. Within moments bright yellow blaze of flames engulfs the walls in seconds. Ace is trapped. He yells for help, but there is no one around for hundreds of miles. Suddenly he remembers his laser spy watch! He can cut through the bonds with the laser! H wrenches his wrist, breaking his thumbs, but struggle as he might, he just can’t reach his watch. Finally, in an act of desperation, Ace rolls to the wall, using it to get himself onto his feet, and tries to smash his body and the chair through the burning cabin wall–it leaves a dent, but the wood on the outside is far too thick to break through.

Soon, smoke is billowing throughout the room. His breathing becomes laboured and his head is starting to spin. He’s becoming covered by the thick, dark clouds of ash. He passes out to the sound of a helicopter roaring to life – full of wealthy super-villains . Within a few minutes his barely breathing form is engulfed in flames and our hero, Ace, is gone forever. The chapter closes with the jewel thieves laughing at the fool who thought he could stop them.

And there you are, holding your book, thinking, “What? They killed the main character? No way!” So you turn to the next chapter to see if he had actually escaped, or if it was all a dream. But no. The hero is dead, the bad guys have won. Evil triumphed and as far as you can tell the rest of the book goes on to describe how the thieves spend their millions of dollars and took over the world. (Story adapted from Gary Poole’s “How could God allow suffering and Evil”)

 

Re-Writing the Ending

R.R. Martin. Famous for killing off favourite characters.

What would you think of that book? Unfair, right?! That’s not how it’s supposed to go! You’d think the author would have figured out a better ending than that! But the author didn’t write it that way… he let the hero die.

That’s how life seems sometimes, doesn’t it? Unfair. Not right. When something catastrophic like a natural disaster, kidnapping, or a family member dies or is terribly hurt in a car accident, it’s as the Author has made a huge mistake. Breaking up with someone you love causes a huge, dark hole of disappointment opens up in your heart… and you just wish that someone would come and rewrite that part of your life.

Have you ever felt this way? I’m sure we all have. We all find ourselves asking the question: “Is God in charge, or not? Is He out there writing the script for how this world works, or is it all just random and out of control? And if He is in charge of everything, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, then why doesn’t He write a better ending? We want him to write like CS Lewis, JK Rowling, or the old Fairy Tales authors where everyone lives happily ever after… but sometimes He seems more like RR Martin or Quentin Tarantino – randomly writing in heartbreak and loss for what seems like no reason at all – other than to frustrate everyone.

Do you ever wish that God would step in and rewrite something in your life, or someone who is close to you? I can think of a few times that I wish God would have just expunged from my record. Relationships I’ve messed up, an uncle who committed suicide in a horrible way, the rejection that I felt all through High School, arguments I’ve had with my wife, things I’ve said to my kids that I never should have said, debts I’ve accumulated that are now plaguing me. I wish that God would have come down at that moment, hit rewind, and rewritten it to have a better ending.

Big, Important Questions

We all, at some point, cry out to God just like the disciples did on the boat, They said, ““Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”. We say “What’s going on? It’s not fair! It’s not right! Why won’t you step in and fix this?”

Take comfort that we’re not alone in those questions. We read this all over scripture.

Jeremiah the prophet who was called by God to deliver messages to Israel, half way through says to God, “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” (20:7) He says, “God, you lied, you strong-armed me into this mess, and it’s not right! Why are you doing this?”

David says to Him, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Ps 22:1b-2) “God, you’re letting me down, and not even listening! Where are you?”

The prophet Habbakuk (1:13) says to God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” Essentially saying, “Horrible things are happening to good people, and you’re nowhere to be found! Why don’t you do something?”

These are questions that each of us ask. I think it’s very meaningful and comforting to know that I’m not alone in my frustrations, and even the holiest people of the Bible have felt what we’ve felt – and far worse – and felt that they could ask God these kinds of questions. It lets me know that I’m not alone.

But at the root the question is really this: Where is God when bad things happen? What is God doing about the problem of evil in this world?

People often site sin, evil and all the bad things that happen in the world as reasons to either deny or distrust God.

There’s an old quote from a Greek philosopher that states this problem like this:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

If God is all powerful, then why do bad things happen? Isn’t God a good God? Either there is no god and all this horrible stuff is just chaos out of control. Or, there is a god, but He has no power to help us. Or, there is a god, and he is all powerful, but he’s not good and simply enjoys watching people suffer. Is any of that true?

Some Options

Well, I want to go through a few options of what God could do about the evil in the world see if we can’t find out what He’s doing. I’m not coming up with this on my own, but am using a wonderful little study guide by a man named Gary Poole’s called “How could God allow suffering and Evil”.

For these options, let’s assume a Biblical view of God. That He is perfectly good, perfectly just, all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. So then, what are some options that He could use to take over the world? Let’s do a little philosophizing and try to “think God’s thoughts after Him.” (Johann Kepler)

Option 1: Destroy The World

First, He could simply destroy all of humanity. If He is all-powerful then He could easily wipe out the human race. He did it before with a flood, right? This is a simple solution: if there weren’t any people, then no one could get hurt. No evil, no murder, no thieves, no problems. And if He blew up the whole world there would also be no hurricanes, volcanoes or earthquakes! Perfect peace.

Well, that’s not the best solution, is it? If God is all-knowing, then He knew all this would happen before He ever created us. So, He must want us around. He must have created us for a purpose, and wants for us to be a part of creation. We mess it up, hurt each other, and are slowly killing the planet He gave us, but we are apparently important enough to Him that He’s decided to keep us around. But there’s still a problem with Evil…

Option 2: Zap the Evil People

Pay no attention to the concentrated lightning bolts on Parliament Hill…

The second thing God could do is to hand-pick all the evil people out of the world and eliminate them. Tally up all the really bad people – the murderers, rapists, terrorists, etc. – and fry them with a bolt of lightning.

And then, let’s go one better. Since God is all-knowing, and already knows who is going to commit an act of evil against someone else, or any part of creation, or against Himself, He could destroy them before they even take their first breath. And everyone else – all the people who would live their entire life without ever committing any kind of evil or sin – or even thinking evil about someone else, because the bible counts that as sin – whether they would do it on purpose or by accident – all those people could just live in peace.

Well, the problem with that solution is that, according to the Bible, and according to our own consciences, we have all sinned and done evil. There is not one person here who hasn’t done something wrong in the eyes of God. So again, everyone on the planet would get fried by a bolt of lightning.

Option 3: Eliminate Choice

Third, God could step in every time something evil happens and counteract it. He could get rid of our ability to choose evil. Just like we talked about before – just hit rewind and rewrite a new ending – and we would never know the difference. Someone wants to do something wrong, and God stops it before it ever happens.

Or, even better, He could make everyone immortal and mess with everyone’s plans. If someone shoots someone else, they just get up and go on with life, without even a scratch. If you get thrown off a cliff, you don’t even get hurt. You just hit the ground, wake up and walk home. If you decide to cheat on your spouse, God has our car break down, and fills the hotel room full of spiders. If you want to steal something, you find that there is suddenly a parade of police officers exactly where we want to take it from. No one’s choices would make any difference.

Or, even better, just get rid of choice altogether. Don’t put a Tree of Good and Evil in the garden of Eden. Pre-program everyone’s minds that they will always make the right choice, every time, no matter what. No bad thoughts, no worries, no issues, no arguments, no one ever even considers doing anything wrong – ever.

Now, the problem is that if there is no choice, then there are no relationships – no love. We would all be robots and play-actors in God’s perfect, little play. No one would choose to love you, they would be programmed to in advance. No one would choose to love God or serve Him out of thanksgiving or worship, but would simply do it because they were supposed to.

In order for there to be true love, true joy, real worship, any meaning in life at all, then we must be able to choose. If God created us to be in relationship with Him, then we must be able to choose not to be. If all you had to do was walk up and push a button on someone to have them say “I love you”, then it wouldn’t really be love, would it?

People sometimes ask why God doesn’t just get rid of all of the wrong choices. The answer is because without the ability to choose the wrong answer — to love or not to love, to be good or do evil, to help or to harm… there really isn’t a choice. For us to be able to experience love, we have to have the freedom of choice.

Option 4: Leave Us Alone

The fourth way God could deal with evil is to just walk away and let us fend for ourselves. He could wind the watch, keep the planet spinning but let everyone do whatever they wanted. Just let the pieces fall where they may. He wouldn’t get in the way when someone wanted to do something evil, He wouldn’t give them a conscience to tell them right from wrong, and He wouldn’t perform any miracles. Just let it go.

That wouldn’t help us much, but from His perspective, if He could make Himself not care about us, turn his back and walk away, then at least for Him, the problem would be kind-of solved.

Can you imagine that world? A world without conscience, without God’s intervention. A world without Christians, without divine morality, where it really is the “survival of the fittest”. A world without God giving people the desire to selflessly serve others. A world where God never raised up strong, bold, courageous, moral leaders who would fight for what is right – even in the face of a stronger evil?

2 Thessalonians 2:7 says, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.”  That means that right now God is restraining, holding back, the full effects of evil. If God stopped doing that, we’d be living in hell. And God doesn’t want that for us. He doesn’t want to turn His back and leave us alone.

Two Reasons Evil Continues

So, none of those solutions work, do they? So what is God doing about evil?

Let me say this first. I believe God allows evil for 2 important reasons.

First, so that we can see what life is like without God. What it’s like when people are left to themselves, when evil is left to flourish, and when people really get what they want. In this world, we experience evil and its effects partly because it let us see what happens when we get to the end of our lust for sex, power, money, attention. We see the results in ourselves and in others, and are meant to say “That is terrible and I no longer want any part of it. I don’t want to be like that anymore – I don’t want to become like that. Thank God that He has kept me from that.” Many who have looked deeply into themselves, after God has gotten a hold of their heart, and are able to have compassion on those who are so evil thinking to themselves, “But by the grace of God go I.” Evil gives us a glimpse of life in Hell, and is meant to drive us to God.

Second, because He wants more people to be saved. We wonder why He doesn’t just come now. Why not end it all now and just be done with this horrible world? One reason we are given is in 2 Peter 3:9 which says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  If He would have come before you were saved, you would be in Hell. Those of you who are praying for members of your family to be saved from their sin, saved from Hell and go to heaven… what if Jesus were to come today. Where would they be? I don’t know how it all works, but I know that it is a grace that God gives us time to repent!

Option 5: Experience It and then Destroy it

So what did God do about evil? Well, that’s option 5.

He came to earth to experience evil first hand, so we could know how to live in this world. He came to live a perfect life where He would commit no evil, to show us His divinity and perfection. And then, through His death on the cross, where the perfect man was sacrificed in our place, made it possible for us to join Him and be free of the effects of evil forever.

He could have left us in sin, given us our way, and allowed humanity to just go to hell, but He didn’t. Instead, Jesus came and lived in this world and knows exactly what it’s like. His ministry, the inauguration of His New Kingdom, set in motion our ultimate deliverance from evil. Our faith in His life, death and resurrection, makes it possible for us to be accepted by God into His perfect kingdom.

Because of the evil within us – our sin – we would never be allowed to be in the presence of Holy God. But, since Jesus has taken our sin, upon his own shoulders, and God poured out His justice and wrath on Him, instead of us – we have been given the opportunity to come to the Father in His name. God imputed (credited, ascribed, gave as a gift) Jesus’ righteousness to us.

Martin Luther called this “The Great Exchange”: our sin and unrighteousness for Jesus’ perfection and righteousness. That’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everyone who believes and who is touched by evil, death and disease can live without worrying that that will be their final condition. Instead of fear, God infuses the Christian with hope . And more than that, God promises to use the evil in our world, our pain, suffering, loss, and even death, to bring about good in this world (Romans 8:28).

“Teacher, Do You Not Care?”

Let’s finish the story in Mark 4:37-41,

“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”

I can’t imagine what went through the mind of Jesus when the disciples asked that question: “Don’t you care?” He knew why He was there. He was there to suffer and die for not only their sin, but the sin of every other person who would believe in Him, for all time. He was to the perfect and final sacrifice for sin, finally completing the whole law and everything prophesied about him from the beginning.

In a short time, He would be tortured to death for no reason other than the hatred that this world had for him. He will have had done nothing to deserve it, but because of His love for them – for us – His blood would be spilled.

It’s the same question we ask: “Jesus, do you not care?”

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

So, why are we so afraid? With a God like this, as powerful and loving and wise as He is, why are we so afraid? Why do we lack faith? Why are we not constantly falling down in worship? Why would we try to do this all on our own? Where is our faith?

Let me ask you: Is your future secure in Jesus Christ? Have you been asking Him for the strength He gives, to face your pain and persecutions? Did someone convinced you that Christianity is easy and safe, or are you aware of the spiritual reality that there is evil around you at all times, that you are at war, and all of humanity is part of it?

God has conquered evil, and has invited us into His Kingdom so we might work with Him against it. The words, “Do not fear” are shear and utter madness in this world! There is much to fear… unless God truly did raise Jesus from death, and unless He is abiding in our hearts. Our faith destroys the fear of storms. There is nothing we cannot face if we trust in Jesus Christ.

So let me close with Hebrews 10:19-23:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

One thought on “Where is God When Bad Things Happen? (Or, If God is Good, Why Does Evil Exist?)

    […] And what blows my mind, is that demons are exactly what humans would be if God took away His hand and allowed evil to take over humanity – just as we talked about last week. […]

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