“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
If God Is So Good, What’s Up With All The Bad Stuff In This World? (Part 5 of 6)
Last time we talked about, in contrast to God our treasury of knowledge is less than a penny compared to all the coins and bills ever printed. Now let’s see if God is limited sometimes and in some ways.
According to a number of places in Scripture, we have the power to resist God and when we do, he mourns our poor decision. Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem put God’s pained heart on display. He was brought to tears when his people weren’t willing to hide under his wings for protection.
No, God doesn’t always get his way. He didn’t get his way when our first parents trespassed or ever since then as we’ve lived as trespassers and renegades.
It’s tough for me to imagine how some of history’s most horrific examples of evil could support the notion that he does always get his way. The excruciating suffering and death of each Holocaust victim, the helpless little children abused by adults, or the millions of victims of famine or political corruption can’t be God’s “way” for his beloveds. No, he doesn’t always get his way, at least not in the short run.
Of course, in the long run he will accomplish what he set out to do. Like an aircraft carrier captained by Jesus will eventually by decree arrive at its destination (the better world). His sovereignty assures the accomplishment of the ship’s ultimate objective. But in the short run (during this imperfect world’s existence), on the way to his chosen destination, the ship’s crew have the choice to follow the Captain’s orders or not, and endure or enjoy the consequences commensurate with those choices.
Greg Boyd says:
“If God decided to create a world where love is possible, he thereby ruled out a world in which his will is always done. If he chooses to create this kind of world, he can’t guarantee that his will is always done, not because he lacks power but because of the kind of world he created. Just as a triangle can’t be round, so too a world that includes love can’t guarantee that God’s will always comes to pass.”
God didn’t put Adam and Eve in a “perfect” world. He said repeatedly that it was “good,” even “very good,” but not perfect. A world with a toxic tree in the middle of it and a slimy serpent lurking about can’t be a perfect one. Thank God, in the perfect world that’s on its way neither noxious food and poisonous snakes will be conspicuously absent!
The world we’re in now is not the best of all possible worlds, but I do believe it is the best of all possible ways to that perfect world. God is not the sort to just throw a bunch of mud on the wall to see if any of it sticks. His freewill scheme was, to my mind, the best way he could share himself with willing takers and ultimately usher us into the perfect eternal state with him.
Rather than make a practice of overpowering us in order to make us be good, his M.O. is to empower us to be better than we would be on our own. I have to admit that I’ve often secretly wished that he would take me out of the equation and do my job for me. My wish notwithstanding, I have a job and God has a job. I can’t do his and he won’t do mine.
Many who object to the idea that God’s short-run will is subject to being thwarted will appeal to his “sovereignty.” “God is sovereign,” they say, “and therefore does always get his way. Everything that happens is part of his plan.” Well, yes, God is absolutely sovereign. But in my view, for reasons stated above with reference to his freewill project, it was his sovereign prerogative to make a world in which his image bearers possess the frightful freedom to choose for against his will. He sovereignly concocted the best way to bring about the best possible world.
Of course God has a plan and is in control. But the idea that as the Sovereign he controls everything (at least in the “particular” sense) is, in my opinion, not true to Scripture. I believe that he is in control but is not controlling. Not everything that happens in the world is part of some eternal blueprint God drew up to which he makes everything in his universe conform. I refer you to my paper: “Loving An Unpredictable God.”
Surely God possesses unlimited power, yet he is entitled for love’s sake to concoct a system in which he wields his power in a limited way (for the limited period of human history). That is, God is in charge of everything, but he doesn’t necessarily control everything that he’s in charge of.
Yet, there will be a day (initiated by what is often called “The Day of the Lord”) when he will conform all things to his glory. In the meantime, however (and believe me, some of these times can be pretty mean), he doesn’t always get his way. He doesn’t always intervene to prevent each natural or human-caused disaster. He does however, have a way of digging deep down into any pile of some very nasty smelling manure and growing something good in it! Though he doesn’t cause everything to happen the way he wants, he does work “in everything for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28) The ultimate good awaits us in the ultimately good place.
No doubt he often supernaturally intervenes to alter the course of individual lives and of history. Yet at other times he doesn’t. It’s way above my pay grade and beyond the scope of this discussion to speculate about his intervention or non-intervention in particular events as they unfold in human history. But if we take Jesus Christ as our starting point, it’s a no-brainer to conclude that God does intervene in the world. After all, Jesus is “God with us!” He’s the supreme example of God inserting himself in human affairs. If that doesn’t constitute supernatural intervention I don’t know what does!
So if God is Great he can make a better world without evil and suffering. If he’s Good he will just that. For our part, then it’s a simple matter of waiting until he does. (By simple, I don’t mean easy, but straightforward.) The question the patriarchs, poets, and prophets of the Bible often ask is: “How long? How long do we have to wait till evil is vanquished and suffering is no more?” He can and he will make his Kingdom come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But when? As he is apt to do, he answers our question with a question: “How patient are you?”
Let’s discuss one more question next time: What Does God Even Know About Suffering?
Here are the links to each of the posts in this series: