“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Romans 11:33
If God Is So Good, What’s Up With All The Bad Stuff In This World? (Part 4 of 6)
Last time we decided that what we consider to be our “need to know” isn’t really a need at all. Now let’s check out how much we actually do know about God and his way of running his world.
So Adam and Eve each took a bite from the outlawed “knowledge” fruit, the consequence of which turned out to be less than they were led to believe. It made a nice appearance on the branches and probably was quite flavorsome but it didn’t yield the God-size knowledge that the snake promised. They now were acquainted with some “good” but were hampered more than ever to do it and some “evil” but couldn’t help themselves from doing it. Instead, they got kicked out of their hood and got much more grief in the process than they bargained for.
Ever since, through the grid of our fallenness and our finitude, we experience life here as arbitrary. In spite of what we think, we don’t usually know why goodness and evil can be so perplexingly random as they play out in the world. Yet arrogantly we deny it and insist that we know more than we can. As a consequence we tend toward indicting people (as Job’s friends did) or indicting God (as Job did) for the bad stuff that happens. [As a study of the book of Job would be beyond the scope of this writing, you’ll either have to do a careful reading of it or, for the time being, take my word for it.]
“Behind every particular event in history lies an impenetrably vast matrix of interlocking free decisions made by humans and angels,” says Greg Boyd in his discussion on Job. “We experience life as largely arbitrary because we can’t fathom the causal chains that lie behind every particular event.”
I don’t know about you but I don’t tend to enjoy the ambiguous nature of life here on planet Earth. So, like Job’s friends, the masters of prefab answers to complex problems, I’m tempted to demand that everything fall into tidy categories. I like it when I know, or think I know, who to blame when things don’t turn out well. In our fallenness we just can’t seem to accept our finitude. With the DNA of the forbidden fruit still in our system we make judgments that we have no business making. This is our legacy of eating from that blasted tree!
This is one of the reasons we are inclined toward simplistic, formulaic theologies. Bracketing off the complexity of the world and telling ourselves that everything unfolds according to a divine blueprint may make us feel secure but it doesn’t necessarily correspond with reality. There are far too many unknowable variables influencing the unfolding of events here, and those variables can only be fully known by one Person.
- Moses admitted that he didn’t know all there was to know: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us… that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
- Paul too knew how limited is our knowledge of God’s ways: “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33)
- Joab, when rallying his troops to fight, acknowledged that at the end of the day: “The Lord will do what is good in his sight.” (1 Chronicles 19:13)
The faith of many Christians seems to rest more on the sinking sand of the “magic” of their spiritual spells or on what they assume they know about the ways of God, Soverrather than on the wild and unpredictable Person that he is. Jesus told us simply to “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22), which I take to mean that we’re to trust in his character and not necessarily in a certain outcome of our prayers. He wants us to believe in the God who is, not the one we wish he were. His paths can’t be “traced out,” and his mind cannot be completely known; and yet we tend to want a God that we can, if not control, if not calculate.
If God is as unpredictable as I propose, how can we feel safe with him? How can we feel secure enough to love him back if we can’t predict what he’s going to do or when he’s going to do it?
The answer lies in rooting our faith as much in his character (especially his goodness) as his capability. It helps to remember that though he is unpredictable, he is predictably good. We may not know what he’s going to do, but we can be sure that whatever he does or doesn’t do finds its impetus in his character, which is unremittingly good. God is a good God, and that’s all we really need to know in order to love him back.
Next time, I’m going to wade into risky waters and ask the question: Does God Always Get His Way? I hope you’ll give it a read and see if my argument doesn’t have some merit…
Here are the links to each of the posts in this series: