If you haven’t ever asked yourself this question, or had someone ask you this question, it’s coming. Trust me on that.
To do what the Lord commanded in 1 Peter 3 (” Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”) you’d better be ready to face this question..and to be able to give the hope that is within you to someone going through tragedy.
How would you answer that question, right now, to someone who has lost a loved one? A child? Facing a life-changing accident? How would you answer “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why did he allow this to happen to me?” if it were asked right now? Today?
Stop reading and think for a moment. How would you answer that question if someone walked into the room with their world falling apart, and asked you that question?
If you believe, as the bible clearly states, that God is both good and all-powerful (omnipotent) you’re facing a dilemma here:
1. Either God caused/allowed it. (In which case He’s not good).
2. He couldn’t stop it. (In which case He’s not omnipotent.)
I’ve heard every possible subtlety to work around this. Here’s the most common: “God doesn’t want those things to happen, but the world is fallen, so bad things happen due to sin.”
While it is clear from scripture that the world is fallen, and that bad things do happen due to sin, it still doesn’t answer the question because either;
a. God knew it was going to happen, and allowed it to happen by creating the world in which it DID happen. (He’s not good.)
b. He didn’t know it would happen, or placed it outside of His control (He’s not omniscient/omnipotent.)
c. Bad things then happen outside of God’s control, due to sin.. randomly and without purpose.
Is that really what the bible teaches? Let’s work through this with 3 of the most well-known examples of bad things happening to good people in scripture: Joseph, Job, and Jesus.
Joseph: In Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and he is taken captive into Egypt. We know how the epic story of Joseph continues, with God using him, ultimately, to save his people from famine. Who did Joseph believe caused this? Gen 45 records: “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5–8). The view here is clear. This isn’t “bad things happen randomly outside of God’s control due to a fallen world.” God SENT Joseph. How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory actions? Gen 50: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Men meant it for evil. God meant it for good.
Job: The book of Job opens up in the very first verse with: “There was a man in Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. (Job 1:1). The rest of the book is documented with Job’s calamity. Does scripture record how/why this bad thing happened? Yes. The remainder of Job 1 tells us that God permits Satan to strike Job. Is this figurative speech? Let’s go to the end of Job (Job 42): “They comforted and consoled him [Job] over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him” Who brought him the trouble? The Lord. Satan meant it for evil. God meant it for good.
Jesus: We know from all 4 gospels that Jesus was handed over to the crowd demanding His crucifixion (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19). And we, as believers, know why He was crucified. What does scripture state? “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Isaiah 53:10 tells us that, although the spotless lamb was being murdered in the greatest act of evil men ever committed, “It pleased the Father to crush Him”. There’s no way around it; God’s SET PURPOSE, FOREKNOWING what would happen, was to hand Him over to wicked men who would put Him to death. God knew before the foundation of the world what would take place. The men acted of their own will in fulfilling this act.
How do we reconcile the creaturely will of men (“they meant it for evil”) with the sovereignty/omniscience/omnipotence/goodness of God (“He meant it for good.”)?
God isn’t making lemonade out of lemons here. He’s not being reactive. As Acts 2:23 clearly shows, He is actively using the willful actions of men to accomplish His set and foreknown purpose. To believe that he’s “looking down the corridor of time” and seeing what will happen and reacting accordingly puts God at the mercy of man and places events outside of His control. (and also contradicts Acts 2). Scripture (as shown above) is clear in stating that God intended (active verb) these things.
Some really brilliant guys worked through this question a long time ago and came up with the following in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646):
Chapter III – Of God’s Eternal Decree.
i. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain
whatsoever comes to pass:(1) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(2) nor is violence offered to
the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather
(1) Eph 1:11; Ro 11:33; Heb 6:17; Ro 9:15,18
(2) Jas 1:13,17; 1Jn 1:5
(3) Ac 2:23; Mt 17:12; Ac 4:27,28; Jn 19:11; Pr 16:33
ii. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,(1) yet hath He not
decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such
(1) Ac 15:18; 1Sa 23:11,12; Mt 11:21,23
(2) Ro 9:11,13,16,18
So, why did these things happen? Why DO bad things happen? What is your answer to “be ready to give a defense fo the hope that is in you?”
It’s this, that God works ALL things to the council of His will, for His glory. He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
I talked to a friend recently who has a loved one who is suffering a debilitating illness. Each time this man is wracked with pain he cries out “Jesus!” To see this man’s reaction, or to watch Matt Chandler battle cancer with no fear of death.. to see a Bethany Hamilton or a David Ring continue to serve with joy in the face of “evil”, shows Jesus as being glorious to the world. And that is to the council of his glory.. ultimately to the good, truly good, of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
So why do bad things happen to good people? Simply put: To the council of His will, for His glory, and for our good. It makes as much sense to us as it did to Joseph when he was in the well, or Job in his affliction. However, we have a greater hope than our momentary afflictions, and a greater purpose than our lives or our comfort. And THAT makes Jesus look beautiful. The alternative? A world in which random, evil things happen for no greater purpose, and in which God is either unable, or unwilling to intercede. I choose the former. I choose the one which makes God glorious. I choose the message of scripture. I’ve seen where the latter leads; God doesn’t act, and well-meaning believers “claim healing”, believing that God wants our healing and comfort over His ultimate glory… and people die. Promises made on His behalf are broken, and the family is left to hate the church and the God who didn’t heal. To say that I hate it would be an understatement. Why? Because it makes either God, or the deceased loved one impotent. Sell that nonsense to the apostles, nearly all of which were executed brutally. Sell that nonsense to the early church, where believers were fed to lions or burned alive. To put it in Texan, “that don’t pass the smell test”.
Be prepared. Be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you. Be prepared to comfort those in need. Be prepared to make Jesus glorious.
I’ll close with the greatest act of human evil which was simultaneously the act of God’s greatest good:
Isaiah 53: The Suffering Servant
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 53 ESV)
I am including the following from Randy Alcorn. This is not online in article form, so I’ll post it in full:
We’ve had over 100 heartfelt comments and more coming in on my response this morning to someone’s post affirming it is always God’s will to heal his children. I appreciate all the interesting and touching comments, including of those who disagree with me or each other.
Though it flows out of the previous discussion, I am starting a new post, and likely a new group of comments, because if I put it at the bottom of those other comments some who would be interested will not see it. But I am picking up with that previous post and responding to a number of the comments.
Someone wondered if I was reading into the post I was responding to, by referring to “tidy little theological answers,” etc. Good question, but note what I said to preface my response: “In my response below I allude to and take into consideration previous comments made by the same person.” There have been multiple emails followed by multiple Facebook posts, sometimes several in the same day, and it was to these I was referring. My response wasn’t just to this single comment, but to the many things said in the whole stream of them. Some have seen those comments, some haven’t, so what I said would seem like an overreaction if you didn’t. He was restating the same argument repeatedly made earlier so I felt I knew his intent.
Someone mentioned that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was “a messenger of Satan.” Yes, but the part of 2 Cor. 12:7 left out of that quote is critical. Look at the context: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”
What was the central purpose of the thorn in the flesh? Why was it given to Paul? To keep him from becoming conceited. But surely it is not the devil who tried to keep Paul from becoming conceited! It was God. So yes, Satan sent the thorn in the flesh as his messenger. Yet God is shown to use that same thorn in the flesh to accomplish his sovereign purpose, to cultivate Christlikeness and humility in Paul. Satan had one purpose in the illness, God had another. But whose purpose prevailed? God’s did.
Several people commented that because diseases are the work of the devil God should not be seen as ever “sending” them into the lives of his children. I respectfully disagree, since Scripture itself uses the language of permission, e.g. “God allowed” but also the language of giving or sending. “Was given me a thorn in the flesh.” Who did the giving? God. It is a false dichotomy to assume that because Satan does something, therefore God can have nothing to do with it. That might be true if dualism were true, if God and Satan were equal opposites battling in a great war where the end is in question. But God is the sovereign Creator. Satan is but a created being. He is not the opposite of God, he is the opposite of Michael, the archangel. Satan brings many things he intends to harm us, but God makes clear He can and will use those things for good in the lives of his children (Romans 8:28-29).
I also disagree with a few commenters and an article someone linked to expressing discomfort with the idea that God is sovereign. This is a clear and emphatic teaching of Scripture, and also one that is of great comfort when we realize that the one who loves us is also in control of the universe, and no evil person or accident or the devil himself can thwart God’s purposes, which He can and does accomplish even in this world that is under sin and the curse. (Sometimes I see people go on about God’s love while minimizing his sovereign power, and I feel like we are left with a God who wants the very best for us but just can’t make it happen because demons and bad people tie his hands. What can He do? He loves us and means well, but he just can’t control the world and take care of us. In that respect he is more like our grandmothers than the God of the Bible.)
Read Job carefully. Who sent the diseases and disasters on Job? Satan did. But note that from chapter one on the writer makes clear this was never Satan exercising power apart from what God purposefully permitted. God is very much involved in the book of Job, and he is accomplishing His sovereign purpose. This is not speculation. Note what the inspired author says in the final chapter of Job, after the suffering is over: “They comforted and consoled him [Job] over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him” (Job 42:11).
Hence, I must respectfully disagree with those who insisted in the comments that God never gives to or sends to or brings suffering on his children. 2 Cor. 12:7 and Job 42:11 clearly prove otherwise. Yes, Satan brings on Job’s suffering, and the illness or disability of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a messenger of Satan. But in both cases Satan’s malevolent actions are used by God (who is loving, not malevolent) to accomplish his purposes and actually THWART Satan’s! Satan is shortsighted. He brings harm, but God can use it for good.
There are many other passages that demonstrate this, but I will include just one more. And here I’ll copy and paste from my book If God is Good:
Joseph recognized God’s sovereignty when he said to his brothers, who betrayed and sold him into slavery, “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…. God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5–8). God didn’t only permit Joseph’s journey to Egypt, he SENT him there through his brothers’ evil deeds.
Later Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20, ESV).
“God meant it for good” communicates something far stronger than God being handed lemons and making lemonade. God did not merely make the best of a bad situation; on the contrary, fully aware of what Joseph’s brothers would do, and fully permitting their sin, God INTENDED that the bad situation—which he could have prevented, but didn’t—be used for good. He did so in accordance with his plan from eternity past.
We see two wills at work in Genesis 50:20. The brothers successfully did evil, and God successfully brought about good from their evil—but his good dramatically eclipsed their evil. While God did not force them to do evil, he sovereignly worked so that the moral evil they committed, and the consequential evils that came from it, accomplished his ultimately good purposes. These purposes extended not only to Israel, but to Joseph and even to Joseph’s brothers, the evildoers.