Questions, Anger and the Truth of God's Sovereignty
We all have routines; some are more stringent in theirs then others. My morning routine includes the reading of the Canadian “Free Press” news. I actually set out to write today about TV of all things, and how much of my morning news is committed to the writing about TV shows. Perhaps another day. Reading the usual top news in the last 24 hours and following with great sadness the unfolding story of the tragedy in Newtown, I was struck with a heaviness that forced me to write something on this issue instead of the foolishness of TV in light of what has transpired over the last several days.
Every time we are faced with such an awful tragic event, the Twitter world and Bloggasphere seem to light up with questions; and rightly so. Questions of one's mental state to carry out such a crime, questions of government intervention, and sobering reminders of the American right to “bear arms” — even semi-automatic arms, as confusing and totally foolish as that is! I too have questions — and I have anger!! I have anger as I think about the fact that Christmas this year, for so many families in Newtown, will not be a time of laughter and joy, but rather a time of sorrow and grief. I have anger that the innocence was taken. I have anger, because I think about my little girl, Emerson, and if this event were to happen at her school, and if she had been taken from me... anger! Anger words can't express!! Anger that wants revenge!! Anger that wants answers.
Anger that shows with sobering reality just how human I am.
Am I angry? Clearly I am. As the questions arise after this event, the questions that grab my attention the most are the ones that ask, “Where is God in this?” or “How could God allow such a thing to happen?” The list goes on and there are lingering questions. These are questions that are not easy to answer, and to be honest, are good for us to wrestle through. I understand that there will be some that will think (or worse say), “Blair, why are you angry? Don’t you know God is in control?” This, of course, is about as helpful as telling the parents who lost their children that, “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
I know in my head that God is indeed in control, but when things like this happen, I realize just how far that journey is from one's head to their heart. I pray for those families and I’m sad.
Perhaps this article by Randy Alcorn (below) that I read yesterday will be as helpful to you as it has been in reminding me that even in the face of such tragedy, God is still sovereign:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
- Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11 (ESV)
Randy Alcorn is working toward an answer to this question: Why doesn’t God do more to restrain evil and suffering? Have you ever considered that God may already be restraining 99.99% of evil and suffering?
Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering – Part 1
by Randy Alcorn
God may already be restraining 99.99 percent of evil and suffering.
Why does the chaos that breaks out in some corner of the world always prove the exception rather than the rule? Why haven’t tyrants, with access to powerful weapons, destroyed this planet? What has kept infectious diseases and natural disasters from killing 99 percent of the world’s population rather than less than 1 percent?
In the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers, fifteen thousand people came out alive. While this doesn’t remove the pain felt by families of the nearly three thousand who died, it shows that even on that terrible day, suffering was limited.
Nanci said to me, “Given what Scripture tells us about the evil of the human heart, you’d think that there would be thousands of Jack the Rippers in every city.” Her statement stopped me in my tracks. Might God be limiting sin all around us, all the time? 2 Thessalonians 2:7 declares that God is in fact restraining lawlessness in this world. For this we should thank him daily.
If God permitted people to follow their every evil inclination all the time, life on this planet would screech to a halt. Sometimes God permits evil by giving people over to their sins (see Romans 1:24-32), and this itself leads to the deterioration and ultimate death of an evil culture, which is a mercy to surrounding cultures. The most morally corrupt ancient cultures no longer exist.
“But many children suffer; why doesn’t God protect them?” We don’t know the answer, but we also don’t know how often God does protect children. The concept of guardian angels seems to be suggested by various passages (see, for example, Matthew 18:10).
God gives us a brief, dramatic look into the unseen world in which righteous angels battle evil ones, intervening on behalf of God’s people (see Daniel 10:12-13, 20). How many angels has God sent to preserve the lives of children and shield them from harm?
My earliest memory is of falling into deep water and nearly drowning; someone my family didn’t know rescued me. As a parent and a grandparent I have seen many “close calls” where it appears a child should have died or suffered a terrible injury, but somehow escaped both.
This thought, of course, doesn’t keep a parent’s heart from breaking when her child suffers or dies. Still, though I can’t prove it, I’m convinced God prevents far more evil than he allows.
God may also be preventing 99.99 percent of tragedies.
Great though they may be, God actively restrains the tests and temptations that come our way so that we will not experience anything greater than we can bear (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).
Fatal car and airplane accidents bring awful devastation, but statistically these are rare. On January 15, 2009, what should have brought certain death to passengers aboard Flight 1549, and catastrophe to Manhattan, turned into what secular reporters labeled a “miracle.” The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, safely landed a crippled plane in New York’s Hudson River, with no serious injuries.
While chunks of ice and busy ferries filled most of the river, the place where the plane came down remained clear of both ice and boats. It landed without breaking apart. Ferryboat captains rescued all 155 people from the frigid river within minutes. The New York Times suggested “more than luck” brought the plane down mere minutes from experts trained in water rescues. Passengers who said they hadn’t believed in God nevertheless prayed to him on the plane, then publicly thanked him for sparing their lives.
I tell this story to raise a question — isn’t it likely that a kind and all-powerful God routinely prevents terrible tragedies in ways that we do not see and therefore do not credit as miracles?
While the miracle of Flight 1549 appears to be the exception, not the rule, we cannot know about most of the equally miraculous interventions of God that may have invisibly prevented other catastrophes. Perhaps one day we’ll hear those stories and marvel at how often God intervened when we imagined him uninvolved in our world.
God exercises wisdom and purpose by not always intervening in miraculous ways.
As a young Christian, a teenager, I often asked God to show me signs. In the darkness of my room at night I would light a match and ask him to blow it out. What a simple miracle I requested! Nothing on the level of raising the dead, not even turning water to wine. But he never granted my request. And though I didn’t understand why at the time, now I have a better idea. What would I have asked him to do once he blew out the match? Levitate the pool table? And then what would I ask him to do to top that? Where would it end?
How many magician’s tricks would we call upon Jesus to do? As we share Christ with a neighbour who says, “I don’t believe in God,” we might say, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” Then we’d call on God to torch the man’s maple tree. Seeing the tree vaporize would get his attention! And surely it would generate faith-oriented conversion, right?
No. That’s not how faith works, and it’s not how God works.
God did bring down fire from Heaven on occasions (see Numbers 16:35; 1 Kings 18:38). He even opened the earth to swallow up his enemies (see Numbers 16:31-33). Did this result in people turning to him for the long run? No. Jesus fed the multitudes and many followed for a while, but they turned away recoiling from his demanding words (see John 6:1-66). Abraham told the rich man that his brothers “will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (see Luke 16:27-31).
We say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe,” yet countless people who have seen miracles continue to disbelieve.
In our eagerness to see greater miracles, we regard “natural processes” as minor and secondary, missing God’s marvellous daily interventions on our behalf.
Focusing on God’s “big miracles” — like curing cancer and making brain tumours disappear — causes us to overlook his small, daily miracles of providence in which he holds the universe together, provides us with air to breathe and lungs to breathe it, and food to eat and stomachs to digest it.
Years ago when I became an insulin-dependent diabetic, it dawned on me that I had never once, in the fifteen years I’d known him, thanked God for a pancreas that had worked perfectly until then.
No matter how much God reduced world suffering, we’d still think he did too little.
Evil and suffering make up part of a world in which God allows fallen people to go on living. How much evil and suffering is too much? Could God reduce the amount without restricting meaningful human choice, or decreasing the urgency of the message that the world’s gone desperately wrong and we need to turn to the Redeemer before we die?
Suppose we rated all pain on a scale of one to ten, with ten representing the worst and most intense pain, and one describing the unpleasant yet quite tolerable. Say “engulfed in flames” got a ten rating while “mild sunburn” received a one. If God eliminated level ten pain, then level nine pain would become the worst. God could reduce the worst suffering to level three, but then level three, now the worst, would seem unbearable. Any argument that judges God’s goodness strictly by his elimination of pain will, in the end, not leave us satisfied if he permits any pain at all.
In Part 2 (below), we’ll look at whether we would really want God to punish evil immediately, and at how God allows substantial evil and suffering because he values our sense of neediness and trust as we turn to him for his grace.
Why Doesn’t God Do More to Restrain Evil and Suffering – Part 2
by Randy Alcorn
Severe suffering seems unacceptable to us precisely because we are unaccustomed to it.
Susanna Wesley had nineteen children; nine of them died before they reached the age of two. Puritan Cotton Mather had fifteen children and outlived all but two. Ironically, the problem of evil and suffering seems worse to us who live in affluent cultures precisely because we face less of it than many people have throughout history.
I heard an exasperated woman at a restaurant table loudly proclaim that her Porsche had to be taken in for repairs and now she had to drive her Audi. In contrast I have met devout Christians in Africa and Southeast Asia who have endured famine, genocide, and persecution, yet smile genuinely as they affirm God’s goodness and grace.
C. S. Lewis wrote,
Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it is a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.
People who ask why God allowed their house to burn down likely never thanked God for not letting their house burn down the previous ten thousand days of their lives. Why does God get blame when it burns, but no credit when it doesn’t? Many pastors and church members have experienced church splits, feeling the agony of betrayal and disillusionment. But where were the prayers of gratitude back when the church was unified? Our suffering seems extreme in the present only because God has graciously minimized many of our past sufferings.
Dorothy Sayers wrote,
“Why doesn’t God smite this dictator dead?” is a question a little remote from us. Why, madam, did he not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such a cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why sir, did he not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty bit of financial trickery? You did not quite mean that? But why not? Your misdeeds and mine are none the less repellent because our opportunities for doing damage are less spectacular than those of some other people. Do you suggest that your doings and mine are too trivial for God to bother about? That cuts both ways; for in that case, it would make precious little difference to his creation if he wiped us both out tomorrow.
Our birthright does not include pain-free living. Only those who understand that this world languishes under a curse will marvel at its beauties despite that curse. C. S. Lewis’s final article, published after his death, carried the title “We Have No Right to Happiness.” Believing that we do have such a right sets us up for bitterness.
Fallen beings could not survive in a perfectly just world where God punished evil immediately.
What if every time I gave a hundred dollars to feed the hungry, two hundred dollars appeared in my wallet? Or when I spoke a kind word to a weary supermarket checker, I received a Starbucks gift card?
Suppose that every time a man yelled at a child or looked at a woman lustfully, a painful shock jolted his frontal lobe? Or when he lied, he got an instant toothache or was struck dead by lightning?
If we think we want all evil judged now, we’re not thinking clearly.
Were such rewards and punishments built into our lives, the world would certainly be more just—but at what cost? We would base our obedience on instant payoffs or the avoidance of instant pain, not on loving God. Our behaviour might improve, but our hearts wouldn’t. Faith would fade, because faith means trusting God to eventually make right what is now wrong.
Do you believe the world would be a better place if people immediately paid the just penalty for every sin? In God’s sight, every evil is a capital crime (see Romans 6:23). The woman who tells a “little white lie,” the teenager who shoplifts, the greedy man, the gossiper, all would instantly die. D. A. Carson writes, “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice? Then go to hell.”
God restrains suffering through our limited life spans—people don’t endure eons, millennia, or centuries of suffering, but only decades, years, months, weeks, days, and hours.
Take the total number of years you believe human life has existed. Now, ask yourself what portion of that time any one human being has suffered.
Suppose God permitted evil and suffering, yet limited them to one ghastly year of human history. Would we consider that duration of evil and suffering acceptable? What about one month? If someone could prove that we would become greater and happier beings for all eternity as a result, would you think it right for God to allow ten seconds of intense suffering? Likely you would.
Once we make that admission, do you see where it puts us? If we could justify ten seconds, then why not ten hours, ten days, or ten years? And in eternity, as we look back, how much longer will ninety years seem than ninety minutes?
Who holds the record for suffering among all human beings alive today? As I write, the oldest person in the world is 114 years old. She hasn’t suffered her whole life. But suppose she suffered significantly for a century. Most people, obviously, will endure much less. Some suffer severely for five days, weeks, months, or years; some, perhaps, for fifty years. However, no one in this world suffers for 10,000, 1,000, or even 130 years.
To say God takes too long to bring final judgment on evil and suffering imposes an artificial timetable on someone time cannot contain. God’s Son entered time in his incarnation. Though he understands our impatience, he won’t yield to it—and one day we’ll be grateful that he didn’t.
God allows substantial evil and suffering because he values our sense of neediness and trust as we turn to him for his grace.
Each year before Christmas we look forward to our church choir singing “Send the Messiah.” The haunting lyrics and powerful presentation resonate within us:
The cry of generations echoes in the heart of heaven....
I need a Savior who will walk the earth down here with me.... Send the Messiah, I need his love to own me.
God sent the Messiah once, but he will send him again to deliver us. Paul, likely within months of his death, said God will grant a special eternal reward “to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). What makes us long for our Lord? Isn't much of it because of the evil and suffering we face in this life?
Thankfully, while the Messiah may not return to Earth as soon as we’d like, he promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). So while we long for and pray for God to send the Messiah to bring an end to this age of evil and suffering, we need not wait until then to enter his presence.
In light of the work done by Christ, our sympathetic high priest, we’re told, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Until God sends the Messiah to rescue this world, or he rescues us through our deaths, may we approach his throne confidently, seeking his fellowship, comfort, mercy, and grace in our time of need... today, this very hour.