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How Can a Loving God Allow Good Things to Happen to Bad People?

Bad things do not happen to good people. Bad things—when they occur— happen to bad people. There is one exception. And when you know why the only good man who ever lived suffered, only then will you understand the loving kindness of God. You will also understand His justice.

Romans 1:18-2:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; Isaiah 63:1-6; 1 John 1:5; James 1:13; Daniel 4:35; Genesis 6:5; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 13:23; John 8:34; Romans 8:7-9; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 6:9-11; Job 2:9-10; Romans 8:28

Aug 26, 2012 11:30 AM

MP3 audio icon Good-Things-Bad-People_08-26-2012.mp3 — MP3 audio, 9284 kB (9507643 bytes)

Who is this who comes from Edom, in crimsoned garments from Bozrah, he who is splendid in his apparel, marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.”
Why is your apparel red, and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?
“I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.  For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come.  I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so my own arm brought me salvation, and my wrath upheld me.  I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”

Who is this, indeed.  We’ll see in just a bit who it is, the one whose clothing is stained with the blood of the peoples he has trampled down.  

I would like to address one of the most common questions that people ask today.  They asked it yesterday and they asked it 3000 years ago.  If Jesus tarries, they'll be asking it 3000 years from now. Indeed, anywhere you will find human beings on this planet, you will hear this question being asked in some form.

It is expressed in a number of ways:  “How can a God who is both loving and powerful allow evil and suffering?”  “Why did the tornado have to tear my friend’s house apart, rather than tearing up the empty fields on either side of it?”  “Where was God when my daughter was hit by a drunk driver and crippled for life?”  “Why did my Husband/Wife/Child/Friend have to suffer so much for so long before cancer finally took their life?”  “Could God not have prevented the 9/11 terrorists from succeeding in their mission?  Wouldn’t it be easy for Him to send a wind to blow those planes off course?”  “Are there not just innumerable ways in which He could have prevented these and countless other tragedies from ever taking place?”

That there is evil in this world is undeniable.  There is horrible suffering.  And tragedies touch all our lives.

If God is good, would he not want to prevent suffering?
Would He not seek to put an end to all evil?
If God is all-powerful, is He not able to do so?

This is known as “the problem of evil” or “the problem of pain.”   Theologians respond to this problem with what are called “theodicies”.  “Theodicy” is derived from two Greek words: “theos”, meaning “God” and “dike”, meaning “justice”.  

A theodicy is an attempt to resolve the problem of evil by reconciling God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and benevolence with the facts of evil and suffering in this world.  

Here are three common theodicies for your consideration:

In 1981, following the death of his 14-year old son to the degenerative disease progeria, Rabbi Harold Kushner authored what became a best-selling book on the problem of evil, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  In this book Kushner presented his answer to the problem of evil.  The existence of evil and suffering means that we must choose between a God who is all powerful, but not all good, and a God who is all-good, but not all powerful.  The rabbi chooses the latter.  Sadly, he choose an idol, a figment of his own fallen imagination.  Not the God of Israel.

Kushner writes:

“God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives but sometimes even He can’t bring that about.  It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming innocent victims.”

As people who believe the Scriptures to be the very words of the God who cannot lie, we must reject Kushner’s view.  We know that our God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all (); that He cannot be tempted by evil ().  And again, that He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand ().

Among Christians, a common and very popular response to the problem of evil is the so-called “Free-will defense.”  The FWD has a long history.  From what I understand, a form of this theodicy was formulated by the 4th century theologian Augustine.  But I am not personally familiar with his version of it.  I have, however, listened to hours of sermons and lectures, and read a number of presentations of a modern version of the FWD, which was largely given its current form by a philosopher named Alvin Plantinga.  This theodicy is being thundered from pulpits across the land.  It is being made the linchpin of arguments from some of the world’s leading Christian apologists as they respond to the assaults of atheists against the Christian God.

As commonly stated, the free will defense argues that God wanted to create creatures that would love Him.  And, as love is something that cannot be coerced or forced out of someone, these creatures had to be endowed with the ability to love or to hate.  The ability to do good or to do evil.  In other words, they had to have free will.  For if a person is not capable of hating God, then he is not capable of loving God either.  Now, the fact that we have free will means some of us love God and others of us hate Him.  Sometimes we do good.  Sometimes we do evil.  For God to prevent us from doing evil would be to suppress our free will, something God is not willing to do, lest we fail to love Him freely.

Now, I can certainly understand the appeal of the FWD.  For many years, I would have heartily agreed with it.  It sounds good.  The main problem I find with it is that I cannot find it in God’s word.  Scripture does not present human beings as being morally neutral with an ability to choose to do either good or evil.  Rather, as Moses wrote,

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

From the prophet Isaiah:

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (the kjv says “filthy rags”)
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.


As the prophet Jeremiah stated,

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.


Our Lord stated,

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

And, as he said, those who do not have the Spirit cannot please God.

And on and on it goes.  The wickedness of the natural man, the son of Adam, and his utter lack of desire for God or for doing good, apart from the Holy Spirit indwelling him and causing Him to walk uprightly, is a perpetual theme from the beginning of the Bible to the end.  Go back and read Romans chapter 3 again.  And again.  Get it into your soul.  You need to know who you are.  Or, if you are now Christ’s, who you were.

So, this neutral creature, man, who can as well choose good as he can choose evil, as presented in the FWD does not exist.  What does exist is the man who hates God and loves sin, who can do nothing that pleases God.  And, who, if he ever does anything halfway decent, does so only because God restrains the wickedness of his heart.  Even his best acts are done out of selfish motives, not out of a sincere love for his Creator or a love for his neighbor that is equal to his love for himself.

What really sinks the FWD for me is that it is a purely philosophical construct.  It is not derived from Scripture.  It cannot be defended from Scripture.  I have listed to many hours of pastors, theologians and apologist presenting this view, and read a number of articles in support of it, and I have yet to find one person among them who appeals to Bible passages to support the FWD’s central points.  Rather, they are presented as ”self-evident” or “consistent with our basic intuitions”.  The problem with that is that our basic intuitions are corrupted by the fall.  That’s why we need to have our minds washed by the water of God’s word.

For these reasons, I reject the FWD and I think you should too.

Also, it has been pointed out that, while the FWD addresses moral evil, it doesn’t seem to account for what is termed “natural evil,” earthquakes, hurricanes, diseases, and the like.  So, an extension has been formulated and tacked on to the FWD by some, although not all advocates of the FWD subscribe to it.  I have encountered it a number of times in my studies on this topic.

The argument here is--well, really more of an assertion than an argument--that God is constrained in the type of world He is able to create.  Any world, it is said, that is capable of sustaining life must have natural dangers and natural disasters.  It must have moving tectonic plates which cause earthquakes and tsunamis.  It must have winds that produce hurricanes and tornadoes.  It must have bacteria and viruses.  While God may have preferred to create a “safe” world, only a dangerous one would be capable of sustaining life.  Those who argue this way make a great leap from the fact that these natural processes do have a valuable function in nature and do contribute to making the earth habitable to the conclusion that God could not have set it up any other way.  I think they are underestimating the only wise God.

Thirdly and finally, there are those who would conclude that you simply cannot, after all, have a world of evil and suffering with a loving and powerful God.  Like oil and water, they just don’t mix.  And because it is so painfully obvious that evil does exist, God must not.

Richard Dawkins put it like this:
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. [During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence,] thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

But God says that what Dawkins is telling us, Dawkins knows to be a lie.  He knows he has a Creator and Judge to whom he must answer in the end.

- (ESV)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

The reason these theodicies do not work is because the question that is being ask, “How can a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?” has no answer.  It is an nonsensical question.  Any answer we might attempt to give must be likewise vacuous.  In fact, bad things do not happen to good people.  There are no good people.  Again, get into your soul.  Bad things happen to bad people.  But what is amazing and wondrous; what just slays me and leaves me speechless with tears streaming down my cheeks is that good things happen to bad people.

That’s the mystery.  That’s the real question.  That’s what people should be asking, “How can a loving God allow good things to happen to bad people.”  The late theologian John Gerstener has called this “The problem of pleasure” as opposed to the problem of pain.  There is no problem of pain for rebel sinners who deserve far worse than what they are getting, no matter how bad it is.  We should be suffering for our sins in hell.  God has instead heaped blessings upon us.  Some more than others, certainly.  But he makes his Sun to shine, and his rain to fall, not only on His redeemed people, but the multitudes of those who reject Him.  [And when we do experience pain, loss, tragedy, and when we see these things affecting those around us,]  

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Now, the fact that you and I are not there now, in that lake of fire, no matter what suffering we may be undergoing right now, is an unbelievably tremendous blessing.  We are all, as Pastor Keith is fond of reminding us, “doing better than we deserve.”

The reason the theodicies I have talked about do not work is because they do not know who man who the self is, who me is, as a hell-deserving sinner, nor do they recognize how holy and righteous, and yes, loving, God really is.

God is just, and God loves justice, just because the persons of the truine Godhead love each other above all.  God’s holiness will be vindicated by the damnation of sinners as an expression of this love.  And too as an expression of God’s love for His redeemed people.  

Now I understand that it may be difficult to see how the condemnation of sinners to hell can in any sense be seen as an expression of God’s love.  But we must not see love and justice as attributes of God that have nothing to do with one another, except perhaps to be in some kind of tension or opposition to one another.  All of God’s attributes are in complete harmony.

Consider this illustration.  It’s not merely hypothetical, but is something that has happened historically and is happening somewhere in the world right now.  A Muslim hears the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached.  The Holy Spirit convicts him of sin and of the righteousness of God in Christ.  He repents and believes the Gospel.  Then boldly witnesses to family and friends, wishing them to come to salvation as well.  He is arrested; tried before an Islamic court; and convicted of converting to Christianity and of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad.  Finally, he is beheaded.  Should we not consider it a loving act, when, at the judgment seat, Christ overturns the verdict that was handed down by that lesser court and has those wicked judges cast into hell?

The book of Revelation tells us that something like this is going to happen:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

And in 2nd Thessalonians (ESV)
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.  This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering--since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Now, when I said there are no good people, I wasn’t being 100% accurate.  There was one.  One good man who lived long ago.  Who loved and obeyed His Father perfectly.  Who did nothing but good to others.  Yet they beat Him.  They spat on Him.  They made a crown of thorns and pounded it onto His head.  And they nailed him to a cross where he died.   Don’t think we would have treated him any better.

Ask why bad things happened to this good man.  The answer will open up the flood gates of heaven’s blessings on poor unworthy sinners.  This man chose to share in our sufferings, and to bear the burden of our sins, so that through suffering, He might deliver us from the condemnation we have earned.

Well, at this point, I had intended to present what I consider to be a more biblical theodicy, one derived from the Scriptures, but due to the time, I will hold that over for another occasion.  

But let me leave you with a taste of where I intend the followup message to go.

In this passage from the book of Job, when his flocks and herds had all been destroyed, then his children were killed by a whirlwind; he had been stricken with painful boils all over his body,

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

For God makes all things work for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.

Finally, here is a quote from Charles Spurgeon that I believe we should all take to heart.

As long as I trace my pain to accident, my bereavement to mistake, my loss to another’s wrong, my discomfort to an enemy and so on, I am of the earth, earthy—and shall break my teeth with gravel! But when I rise to my God and see His hand at work, I grow calm, I have not a word of repining, “I open not my mouth because You did it.” David preferred to fall into the hands of God—and every Believer knows that he feels safest and happiest when he recognizes that he is in the Divine hands. Quibbling with man is poor work, but pleading with God brings help and comfort. “Cast your burden on the Lord” is a precept which will be easy to practice when you see that the burden came originally from God.



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