When a Bad God Happens to Good People

Accepting the problem of evil is easy once you accept your own insignificance.

Would you die for a loved one? Those of us with spouses and children will likely say yes. But would you die for an entire nation in the distant future?

It's hard to care about people when they're so far removed. Taking a bullet for my two-year-old daughter seems easy compared to taking one for a second or third cousin. Probably because human compassion is dependent on relative proximity (both spatial and relational), and its duration. That's also why the problem of evil exists.

The problem of evil, simply put, is the problem of a good, all-powerful God and evil coexisting. But it's more than just a favorite argument of atheists. Every Christian at some point will be faced with excruciating loss (of a loved one, of health, of dignity, etc.) and forced to wrestle with that question: if God is so good and powerful, why did he allow this evil to happen to me?

There is no more dangerous question to ask because the answer literally determines your spiritual destiny. Unlike that insipid "Do you want to be saved?" question (who doesn't), it is the only one where faith is actually required to answer. And the quality of that answer will be determined by how the question is phrased.

Many Christians speak of God allowing evil rather than causing it because they fear making God its author. But saying that God allows evil implies that he doesn't really want to but something compels him. In short, it questions his power by introducing potential external influences. Saying that God causes evil, on the other hand, questions his goodness, not his power. And unlike the latter, goodness is a little less black and white.

Omnipotence doesn't come in degrees--you're either all-powerful or you're not. Goodness is a bit harder to polarize. Sure, you could put Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa at opposite ends of the spectrum, but what about the soldier who shoots a suicide bomber before they can detonate? Lives were saved which is good, but a life was still taken which is bad. Complicate it further by making the suicide bomber a child and the saved lives rival terrorists, and you're starting to think like God.

I don't think many people appreciate the immensity of God's perspective. Look at how the U.S. presidency turns the young and vigorous into the aged and jaded. And that's just from managing a fraction of the world's population for eight years. Imagine managing all of humanity since the beginning of time. And like presidents' approval ratings diminish with time, so God's hasn't gotten any better.

Presidents make tough decisions. Sometimes they have to contradict the will of the people based on intelligence too sensitive to make public. Other times they improve conditions for one demographic at the expense of another. Though there are certainly exceptions, most presidents try to make decisions that benefit the whole country, not just the privileged few.

But we can only see how those decisions directly affect us: higher taxes, higher insurance premiums, higher costs for goods and services. We decide that they must be either impotent and capricious or just bad at their job and undeserving of trust. Simply because we can't see all that they can.

Science fiction dealing with time travel is the closest we can muster to explain the complexity of the divine perspective. Whether it's Hiro Nakamura stepping on too many butterflies or Captain Picard tearing a hole in the space-time continuum, every single event has an effect on human history. And God manages all of them.

In the story of Job, God is called out for dealing with Job unjustly, and his response has angered readers for hundreds of years since: where were you? He wasn't avoiding Job's complaint; the phrase is like a refrain where he lists out all of the times and places where he was at work and Job wasn't there to see it. It's like saying: you are so tiny and so transitory--how do you expect to understand my reasons when it took dozens of lifetimes to realize that the earth isn't flat?

In comparison to the whole world and all of time, our experience is infinitesimal. Most of us will live for a few decades (less than two percent of recorded history) and have about three hundred Facebook friends (less than five millionths of a percent of the world population). Yet, whenever something happens to us, we don't consider the billions of people and thousands of years surrounding us. We say things like this:
"God blessed me by giving me a new job that I don't hate."
What if God actually gave you that job so that a better candidate couldn't have it? What if that person is too important for your small-time job and God needs them for bigger things like curing cancer or solving pi? It's never fun to be confronted with how small we are, but it's necessary to understanding God and evil. At some point, we have to realize how insignificant our life is compared to all the others in history past and history future.

Of course, your value to God isn't insignificant. He cares individually for all of his sheep, but that doesn't make you his only sheep. He cares for all of us simultaneously and orchestrates our lives for our collective good. We have the Bible for this very reason.

Hundreds of years of human history weren't preserved just to teach us how to be good people. Those years show what divine goodness looks like over time. From slavery to exile to tyranny, God did a lot of terrible things to extend salvation to the world. He caused a lot of evil. And in the face of it all, true faith trusts that our seemingly bad God has a plan for everyone's good.

Do you hate him yet? Let yourself be honest for a moment, and then consider this scenario:
Your daughter is only eight-years-old. She's been brainwashed by evil, hateful people and she's walking into Union Station wearing an explosive vest. You have a gun. If you don't use it, thousands of people are going to die. Your daughter is going to die either way. Raise the gun and look into her sweet, innocent eyes--the ones that remind you of your spouse. Can you pull the trigger?
That's why you're not God.


photo credit: GO via photopin (license)

Comments

  1. Wow! Great stuff, my friend. As a father who is in absolute love with his son, I cannot imagine listening to the sounds of hammers striking nails as they pierced his flesh. Yet the sounds of metal on metal echoed through the halls of Heaven's throne room on that day. The Father turns His back on His own Son as our sins were heaped upon Him. Did Jesus wrestle with the question of goodness as the crown of thorns was pressed upon His brow? Did Jesus wrestle with the question of greatest good as His flesh was torn by leather and metal? I am NOT God and everyone should be grateful. Because if I had to choose between my son and you all, I'm not sure I could go through with the plan.

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  2. Wait. The world isn't flat? I'm aftaid I'm gonna have to hit you with some TRUTH. Hahah. Check out this totally scientific and readable video. http://youtu.be/3XclStdqkA4

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  3. Well done. Love your work, Alex.

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