We live in a fallen and broken world in rebellion against God and while God is sovereign, He does not blatantly interfere with what goes on in our lives from day-to-day. We experience the pain of living in a fallen and broken world with fallen and broken people. People choose to hurt each other and even kill each other. There are horrific storms that destroy things and kill people. Things wear out and break and people are injured or killed as a result. People make mistakes with the same results, or intentionally choose to make defective products that cause injuries and death. People choose to drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while texting or even reading a book or newspaper and kill and injure others daily. Cancer and other diseases run rampant around the world as well as famine, drought, and wars and the pain, suffering and death they cause.
All around us we see evidence of death and destruction, but what we don’t see, what we CAN’T see, is the limits God has placed on all these things. We don’t see God restraining them from being as bad as they could be. We don’t see all the times God has stepped in and stopped things from happening at all. What we cannot see is the restraining hand of God limiting – restraining – holding back – the evil in our lives.
But this brings up another problem, and it is a very personal one for some people. It is also where we started in Part 1 – children. Why do some parents have them with no problems even if they don’t want them, while others, who desperately want a child, can’t conceive at all? And then when a child is born, why are some born with birth defects and why do some seem to be born just to die?
The Bible is very clear that God is our sole source of life. In Psalms 139 David declares, in a song to God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalms 139:13 NIV) And Job reminds God, “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese, clothe me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews? You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in your providence watched over my spirit.” (Job 10:8-12)
At one time it was thought that God made some people different from others – made them special or more blessed, and I think some still believe that today. However, in reference to his servants (people many looked down on as less “blessed”) Job asked, “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” (Job 31:15) So Job didn’t believe that the “rich” or “blessed” people were better than others – that God made them different, he believed all were the same – each individually created by God. It was circumstances that made people “different” not God.
One of the writers of the Psalms recorded the following plea; “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: . . . ” (Psalms 102:18) He believed that future generations were to be created and the Bible makes it clear that God is the creator. I have heard some claim that God gave Adam the “breath of life” and he passed it down to his children and they passed in on to theirs and so on from generation to generation. But the Bible says otherwise – it is God who creates each generation. And the Apostle John declares that, “He [Jesus] was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:2-3) If anything exists, it has been created by Jesus. So if you exist (and if you are reading this you do) then Jesus Himself made you!
The Apostle Paul tells us, “For in him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, . . . all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16a & 17) And in a letter to Timothy he says, “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, . . . God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal . . . ” (1 Timothy 6:13a & 15b-16a) Biology claims that we are “made” when a sperm fertilizes an egg in our mother’s womb, however, there is something else going on that science cannot see. God is there guiding and directing things, and at the right moment He steps in and gives life to the new person. Without that “breath of life” – as it is called in Genesis – there is no new life, the egg – even if it is fertilized – is not viable and no new life is formed. And God does this for each new life – He didn’t just “get the ball rolling” with Adam and Eve, as some believe, and now we receive our life from our parents not from God. God is still the source of all life.
It should also be noted that Paul makes it clear that, contrary to popular belief, we are not immortal, only God is – there is no endless cycle of lives until we finally “get it right” and go to heaven. It also means that the life God gives us in not “immortal”, that is, we are not self existent – we don’t live forever now and not even God can end our lives as some claim. We are totally dependent on God not only to begin life on this earth, but to continue living. He gave us our life and He sustains that life each and every day.
That is the good news – you were personally made by God! He created you, He decided exactly what you would look like, what natural talents you would have, what color your hair and eyes would be. He watched over you as you grew in your mother’s womb. And He continues to watch over you now.
And now for the bad news – as we have seen, we live in a fallen and broken world and things don’t always work the way they should. Because we are living in a defective world we are defective ourselves. That means we have defective genetic material to pass on to our children. Due to those defects every child is born with some sort of birth defect or defects. Sometimes those defects are so minor that we don’t even know they are there, but sometimes they are very noticeable – so bad in fact that they can even cause the baby to die in the womb.
So, the first question many are going to ask is, “If God is the One Who causes the new life to start, and is so involved with its development, why does He allow a baby to be born with birth defects? Why doesn’t He either fix them or not give life to the baby in the first place?” My first response is to say I don’t know why it happens, but it does. However, I think I have an idea as to why God doesn’t regularly interfere with the “normal” way things work on this broken world, which I will get into in Part 3.
The really strange thing is, many people seem to think that a child being born with defects or dying either in the womb or shortly after birth or even in childhood is due to something the parents have done – some sin in their lives that they are not repenting of and God is punishing them for it.
In fact viewing pain and evil in our lives as an act of discipline or judgment seems to be rather popular. This is not something new, this way of thinking has been around since long before Jesus was on earth and He even had to confront it in His disciples. The Apostle John tells us that one day, “As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.'” (John 9:1-3) His disciples are basically asking Him, “Clearly something bad has happened in this man’s life, so who’s sin is he being punished for his or his parents?” They viewed being blind as punishment for sin, so the problem, as they saw it, was that if he was born blind, and if he was being punished for his own sin, then how could you sin in the womb? But if he was being punished for something his parents did they had an even bigger problem, the Scriptures were very clear, “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.” (Ezekiel 18:20a) So they had a dilemma they couldn’t resolve: either you could sin in the womb, or you really could be punished for your parents’ sins – contrary to Biblical teaching. Or even more disturbing, could you be punished for sins you hadn’t committed yet?
Jesus’ response was to tell them they had it all wrong. This man’s blindness had nothing to do with anybody’s sin, it was just the result of living in a fallen and broken world. However, He was going to use it to reveal the mighty works of God – to show that God has power even over genetic defects, and He proceeded to heal him.
This wasn’t the only time Jesus confronted this way of thinking. On another occasion, Luke tells us, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.'” (Luke 13:1-5) The people clearly thought those Galileans must have been really wicked because not only did Pilate kill them, he did it in the Temple courtyard while they were presenting their sacrifices. They must have been really bad for that to have happened – God had Pilate kill them before they could present their sacrifices and receive forgiveness for their sins! Notice Jesus didn’t say they were guilty or innocent, just that they were no different than anyone else. The same with the people killed in the building collapse. Neither event was a result of being punished for their sins. These were not acts of judgment, they were just the result of living in a fallen and broken world. Jesus then reminded His listeners that they too were sinners and needed to repent and turn from their sins or they WOULD face judgment – later.
Does that mean that the pain in our lives is never a result of our sin? NO! A lot of the pain we suffer is a direct result of the wrong choices we make. And the worst of it is, those choices can and do affect others. The point is, that God is not punishing us for our sins by bring pain and suffering into our lives and the lives of those around us – we might be – but He isn’t.
This does bring up the question, “Does God ever pass judgment on people groups or even individuals and execute any sort of sentence on them now, before the final judgment?” In other words: Can our pain really be an act of judgment from God? The answer would have to be a definite yes, but . . . Yes, God has and does pass judgment on people and nations for their actions, however, God NEVER passes judgment without giving warnings to that individual or nation to change their ways. The story of Jonah is an example of God warning even a foreign nation (that is, people outside of Israel) of impending judgment – they repented and judgment was averted. The Bible has many stories of God’s acts of judgment on both individuals and nations who didn’t heed those warnings. In fact, Israel’s entire conquest of Canaan was an act of judgment on the nations that occupied it.
In Joshua 6:18 Israel is warned not to take anything from Jericho when they conquered the city. However, one man, Achan, just couldn’t keep his hands off of some of the things he saw. As a result the Israelite army was driven off and 36 men died when they tried to attack the next city. He had been warned, but did it anyway, and as a result others suffered for his actions and in judgment God ordered him stoned to death.
Then there is the story of the priests Eli and his sons. Eli was warned many times about his son’s actions and he warned them to changed their ways, but they refused to repent. The story can be found in 1 Samuel 2 starting in verse 12 and onward. As God’s judgment for their actions Eli’s sons are eventually killed when they presumptuously took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines thinking they could force God into helping Israel win the battle. The result was that the Philistines captured the Ark.
It is a rather strange story. God’s act of judgment on Eli’s sons has now caused His Ark to fall into enemy hands. However, it also results in acts of judgment on the Philistines. And before you think that God was punishing them for things they didn’t know about, you need to realize that the Philistines might not have known everything there was to know about God, but they knew enough about Him to fear the God of Israel which they mistakenly think is the Ark. Here is the story:
“When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’ When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp, they said. ‘Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!'” (1 Samuel 4:5-9)
They might not have gotten everything correct, they thought that it was the Ark that was the source of Israel’s power – they thought the Ark was Israel’s God – after all, in their experience, gods were objects. They knew everything God had done for Israel all the way back to Egypt almost three hundred years earlier! So they were not ignorant of God’s protective actions on Israel’s behalf. They also knew how powerful He was and how easily Israel had overthrown all the other nations. And I am sure they remembered Samson, who in one day, with just the jawbone of a donkey, killed a thousand Philistine soldiers armed with swords, spears, slings, and bows and arrows – who over the course of his lifetime killed thousands of their people, not as the leader of a large army, but by all by himself – in the power of the God of Israel. So, when they did win the battle, they didn’t have to take the Ark, they could have decided that it was too holy, too powerful to touch and left it on the battle field for the survivors from Israel to deal with. However, they took it as if it were just another one of the spoils of battle and as a result we have one of the strangest acts of judgment recorded in the Bible. It is so strange that I am just going to let you read it for yourself.
“After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
“The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, ‘The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?’
“They answered, ‘Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.’ So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.
“But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.
“As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.’ So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, ‘Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.’ For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.”
“When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.’
“They answered, ‘If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.’
“The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?’
“They replied, ‘Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?'” (1 Samuel 5:1-12 through 6:1-6)
There is one thing that is rather strange here – I mean even odder than the story itself when it comes to God’s acts of judgment. By God’s decree only His priests were allowed to touch the Ark on penalty of death, but the Philistines safely carried the Ark from the battlefield all the way to the temple of their god Dagon – over 35 miles – with no problems. And they also moved it from city to city later – another 20 or 25 miles total – and God never once killed anyone for touching it. Why? I believe it was because that was something they could not have known. But God did punish them in other ways. He gave them “tumors” and a rat infestation and the deadly diseases associated with them as well.
It is interesting to note that the English used here is much cleaned up from the original Hebrew. The original is much more crass in how it describes the “tumors”. It also states that these “tumors” were in their “private parts” just to make sure you know what was going on. It turns out that the tumors were actually what we would call hemorrhoids (I think), and not just little ones either, the descriptive word used is the word used for a hill fort! (The Hebrew is literally – anal hill forts.) So these must have been really bad! The men, both young and old, who didn’t die from the pestilences brought by the rats, got “anal hill forts” in their “private parts”. The soldiers bring home a war trophy and the folks at home get “tumors” and rats! Nice! And by the way, how would you like to have been the goldsmith tasked with creating the golden copies of the “tumors” to send back with the Ark? Or how about being the poor guy who got picked to be the model?
The Philistines knew that the Ark was holy – they had years of evidence as to the mighty acts God did for Israel and they knew that this was His special object, but they thought it was a trophy they could put before their god as an offering. And when their god mysteriously “bowed down” before the Ark and they didn’t get the hint, God caused tumors – or hemorrhoids – and rats to invade the city. And when they moved the Ark to the next town, and the next, the rats and sicknesses followed it until they finally got the hint and sent it back to Israel. It might have taken them 7 months to get the message, but they finally made the connection.
So, yes, God does cause specific acts of judgment to happen to nations, cities, and even individuals. However, that is not the normal course of events and is ALWAYS preceded by warnings for that nation, city, or individual to change their ways OR they have been given specific written instructions in what God expects of them in the Bible. (Or, as in the case of the Philistines, they have been given years of observable evidence that they can use as a guide.) AND I believe that the Holy Spirit also convicts people of their wrong doing before any acts of judgment take place. Whether or not they do anything about it is another matter.
God does not want to pass judgment on anyone, He would much rather that they change their ways and repent. “”Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?'” (Ezekiel 18:23) God’s desire is for everyone to repent, but unfortunately many refuse.
So while our pain may be a result of our sin, it is not normally the result of God punishing us for our sin. However, God MIGHT pass judgment on us if our acts of rebellion have reached a point where He can no longer allow them to continue. BUT, He will always give ample warning of the need for repentance beforehand if we will listen.
I do need to add something here though. There is one issue that the Bible tells us God does take seriously enough to pass judgment on people – even to the point of taking their life. It is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. After telling them exactly what the Lord’s Supper is all about Paul goes on to say, “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” (1Corinthians 11:27-32)
Did you notice that Paul says that some in the church are weak, sick and have even died because they have participated in the Lord’s Supper (Communion) in an “unworthy” manor. It is clear that the way they celebrated the Lord’s Supper was a bit different than the way we do today – it was actually more of a meal. It seems some were eating so much that there was nothing left for others to eat and some were drinking so much they were getting drunk. However, that is not the real problem, it is just a symptom. The real problem was a heart problem, they were not “examining themselves” before partaking of the Lord’s Supper and repenting of their sins. They were refusing to change their ways when the Holy Spirit pointed out problems in their lives. And because of this they were not right with God when they sat down at the Lord’s Table for His Supper. And this, Paul tells us, lead to God bringing weakness, sickness, and even death into the church in judgment. Again a case of people refusing to repent when the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin.
To recap what we have learned so far: If I can only act as God moves me then I can only choose as He wills so I cannot choose either for Him or against Him other than as He decides I should. That means if I am to go to hell it is ONLY because that is where HE has decided I should go. It is NOT because I in any way refused to accept His call. The Bible, however, says I am responsible for my choices and actions, so it is required that I be free to choose my own way. That means that God is a sovereign, not a dictator. That also means that I can go against what He wants me to do, and I can do things that can cause me, and those around me, pain. That also means that other people can choose to go their own way as well, which means they can choose to do things that might cause me harm.
Because we live in a broken and fallen world that has chosen to go its own way, things no longer work the way they should and we are born with things wrong with us and we pass those problems on to our children. Things break and cause us harm – might even kill us. My bad eyesight is not God’s judgment for anything I have or have not done, or anything my parents did or didn’t do. My knee problems and tendon problems that have limited my physical activities for the last 30 years are not punishment for anything, they are just due to living in a broken world. Do they cause me pain? Most definitely. Do I wish they were gone? Of course. But that is life on this planet.
I know there are people out there who will jump at the chance to declare that the bad things that happen are God’s discipline or acts of judgment, but I personally will not claim that for anyone. For one thing, I do not know what is going on in another person’s life so I have no way of knowing if they are refusing God’s directives in their life or not, and for another I would have to see clear evidence of God’s warnings before the event. Yes we are given clear guidelines on what God expects of us in the Bible, and yes, we continuously fail to live up to them, but Israel had the Scriptures as well and God still sent warns before executing His acts of judgment. So to say that the bad things that happen to us are God’s acts of judgment are, in my opinion, presumptuous, and in all likelihood a bit self righteous.
So where does our pain come from? Yes we live in a fallen and broken world – a source of pain. Yes things don’t work the way they should – a source of pain. Yes things break and cause injury and even death – more pain. But WHY? If God doesn’t cause it who does? And even more importantly: WHY DOESN’T GOD STOP IT?
To be continued . . .