So how do we wrap it all up? What conclusions can we come to about the pain and evil, or bad things, that come into our lives?
One thing we can know for sure is that God is NOT the source of those bad things. He knows all things, so He knows what is going to happen in your life. That means NOTHING catches Him by surprise. He knows when someone is going to do something that will hurt you. He knows when some piece of equipment is going to fail and hurt you – maybe even kill you.
God is responsible for creating EVERY life on this planet, So why does He give life to those He KNOWS will die in the womb or be born with birth defects?
If God is all powerful, as the Bible claims, why doesn’t He keep people from molesting and abusing children, raping women, and murdering people?
If God is so pro-marriage, then why does He allow men (and women) to cheat on their spouses and run off and marry someone else even when their first spouse prayed incessantly for reconciliation?
So the question is, If He knows all that then WHY DOESN’T HE STOP IT?
Well, let me ask you a question, Do you have a family? Spouse? Parents? Siblings? Children? Do you have any really close friends? Do you love them? Do THEY love you? How do you know? Do they REALLY love you or are they just programmed to make it look like they do? The ONLY way you can know for sure is if they are free NOT to love you. Then and ONLY then can you know that the love they show is real. And the big problem with that is, if they are free not to love you then they are also free to hurt you. And the same holds true for you, the only way you or anyone else can know if you love someone else is if you are free to not love them, which means YOU are free to hurt THEM as well.
God wants us to REALLY love each other and He wants us to love Him as well. But the only way we can be free to actually love anyone is if we are free to not love them, so God gave us the freedom of choice. We are free to choose to either follow Him and do things His way or we can go our own way and do things our way – it is our choice. And in creating this kind of world, God made it possible for us to truly love each other and Him.
But with that choice comes consequences. As we have seen in The Problem of Pain – Part 4, when Adam and Eve chose to go their own way and eat from the forbidden tree, things didn’t turn out the way they wanted them too. They got the knowledge of good and evil they were looking for, but it didn’t come in the way they expected. It came through experiential knowledge rather than intellectual knowledge. And experiencing evil turned out to be no fun at all. In fact, in just a few years it would lead to one of their sons killing his brother. Doesn’t sound very “fair” for Abel the son that died does it? But that gives us something to think about – evil is never “fair” to the victims.
Look back to our discussion of Job. We always focus on him, and that is what the writer of the book wants us to do, but we never really stop to think about what happened to everyone else in the story. Job and his wife lost their 10 children. All ten children AND their families and servants – dead not very “fair” was it? Most of the male servants Job had working for him got killed – as we saw there were well over 700 men that died that day leaving all those families devastated – how “fair” was that? AND NO ONE KNEW WHY IT HAPPENED – not even Job. Even after it was all over, Job never knew it was all due to an argument between God and the “adversary” (Satan). Yes, God set limits on what Satan cold do to Job, but that did not help anyone else.
And then we read about something that happened to Daniel. As a young man, Daniel had been one of the captives who had been taken to Babylon to serve the Babylonian king. And talk about being treated unfairly, Daniel was a true follower of God, but when God passed judgment on Jerusalem, Daniel suffered right along with everyone else. However, while in “captivity” Daniel rises to a position of power – he actually becomes an adviser to the king and head of a class of men we latter read about in the Gospel story and call the Magi!
Daniel had a vision (one of several), but this one he apparently could not understand, so he “mourned” about it for 21 days. (The story is recorded in Daniel chapter 10.) As you read the story you find that Daniel’s “mourning” was actually praying for understanding of the vision. And then Daniel has this happen, “On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. (Daniel 10:4-9)
That must have been some “man”! The very sight of him caused Daniel, a man who was used to serving kings and emperors, to faint! The Hebrew word used for “man” here, is the word for a warrior who is in the peak of his martial powers. This “warrior” who appears to Daniel is so fearsome that Daniel, who just a few years earlier had told a KING – who had the might of an empire at his command – that he wasn’t going to obey him and quit worshiping God, faints dead away! And his very presence is so imposing that even the men who couldn’t “see the vision” fled in terror! And some of these men were most likely Daniel’s bodyguards – elite warriors in their own right, men charged with fighting to the death to protect Daniel, and they are so terrified that they forget all that and take off running!
And what does this “man” have to say to Daniel? “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, ‘Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.'” (Daniel 10:10-14)
Now this is interesting. This “man”, this being, tells Daniel that just as soon as he started praying, God dispatched him with an answer. However, another being, obviously in opposition to what God wanted to happen, kept him from getting to Daniel for 21 days! Here is this being who is so formidable that people who can’t even see him flee from his presence and he is kept from reaching Daniel for 21 days, and he only makes it then because another being comes and helps him out!
We have already seen that, as in the case of Job, evil things can happen to us due solely to the spiritual warfare between God and Satan. And now we find out that this battle includes forces on both God’s and Satan’s side and that Satan’s forces can even affect the answers to our prayers! And these are forces we have no way of seeing, nor can we see their actions, all we have are the results of those actions.
So with all that going on, maybe we are asking the wrong questions. Take for instance a child born with a birth defect. we can ask why it has a birth defect, but to really understand that we would need to know the genetic history of all its ancestors, and all the defects that they had and how all those defects interacted and what the results of those interactions were. Do you think that is something we can know? So on to the next question, Why DID God allow that child to be born? Well, He created a world in which a natural result of a man and woman having a sexual relationship could result in a pregnancy. Those two people freely chose to enter into that relationship, and they knew the possible consequences of what they were doing when they did it. So, after having given them the freedom to choose that relationship should God then stop the natural results of that relationship even if they are not the best possible results? Isn’t that what the argument with Satan over Job was all about? Satan claimed God was blocking all the bad things from happening to Job so of course Job would choose God, let a few bad things happen and Job would have nothing to do with God.
And each and every one of us is faced with that same dilemma. There are things we cannot know because we are limited in our capacity to understand. If a butterfly in Brazil had flapped its wings a microsecond latter, would that snow storm have formed when it did and would that patch of ice been there for that other driver to hit and lose control of their car and hitting yours and killing your family? Is that something we can ever know? Then there are things we cannot know because they are beyond our observable “universe” if you will. We cannot see the spiritual forces all around us. We cannot know what they are doing or how those actions affect us. We don’t even know what the results of our own actions are going to be, let alone how the actions of others around us are going to affect us, so how can we hope to know what affects those unseen spiritual forces will have on us?
God created a world where certain good things are possible – the love of a man and woman for instance. But in creating that kind of a world, He also created a world in which there are resultant consequences of those good things – a baby in this case. However, by choosing to create that kind of world He also made possible bad choices. He made it possible for a man and woman to hate each other, or for a man to rape a woman, or for that beautiful baby to be born with problems because of bad choices the parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, . . . may have made. And the baby and the parents get left “holding the bag” for something that may have happened hundreds of years ago.
I know that is not very comforting, but that is reality. Telling someone “God did it” may appear to sound good, but is in the end about as hurtful and counterproductive as you can get – as well as being un-Biblical. Jesus told is disciples that “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.” (c.f. John 14:9) The writer of Hebrew says that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being. (c.f. Hebrews 1:3) And John describes Jesus as the “word” (logos in Greek), the physical manifestation of the very thoughts of God. (c.f. John 1:1-5&14) So God and Jesus are just alike, they think alike, love alike, AND act alike. And Jesus’ most telling act of love was taking on the responsibility for every evil action ever committed and paying the penalty for them on the cross. THAT is God’s response to evil – it is not bringing more evil into your life to “teach you a lesson” or “make you a better person”, or those evil events being part of His “master plan”. His “master plan” was for us to live in the Garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve made that impossible, however God had an alternate “Master Plan” – Jesus dying on a godforsaken cross in my place, and for the bad choices you have made.
So what about “God knows the end from the beginning”? I will say this, God’s knowledge is perfect. That means He knows me perfectly. He knows how I will make every decision I will ever be faced with. And no, that does not mean I am forced to make those decisions that way, it just means He knows me so well that He knows what I will choose to do when faced with that choice. My knowledge of my wife is not perfect, but I know her well enough to know that if you give her a choice between a bag of potato chips and a bag of nacho corn chips from a particular manufacturer, which one she will choose. (Did I give it away?) Does that mean she has to make that choice just because I “know” what she will choose? Of course not, in fact she has surprised me – maybe twice in twenty years or so. So if my “knowledge” of her choice beforehand doesn’t “force” her decision, why do we think that God’s knowledge – which is perfect and therefore would not have been “surprised” like me – of that same decision does?
If you are uncomfortable with God’s perfect knowledge knowing you so well that He can foresee how you decide every time you make a decision, then maybe you can look at it this way. We are the finite beings not God, so why do we insist on limiting God’s ability to foresee all possible permutations of every decision as if He is as limited as we are? God’s knowledge is perfect, so His ability to see all possible results of a decision is also perfect. So rather than knowing what you are going to decide, He knows that if you choose A all of this will follow, but if you choose B then all of that will follow, and because of His unlimited abilities, He can know all of that for everyone who has ever lived, is living, and will ever live. Either way will get you to the same place. I personally think the first is “easier”, but the second would work just as well, but I think is actually harder come to grips with intellectually.
So God knows everything that is going to happen to you and has already worked out a plan on what He wants to do to “work it out” for your good. Not because He is going to bring all those events into your life, but because He can foresee them. And His response to them, shown to us by what Jesus did on the cross, it is to redeem them. That is what God is ALWAYS about in this world, redeeming it.
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things?
“If God is for us, who can be against us?
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
“It is God who justifies.
“Who then is the one who condemns?
“No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:31-34)
Jesus gave the following warning about attributing evil actions to the Holy Spirit, “And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? . . . Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.'” (Mark 3:22-23 & 28-30) Jesus is warning them, “I am using the power of the Holy Spirit to do what I do, and you are saying it is by the power of Satan. Beware – that is something that can never be forgiven.” Maybe we need to listen to His warning when we do the same thing with God?
Jesus said that He came to seek and save the lost. That means that God is working in this world to seek and save the lost. If that is what He is about, how do you think He views our actions when we tell people He is working to save that the One who died for them is the One who just killed their baby just to teach them a lesson? Or we tell a mother who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer, “God wants your little girl to grow up motherless as part of His ‘Perfect Plan'”? Adam and Eve destroyed His Perfect Plan in Eden, and He has been working to redeem it ever since. Maybe it is time we quit blaming Him because we can’t figure things out. Maybe it is time we give up asking unanswerable questions. Maybe it is time we acknowledge our limited ability to understand the cosmos and all the events that lead up to any one thing happening at particular time and leave it up to Someone Who can.
Maybe the question we SHOULD be asking is, “God I know you are working to redeem these evil events, what can I do to help? How can I help this mother and her daughter? How can I comfort those parents who just lost their baby? What do you want me to do to help Joe and Sally deal with their baby’s birth defects? Or Bill deal with the death of his father?” And even more importantly “How do I do it without doing more damage than good? How do I do it the way YOU want me too?”