God Is With Us
The church is in desperate need of widespread teaching on suffering from an intellectually-satisfying, and truly biblical standpoint. There are good answers for this question, but it is easier to spout clichés than to apply our hearts and minds to the Scriptures for a solution. Telling people, “God has everything under control,” or “Everything that happens is the will of God,” or “Everything works out for the best” simply will not suffice when someone is in serious pain. Rather than answering the question, these explanations might only make it more difficult for the suffering person to turn to God for help. Logical, biblical answers are the only remedy for a mind troubled by the question of suffering.
Michael Saia (Why Do The Innocent Suffer? Pg.11)
Perhaps many people that “reject Christ” do not reject him as much as they reject the concept of God that many denominations and preachers portray. Preachers are not infallible. Pastors are not Bibles. Some of them cause more harm than good. Many of them are in the “ministry” for selfish reasons to begin with. Even good-hearted pastors often struggle when it comes to helping people with an explanation of God’s involvement with evil and suffering. Think about it. Because of the way that many Christians describe what God “plans” or “knows”, it leads others to view God as uninvolved at best, and uncaring at worst. For example, if God predetermined that he would have a child murdered on a certain day (as some teach, believe it or not), it does nothing to give the family of the murdered child comfort, nor confidence in the Lord, just because he is called wise, or he says it is part of his “good” plan for the world. What if God did not plan it this way, but before he created the child, he foreknew he/she would suffer horrific abuse and death, and he created the child anyway? Or, consider the thought that even though the parents daily prayed for the safety of their child, God had already chosen to specifically allow it to happen for “a purpose”, that will be a part of working all things together for “good”, as some teach. Does that make things any better for the parents of the child? God created us in his image. This not only means that we are like him in ways, it means he is like us. He gives us our emotions and sense of right and wrong. Is God not disturbed by the same things that disturb us? Let me go further. In the example, if God foresaw this would happen, what good would the prayers of the parents do? According to the common teaching on God’s foreknowledge, God cannot change what he foresaw before the world began, otherwise what was foreseen was not actually reality. God cannot change what he foresaw to be certain! So, whether God caused the murder of the child or he just created the child knowing that it would happen and chose to create the child anyway, does not matter. All events are settled either in God’s plans or God’s mind. God is either a moral monster or he is bound by his own “foreknowledge.” I, of course, reject both. God is good, and God is free to act in time in response to the requests and concerns of his people, even though at times he does not. Open Theism relieves God of the blame of moral monstrosities, and of knowing ahead of time that many children would suffer unspeakable horrors, yet he decided to create the world this way anyway.
Yes, some people proclaim that every single event on earth, no matter how atrocious, was determined by God. Some people who do not like the way this sounds, but believe that God is involved in everything that happens in our lives try to make evil an easier pill to swallow by claiming that God did not cause the horrible event, but in his wisdom he specifically allowed it for a purpose. This does not leave a person feeling any better, and it still results in people questioning the goodness of God. To be clear, of course I believe that God can do things or specifically allow things for a purpose in his wisdom and we as his creatures still owe him our allegiance. But is that how God generally operates? I stated in a previous post that God suffers with us when we suffer. Rather than a sovereign who is aloof and austere, he is a king that loves and seeks the highest well-being of his subjects. True, he is angry with the wicked, but it is because of the harm they are causing his people and the people around them, not because it is personally insulting to him. The Lord humbled himself by taking on our humanity and as “God with us” he suffered (and suffers) with us. What about the fact that he does not always keep evil from happening? God created a world in which choices have significance. In order for these choices to have significance, he cannot intervene to stop the consequences of those choices, as a general rule. By cannot, we simply mean he cannot do so without setting aside the “laws” of the world he created. Certainly, there are exceptions due to the fervent and persistent prayers of the saints, but even then, we all know by experience that sometimes our prayers are not answered the way we would like them to be. God is all powerful, but he does not use his power to overcome all that resists him. He can know all there is in existence, but the Bible shows us there are times when God has chosen not to know something and yet he comes to a point where he follows the process of searching out in order to know (such as the goings-on in Sodom). The Bible also shows us that God is not limited to one place, but it appears that he chooses not to be in some places all of the time, if ever (Again, consider the biblical account and language of God’s conversation with Abraham about Sodom). People simply think things about God that have been imposed on Yahweh, rather than allowing the Bible to speak to us about who God is and what he does.
No, I do not believe that God determines all that happens. That is easy to reject just by reading the Bible and realizing how many times things happen that are not God’s will. It can be more difficult to get people to understand that it is also true that God does not specifically allow pain or evil in someone’s life for a specific purpose. Just because someone you know was diagnosed with cancer does not mean this is a part of God’s plan. The horrors of Auschwitz were not foreknown by God at the creation of the world. Hitler was not even thought of, and therefore his choices were not in existence at that time. For the person that has been told that your spouse or your child was taken from you because God has a purpose for it, I and others beg to differ. God grieves with you and wants to comfort you. Could he have intervened? Yes. But why didn’t he? We simply cannot know the answer to all of the questions like that, but we must also understand that there are other forces at work in the world, from the powers of darkness to the free-will choices of billions of human beings. The ripple effects are too vast for us to comprehend, but one thing we can know for sure is that it was not a part of the Lord’s “original plan” for children to starve, be aborted, or be abused, or for you to get cancer or be harmed by someone. These events happen as God moves along with us in a time sequence, and though he is all powerful, and can know all that is in existence, and can be anywhere at any time, he experiences reality as we do, though his intelligence and understanding are far superior to ours. God is not to blame for the evil that has happened in your life. Trust him. Follow him. Do not fall for the deceptions of false teachers, nor the misguided advice of those who are well-intentioned. Whatever you do, don’t blame God. He is our only hope.