Imagine God appearing to you on New Year’s Eve to tell you that nothing bad will happen to you in the coming year.
A great sense of relief would come over you each time you felt the pull of anxiety about anything bad happening. You could dismiss the concern because you’ve been promised a year free of sadness, disappointment, failure, pain, or any other bad thing. It would be a great year!
But how much would God have to rearrange to actually make this happen?
Before answering this question, let me acknowledge how much I would prefer to live in a world where nothing bad happened to anyone. It would be an understatement to say that I don’t like a world where bad things happen to people. Our nation is reeling after the tragic loss of life in Connecticut!
Here in our community the front page news focused on a 22-year-old man charged with torturing three elderly women in what is being called an act of rage against the Mennonite faith.
Would I prefer a world where these things didn’t happen? Absolutely! I long for such a world! I also expect to live in one someday.
But this is not the way things go in this life. The cycles of evil and suffering are endlessly repetitive — everywhere in the world. Bad things happen to all of us. And sometimes bad things happen to people we might consider good and undeserving — especially children.
Does God care about all of this?
Some feel that there has been just too much suffering and cruelty for the idea of a powerful and caring God to make sense. One skeptic suggested that, “under the sheer weight of human tragedy the providence of God buckled and was crushed into implausibility.” Many have asked over the years, “How could a loving, all-powerful God exist when His world is so full of evil?” “Why doesn’t He put an end to the bad things that happen?”
Perhaps skeptics accept God’s existence if bad things only happened to “bad” people. But how would such a world operate? How would we judge “goodness” and “badness”? Who should be worthy of being “spared” and who should be the “judged”?
A sobering thought
To demand from God a world where nothing bad will happen is to risk eliminating ourselves. Why? Because we do bad things. I realize that not all evil is equally horrific. I also admit that I tend to want to downplay my bad things and magnify the evil of others.
But I must be willing to work honestly through the implications of revealed truths if I hope to comprehend the world.
If, as Scripture revealed, “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), then the fact that we sinners are still alive certainly appears to be evidence of God’s mercy. We are the ones who rebelled against a good Creator. This is not the world He originally gave us, the one He declared to be “very good.” We’ve wrecked God’s world and He hates the evil and is grieved by our suffering.
“The sovereign and utterly good God created a good universe. We human beings rebelled; rebellion is now so much a part of our make-up that we are all enmeshed in it. Every scrap of suffering we face turns on this fact. The Bible itself centers on how God takes action to reverse these dreadful effects and their root cause, sin itself, and the believer’s hope is the new heaven and earth where neither sin nor sorrow will ever be experienced again.” (D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?)
God’s willingness to allow a world where bad things continue could be understood as a profound display of His mercy. This is no thoughtless platitude but a sober truth taught in Scripture (see Romans 9:22-23). I also recognize that this is easier to believe when bad things are not happening to you. But can I afford to ignore it or deny it?
“If in fact we believe that our sin properly deserves the wrath of God, then when we experience the sufferings of this world, all of them the consequences of human rebellion, we will be less quick to blame God and a lot quicker to recognize that we have no fundamental right to expect a life of unbroken ease and comfort. From the Biblical perspective, it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (D. A. Carson, Ibid).
The fact that God would show kindness to any of us sinners is shockingly merciful. But the truth of Scripture offers far more. In flesh and blood, God entered this bad world in the person of Jesus and allowed bad people to commit evil acts against himself.
Did he possess the power to stop those who opposed and brutalized him? Yes. Why didn’t he use his power? Why didn’t he protect himself? Because, in love, he willingly chose to provide us with salvation by bearing the punishment our sin deserved.
“The Bible does not give us a quick and easy answer to why God allows evil to continue in his world. But if we think back about how God involved himself in such a costly way in the ultimate defeat of sin and death (crucifixion), then whatever reason he may have, it is not that he is indifferent to the human race.” (Dick Keyes, Seeing Through Cynicism).
Those who receive this salvation will one day be delivered from all evil. They will experience a world where nothing bad happens to anyone! No matter how difficult, in the face of horrific evil we are called to confess God’s mercy and to be instruments of mercy toward others. Our desire for nothing bad to happen must be placed beside this acknowledgment that salvation is still offered to sinful humanity.
We also have a great promise to which we may anchor our troubled bodies and souls in turbulent times. The apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“We note that Paul does not say here that all things that happen to us are good things. In fact, bad things happen to us. Painful things. Things that crush our spirits. Things that leave wounds and scars. Things that evoke grief and lead us into the house of mourning. Yet all of these bad things that happen to us are working together for our good” (R.C. Sproul, The Invisible Hand).
When bad things happen, one good that it brings is to move our focus toward the Scripture quoted by President Obama,
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).