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Friday, June 15, 2012

Does God Do Bad Things?

If we are to conclude from Scripture that God is absolutely Sovereign, then we have to wonder about the bad things that happen. Based on the classic problem of evil, we are coming to a conclusion that seems to go against the argument. God is not unable or unwilling to prevent evil. Evil is His will. Wait! Does God do bad things?

There are two main concerns in this discussion. First, we need to agree that we will abide by whatever the Bible tells us on the topic. We must not allow ourselves to define God and His activities by our preferences, but by His own words. Second, we will need to understand the definition of "bad things". If by "bad things" we mean "evil" -- immoral behavior -- then we we will agree that God doesn't sin or coerce others to sin. We will (also based on the first premise) agree that "God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one (James 1:13). James assures us that sin is the product of our own desires (James 1:14). Let's be sure to keep that clear as we examine this question. So if by "bad things" we mean "Does God do or make other people do evil?", we will begin with a clear "No!" If by "bad things" we mean the unpleasant, the painful, things that we don't like or don't appreciate, then we'll have to see where Scripture lies with that.

What, then, do we know? Well, first, we know that God Himself says, "I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things" (Isa 45:7). That's right. While we're busy defending God from these accusations that God allows "evil", God is telling us "I cause calamity" (translated "evil" in the King James). Apparently we're defending God in a place He doesn't want or need defense.

We know quite clearly from Scripture that suffering is God's will. Paul delights to tell the Philippians, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29). Get that? It's a gift, a blessing, a grant from God to suffer for Christ's sake. Peter agrees. "Let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good" (1 Peter 4:19). People, even God's people, suffer according to God's will.

But what about moral evil? We are agreeing that God doesn't actually, directly cause it. Is it His will? Well, we know from the account of Joseph that the brothers caused his being sold into slavery for evil purposes, but God intended it for good (Gen 50:20). That can only mean that God intended the moral evil the brothers did to be used for God's good purposes. God intended the evil. Not caused. And we know that God predetermined that Judas Iscariot would betray Christ, even while holding him responsible for that sin (Luke 22:22). And we know that God predestined Herod and Pontius Pilate to crucify the Son of God (Acts 4:27-28). So it appears to be unavoidable that God wills evil and uses it for His good purposes.

But how close does He get to moral evil? He doesn't coerce it. Moral evil is the result of human (or demonic) desire. We're clear on that. But does God influence it? Apparently He does. We read repeatedly in the book of Exodus that "the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh" (Exo 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:8) and confirms it in Romans 9:17-18. We know that Sihon, the king of Heshbon, refused to allow Moses and the Israelites through his land because "the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate" (Deu 2:30). Apparently God works within people and they choose to sin. And we certainly know that "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem" (Judges 9:23), an evil spirit to Saul (1 Sam 16:14), and that a lying spirit from God was put in the mouths of the false prophets of Ahab (1 Kings 22:23)*.

Does God cause moral evil? He doesn't tempt. Nor does He make anyone do evil. But it cannot be said that He doesn't will it, and it is apparent in multiple examples from Scripture that He influences it. And He claims for Himself that He causes unpleasant events to occur in our lives. And He does so for our benefit.

Now, take some time with this. This is certainly not what you're likely to hear from the pulpit or understand from the common conversation among believers. But I'm not asking you to believe me because I say it, the pastors say it, or it feels right. I'm asking you to conclude what you will because the Scriptures say it. By all means, look for yourself. But be sure to allow God's Word to shape your understanding and reality rather than letting your understanding and perception of reality to shape God and His Word.

* This story from 1 Kings 22 is very interesting. One thing that occurred to me while reading through it is that, even though God sent a lying spirit to the mouths of the prophets, it was their choice to act on it. Indeed, Jehoshaphat (the godly king of Judah) asked Ahab to inquire of the Lord regarding going to war. Four hundred prophets were trotted out and assured them, "Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king." Jehoshaphat did not respond, "Well, that's good enough for me." He knew something was wrong. "Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?" Apparently the "lying spirit" from God was not believable to those willing to listen. These prophets didn't lie because they had a lying spirit from God. They lied because they wanted to.


David said...

I think a definition of cause and intend and their difference in this discussion would be helpful. Not that I disagree with you, but to help clarify the difference between intend and cause.

Stan said...

Well, in one case there is intention, and in the other case there is cause. Wait ... why was that hard?