In the last post, I looked at what we can learn about God’s character by examining His judgment and love in the Old Testament. I also acknowledged that sometimes, we’re still left feeling uncomfortable with what we see. This isn’t limited to the Old Testament because the world today continues to astound us with the magnitude of evil allowed to run rampant. Human sin is only a part of the story, as natural disasters destroy entire cities and rack up almost as high a death count as armed conflicts. Humans might be really good at taking each other’s lives, but we have nothing on the forces of nature.
How do we defend God’s love in the face of pain and loss? Can we ever give a satisfactory answer to why God allows the things He does? Is He judging cities when hurricanes and landslides wreak havoc or militants kidnap schoolgirls from their school in a Nigerian village?
Last time I looked at the big picture exploring the scale of God’s love and judgment in His actions in the world. It’s a lot more difficult to do with contemporary events because frankly, we don’t have the whole picture. I’m not going to try to explain why God allowed ISIS to take control of large swaths of territory or how the Ebola epidemic in Liberia proves the supremacy of God’s love. I simply don’t know enough.
What I will advocate, however, is to trust in the goodness of God based on the totality of His self revelation. I’m not advocating for blind or lazy faith, but one that can accept the mysteries of God’s will based on who God is.
I grew up in an African household which practices discipline differently from most Canadian homes. My mother loves to tell the tale of the most severe beating I ever received. The story begins when I was two years old and I somehow wandered away from church. My parents freaked out and mobilized the church to form search parties. I was found enjoying snacks at a Catholic church some distance away clueless to the panic I’d incited. This wasn’t when I received the worst beating of my life.
It happened a few days later when again I wandered off, this time from home. My mother was the only one at home with me and had nobody to help her find me. Fortunately we lived in a gated community at the time and the gatekeeper recognized me walking out the main gate and returned me home. When my father came home from work, he heard I’d disappeared again and decided to do something about my newfound adventurous spirit.
I laugh now when I hear this story, but imagine what my two year old self thought of this. All I knew was that I went away and got snacks. I couldn’t have known how dangerous it could be so separated from my caregivers. I likely could not appreciate the risks of an ill-timed road crossing, or following strangers or even about going too long without food water and shelter. I couldn’t possibly know how frightened my parents were for my wellbeing. All I knew was that my unplanned adventure resulted in pain delivered by the ones I loved and I never did it again.
But I didn’t develop a fear of my father. I probably even cried in his arms after receiving my punishment. He still represented security and love to my toddler’s mind. Why? Because I knew his love. His kindness far exceeded his wrath. And his anger, though severe, never crushed me. The pain faded after a hour or so, but his tenderness remained.
I believe scripture calls us to a similar trust in our limited understanding. I don’t know why some things happen in this life, especially in light of God’s sovereignty. But I know that God’s love far outweighs His anger. I know that He came into our human experience and suffered loneliness, torture and death on my behalf. And He promises that one day, we will have all the answers we seek.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Did God order the Sandy Hook shooting to punish the parents, community, or nation for sin? I don’t believe so. The New Testament teaches our final judgment happens after our funerals, that God is patient in the meantime giving us time to repent and find forgiveness. Even the Old Testament shows God’s willingness to forgo judgment on Sodom for the sake of ten righteous people. But atrocities and catastrophes don’t represent a victory against God’s will. God is in control even when these things happen. Why does He allow them? I don’t know. Sometimes we can see the good that comes out of evil but often we don’t.
So while asking why God allows evil is a good philosophical practice, the answers are not the basis for our faith. The answer is, instead, in the character of God. In this life we will experience personal and communal devastation, and these will test our answer to the question: Is God still good?
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. – Psalm 100:5