Sunday, November 25, 2012
UGW 10-11: Bad Things Happen, Do Things Happen For a Reason
10. Can things happen that God doesn’t want to happen?
Obviously, yes! We fell, didn’t we? We introduced death and sin into the human race and the world. I bring up this question because people want to know why God would allow evil if God is all-powerful and can stop it. And the answer is because He doesn’t use His power to override our choices and the consequences of our choices. And so bad things happen because of us and because of Satan and his kingdom. (Funny thing is, we don’t want God’s interference when things are going good and going our way, but we sure want His “interference” when they aren’t.)
I think people mistakenly believe that because God is all-powerful and sovereign, it means that He micromanages every detail, that He causes everything to happen and that He always does whatever He wants. The people who think this then have the burden of explaining why bad things happen and why people sin.
If God is sovereign and making everything happen and always doing whatever He wants, then God causes all bad things to happen and makes people sin. Every bad thing that happens would be because God wanted it to happen, because He controls everything.
However, when it comes to sin, Scripture (James 1:13-14) says that God does not tempt anyone to sin. Yet obviously people sin. But if God is not responsible for people’s sin, who is? Satan and people, obviously.
“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
The issue of sin shows me that just because God is all-powerful and sovereign and in-control, it does not mean that He micromanages everything, that He always causes what He wants to have happen, and that He actively controls every detail. If He did, it would mean that He was responsible for making us sin.
But He isn’t. We sin because we have the option to sin. Free will. Because we choose it. And when we sin, it’s not because God wanted it to happen. God lets things happen that He doesn’t want to have happen.
He is still on the throne. He is still in control. He is still sovereignty. Yet He holds back His right to micromanage everything and He allows us to make choices and have an effect and cause consequences. And in His sovereignty, He promises to weave all the bad into something good for those of us who love Him.
I think we cause a lot of problems in how we view Him when we think that His sovereignty and all-powerfulness means that He micromanages every detail and always causes what He wants and never lets things happen that He doesn’t want. He doesn’t like sin. He doesn’t want sin. He doesn’t cause us to sin. He didn’t cause us to ruin His perfect creation. Yet He allowed it.
It doesn’t mean He is less powerful or less sovereign or at our mercy. It just means that He has voluntarily restrained Himself and His power to always do whatever He wants and He has given certain rights and privileges and responsibilities to mankind. It is a sobering thought! Yet in no way does it diminish His strength or His God-ness. Not when He Himself has ordered things to be this way and He voluntarily restrains Himself and allows man to have a certain influence over life and this world. (And yet, I think He is much more active in this world than many of us realize!)
11. But don’t you think that God could’ve caused bad things to happen for a reason, even if He didn’t really want them to happen?
Sometimes, maybe. I wish that I could say no . . . and yes. No, because I don’t want to think that God causes bad things to happen. And yes, because I want to believe that all bad things have a purpose and that He is in total control. It makes the bad things a lot easier to face then. (And for the record, I think that our view of what’s “bad” can and does differ from God’s. Our perspective is so, so cloudy and flawed compared to God’s.)
I think that the Bible does show times when He causes something “bad” for a reason. Sometimes it’s because of discipline and judgment, such as when He causes rebellious nations to be overthrown and destroyed. And sometimes it’s to gain glory for Himself, such as when He hemmed the Israelites in by the Sea with Pharaoh’s army closing in on them. That would seem pretty bad to me, but He did that so that He could show His power and gain glory for Himself. He even hardened Pharaoh’s heart to get this done.
Exodus 14: 4: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”
It seems that whatever “bad” He does cause is because He has to discipline, to pass judgment, to gain glory for Himself, to maintain His good name, or because He has a greater good in mind. (And once you really get a glimpse of God’s holiness and glory, you know that it’s only right that He is glorified, even if it takes “bad” times to do it.)
But when we ask this question, what we really want to know is if He causes the tsunamis or cancer or an accident or a death for a particular reason. “Everything happens for a reason” is our way of dealing with these things. And the answer is . . . I don’t know. Some of them, probably. But He doesn’t run His reasons past us, and so we can’t get hung up on figuring out something that is not ours to know.
[And we cannot dare make any judgments or pronouncements about tragedies that happen, saying things like “God brought that disaster on you (or your city) because of your (or your city’s) sin.” How dare any Christian act as though they know for sure what was going on in God’s mind when He allowed a certain tragedy to happen! It is smug, self-elevating, condescending, pride that causes one to sit on God’s throne and point fingers. Where is the humility and grace in that? It certainly doesn’t sound to me like it comes from a godly heart.
I just have to say this for the record because it makes me sick when I hear Christians acting as know-it-all “moral police officers” who think of themselves as God’s little enforcers sent to scold and condemn everyone else, who act as though they are not also sinners in need of grace and forgiveness, who fail to extend to others the grace and forgiveness that God has given us, who fail to humble themselves before God while they try to weasel their way onto the throne right next to Him.
Christians, there is a reason why society can’t stand us sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with our beliefs but with the fact that we try to force them on others and that we use our faith against others in judgmental condescension. We are called to live out our faith in love and grace and humility, with the hope of drawing others to Christ through these things. And yet, we turn it into an “us against them” kind of thing. “They” are not the enemy. They are the people that God dearly loves and wants to draw near to Himself. Yet we push them away by our lack of grace and gentleness and love.
We are all on the same level ground at the foot of the cross. And God is the judge; we are not. So let us reach out to others in love, live out our faith in gentle, quiet strength, humble ourselves before God, and remember that others are not accountable to us. We will all stand before Him one day and give an account for how we lived. So let’s be more concerned with how we are living before the Lord then with how others are living before the Lord. I just have to say this because Christian history is full of terrible examples of what happens when we forget all of this.]
But yes, everything does happen for a reason. Now, I’m going to branch off a moment from those tragedies that we are not responsible for, like natural disasters, accidents, etc. And I’m going to say this: Sometimes, the reason bad things happen has less to do with God and more to do with us. Sometimes it’s because we disobeyed, chose our own path, chose unwisely, or sinned. It is amazing how we will live life however we want, but then the moment something goes wrong, we go, “Oh, God, why? Why did You let this happen?”
We have sex outside of marriage and get pregnant, get an STD, or have future marital problems, and we go, “Why, God?” We have affairs or don’t work to keep our marriages healthy and strong, and it’s, “Why are we facing divorce?” We don’t care what we eat or if we exercise, but then we plead with God, “Why are we sick?” We fill our homes with all sorts of toxins, like candles, air “fresheners,” chemical cleaners, and then go, “Why aren’t You healing my sinuses?” We sit on our duffs all day, eating our take-out food, and then ask God why we have heart problems, fatty stomachs, costly medication, and shortened life spans. We text, drink, or talk on our phones while driving, and then cry, “Where were You when this accident happened, God?” We won’t let go of our expensive toys, multiple phones, multiple cars, cable and other “crucial” entertainment, restaurant dinners, and packaged food (when we could be learning to cook beans) and then we cry out, “Lord, we can’t pay our bills!” (Let’s face it, our excessive spending habits and our misunderstanding of what is “essential or important” have helped to get us into the economic mess that we are in.)
I mean, think about how many times we say things like, “Well, I know that I should . . . but . . .” I’ve said things like this myself. And we close our eyes to the things that we should be concerned about, and we continue to live the way that we want. And then when we face consequences later, we blame God, when - more accurately - we should be saying, “I caused this by my decision or by ignoring my responsibility to make wise, self-controlled decisions.” If we started to take responsibility for our decisions and actions, maybe we wouldn’t have so many problems in our lives.
I think that we as a society need a wake-up call in two major areas. (There are many more, but I’m only referring to two here that are on my heart). Our constant selfish search for satisfaction outside of God’s marriage design, and our “deliberate ignorance” when it comes to the harmful things that we allow into our homes, our minds, our food, our bodies, our children’s bodies, etc.
It’s no wonder that marriages don’t last and that the younger generations don’t believe in marriage anymore when you look at the way that they are nowadays. Very few save sex for marriage anymore or keep it in the marriage bed. We run around satisfying our passions with anyone, anytime, because we’ve been taught that it’s all about what we want. Live it up now! Be young, be free! It’s all about making ourselves happy. (When it’s become acceptable to have websites whose main purpose is to help people pursue affairs and when casual sex is something to enjoy and laugh about, you know that we as a society have gotten baaaad!!!)
But there are prices to be paid for that kind of “freedom.” That kind of “happiness.” Not only potentially with our physical health, but with our emotional, marital, family. and spiritual health, too. We cannot have the kind of deeply secure, safe, and satisfying marriages that are best for us if we share our beds and bodies with someone other than our spouse.
And these goals and boundaries need to be in place before marriage. I don’t care what everyone else says about “sexual freedom,” whatever you do outside of or before marriage robs you of some of the safety, security, and pleasure that you would have in your marriage.
There should be no “seeing if you are sexually compatible” first. Because that right there is the antithesis of commitment. I mean, think about it . . . if you had no one else to compare your partner to then you wouldn’t know any different. You would grow together in that area. And there would probably be no reason for discontentment. You would simply appreciate what you have and be drawn to and committed to your spouse for the person that they are, instead of comparing them to others to determine their “keep-ability,” judging them based on what they do for you in bed. And vice-versa. (And you would be free from the emotional pain and insecurity of being evaluated or compared to others, and free from the risk of STDs. Seriously, STDs do not have to happen. We are responsible for continuing them. If everyone was monogamous, STDs would be wiped out in one generation. That’s something to think about.)
I am not saying all of this to “preach” or to make anyone feel guilty or doomed (God is a God of forgiveness and fresh starts), but my concern here is with the sad state of marriages nowadays. The damage done to families. And with the lies that are being passed onto the younger generations. To tell them that they have freedom to do whatever they wish and that “as long as you’re in love, it’s okay” robs them of the best marriage possible. I think that people nowadays have trouble living in (or wanting) a committed, monogamous marriage because the focus has been on casual relationships, casual sex, and “Me, me, me, it’s all about me and what I get out of it.”
And this is not the way it should be. God created sex to be a bond between a man and a woman when they are married. He created marriage to be a committed union, not a “what do I get out of this” semi-union. And if things are going to change for the better – if families are going to become strong and safe, instead of dysfunctional and broken -- we are going to have to start doing it God’s way. If not, God help us all, because we are doomed then!
And not only are we taught damaging things before marriage, but after marriage, we are also taught to not let anything get in the way of following our hearts and our dreams. Mothers and fathers alike seek to live their own lives because they have been taught that “it’s all about you.” “Put yourself first; it’s good for the kids to see that!” “Don’t sacrifice yourself for anyone or anything.”
We’ve been taught that we should not let any man, woman, or child keep us from pursuing our dreams or our passions. And we are taught that it’s actually good for the family that we are so satisfied and self-fulfilled. (Yes, we need to take care of ourselves and treat ourselves every now and then or else we’ll go crazy. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about people who put their families on the back burner so they can pursue their own goals.)
And we give up too easily when the hard times come, when we become unhappy or dissatisfied with our spouse or our place in life. Because we’ve been taught that it’s all about how happy we are. And if you’re not happy, then move on to what does make you happy. And so instead of learning to be content in our roles and fighting for our marriages - instead of remembering that we took a vow before others and God - we decide that we want something better or different or more exciting. Something that takes less effort or energy. Something that makes us “happy.” And somehow, we think that this is a pretty good excuse for walking away or for neglecting our families and pursuing our dreams.
And yet, as our misplaced priorities pull us away from our families and make a mess of our lives, we wonder, Why? But do we stop to consider the role that we had in it? Do we try to see how we could change or ask God how He wants us to live or decide to honor our vow anyway? Do we stop to think about what’s good for the family unit as a whole, or to consider that maybe God has more in mind than our own “happiness”? Do we try to see how we could glorify God in the position that we are in, or do we think that we won’t be fulfilled or satisfied or God-glorifying unless we get what we want?
It’s no wonder the younger generations don’t see any point to marriage, when the older ones don’t show them that a good marriage is valuable and worth fighting for! It’s no wonder that families are falling apart, when we don’t keep them as a top priority. So I’m going to say it out loud . . . We need to be people who know how to commit and to stick it out! And we need to be people who make our families our main concern, next to our relationship with God. All of society and future generations hinge on that!
[Now, let me say that I am referring to the serious importance of commitment here when it comes to typical marriages. I am not necessarily talking about those whose spouses cheat on them or who physically abuse them. Because when it comes to adultery, there is biblical grounds for a divorce, if you so choose it. Although, there are many stories out there of people who have worked through the consequences of infidelity and have made their marriages better and stronger, by the grace of God. Do not go quickly and rashly into divorce, but first consider if you can work it out with a counselor or pastor.
And when it comes to abuse, I would never recommend that someone keep themselves or their children in harm’s way. The abuser needs to take responsibility for their actions and to see the consequences of their behavior. Do not hesitate to remove yourself from the abuse and to leave the abuser alone with their sin before God. Maybe by separating from them for a time, you will be safe and give them a chance to see what they have been doing. (And reporting it to the police may be necessary.)
Ideally, reconciliation is the goal, but that hinges on the abuser’s willingness to change and on the victim’s willingness to forgive. Both have to deal with these issues before God on their own if the marriage is going to work and become God-glorifying.]
Personally, I would love to see us go back to a one-income society, where mothers can stay home while the children are young. (Or fathers, if they prefer.) It is so sad to me that our society has made staying home too financially difficult for families and that they do not value at-home mothers (or fathers) the way that they should. Now, notice that I didn’t say that mothers can’t work, but it’s my opinion that families – and society as a whole – would be better off if a parent was at home while the kids were little.
(No angry letters, please. I’m not judging working mothers here. I happen to know a lot of them. And I know how much they love their children, sacrifice for them, and want what’s best for them. And this is something almost all of us have in common, whatever our position in life. But I would encourage anyone who really wants to stay home but who feels like they have to work, to pray about it. Ask God to help you find a creative solution and to take care of you while you stay home to take care of the children. It is possible, but it does mean prioritizing and making sacrifices. Trust me, I know. We have basically always been a one-car family, which means that I have had to learn to be content to be home all day, unable to get out with the kids. But that’s the choice I have made, the sacrifice I am willing to make.)
Now, that’s all about the first main problem that we need a wake-up call in. And here’s the other - deliberate ignorance. Deliberate ignorance not only affects our economy because we choose to deliberately ignore the fact that we spend more than we make, but it also affects the health of our minds and bodies and society as a whole.
When it comes to our minds, I think that many of us do not give much thought to what we allow into them. We choose to be ignorant of the effects of the things that we shouldn’t be watching, reading, listening to, and thinking about. And we excuse it with, “It won’t affect me.”
But it does. We are just fooling ourselves if we believe that it has no effect on the quality of our thought-life and our relationship with others and the Lord. Setting our minds on the wrong things also pulls our desires and feelings in the wrong direction. If you read the romance novels, you might just end up unhappy with your “boring” marriage. If you go to the strip clubs or flirt with those around you, you might become unhappy with what you have at home. If you visit a lot with negative people, you might find yourself turning into a gossip or a grouch. What we allow into our minds does have an effect on who we become. So we need to be more careful and discerning about these things.
Now, when it comes to our health, it’s no wonder that we have so many health issues with all the processed, fake, unhealthy food that we eat and the soda that we drink. And not only do we process it in unnatural ways, but we raise our produce and the animals that we eat in unhealthy ways. Feeding dead cows to other cows!?! Feeding corn, corn, and more corn to grass-eaters!?! And then there’s genetic modification, which I don’t think God ever intended. (Look up the bad consequences of that online, and see if you can support it.) And besides our food, there are all the toxic substances in our household products, in the many vaccines that we inject directly into our babies’ developing bodies, and in all the plastic that we surround ourselves with. There’s fluoride in the water, against our wills, and layers of chemicals on the neighbors’ lawns. The list goes on and on.
(And before you judge me for being too far “out there,” let me ask if you carefully researched all of these things before forming an opinion about them. Because I did! I truly believe that if everyone researched things for themselves - instead of just believing what the companies or those in charge tell you - we would not allow things to be the way they are.)
There are prices to be paid for doing things unnaturally, in a way that God didn’t design it or intend it to be. But we never stop to think about that. All we think is, “Look how much easier, cheaper, or faster we made it.” And then, when all this bad stuff catches up with us, we start taking all sorts of pills and medications as quick fixes for our problems, instead of making wiser decisions about how we live.
Doctors and medicine have an important place in our society and I appreciate many of the scientific advances that have been made, but I fear that too many of us face unnecessary ailments because we make unwise, deliberately-ignorant choices. But the thing is, we don’t really want to know the truth about things because we don’t want to put the effort into changing our lives. We would much rather do the easy thing: take a pill. But then we complain about the condition we are in and we ask God why He let this happen. And the cost of our health care rises. And we raise another generation of unhealthy, ignorant children.
I once talked with a young mother (seventeen years old) who regularly gave her baby daughter bottles of Kool-Aid. And I told her my concerns about that and about what it could do to her child. (I don’t normally offer unsolicited advice, but this was family.) But instead of seeking to learn or to consider my advice, she got indignant that I dared to question her. And she made sure to spoon up big spoonfuls of frosting right in front of me and plop them into her eight-month-old’s mouth.
“Mmm, she just looovvves frosting,” the mom cooed. I knew what she was doing. She was trying to spite me and spurn my attempts to help her. She was showing me that no one will tell her what to do; she couldn’t possibly do anything wrong. (Can’t say that I haven’t had that attitude before myself.) And she said, “I will never deny my daughter anything that she wants to make her happy.”
I was sad inside for her, but I was even more sad for her daughter. “Never denying a child anything that makes them happy” is a sure recipe to raising a spoiled, unhealthy brat (which is basically what my mom told her. Good job, Mom!), a child that could very well die of chronic illness before their time. But, hey, at least they were happy, right? If you’re going to go, go with a big smile and frosting all over your face, right!?!
Parents should be doing all they can to give their children the most promising futures possible, raising them with morals, values, faith in God, and with healthy minds and bodies. A baby can’t decide for itself how it should eat. Yet, it will have to pay the consequences for the parent’s poor choices. And when they do, the parents will cry out, “Why? Why is this happening to me and my child?”
I think that many times, when we cry out “Why?”, what we are really asking is, “God, why didn’t You reach down and prevent me from facing the predictable and to-be-expected consequences of my own decisions and actions?” We sure do want our freedom to choose, but we expect that God should protect us from any bad consequences of our choices. It’s sad that we never stop to consider our own responsibility in creating the mess, but we blame God when the consequences catch up with us. And then we use it as an excuse to lose faith in Him.
And sadder still is that we don’t learn from our mistakes or from the mistakes of those around us. And we never stop to evaluate what we are currently doing and how it might affect us later. We don’t put the time and effort into seeking wisdom and practicing the self-control necessary for the best future, health, marriage, etc., possible. We continue to do whatever pleases us, until something goes wrong. And then we cry, “Why, God?”
I am writing this rather harsh appeal because I want to challenge us to rise up and be deliberate and conscientious about our lives. About how we eat, how we spend our money and time, what we allow into our homes and minds, how we protect our marriages even before they start, and how we build and maintain our relationships with others and with God. Let’s stop settling for lazy and comfortable. And let’s start striving to live God-honoring lives - doing our best in all we do, for God’s glory.
Now, I’ve just been talking about the bad things that happen as a result of our own actions and choices. But what about the bad things that happen that we had no responsibility for: tornadoes, getting hit by a drunk driver, being wronged by someone, the loss of loved ones, etc.? Does God make these things happen for a reason?
Unfortunately, part of living in a “free will” world is having to live with the consequences of someone else’s choices. Bad things happen because others can choose to do the wrong thing. A person can choose to abuse someone, to hurt someone, to make bad decisions, or to take stupid risks. And unfortunately, many innocent people are affected.
And as a whole, we are all affected by Adam and Eve’s sin. When they sinned, they plunged mankind into a cursed, fallen state. (And, honestly, none of us would have done any better if we were in their place!) God gave dominion over the earth to Adam and Eve, and they basically handed it over to Satan when they chose to listen to him instead of to God. And we now live in a world where Satan is active and where things happen that God never intended when He first created Adam and Eve and said “It is very good.”
The Fall brought death and illness, as well as a curse upon the earth, which ushered in natural disasters. He didn’t “will” these kinds of things when He created the earth. He doesn’t delight in cancer, death, miscarriages, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other tragedies. He is not cruel and unsympathetic.
Not too long ago, I spent five or six nights with other family members at the bedside of an aunt. She was slowly dying of cancer. She had refused all nourishment and wanted to die at home surrounded by family. And it was heart-breaking to see the agony that her daughters were going through as they watched her slowly slip away. And while I was comforted in knowing that she knew God, I do not think it meant much to them.
And what can you say at a time like that to comfort someone? You can’t use the old “It’s for the best” or “It’s God’s Will” cockamamie. Because, while they may be well-meaning, they are generally not helpful to those who are grieving. And so what is a more appropriate thing to say to comfort someone who is in deep, deep pain? Personally, I think it’s more along this line, “This really sucks. It shouldn’t be this way. I am so sorry.”
And you know what? I really do think that this is the more godly attitude to take toward these kinds of things. Because I think that God is up there saying it right along with us . . . “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t the best way. It’s not what I planned when I created the world in perfect order. It’s not what I wanted for you. My Will was to spare you this pain and to keep you from ever knowing evil and death. But I also gave mankind the right to disobey. Man, this sucks. And, oh, it hurts Me to see you go through this. But never forget that I am here with you. And I will redeem all of this in the end!”
(And ultimately, my aunt was able to breathe her last breath surrounded by those that loved her the most, in the comfort of her own bed. We miss you, Diane!)
Yes, He allows tragedies and illnesses. And maybe He does, at times, purposely cause them for reasons we can’t know. But, ultimately, we brought all this in through sin. And we will have to suffer with it as long as we are part of the human race and on a fallen planet. That’s just a sad fact.
He has given us free-will: the option of choosing His way or going our own, the option of seeking His wisdom or acting on our own. And this free-will comes with consequences. Our sins have consequences that affect us, our family, and mankind. So not everything that happens is “His Will” or has happened for a reason of His. Sometimes, it’s because of what we (as individuals or mankind as a whole) did or didn’t do. But even then, He will help us clean up our messes and He will ultimately bring good out of it.
And so we cannot judge God to be a harsh, unloving, cruel God that delights in watching people writhe in anguish when His original plan for us was good and perfect and pain-free. And even after we screwed it all up, He still created a way to redeem it all - to redeem us – and to allow us to once again have that perfect, pain-free life. This time in eternity. And He did this by giving up His Son’s life in our place, Jesus Christ who is God the Son. He does not delight in torturing us, but He does everything He can to get us to choose the kind of eternity that He meant for us to have in the first place.
You know, I was surprised when I first learned that “All things happen for a reason” is not a verse from the Bible. I mean, we use it to put God’s touch on every problem and pain and trial that comes our way. But I don’t think that it’s really a Biblical teaching that God causes all things to happen for a particular purpose of His. This doesn’t take into account human responsibility, free-will, and the effects of the Fall.
And so for the majority of “bad” things that happen, I think it’s not that He caused it for a reason, but that it’s a consequence of mankind’s sins and choices, and individual sins and choices. But He does allow them to happen.