Recently, a friend went through a traumatic situation. In her grief, she asked why would God allow such a thing to happen. It is a common question, that rests on a deeper question, “Why do things happen the way they do? Is it just cause and effect? Is it the outcome of willful evil? Did God cause it to happen? If not, why didn’t God stop it? We are not privy to the specifics of every individual situation, but let’s see if there is any insight to gain in general.
I would like to start with a passage from Genesis that I find curious:
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Earth and subdue it.Genesis 1:28b
This command, given to Adam and Eve as representatives of the human species, reveals a puzzling thing. Why would the Earth need to be subdued? As God’s creation, one would expect the planet to run in fine-tuned precision with or without people. But even before sin and the curse, the planet was like a fine car that still needed a driver. It could run amiss. God maintains all of the systems, but doesn’t force it to run perfectly without mankind. His choice.
Once sin enters the world, mankind’s function is corrupted and the world itself is unbalanced; leaving room for all kinds of difficulties. God can surely fix it, but He doesn’t want to. The creation will move forward but to a distant re-creation. Until then, don’t expect smooth sailing. Here we have a very general answer to the question, “Why did God allow this?”. You live under the curse. God does not fix the curse; at least, not yet.
What are some results of this “curse”? Just picking on 2020: Covid, wildfires, hurricanes and the like. There are, of course, more specific explanations of these. Viruses exist in this world and mutate. People eat funky animals in unhygienic fashions. People don’t get how to control an invisible enemy or don’t care to. Temperature gradients aggravated by global warming create weather patterns of drought or severe storms. Stuff like that. These are the means by which natural disasters are made. The opportunity and systems for them to exist are the result of creation being slightly off the rails due to the curse, and as a rule God doesn’t fix the curse.
Then there are the man-made problems. Again, picking on 2020 we have the worldwide racial tension/police brutality protests and riots. Sin causes people to be racist and to create systems that are racist. Sin causes people to rebel and resist arrest. Sin, aggravated by power, causes police to cross bounds or to react aggressively in fear. Sin moves legitimate complaint into a situation abused by looters and promoters of false ideologies. It becomes a giant tangled web where wrong begets more wrong, fueled by sinful human nature; and if necessary, stimulated further by Satan who hates God and people. Will God stop this?
There is much that God won’t stop, at least, not immediately. Some of us stuns us. Some of it is so ugly, we can’t believe God will allow it. As Christians, we can falsely believe that we have a promise of a smooth sailing life. A common misquote of Scripture is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The Bible does not say this. Here is what is misquoted:
And God is faithful; He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.1 Corinthians 10:13
God will intervene to curb, not eliminate, temptation. I expect that He does put bounds on the degree of disaster that we, as a species, can face; but these are pretty high limits. Referring to days before the end:
If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.Matthew 24:22
Notice that God intervenes to shorten the “natural” or Satan-induced course of things, but not to eliminate it.
The takeaway is this. Don’t be surprised by disaster and trials, or when you are victimized by the sinful nature of others and especially when you are victimized as a Christian for the sake of Christ. These things are foretold. They are explained in general. There is not a promise of exemption, even for God’s people. Especially, don’t be surprised when your own bad decisions or sins cause problems.
Here is the hope. There is forgiveness for our sins and bad stewardship through God’s grace. Any difficulty experienced in this life is relatively short and, for those who belong to Christ, is followed by eternal life in glory. In the midst of trial, God sees us and knows our situation. We can ask for strength, help and even escape. This will sometimes be granted. God is more inclined to turn something bad into a growth experience. He has an amazing capacity to do so.
In the end, we have to keep in mind that this isn’t even the main part of our existence. It is hard to process that because our life here is all we know, so far. Jesus says,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you.John 14:1-2
There is much more to come, and for those who have been forgiven through Jesus an eternal existence in a world where God will not allow any of the grief we can experience here.
Until that time, our question needs to be modified. When we experience something painful or difficult, ask, “What will God do through this event?” There is a good answer worth seeking for that one.