What About All These Terrible Things?
1. You take in the news, and there is...
a. A tsunami and a nuclear reactor melting down.
b. Turmoil brewing in several nations in or around the Middle East.
c. Huge storms devastating parts of our country, indiscriminately destroying lives and property.
d. An inexplicable violent crime, too close for comfort.
e. And perhaps you can add your own private suffering to the list.
2. Then you come to the meeting of the church, and you hear songs and sermons about...
a. The Mighty God who rules as the Sovereign over own world.
b. His goodness and faithfulness and steadfast love, from which nothing can separate you.
c. And the hope of life based on his precious promises.
3. What do you conclude from these two scenes?
a. In view of reality? Is faith irrelevant and without substance?
b. In his book The Reason for God, Timothy Keller recounts this statement by a college-age young man: “This isn’t a philosophical issue to me. This is personal. I won’t believe in a God who allows suffering, even if he, she, or it exists. Maybe God exists. Maybe not. But if he does, he can’t be trusted.” (22)
c. How can God let all these terrible things keep happening?
1. Some starting points. I am intending for these thoughts to be something other than another “explanation” of why there are bad things that happen in people’s lives. There are points in the Bible that speak to that question. Sometimes, however, as Job’s friends found out, those points don’t apply to the circumstance. So right now, our interest is directed more toward why, in view of all this, God has to be.
a. What may not be in the news is a whole lot of good.
i. This past week had a Monday and Tuesday, but it also had a Friday and Saturday.
ii. The tornados across the SE killed at least 342 people, but, when you look at the pictures, how could there not have been so many more?
iii. We can’t just ask how terrible things can be allowed to happen. We have to also ask where so much good comes from.
b. The rule of God, as the Bible describes it, assumes the continuing presence of bad things.
i. God’s rule is not offered as an escape from hardship, but as something which is worth even more hardship – if necessary.
ii. And the images of God at work that are offered are not images of ease for his people, but of his caring for him in the midst of what they go through.
iii. Consider, for example, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
c. The entire Christian concept of redemption assumes, and is an answer to, the reality that we presently face.
i. There is a “groaning” that cannot be relieved aside from resurrection (Rom. 8:22).
ii. “A new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13) would not be so much in the language of the gospel apart from the recognition that one is necessary.
iii. We see the problems just like everyone else does, but we believe that the redemption God has accomplished by raising Christ up, rather than being nullified by all these terrible things, is ultimately the only answer to them.
2. Upon further reflection. When you consider our question upon the field we have just laid out, some points that deserve more time and attention come to the surface.
a. Just because I can’t see a reason why God might let something happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.
i. What at first looks like too big a hump for skepticism to get over may instead be way too much faith in our own capacity for knowing.
ii. Alvin Plantinga illustrates this point with “no-see-ums.” He says if you look in your pup tent for a St. Bernard and you don’t see one, it is reasonable to assume there isn’t one there. But if you look in your put tent for a no-see-um (an extremely small insect with a bite all out of proportion to its size) and you don’t see any, it’s not reasonable to conclude there aren’t any there. Because, after all, no one can see ‘em. And there may be good reasons why God would “let things happen” that are not accessible to our minds, and that do not reflect poorly on his character.
iii. After all, remember Joseph. And remember your own experience. A lot of us could say that what we really needed for success in life came to us through the most difficult and painful experiences in our lives.
b. All these terrible things that happen are a problem for us, but they are an even greater problem for unbelievers.
i. C. S. Lewis originally rejected the possibility of God because of all the cruelty he saw in the world, but he came to realize the evil was even more of a problem for his new atheism. He wrote, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of ‘just’ and ‘unjust’?...What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?...Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies...Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”
ii. We call them terrible things because of our sense of fairness and rightness. We thing people shouldn’t have to suffer, or be oppressed, or to be struck down by tragedies. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence against the weak.
iii. On what basis, then, does the naturalistic unbeliever judge the world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjustifiable? If you assume that these terrible things should not happen, you are assuming the reality of some outside-the-natural standard by which to make your judgment. If you think there really is such a thing as a tragedy that shouldn’t happen or appalling wickedness that shouldn’t be allowed, and that enduring such things has to mean something, then you have a powerful argument for the existence of God.
c. God came to earth in the person of Christ and involved himself in all these terrible things.
i. Christianity does not major on providing the reason for each awful thing that happens; instead it majors on what provides the deep resources for meeting hardship with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.
ii. That is why you will find a tone of overwhelming awe running through the accounts of what Jesus went through leading up to, and during, the hours during which he, the righteous for the unrighteous, suffered to redeem the world from what makes it suffer.
iii. What he went through was different in nature from any other death. It was not like what an illness puts a person through, or what an accident or a disaster takes suddenly from a person, or even like what a martyr for a good cause heroically takes on.
iv. He met all these terrible things on the battlefield where faithfulness is decided: despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture, imprisonment, pain, injustice, ridicule, and death itself – fully conscious of the purpose for it.
v. And here’s the thing: it wasn’t because God didn’t love him, or because God is not just. It was precisely because of those truths!
1. There are no people who are more realistic about “all these terrible things” than those of us who are committed to the Christ of the gospel.
2. But, for us, what he did on the cross and what God did when he raised him up is the light in which every other reality has to be seen.
a. The cross means that he knows the terrible things more than we do, and that has loved us enough to get involved, even to the sacrifice of himself.
b. The resurrection means that goodness, bravery, endurance, and sacrifice, have overcome, and that we have reason for powerful hope.
3. The question of life is really not why God lets all these terrible things happen. It is why God has done these wonderful things, and how I stand in relation to them.