Many a time this writer has heard someone say that they could never believe in a god that allows bad things to happen. Many people ask why God let’s bad things happen. This is a common question of unbelievers especially, and even some weak believers. Due to ignorance of God and His ways, this is a very understandable comment. The question presupposes God exists, and therefore, we won’t debate that issue. If we agree God exists, then it’s just a matter of who God is. He is either defined by man, or Himself. For finite man to define an infinite God is impossible. Therefore, God must define Himself, and He does so in a way that man can understand; it’s the written word in the Bible. Yes, man wrote the Bible, but men were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write what God wanted written, although in a way that gave it a human touch.
Next, we need to know what “bad” means, and how it is applied in our language and culture. Let’s go to a really heart rending and heart warming story in the book of Genesis. Jacob’s (Israel’s) youngest son Joseph was supposed by him to have been killed by a wild animal. He was told this by his other sons who hated Joseph, because Joseph was a “favored” child. The animosity was intense. As a result, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and fabricated the story of his death. The slave traders sold Joseph to a wealthy man in Egypt. (Slavery is nothing new, and it isn’t always black people who suffered from it). Joseph distinguished himself in this master’s home, and was faithful to his master, although the master’s wife was not faithful to her husband, and she tried to seduce Joseph. Joseph maintained his integrity, but that angered the master’s wife, and she falsely accused Joseph.
This put the master, who was most pleased with Joseph, in a pickle, and he had to defer to his wife. What he did was an insult to her, and a life changing event for Joseph. Instead of inflicting the death penalty upon Joseph, he put him in prison where he again distinguished himself and was put in charge of the prisoners. Pharaoh’s baker and cup bearer were put into prison when pharaoh found that something had been stolen from him, and he suspected one of the two. Joseph, by God’s grace interpreted each of their dreams. For the cup bearer, it was good news, and for the baker, it was bad news.
The cup bearer was released and restored to Pharaoh’s good graces. He forgot all about Joseph until Pharaoh had a dream (given to him by God). Then he told Pharaoh about Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh wanted Joseph immediately, and Joseph satisfied Pharaoh’s request to interpret the dream. The bottom line is that Pharaoh recognized Joseph and made him Prime Minister of all of Egypt – the top dog second only to Pharaoh head of the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth at that time! Related to the dream was a prophecy of famine. Joseph made sure stores of food were set aside for the famine. When the famine struck seven years later, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt begging (a now unrecognizable much older) Joseph to sell them food. He taught them a lesson and made their lives hard for awhile. Then, he revealed himself to them, and they were most chagrined to find that all of his prophecies including ones that caused them to hate him had come true. They feared Joseph. Joseph told them not to worry; “What you meant for evil, God meant for good to save many alive today.”
That’s a long way to get to a point. Without knowing what God’s plan is for us, how can we say what is bad – especially if what we think is bad leads to good? In the book of Job, Satan is allowed by God to afflict Job. Job’s wife says to him; “Curse God and die!” Job’s response is very instructive. He says; “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?” Can anyone, believer or unbeliever, say that he, or she, has not grown as a result of experiences in life – especially adverse (bad) experiences? Painful and difficult experiences are the ones we remember best and most assiduously avoid in the future. Theologically speaking, it’s called the sanctification process, or the process of becoming holy. God says; “Be Holy as I am holy.” By confronting us with adversity, He is strengthening our character, and our resolve to do better (be more holy).
It should be duly noted that God tells us in Scripture that He does all things for His good pleasure and for His glory. Who, in their right mind, is going to argue with God? Anyone who does is bound to lose, but he’ll lose on God’s terms. That could mean an early death, or a painful death, or riches and luxury and a long life only to go to Hell in the end.
Many would say that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a “bad” thing that God let happen. Look at all the good that came out of it. Civilized society with much abundance and kindness came out of Christ’s death. That doesn’t mean that everyone follows Christ though. It also doesn’t mean that there is no bad in the world. People who are not saved from their sins cannot understand, and they never will. People saved from their sins can understand and most do. Look at all of the Christians who were fed to the lions or used as torches for lighting the night time garden gatherings of Nero. Were those things bad? Of course they were, but out of that came repentance by Rome’s leaders because they realized that the citizenry and government of Rome was so corrupt that nobody could be trusted except for the Christians. As a result, by 300, Christians were so highly regarded, that Constantine made Christianity the state religion. That was a bad idea that manifested itself in the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church over the next 13 centuries. But out of that bad, came the Protestant Reformation which was good, but some people had to suffer bad for it to come to pass. From the Protestant Reformation, we got America and the greatest freedom and prosperity ever known to man. Now we are seeing a tremendous moral decline in America, and throughout the world. That is bad. What good will God bring out of it?
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