Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Would God Allow...

It seems like all the most difficult questions of faith fall along the same general line: How can a good God allow evil to exist? Why would God allow natural disasters? Why did God let so-and-so die? Underlying these questions is another one: Is God really all-powerful? Is he truly in control? If he's not, then we desperately need to rethink our conception of God. But if he is, then how can he possibly be good?

These are difficult questions. The deists thought they had found an answer when they created a God who was omnipotent but disinterested. But when God becomes disinterested and distant, everything else--Creation, sin, the Incarnation, the cross, resurrection--falls apart. You may as well be agnostic.

Part of the difficulty of these questions is the way we understand the term "allow". Or, to put it in more theological terms, what we mean when we say "God is sovereign", or "God is omnipotent". We assume that, because God is sovereign and omnipotent, then he must give his approval to everything that happens in the world. On any given day a certain number of proposals cross his desk, and he rubber stamps some APPROVED and others DENIED. Those proposals which are approved, like Hurricane Katrina or the Haitian Earthquake, actually occur, and those which are denied do not.

I hope that seems silly to you, because it is utterly ridiculous to me. God doesn't have a desk or a rubber stamp. He is not the bouncer standing at the gates of the earth. He is the King, and his kingdom is in rebellion against him. God created an ordered paradise (Eden) and gave a tremendous measure of power to human beings, who then used that power to turn on God, which resulted in the loss of order and paradise. More accurately, our sin resulted in the loss of God's direct sovereignty over Creation, because if he were to exercise his power in all its fullness, there would be no more Creation. Now, in order to spare our existence, God exercises his power in humility.

Evil, sin, natural disaster, and death are not exceptional. These are normative for a world in rebellion against its Creator. They are not punishments, they are simply the natural course of events that follow from the overthrow of God's direct sovereignty over Creation. None of these exist within paradise. But outside, east of Eden, they are inevitable.

The real "allow" question, the one that doesn't make sense, is why would God allow his son to leave the throne room of the castle and come, unarmed and vulnerable, into the rebellious kingdom. Why would God allow his son to live east of Eden, where evil, sin, disaster and death are the norm? It can only be because he loves the rebels so much that he wants to save them from the foolishness of their own rebellion.

Knowing he couldn't directly coax or command them out of it, he sent his son to be just like one of them and to die at their hands. And then the King did the most amazing thing ever--he raised his son from the dead! And by raising him from the dead, the King said to the rebels, "I forgive you for all of your rebellions and your sins. See, here is my son, whom you killed, but whom I have raised back to life! Look to him and have hope that evil, sin, disaster and death don't have the final say, but that the last word belongs to me. Behold, everything is being made new!" The one act of evil that God did allow in this world--the death of his son--is the one act by which he is remaking the world and is restoring all things to a new and glorious paradise.


Susanna said...

beautiful. thank you.

Jacob said...


Your proposed solution seems to sidestep the issue altogether. The Bible presents God as acting in human history, sometimes exercising his sovereignty to prevent evil from occurring, and at other times to judge evil once it has occurred. If that's true, then it is also true that God has not decided to refrain from intervening in creation altogether. Taking for granted the traditional belief in God's omniscience, you have a situation where God knows that evil is occurring or will occur, he has sometimes intervened to stop it in the past, and yet he decides not to intervene and stop it on this occasion. "Rubber stamp" or no, God has allowed it.

More problematic is that nowhere in the Bible, even after the fall, is God pictured as having lost direct sovereignty over creation. On the contrary, he is shown everywhere exercising that sovereignty.

In the obvious case of Job 1-2, you have something very close to your rubber stamp scenario. And notice the nature of the things permitted - you have destruction by the hand of men (1:15,17), destruction by natural disaster (1:19), and destruction by disease (2:7). These things were done by the hand of Satan, but not without God allowing it.

As for nature, Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise for God's careful and active providence over all of creation. Amos 4:6-10 has God claiming credit for famine and pestilence.

In Isa 45, God makes the astonishing claim that Cyrus (by name, no less), the future ruler of a pagan Persia, is nothing less than an instrument in his hand to carry out judgment against Babylon and bring about peace for his exiled people. He then follows it up with this unpopular boast: "I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being [peace] and create calamity [un-peace], I am the Lord, who does all these things."

Leaving the Old Testament, we also have it on good authority that our Lord Jesus Christ is the one who "upholds (carries along) all things by his powerful word" (Heb 1:3), and by whom all things consist or are held together (Col 1:17).

The inescapable conclusion of scripture is that the God who watches over the sparrow (Matt 10:29), and who feeds the birds and clothes the grass (Matt 6:26-30), is also the one who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).

Whatever the Bible's answer to the problem of evil, it certainly does not involve a loss of God's direct sovereignty over creation. Certainly, you have God showing forbearance and refraining from completely executing judgment against evil, which sets up a real problem for God's justice (a la Romans 3:25-26), but that in no way detracts from God's direct control over the affairs of men.

I really like your blog, and I pray all is going well with you, Breena and the kids.


Anonymous said...

I love your blog Andy! So much easier to understand than wordy babble some throw at us. I personally love the book "Where is God when it hurts?" by Philip Yancey. He does an excellent job of explaining this exact issue in a way that is understandable to many. You words echoed Yancy's wonderfully. So proud of you! You continue to teach me many things! Maria Konoff

andy said...

Jacob, I appreciate your perspective and push back on my theology. I knew that, when I wrote this, it was vulnerable to some extent, and that I would probably have to explain myself further.

When thinking of theodicy, I focus on just three elements of Scripture: Genesis 1-2, Revelation 21-22, and the crucifixion & resurrection of Jesus. Whether this is correct or not, everything else just seems like contextual details. What I see from these scriptures are:

1) God is omnipotent.
2) God has given humans a lot of power.
3) God wants to dwell with humans.
4) God dealt with the problems of Gen. 3 (and etc.) in the humblest means possible.
5) God still wants to dwell with humans, and will someday.

When I say that God does not have direct sovereignty over creation I simply mean that he chooses not to, because if he were to bring himself fully to bear on the world, the world would be eradicated. God cannot, after all, abide sin. But I also believe that God's intention has always been to do precisely this--to dwell with humans. But that can't happen until all creation is redeemed from the curse of sin, which is now happening through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And the only way for that to happen is for God to do it subversively, from within us. I think this is what it means for God to exercise his omnipotence and sovereignty through patience and humility.

I know that we probably won't ever come to an agreement on this issue, but that's okay! :) It's still fun to dialogue.

Jacob said...


I don't actually disagree with the big picture you present. I agree that God's intention is and has always been to dwell with humanity, and that he cannot do that without dealing with the sin problem, otherwise he would consume them. Also, that in Christ God has dealt with the sin problem and has established his dwelling with humanity. And in even more mind-blowing fashion, the Church of Christ, which is his body, is also being built together into God's dwelling place.

However, in this discussion, you seem to be equivocating on the word "sovereignty." In one sense, you are using it as equivalent to judgment, and as far as that goes I agree with you. If God were to exercise his judgment in its fullness with a sinful humanity, then creation would be wiped out. Likewise, the death and resurrection of Christ demonstrates God's supreme humility and patience in exercising his judgment.

But at the beginning of the post, you are using the word in its traditional sense of his right of authority and ownership of all creation, which is expressed in:
1. God bringing about all things according to the counsel of his will.
2. God's universal providence over the affairs of creation.
In this sense of the word, the Bible is far from granting that God has limited himself in this matter, but in fact everywhere declares the opposite. It is this sense that creates the problem expressed in the question "Why would God allow" and by using the meaning of "judgment" in your response, the solution does not answer to the question.

The only way to interpret your solution as an answer to the original question would be to use the same sense of sovereignty in both cases, which would lead us to conclude that because of sin God has lost or refuses to exercise his right of authority and ownership of creation, meaning he does not bring about all things according the counsel of his will, and/or he does not exercise universal providence over the affairs of his creation. I think you would agree that the "contextual details" of the Bible would plainly contradict that notion.