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Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Good People?



Why does God allow bad things to happen to (relatively) good people?  This is a subset of the classic problem of evil.  In general, why does a good almighty God allow evil in His creation?  So below I will first give a brief overview of what C.S. Lewis called “the problem of pain” before focusing on the key biblical case of a good man who had many very bad things happen to him:  Job.  Then we’ll examine the problem of evil more generally, such as whether God can punish people through their having health problems, before concluding.


So then, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving God freely permit evil to exist in His creation?  Why does God give us free will when it can be so destructive?  There are different ways to consider this problem. The book of Job is basically all about why God let Job suffer terribly during his trials despite he was a righteous man who was being tested for his faith.  God's basic response when confronting him was that he didn't know enough to judge Him.  We also can examine the issue of God's giving humanity free will.  But why?  Well, God is in the process of making beings like Himself (Matt. 5:48; Eph. 4:13) who willingly choose to be 100% righteous, but have 100% free will.  God doesn't want to create a set of robots that automatically obey His law, His will, for they aren't like Him then, for they wouldn't have free will, and the ability to make fully conscious choices.  Here God needs to test us, to see how loyal we'll be in advance of gaining eternal life.  The greatness of the prize, being in God's Family and living forever happily in union with God, ultimately makes up for the suffering in this life.  For what's (say) 70 years of pain relative to trillions of years of happiness in God's kingdom?  Unfortunately, our emotions, which normally focus on what's right before us physically, rebel against this insight, but it's true nevertheless.


God has chosen to respect our free moral agency and to give us the power to reject obeying Him even when we're called.  ("Many are called, but few are chosen.")  God has such great power, but He's chosen to limit it for His high purposes.  Despite being a major school of Christian theology, classical Calvinism's key error is that men and women become wind-up toy soldiers who make only predetermined choices about the ultimate outcome of their lives.  God chose freely to give man's will a freedom rather similar to His own, although it is perverted by an evil human nature acquired since birth from the continuing influence of Satan, his demons, and this world's civilization.  By gaining the Holy Spirit, conscientious, converted Christians slowly have much of this negative influence removed or at least restricted.  Much like during the incarnation God chose to restrict His power (Matt. 24:36), God has chosen to restrict His power in calling and converting people today.  But He still wants us to obey, but He wants us to freely choose to do so (Prov. 30:19-20):  "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him . . . "  Hence, the other leading school of Christian theology among Protestants, Arminianism, maintains there’s a certain level of drama and uncertainty, even from God's viewpoint, concerning how many will be ultimately responsive to His call.


In this context, let’s now consider Job’s trials and response to them.  After all, if we want to learn something about the problem of evil, Job is the one book of the Bible dedicated to answering this question.  In Job 1:8; 2:3, God holds up Job as an admirably righteous man, not as a terrible sinner deserving punishment.  In response, Satan accused Job of serving God only for material gain and good health (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).  God wished to prove otherwise.  Knowing Job’s character, God allowed a supremely awful set of trials to strike him.  For He knew Job wasn’t being tempted beyond his strength (I Cor. 10:13), as hard as these trials were.  By God’s pointing out Job’s sterling example of righteousness to Satan, Job admittedly had a bull’s eye painted on his back.  God almost surely knew what Satan’s reaction would be to His challenge.   But Job’s admirable response to the first round of trials that destroyed most of his family and his material prosperity allowed God to virtually taunt Satan about Job’s continued loyalty to Him (Job 2:3).  Notice that God could still say Job was righteous despite having such a set of truly awful trials inflicted on him by Satan. 


Now despite all this sore testing, Job did not curse God.  Satan had predicted this, but it never happened.  Job rejected his wife’s advice to do exactly this.  Job initially maintained a good attitude despite such severe pain (Job 1:22; 2:3, 10).  Are we doing as well as he did?  Do we have a similar level of self-control?  Or are we complaining far more about much more trivial trials than his were?  I’ve known people even in the Church of God who have cursed God or questioned God’s love and righteousness for trials far less severe than those that Job endured.  Do we react as Job’s wife did to trials (Job 2:9)?  What we get in this life really isn’t ours, but is from God conditionally and temporarily, as Job confessed (Job 1:21).  We are not our own.   So we shouldn’t walk around with some kind of entitlement mentality complaining about life’s unfairness to us or others.  In this same context, the Bible commentator Matthew Henry says (p. 658, on Job 1), quoting Scripture in part: “In all our comforts, God gave us our being, made us, and not we ourselves, gave us our wealth; it was not our own ingenuity or industry that enriched us, but God’s blessing on our cares and endeavours.  He gave us power to get wealth, not only made the creatures [farm animals] for us, but bestowed upon us our share.”


Why did God allow Job to be so tested by Satan?  That question really isn’t answered here.  God’s fundamental response to Job’s later questions comes near the end of this book, when God confronts Job out of the whirlwind.  And what was Jehovah’s reply?  God said that He has so much more knowledge and power than we do that we shouldn’t be harshly questioning or criticizing Him.  We should have faith that He knows what He is doing.  Jehovah’s Witnesses, in their Bible dictionary, have a good point when they say: “He [Job] was also mistaken in insisting on receiving an answer from God as to why he was suffering” (“Insight in the Scriptures,” vol. 2, p. 83).  Are we like Job, by insisting that God should satisfy our curiosity before we will obey Him?  But who has the power here?  Who makes the terms of the contract?  It’s our duty to believe and obey even if we aren’t fully intellectually satisfied by the response, “I know more than you do; trust Me for now.”  Since He created us from nothing, and we know little by comparison, God has the right to demand obedience before understanding, much like a parent with a toddler.  We should have faith then that God knows what He is doing and that He has our best interests at heart, much like a conscientious father does with his child.


Now while suffering through trials and tests like Job, we should not think God has to tell us why we’re going through them now.  We should be faithful and obedient to God despite being ignorant about the causes of our suffering and pain.  Let’s use this example, based on an incident Philip Yancey described in his book, “Disappointment with God” (p. 203).  One time a swimmer swam far into a large lake.  Suddenly, a thick, freak fog moved in that evening.  He didn’t know where the shoreline was!  For a half hour, he alternated between half panicking, by splashing different directions back and forth, and forcing himself to remain calm while floating to preserve his energy.  But then he heard someone speaking faintly but steadily near the shore.  Then he could he swim his way back to safety.  Like this lost swimmer, do our trials and tests in life make us feel that we that we’re lost at sea?  Do we doubt that God cares?  Do we wonder what the purpose of our tests and trials are?  Didn’t Job wonder the same? Anyone going through trials and tests should consider reading Philip Yancey’s book, “Disappointment with God:  Three Questions No One Asks Aloud.”  The same goes for anyone concerned about the problem of evil in general.  This book is generally written at a very simple, basic level.  But its emotional effect can be profound in helping us become more content while suffering in this life.  Much of it examines the Book of Job, which is why it’s quoted in this context. 


Consider now this fundamental point about Job’s trials:  Did Job himself know why he went through the trials he did?  Job knew nothing about Satan’s challenge to God in the first two chapters of the book named for him.  But God allows just mere average readers to have that revealed to us. Yancey (pp. 163-64) compares these two chapters of the Book of Job to the director of a play giving us a sneak preview to a mystery play or “whodunit” detective story.  He tells us the plot, the main characters, their actions during the play, and why they did what they did.  So what’s the only real remaining mystery?:  “[H]ow will the main character respond?  Will Job trust God or deny him?”  Then the curtain rises:  Job and all his friends know nothing about what happened in heaven, but we the readers do.  We know Job did nothing wrong to deserve what happened to him.


Job 1:6-12 describes what Yancey calls “the wager” arises between God and Satan.  What was wager about?:  “The Wager was, at its heart, a stark reenactment of God’s original question in creation:  Will the humans choose for or against me?” (Yancey, p. 171).  Satan claimed this man only serves God for what he gets materially from God.  Yancey (p. 172):  “Is faith one more product of environment and circumstance?  The opening chapters of Job expose Satan as the first great behaviorist:  Job was conditioned to love God, he implied.  Take away the rewards, and watch his faith crumble.  The Wager put Satan’s theory to the test.”  God challenges Satan on this score by allowing him to harshly attack Job.  God thinks this man will still freely choose to obey Him despite being left totally ignorant as to the causes of his awful trials.  Under the same circumstances, would we do better or worse than Job himself did?


Job holds to God faithfully.  God throws this fact in Satan’s face.  Satan retorts by claiming Job would deny God if Job lost his health also.  But as already mentioned above, Job doesn’t choose to curse God and die.  (See Job 1:21-2:10).  Note that neither God nor Satan says anything about Job being self-righteous, like the Pharisees were centuries later.  His personal problem in this area only shows up later.  Self-righteousness can’t be called properly the “cause” of Job’s trial.  God didn’t mention Job as being in any way sinful, but said he was truly righteous.  God wasn’t deliberately allowing Satan to punish Job for any particular sin.


Job and his three friends then spent long hours debating and thinking about the causes of his trials.  But they knew nothing about this scene in heaven, as described in the prologue to the book.  At the end of the book, God doesn’t explain any of this to Job either.  Ironically, we as average ordinary people reading this book of the Bible can know more about why Job went through these trials than Job did himself!  Thus, most mysteriously, God lifted the curtain veiling heaven more for us than He did for Job.  After all, what was God’s basic response to Job?:  “You don’t know enough about the universe to judge Me.”  (See Job 42:1-6 for when Job admitted this to God, which we’ll examine more below).


So now, here comes a key point taught by the Book of Job:  If we’re going through trials and tests, can we still obey God while not knowing why we’re going through them?  The answer is obviously “yes.”  Do we have to know the purpose of our sufferings and disappointments in order to stay faithful to God?  The answer is obviously “no.”  We should stay obedient and faithful to God despite our ignorance of why we’re suffering may equal Job’s.  True, we may suffer for all sorts of self-inflicted reasons, such as making poor financial decisions, marrying the wrong person by mistake, and eating the wrong foods and drinks for years.  It also may be God is working at correcting some character flaw or sin in our lives.  But even if we don’t know and can’t know the causes of our suffering, we should still obey God anyway while in our fog of ignorance anyway.


Like when Job wanted an “umpire” to judge between God and him, do we ever try to turn the tables on God?  Do we ever imagine being the judge and jury and putting God in the dock as the accused criminal?  Do we ever judge God?  Do we ever condemn God?  Do we know enough to be the judge of God?  Are we righteous enough to condemn God for (say) allowing suffering among the faithful?  There’s a deep folly in emotionally wanting this role reversal, which allows humans to judge and condemn God.  Of course, we don’t have the power to implement the role reversal, which makes this all a wild fantasy anyway.  For as shown by the book of Job, humans can’t judge or condemn God when we suffer because we don’t know enough to do so and because God is so much greater and mightier than we are.  Job ultimately had to accept the utter sovereignty of God, just as we do, if we wish to live forever.


Suppose our pets could judge us?  What would we say in reply?  What would be our response to “Fido,” a puppy undergoing house training, if he could complain about how we’re treating him?  Or suppose “Fluffy” the cat could condemn us for receiving a shot of water from a squirt gun after she dug her claws deep into our upholstered couch? Wouldn’t we point out how misguided and ignorant their complaints are?  But don’t we realize that the difference between God and mankind greatly exceeds the difference between us and our pets?


Let’s examine Job’s errors in Job 23:2-16 in particular.  Do we make similar mistakes?  Do we demand that God would explain why we’re suffering during a trial?  Do we cry out, “Why me?”?  Of course, since many people in the world or even the church have worse trials than us, we could ask equally, “Why not me?”  Why do other people has Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis instead of us?  It’s presumptuous of us to demand answers; it requires faith to wait until one day the answers may be given to us.  As the classical Bible commentator Matthew Henry explained:  “The reason why we quarrel with Providence is because we do not understand it; and we must be content to be in dark about it, until the mystery of God shall be finished.”  This becomes the main point of God’s direct reply to Job. Jehovah is so much greater and more glorious in power and knowledge than us.  We are in no position to judge Him morally.  Job was certain about his innocence.  True, he was not guilty of anything in particular when his sore trial hit him.  But during the debates with his so-called “friends,” it became obvious he was judging and condemn God, including for letting the sinful and wicked get away with it while not being punished.


Job’s brave words (see Job 40:1-15) eventually received a direct response from God Himself.  It’s always easier to think about or say to others the strong things we’ll say to someone we have a dispute with before softening or abandoning them during the actual confrontation, right?  Of course, Job had to admit his insignificance relative to God’s. Job simply couldn’t take on this role that God has.  And God’s creative power shows why he has power over both Job and Behemoth.  Then, at the beginning of the last chapter of his eponymous book (Job 42:1-6), admitted to God’s great power as the Creator, which was the main point of the prior four chapters.  Job also admits he didn’t know enough to judge God.  He acknowledged God’s great power, knowledge, and glory.  Likewise, are we willing to similar admit sin and error if we’ve been guilty of judging God for allowing us or others to suffer?  Most interestingly, God was merciful to Job after he repented despite he criticized Him, as the Bible commentator Matthew Henry observed.  God restored Job to his prior status.



God isn’t subject to anyone’s will but His own.  He doesn’t have to explain the specifics about our trials in our own lives.  God has a great plan; it’s our job to figure out where we fit in it as we follow his revealed word in the Bible as the Spirit helps us. God may have higher priorities than increasing our personal happiness at this time when more important goals need to be reached.  Although most people are far more familiar with “Frankenstein” as a movie and TV icon than with its text as a novel, Mary Shelley’s work makes arguments relating to the problem of evil that deserve some direct attention by Christians.   In particular, the novel considers the responsibilities of the creator (i.e., Dr. Frankenstein) for his creation (i.e., the monster).  For example, focusing on his desire for a mate, the monster complained to Frankenstein (p. 96):  “I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. . . . Remember that I am thy creature:  I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.  Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.  I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend.  Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”  Shortly thereafter Frankenstein admitted (p. 98), “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.”  Much later in the novel, after the monster had taken repeated acts of vengeance against him, Dr. Frankenstein explained the higher priority behind why he didn’t make his creature happier (p. 226):  “During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do it find it blamable.  In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature and was bound towards him to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being.  This was my duty, but there was another still paramount to that.  My duties towards the beings of my own species had greater claims to my attention because they included a greater proportion of happiness of misery.  Urged by this view, I refused, and did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature.”  Of course, Dr. Frankenstein here confessed the pride-driven folly in playing God by creating the ugly monster that rebelled against him and killed those closest to him when he didn’t obey its wishes.  Victor Frankenstein’s scientific hubris ultimately destroyed him.  In his case, he foolishly created a creature for no good or specific ultimate purpose, but merely as a means to demonstrate his knowledge and mental abilities.  Furthermore, Victor Frankenstein not only had a bad motive for creation and a bad purpose for his creature (i.e., basically none, for he abandoned him initially), his level of knowledge only marginally exceeded his creature’s.  After all, he didn’t know the purpose of life either.  Hence, the law of unanticipated consequences kicked in, and ruined him.  By contrast, the actual omniscient and loving Creator, when designing a physical universe of any kind, did know to the nth degree all the variables involved, and could choose its attributes and characteristics exactly as would be best for His purposes (as they emanate from His essence and identity) that also would serve the ultimate self-interest of the creatures He would make for it.


Now let’s examine more closely the error in Mary Shelly’s sympathetic presentation of the monster’s complaint against his creator, that happiness necessarily leads to obeying the Creator.  But to have a state of steady, earned (i.e., not drug induced) happiness, including a lack of alienation, requires the conscious intelligence in question to believe the truth and to follow the laws of its surrounding real world that indeed would produce for it happiness.  Indeed, good character creates happiness rather than happiness creating good character (i.e., the habits of obedience to God’s law).  In order to have happiness forever reliably, we have to have self-imposed discipline and the faith to obey God’s law as what’s good for us.  To explore and go off to find our own way morally in life means we’ll learn the hard way by experience instead of avoiding pain by obeying revelation from God about what’s good for us.  The Eternal warned Israel that material prosperity (i.e., one source of happiness that the Creator can give us) often leads to people not obeying their Creator (Deut. 8:11-14, 17):  “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God . . . then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.”  Furthermore, even to know God’s law doesn’t mean people will obey it, as Israel’s history under the old covenant demonstrates (Deuteronomy 5:29; Jeremiah 31:31-34).  People need to have the Holy Spirit given to them in order to transform their evil human nature into something that will instead produce happiness for themselves and others after they have God’s law written on their hearts (Hebrews 8:7-11).  The monster assumed having a mate would make him permanently happy, a folly that still afflicts so many unmarried people who think marching down the aisle is enough to remove all pains in life and to transform their evil human nature.  After all, how many people have mates, but are still miserable, or are miserable precisely because they do have mates?  Perhaps, after a year or two of dealing with each other’s selfishness, bad tempers, heated arguments, etc., the monster would have thought Dr. Frankenstein cursed him instead of blessing him by giving him a bride.  Or, perhaps when they would have first met, the lady monster would have looked at him, said, “Ew!,” and rejected him!  Where would he have been then?  Instead, to have a happy relationship in marriage isn’t an automatic process, but it takes a lot of work, careful consideration, and self-sacrifice.  The fundamental error in Shelly’s reasoning is to sympathize with the monster’s implicit reasoning that lasting happiness can be obtained without self-discipline and self-sacrifice, merely as an arbitrarily bestowed gift given regardless of the actions of the creature, that would require no special efforts on the creature’s part to obtain through dedicating itself to transform its very nature into something that can have happiness. 


But now, can we humans admit the folly in playing God when we judge God? So if we’re like Job, and experiencing severe trial(s), we must avoid the temptation to judge or condemn God.  First, we don’t know enough to do so.  How we react to our suffering may be a necessary part of God’s plan to build holy righteous character in us, if we react to our trials correctly.  Second, since God is so much more powerful and glorious than we are, we are utterly incapable of reversing the roles anyway.  It’s a wild fantasy to imagine ourselves judging and condemning God.  It’s best to give it up out of utter realism.  It may be a hard truth to accept this when we, loved ones, or masses of people in the world we don’t know personally, but hear about in the news, suffer.  But Matthew Henry was right to observe:  “Let us leave it to God to govern the world, and make it our care, in the strength of his grace, to govern ourselves and our own hearts well.”


Can we be like Joseph, and see good ultimately coming out of our trials and tests, at least for others, whether in this life or the next?  After all, much like Job, Joseph was severely tested.  Joseph’s trial lasted for many years, since his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt out of jealousy and envy.  He even got falsely accused and imprisoned after resisting the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife.   After hearing his brothers’ concerns that he would take vengeance on them after Jacob died and their asking for his forgiveness, Joseph replied:  “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for God to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:19-20).


Most importantly as the reason for why evil came to exist, God allowed His creatures free will, or free moral agency.  The angels received this freedom also, not just men and women.  Since God’s creatures doubt that He has their own best interests in heart, He decided to prove it to them by letting them suffer from their own hard experience when they disobey His law.  He wanted to prove that He wasn’t keeping something good from us when He issues negative commands.  It’s said that fools only learn from experience.  Likewise, since neither Lucifer nor Eve would take God’s word for it that disobeying Him would be bad for them, He let them choose badly.  Why didn’t He “zap” either of them instantly?  Well, this issue was going to keep coming up, with His creatures through endless billions of years having questions about whether God’s ways really were best for them.  So God decided to prove to them by their own empirical experience: Their pain, most ironically, would prove He and His ways could be trusted.  And to prove it more, He decided to suffer in pain Himself, by dying so awfully painfully on the cross for His creatures.  So if we creatures had had faith in God to begin with, most or all of this pain and evil could have been avoided.  But both Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-19) and (later) Eve (Genesis 3:6) had other ideas.




One crucial truth here, although it’s uncomfortable for typical modern men to accept, is God’s utter sovereignty when he cares to exercise it against any particular individuals.  We human beings aren’t in a position to answer back or to propose other alternative outcomes if God chooses to intervene directly in our lives.  God has the full view of what’s best for His master plan for the human race; we don’t. As Isaiah explained with a colorful analogy, “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!  Wil the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’  Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands.’?”  (Isaiah 45:9; cf. Romans 9:20-21).  So if God wishes to harden pharaoh’s heart in order to increase the level of glory and recognition that He would receive from the recalcitrant pagan Egyptians, we aren’t in a good position to deny or criticize Him about exercising that prerogative. Hence, God told pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Romans 9:16).  Hence, Paul concluded, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”  Hence, notice the cases in which Jehovah hardened pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 14:4, 14:17; 9:12; 11:10), but pharaoh also hardened his own heart on his own also (Exodus 8:32).  However, this doesn’t ultimately mean that pharaoh can’t be saved after the second resurrection (Ezekiel 37:1-14):  The king of Egypt’s salvation wasn’t at stake in this situation. 


Now, suppose we’re deeply disturbed by the problem of evil, such as by a loved one’s death or because of some terrible disaster or war striking thousands or millions of people somewhere else in the world, past or present.  It’s still illogical to reject God’s existence on that basis after we’ve proven Him to exist on another basis, such intelligence design’s arguments for the universe’s complexity shows it had a Creator.  For a fundamental truth of the human condition is that we're presently alive, but know we're going to die.  So then, what are we going to do about it, if anything?  Is there any way to live forever?  Or should we just admit that when our caskets are lowered into the ground, that's it?


Christianity says there is a way to live forever, but it involves accepting certain truths by faith, which can't be fully proven by human reason.  It also requires making a formal commitment that requires the believer to change his or her life from the path of sin to the path of obedience (i.e., to confess sins and to repent).  Regardless of what we may think of God's allowing of evil and suffering, if this is the only way out of mankind's "existential dilemma," as I like to call it, I'll accept it personally, in order to live forever.


So then, what did Jesus Himself say about people who were killed by events beyond their own control?  Consider what Jesus told people to do, regardless of what happened to others for whatever reason, in order to save themselves (Luke 13:1-5):  "There were some present at the very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate [the Roman governor of Judea] had mingled with their sacrifices.  And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?  I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."  As Jesus explained, everyone is going to die, whether or not for reasons under their own control.  We all have to repent to gain eternal life.  That's because we're all sinners (Romans 3:23), and sin brings upon us all death (Romans 6:23), which Jesus' sacrifice cancels if we accept it by faith.


But notice this leads to a key principle:  Nobody is truly "innocent" or "good" separate from God.  God always has the option of imposing the death penalty on us at any time, but normally He doesn't, since His mercy triumphs over His justice, thanks to Christ's sacrifice.  Furthermore, since He can resurrect the dead, He can give them their lives back.  This helps to explain why He would (say) have Sodom destroyed when not even ten righteous people could be found living there (see Genesis 18:22-33; 19:24-25).  These people were living such a sinful and personally harmful way of life that it was better for them to be put to death rather than still living that way.  Hence, it's hard to look upon the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, the people drowned in the great flood (Genesis 6:11-13) that Noah lived through, and the Canaanites that God had killed by Joshua's army as "righteous" or "innocent," due to their crimes of violence, idolatry, etc.  When He resurrects them at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:5, 12-13), the thousand years of the earth being ruled by Jesus, they will receive a chance to be saved then (Romans 11:25-26;



            Now it appears that the sins of prior generations can cause health problems for future generations (cf. Exodus 20:5).  But since that isn't always the case, we shouldn't be dogmatic about it in any one particular case. This issue is part of the general problem of evil:  "Why does a good almighty, all-knowing God allow evil to exist?"  That is, we know that sometimes God will punish the wicked or sinful in this life and reward the righteous.  But on the other hand, even the (relatively) more righteous have to learn from trials and tests (James 1:2-4), and so develop holy righteous character (Romans 5:3-4; Heb. 12:5-6, 11; II Cor. 4:16-17), which is the one thing that you can take with you past the grave.  Even rather mysteriously Jesus, although He was God in the flesh, was perfected by the sufferings He went through in the physical life He had on earth (Heb. 2:10).  So whether our problems result from God's punishment or just character-developing trials isn't always obvious, such as shown by the trials of Job and how his three friends messed up in analyzing the causes of his plight.  (They often mechanically tended to think that if you have trials in this life it must have been because you had sinned yourself, that it had to be that God was punishing you).  If God does punish us directly, it is for our good (Hebrews 12:6, 10):  “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. . . . For they [our fathers] truly for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.”  Furthermore, God can allow us to suffer by the natural outcome of our own actions, and doesn't have to specially intervene to "zap" us.  For example, if we get drunk and suffer a hangover, or we smoke for decades and get lung cancer, God didn't have to directly cause us to become sick.  Rather, the natural order He has set up as Creator has its own built-in causes and effects, which we as humans have to learn to work within, and thus avoid its penalties and negative consequences.


Now, in the case of the man born blind that Jesus healed, He specifically denied the interpretation that his particular plight was caused by his sins or his parents' sins (John 10:2-3):  "And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?'  Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him."  That is, Jesus was going to heal this particular man during his ministry on earth, so he was born blind decades before this planned miraculous event so Jesus could prove to others by a public witness by one more miracle that He was the Messiah, the Savior sent by the Father into the world.  (It should be noted that the Pharisees interpreted this man's plight as a result of sin also, like Jesus' own disciples had--verse 34).


Yet, on the other hand, it's certainly possible people will be punished for the sins of their ancestors, including even by bad health.  Consider in this light part of the explanation of the Second Commandment:  "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God [that is, One who demands exclusive devotion, and rejects divided loyalties--EVS], visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me" (Exodus 20:5).  It could well be that the sins of a prior generation are visited upon a later one through (say) birth defects or other diseases.  This isn't as unfair as a committed liberal secular humanist may believe it to be.  After all, the children and grandchildren of people often will mechanically follow in the religious and other footsteps of their parents and grandparents even when the family religious and moral tradition is wrong, such as by worshiping false gods by using idols.  Unquestionably following a family tradition can be very unwise, which can be one way the sins of a prior generation are visited upon a later generation.  After all, when it comes to one's own ultimate spiritual destiny, that's up to each one of us individually after we're called, for "the son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear punishment for the son's iniquity" (Ezekiel 18:20).


We have to admit that illness can be caused by spiritual sin.  For example, Jesus healed a paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda who had been there 38 years.  Notice that He warned him, a little while after healing him:  "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you" (v. 14).  It's a scary thought to think that one's spiritual sins could inflict a physical health penalty worse being paralyzed for 38 years!  Similarly, notice how Jesus closely related being miraculously healed from bad health and having spiritual sins forgiven in Luke 5:18-24.  He spiritually forgave this man, and also healed him physically, both as an outcome of his faith.  Jesus' own suffering was prophesied by Isaiah to bring both spiritual and physical healing (Isaiah 53:5).  But since this isn't always the case, we should be wary of being judgmental.  It's not obvious that one average Christian's greater or lesser level of sins have anything to do with their levels of prosperity or good health in this life.  After all, we know the wicked will sometimes prosper in this life also, at least for a time (Ps. 37:35-36).  The Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has his pluses and minuses in character, but I wouldn't want to think his great fortune is proof that he's so much more righteous than everyone else in America!  Hence, we should normally avoid mentioning to a loved one who's sick about their personal sins or mistakes in taking care of their physical health (like not getting enough exercise, not eating right, smoking, etc.) when they are laying sick in a hospital bed.


Admittedly, the whole problem of evil greatly frustrates many believers and unbelievers, and bad health as a sign of sins is merely a subset of that problem.  God sometimes does punish people, directly or indirectly, for their sins by inflicting diseases on them (see Deut. 28:58-60).  Now much of the problem of evil concerns self-inflicted misery, such as due to our own choices:  If we complain that God didn't stop us from suffering a hangover after getting drunk, is that really God's fault?  Contradicting what God commands in His holy word (Proverbs 20:1; 23:30-35), a man recovering from being drunk the night before was the one chose to get drunk to begin with.  It wasn't like God thrust that decision on him!


God also will let the wicked prosper in this life for a time as well, along side the righteous (notice Matt. 5:45), perhaps out of a sense of mercy and giving them a chance to repent.  (We have to avoid the spiritual trap of thinking that if we do something sinful or questionable, and no immediate punishment comes, it's OK in God's sight . . . the punishment could well come years later, or in the afterlife.  The delay, the time element between taking action and any possible punishment, doesn't mean God approves of our actions).  This level of selectivity by God will trouble people.  It may seem unfair that the wicked prosper and the (relatively more) righteous have trials.  But God also knows what's best for us individually and what's best for His master plan for dealing with the whole human race down through all history, in which we individually and our problems fit one way or another.  This obviously requires faith and the acceptance of God's mysterious ways.  God's response to Job basically came down to saying, "You don't know enough to judge me."  So then, does our perplexity concerning the problem of evil tempt us to become guilty of judging God, not merely our sick and/or sinful neighbors?  We as Christians have to resist this impulse.


Now God asserts that He has the right to take the life of people who sin by violating His law (Romans 6:23):  "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  He also reveals, through Paul, that (Romans 3:23) "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  True, as Romans 6:23 shows, He offers eternal life to people through accepting Jesus' sacrifice and by His Son's resurrection (Romans 5:8-9):  "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."  So then God provides a solution to the problem that we all die, which requires us humans to humble ourselves before Him, by obeying Him and having faith in Him.


Should Christians think that God will bless them such that they won’t have any trials?  Obviously not, for the Bible says Christians will have trials (I Peter 4:12):  "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you."  Peter even then goes on to so boldly say:  "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."  Now, it's very hard to have that perspective on our trials while experiencing them.  Consider this verse in James 1:2:  "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations [i.e., trials]."  Because we feel pain during the trial itself, we can't have joy then, such as (say) over the death of a family member.  But it's the product of the trial in improving and strengthening our characters that we should rejoice over, which James does note here some in the next two verses:  "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."  Similarly, Paul wrote (Romans 5:3-5):  "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also:  knowing that tribulation works patience; and patience, experience, and experience, hope:  And hope makes not ashamed; because the love is God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us."  It's a distinctly unpleasant truth.  But consider the old simplistic maxim of body builders in this context:  "No pain, no gain."  Or then, more colorfully, the atheistic German philosopher Nietzsche once said something like, "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger."  I admit fully, when we have harsh trials, such counsel sounds superficial emotionally, even calloused.  But we have to look at the fundamental purpose of life as being an experience that is supposed to build holy righteous character within us (or others) so long as we react correctly and spiritually to whatever trials are sent our way.  And holy righteous character is the one thing that we can take from this life; we weren't put here on earth to always be happy.


We have to dismiss from our minds the so-called "health and wealth gospel" that some Christians teach.  Just because we obey and have faith in God doesn't mean He'll take away all our trials and tests, whether in health or financially.  Paul was a very faithful man of God after being struck down on the road to Damascus.  But God let Paul have a thorn in his flesh, perhaps a health trial related to poor eyesight, despite his faithful obedience (see II Cor. 12:7-9).  Paul also suffered from appalling trails while preaching the Gospel, which he mentioned in detail (II Cor. 11:23-27).  Many of the most faithful prophets of God, such as John the Baptist, met awful ends.  Think of the listing in Hebrews 11 of the men and women of faith, and the trials so many of them had (see especially verses 35-39).  They shouldn't have doubted that they were serving God truly in the path of life they were in, even if they would have sinned from time to time, like Abraham, Moses, and David did.  And, of course, Jesus had both perfect faith and perfect obedience, but still suffered many tests and trials before dying on the cross to redeem us from sin.  (That leads to the observation that God died to free us from the evils that resulted from His giving us the free will to choose or not choose). 


As C.S. Lewis argued in "Mere Christianity," our moral sense is derived indirectly from God even when we aren't believers in the Bible, as part of our created human nature.  (See his "Abolition of Man" for more related material on this general subject).  We can't condemn others' actions, including God's, without believing in moral absolutes.  But almost all atheists and agnostics deny moral absolutes.  So how can an atheist condemn God if he believes in moral relativism?  How is God wrong for allowing evil to exist if the skeptic doesn't believe evil exists anyway?  If an agnostic doesn't believe that murder or racism or adultery is immoral in all places at all times, how can he condemn God for allowing them to happen?  Paradoxically, our perception that evil exists is proof that God implanted a natural moral law (Romans 2:12-15) in our minds that we perceive right and wrong when watching what other people do.  Otherwise, we'd all be like autistics, whose mental defects prevent them from perceiving the actions of people as morally right or wrong.


We should also realize that evil is only a temporary intruder in God's creation.  It isn't permanent, as Rev. 21:4:  "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:  for the former things are passed away."  God promises that there will be a restoration of all things after Jesus returns and sets up His kingdom, which will fix all the world's present problems (see Acts 3:19-21).  So we need to have deep patience to wait on God to expel evil from the world.  For presently the whole creation groans in pain, but it will be delivered from it (Romans 8:18-22).


One crucial truth here, although it’s uncomfortable for typical modern men to accept, is God’s utter sovereignty when he cares to exercise it against any particular individuals.  We human beings aren’t in a position to answer back or to propose other alternative outcomes if God chooses to intervene directly in our lives.  God has the full view of what’s best for His master plan for the human race; we don’t. As Isaiah explained with a colorful analogy, “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!  Wil the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’  Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands.’?”  (Isaiah 45:9; cf. Romans 9:20-21).  So if God wishes to harden pharaoh’s heart in order to increase the level of glory and recognition that He would receive from the recalcitrant pagan Egyptians, we aren’t in a good position to deny or criticize Him about exercising that prerogative. Hence, God told pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Romans 9:16).  Hence, Paul concluded, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”  Hence, notice the cases in which Jehovah hardened pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 14:4, 14:17; 9:12; 11:10), but pharaoh also hardened his own heart on his own also (Exodus 8:32).  However, this doesn’t ultimately mean that pharaoh can’t be saved after the second resurrection (Ezekiel 37:1-14):  The king of Egypt’s salvation wasn’t at stake in this situation. 


So above a number of solutions to the problem of evil have been given fairly briefly.  They explain, at least in part, why bad things happen to good people.  We should look carefully at the case of Job if we feel like him during our tests and trials in life.  We should have faith in God that He knows what He is doing by giving us free will and in His plan to build holy righteous character within us if we cooperate with Him instead of resisting Him.  Obviously, this is an enormous subject that an entire book could be written about, and has been written about, such as C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Problem of Pain.” Let’s have faith that God knows what He is doing.


Eric V. Snow


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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

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