Is Tragedy From God?

A week and a half ago my family was given devastating news: my oldest daughter was diagnosed with inflamed Bowel Disease. This encompasses Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both are auto-immune diseases that are considered chronic, meaning they’ll stay with her for her whole life.

When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

They can go into remission, or they can cause damage that could require removal of parts of her intestines. While there’s a spectrum, there are “horror stories” that no one without the disease can truly fathom. When someone receives such a diagnosis it is hard to imagine that God ordained it. In fact, the common response is: This isn’t from God!

In my Bible study I’m in Isaiah 53. This is one of a number of passages that directly point to Jesus Christ. Verse 10 stands out to me: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” 

It made me think of another who was crushed by God: Job. I just did a study in that book, as well, and noticed a few things:

  • God pointed Job out to Satan: “And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” 1:8 ESV. Satan, of course, claims that Job’s only incentive to praise God and turn from evil was due to God blessing his life. Satan challenges God to “stretch out [His] hand and touch all that he has” and then Job will curse God.
  • God pointed Job out to Satan a second time in chapter 2, “”Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Here, God confirms that He struck Job, though He had given Satan permission to take certain things and set limits.
  • Job never attributes his suffering to Satan. He confesses that it comes at the hand of God. In chapter 13, verse 15 he says, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him…”

The hard part of faith is recognizing that God is the primary mover in all things. Some quibble that God permits evil, he doesn’t cause it. And, there’s truth in that. God is not the author of evil, but evil serves at the sovereign will of God.

Before I tie this up, I’d like to point out why Job is a significant book to understand in terms of God inflicting suffering on the righteous man. Job is a type of Christ. His character is descriptive of the true righteous one who always turned away from evil and glorified God perfectly: Jesus Christ.

When Christ was born, Satan sought to kill him through Herod. He sought to destroy his sinless nature through temptation. Finally, Satan sought to destroy Christ through pious, religious people accusing Him of blasphemy. Yet it was God who ordained all of these sufferings. God appointed Judas as the son of perdition who would betray the Christ into the rulers’ hands. God appointed the suffering on the cross, though Pilate had been inclined to let him go free. Jesus confirms that it is the cup prepared for Him by the Father.

She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Do you see the parallel with Job? Job lost his family, his wealth and his health. Satan was prevented from killing him, though he likely wanted to. The righteous are an offront to Satan because they offer true worship to God, which is right. Then, Satan sought to disrupt Job through his wife and his friends. His wife urged him to curse God and die. It wasn’t merely a word of cursing that she advised. We like to think that a momentary curse is what is meant, but it is much worse. She urged Job to let go of his worship of God as the benevolent, righteous and true God to whom our worship is due. She urged him to truly blaspheme God’s nature by turning his back on God and conclude that He must be a horrid being, devoid of love.

Job’s response was that she spoke as the foolish women. He challenged her, “Shall I take good from the Lord, and not evil?” Job 2:10 ESV.

Both Job and Jesus suffered under the hand of God. Certainly, there is suffering in the world because of sin. Suffering offers powerful testimony to the existence and pervasiveness of sin. Without sin, Jesus would not have suffered on this earth and had to die on the cross. Since Job is a type of Christ, without sin, Job would not have had to suffer under the hand of God. There would have been no evil to deal out in God’s sovereign plan.

The difference between Job and Jesus lies in the sinless perfection of Jesus. While Job admits that he’s sinful, he contends that he didn’t do anything against the Lord (such as harbor blasphemy and rebellion) that deserved the suffering he endured. Jesus, on the other hand, was sinless, yet endured 32 years of suffering within a sinful world in rebellion against Him. He then endured the hateful words, the beatings, the spitting, the whipping and the humiliation of the cross … for our sin.

When we suffer a chronic or terminal illness, or when we suffer tragedy in one form or another, we have a choice: Do we say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?” Or do we side with Job’s friends, and the Pharisees that evil events and tragedy in this life are evidence of God’s displeasure at us?

Do you see that when we view God as one who weighs our good and bad deeds, then deals out in sudden retaliation, or seems to “catch up” with a wicked person, we’re saying something about God’s Name, or Nature. We’re suggesting that God is punishing sin through cancer or heart disease, or tragedy instead of dealing with us according to His mercy and offering us His grace.

As with all of these topics, this line of logic comes with a caution. There are instances where God does inflict suffering on people for their sin in this life. But that serves His purpose and His glory. For instance, the people of Israel were hauled off to Babylon and suffered at the hands of their enemies more than a few times. This was to turn their hearts toward God. And when they called out to the Name of God (that He is good, righteous, perfect, loving…) He would restore them and heal them.

The trial of Job, and the suffering of Jesus hold lessons for us. Job came through the suffering and learned greater humility than he had before, thus glorifying God. Jesus suffered for the sin of the world, purchasing a people for God’s glory, confirming God’s righteousness, justice, love, mercy and grace.

The Gospel is about God’s glory, not our value. If suffering speaks loudly to the presence of sin, the Gospel shouts even louder for the presence of God’s love. We read in Hebrews about how Abel’s blood cried up to God regarding sin (11:4), yet Christ’s blood speaks louder for Grace (12:24).

Our suffering in this life serves God’s glory. When we suffer thorns in the flesh, we learn to endure and confess the Lord’s greatness while others would abandon the faith. Though others may urge us that our suffering is some random thing that God didn’t send, we can say, “though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

By God’s grace, He can heal any sickness that’s given. Like the man born blind from birth (not due to sin of his own, or his parents, see John 9:1-3). Though, as in the case of Paul, some thorns are not removed. They’re given to us that God’s grace might be more fully shown to the world.

There are plenty of “life coaches” or motivational speakers who meld the Bible to their positive, empowering platform for success. But they’re false prophets. The world loves them. People speak well of them and they’re sought out for counsel because they give good words. Jesus doesn’t play that game. Jesus speaks of a comfort that rests in the glory of God, not our material comfort.

God controls the afflictions we suffer and designs them for our good. That good is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And Jesus was poor, a man of sorrows, stricken and despised during the years of His life. Anyone who tells you differently is reading from a different Bible and you should avoid them.

Does this mean we don’t pray for my daughter’s restored health? No. I pray that daily. We are encouraged to bring our requests before God. And we wait on Him for our provision. He’s blessed us with great medical care. We have been blessed with an early diagnosis and prompt attention. We’re blessed to live in a country that has access to a lot of food. There are those who go into complete remission of the disease. I believe that, too, is the work of God for His glory. But if we relegate bad things to some random evil over which God is helpless to change, we’d be maligning His character and disparaging His name. We must take the good from the Lord, as well as the evil. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

 

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What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Salvation is so easy, even a caveman could do it! Salvation is so easy, what are you waiting for? Just believe. Right? Get your fire insurance. It’s free. Well–actually–it’s not. I can hear the ‘just believe’ crowd chambering rounds … let me explain. Your life literally depends on this.

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Does God Do Bad Things?

A lot of people like to separate God from the horrible things we see in this world. We reject that God would ever do anything hurtful. In fact, one of the arguments against God is to say, if there’s a God, how could He allow all the horrors in the world?

We struggle with the pain of this world and the idea of a completely loving, good, just God. That struggle leads some to atheism. Some, who cannot reject God outright flee to some form of human free will, which elevates humanity to a point that can nearly thwart God’s plans. Some claim that God doesn’t have a plan. He set the universe in motion and then sat back. Of course, those folks would have a hard time with Jesus and the plan for redemption, wouldn’t they?

Actually, all the scenarios above would have a problem with the Bible.

The fact is, God does the things we consider bad. Take a look at this verse from Isaiah:

Isa 45:7  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

Some will quibble with this and try to explain it. But, it speaks for itself. And, it goes on in verse 9:

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Paul references this argument in Romans 9:20:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The context of this chapter Paul is writing relates to God’s sovereignty in redemption.

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:18

The context is how God raised up Pharaoh to show His power. Think about that. He raised up Pharaoh, and then hardened his heart so that he’d reject God and be destroyed. You read that right. It’s in the Bible.

Also in this chapter in Romans Paul notes that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau. Before they were born. Before either of them had done anything.

though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— Romans 9:11

Again,

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15

Of course, this is a really hard thing for us to grasp and understand. It’s hard for us to admit we’re clay and we will submit to the will of the “potter.” We’re generally arrogant lumps of clay that believe the lie that we are meant for so much more than to glorify our Creator God.

This talk of God’s sovereignty has caused some to split the will of God into parts. They call it the “permissive will” or the “ordaining will.” God may permit evil things to happen, he may even ordain that they should take place, but He doesn’t cause them.

Isa 45:7 I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.

I was talking to someone about this and they mentioned Job. Satan did the things to Job, right? Well, yes. But, he actually asked God to do them, and God gave Satan the ability to inflict the suffering, with limits. This suggests that Satan could not have inflicted the boils and suffering on Job without getting permission.

In other words, God did to Job what happened to Job. Someone might say that God permitted it, but how is that different than God doing it? Just for quick reference, look up at that verse from Isaiah that I’ve quoted twice.

Also, you could read Job and find that God challenges Job (though he never sinned in cursing God) by reminding him that he knows nothing of God’s workings and he has no understanding of God’s ways.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

That is the phrase that saints throughout time come back to. It’s in Job, in fact. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

What does that really mean? Are we referring to His name? I like how F.B. Meyer would put it, “When you read ‘name,’ think ‘nature.'” And no, that doesn’t mean some Wiccan, ‘Mother Earth’ thing. Think the Nature of God. Blessed be the Nature of God. Who He is.

When someone travels to another country as an ambassador, they arrive at the embassy to represent the name of their country of origin. They represent the nature of, perhaps, the administration in charge of that country’s government. If they act horribly, they malign the ‘good name’ of that country.

When we say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” we’re declaring that God’s nature is perfect. He may hurl a storm at us. He may cause an earthquake that kills thousands. He may direct a foreign country to overrun another, causing disaster. He may direct a serial killer to slaughter people. Yet, we say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Why would we do that? All of those things I listed sound sadistic and terrible. Would God actually ordain that a small child should be tortured and killed?

The cold, hard answer is yes.

That’s actually hard to write. It’s hard to think.

But, do we have another option? Do we know better? Is our justice, love and righteousness better than God’s? Our justice system is filled with bribes and favoritism. Even in the best of places. We’re actually relieved when a somewhat good verdict happens. If our justice system was perfect, we’d have no suspense about its outcome.

And why is that? Because we don’t know everything. We have limited knowledge. The person who is up on charges may actually be innocent. Or they may be guilty and we think they’re innocent. We don’t know.

But God knows. God can direct the evil in this world because He knows what is ultimately good. We don’t.

So, when I confess that God causes the calamity and ordains the evil deeds of dictators and wicked men (and women), I can also say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord, for His ways are not my ways and His wisdom is higher than mine.”

Some revolt from this idea because they claim love would demand God stop all the pain, prevent all the hurt. The same person should revolt at the whole book of Job. And then move on to being disgusted with the whole Bible. There are people like that. They’re called Universalists. Or Atheists.

Let’s take a look at our demonstration of love. Popular culture boils love down to a physical activity, or physical feeling. We ‘fall in’ and ‘fall out’ of love regularly. Human love is only remarkable when it looks more like God’s love–when it is sacrificial and altruistic. Unfortunately, we don’t see that too often. It’s rare.

Because our ability to love is hemmed in by hurt and self-interest. We remember the hurtful things people do and we find it impossible to love our enemies, much less die for them.

But God so loved the world that He …. what? He gave His only Son. This is the infamous John 3:16. It depicts the love that Abraham had for Isaac, his only son, whom he took to Mount Moriah to sacrifice before God–which was an inexplicable request, one that should have had the patriarch turning from God.

But Abraham said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” didn’t he? No need to look it up, I’m putting those words in because they depict Abraham’s attitude of faith. By faith he took Isaac up for a sacrifice, trusting the nature of God who could bring Isaac back from the dead.

I don’t need to talk about our righteousness compared to God. Our justice reflects that we don’t have any righteousness. Our lack of true, consistent love shows that we don’t carry any claim to righteousness.

So, if we are so bad at justice and love, how can we then turn and be judge to God when He says that He causes calamity, He is the Lord?

Rather, we should be humble and admit we don’t know everything. We must submit to the Almighty, trusting in His nature of Justice, Love and Righteousness. He will ensure all things will work out for Good.

I’ll leave with this last thought. The whole reason there is evil in this world is because of our rebellion against Him. He would have no evil to direct for His purpose but for our sinful rebellious hearts inherited from our father Adam.

In fact, that’s why He sent His Son.

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8

God loved us enough to pay the price to defeat the works of the devil and purchase us out of our slavery to sin. And yes, He directed the evil that killed His Son. He drove those nails. He caused that greatest of evil in all of history. He did this, He is the Lord. And we can respond in thanksgiving, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!”