Friday, April 15, 2022

Does God Cause Bad Things to Happen?

 


I've heard this question many times in different ways: 

  • "[Your] God made this happen!"
  • "How can there be a God when He allowed this to happen?"
  • "If God is in 'control', why would He allow this?"
  • "Why would I believe in a 'god' that allows this?"

Before answering these questions, it’s important to know what is meant by the term “God”. Throughout history, mankind has worshipped many 'gods'. The nature and power of these gods vary. Some are good, some are bad, but they share one common trait: they are simply beings superior to man. There’s even a subtle form of ‘self’ worship where we view ourselves as somehow greater, kinder, and overall better than if we pause to consider an honest reflection of who we really are. We see this in secular humanism which has a utopian vision of man as a being who is basically good with the power to achieve anything he sets his mind to do. But to be God, and by this I mean the One-True-God, a being truly worthy of worship that overshadows all other beings, real or imagined, that God would need to be All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good. This is the God of the Bible and in my mind, without all three of these characteristics, a being would not be worth worshipping, especially if that being was not Fully-Good. This is God.

So how could a Benevolent God, Who is both All-Knowing and All-Powerful allow evil?

Men have asked this question frequently, but it is often left unanswered. Or to be fair, it is usually answered feebly: "You just need to have faith". While this answer is of course true, it’s unsatisfying. 

What is faith anyway? According to Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the substance of Hope, which is confidence in the unseen things. Ephesians 2:8-9 further explains that Faith is a gift of God that empowers our ability to receive the grace God has extended to each of us as sinful men. To even accept this gift, we need to dispel the grandiose vision of ourselves as being basically good and accept that we are actually quite selfish. And we need to have faith in God as defined above that we can become something more than what we currently truly are. 

That’s a lot of faith, and for someone who is doubting God, it’s easy to understand how this true but feeble answer can become a stumbling block. Sometimes people are rightly told to pray for Faith so they can accept the gift of God’s salvation, but it lacks any real meaning for the person struggling with the question of Who God is. They can also be rightly told to not lean on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). But let’s be honest: why wouldn’t a reasonable person not expect a reasonable answer when it still isn’t clear to them that there is a God who can be trusted? 

A Reasonable Answer

So hang tight as we walk through a quick but more reasonable answer. Ultimately, Faith is needed, and if you are here looking for an answer, I pray on your behalf for that faith while giving you reason to believe that such a God can exist when we see the evil that causes such pain. If you are right now feeling that pain, I hope I can give you comfort and strength. If you are still reading, perhaps it's because you deserve a real answer to this important question, and if you are referencing the Biblical texts, not just taking my word for it, then you are acting in a kingly fashion.  (Proverbs 25:2)

Who is God that He could allow evil, and could He truly be God when evil exists? That’s the real question here, right? There are many questions implied in this one query: Does God exist? Can I trust God? Why doesn't God stop bad things from happening? 

In answering these questions I’m going to sidestep a Scriptural paradox that theologians have argued for millennia: Free Will vs Predestination. The Bible supports both arguments, which means there's a deeper truth than the either / or options theologians give us. But since the topic could easily be a book in itself, assume for now that both are true. If you want a more detailed answer on why this is a reasonable assumption please contact me via email: mitch at malloyclan dot com. (hint: Both God and part of man's essence are eternal and not limited by the temporal)

Assume for now that God is truly All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good. 

  • Would a Being such as this have all the answers? Well, All-Knowing… yes. 
  • Would a One-True-God know how to bring about a greater good despite the existence of evil intent? Hmm… yes, again All-Knowing. (see Romans 8:28-29) 
  • Would this God be worthy of a loving relationship with others who have chosen to return His love? Pause for a moment and reflect  on the implications of this question for moment. 
  • Is Justice a good thing, and is there a possibility of justice without the ability to choose good? 
  • If God had stopped any being's ability to choose between good and evil, would He still be Fully-Good? 

The answer to that last question is certainly: no. God could not be Who He is and create only mindless automatons, removing any ability to act in a way that doesn’t please their self-indulged creator. And more: God could not be loved by such mindless creations. 

So God made a better way. He made others in His own image who would be loved by Him. They could choose to do wrong, even reject Him and still be loved despite anything they would ever do to betray Him. He created beings who could choose to love God in return, who could rise above past decisions and with God's help be transformed into a new creation. He allowed for the possibility of bad intentions, and being All-Knowing had a plan to turn each and every bad decision into an opportunity for greater good. Like Joseph pointed out in Genesis 50:19-21:

Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I can’t take God’s place. Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now. Don’t be afraid! I will provide for you and your children.” In this way he reassured them, setting their minds at ease.

In our arrogance, we presume to know better than God, but in our humility, we increasingly see how His ways are far beyond our ways. Often it’s only in hindsight that we can see what was invisible and required faith: that God is Who He says He is. We come to understand that He is acting on our behalf, and that this sometimes involves pain. No one likes pain. But we have to will ourselves to push through it. Like muscles that ache as we try to get back into shape, we need to understand that pain is a sign of weakness leaving the body, refining our character, demonstrating through each seemingly unbearable obstacle that God can be trusted because He is truly All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Fully-Good. Faith often has to start in our head as an act of will and a decision to believe. It is then followed by actions which demonstrate our faith before it finally reaches our heart. This is an on-going, uncomfortable and mindful process.

And on today, Good Friday, we need to remind ourselves that God didn't hide the journey, the path that is sometimes painful yet leads to a greater glory. In fact, His Son demonstrated it for us. He willingly went to the cross. Like us, Jesus asked for another way… any other way… for the Father's purposes to be done without that painful experience. Yet the Father showed us through Jesus that an even greater glory awaits us on the other side of the suffering we will experience. 

Look beyond the pain to the glory that lies ahead!


copyright ©2022 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/

Sunday, September 19, 2021

To Be Loved

What does it mean to be loved? How can love be found? It’s the subject of movies, books, philosophers and romantics. The pursuit of love has steered history. Why does the human heart crave this even if the essence of love is elusive? I’m reminded of the musical “Oliver” as the main character sings “Where is Love?” A young orphan, his heart yearns to find someone who will love him. Like most musicals this ends happily, but the reality for many is that love remains beyond their grasp. 

There are loveless marriages, loveless families, loveless lives. We all have a need to be known and accepted for who we are and not simply for what we do. When dating, we put forth our best image, not just because we desire the admiration of another, but because inwardly we desire to be a that type of person. I’ve often heard the words “He/She brings out the best in me” as a person strives to be better for the sake of the person they love. 

What is love?

Love is a powerful feeling, but it is more than just a emotion. Some of love’s elusive nature for native English speakers may be the fact that the word can mean many things. In Hebrew, there are three words that we can translate as “love”. In Greek there are seven words, each with a distinctly different meaning, and the highest form of love is Agape, unconditional love. 

We are each designed with the need to be loved unconditionally. Our fear is that if someone knows about our dark side, we will be rejected. To be known, warts and all, and still be loved. This type of love is truly divine and reflects the nature of God. God looks at each of us and loves us more than we deserve. He sees our lies, our melt-downs, and our self-serving actions, yet He still chooses to love us. 

In our fear of rejection, we can often reject others before they have chance to reject us. We can rationalize the lies that Satan whispers in our ear. “You’re not good enough” can become “Who can live up to a perfect standard?”, and that can continue to morph into bitterness against God or others. Rather than being “dumped”, a self-destructive pattern is to sever the relationship first. That’s what so many do with God. Yet God loves us unconditionally, and until we can experience that Agape of God, we can’t fathom anyone loving us like that.

Betrayal and Rejection

Our experiences in life may be filled with betrayal and rejection. From an early age, “love” may have only been experienced as a result of our performance, a conditional love. Attention may have only been received if we were attractive, and so we pour our efforts into being “beautiful”, believing that will make us more “lovable”. Or our strivings could be through athletics, academics, the arts, or status. It’s all a born of desperation to be loved even if it’s all conditional.

And when our efforts fail? Sometimes our love runs dry when we have loved well, but a person who should have returned that love rejects us, betrays us. Why should we love well when others do not? That question can become a death spiral, where we have learned the wrong thing from our experience and decide that love is an illusion or a foolish game. Yet still our hearts long for love.

The Answer

No document, podcast or movie can fully answer all these questions, but let me offer some thoughts that have shaped my life. They aren’t original but they are cohesive when contemplated together. First, we experience pain and rejection because wounded people wound people. Second, God loves us unconditionally, knowing both what we’ve done and what we will do. Third, we can only love like God if we experience His unconditional love. Fourth, love is a decision to give, and in giving we somehow receive. Fifth, if we “love” to receive, that is loving conditionally, which is not really love at all. 

Focusing on the third point above, we can only love because God first loves us. (see 1 John 4:19) If we want to be loved, we need to start with the One Who loves us perfectly and Who will fill up our love tank so that we can love like Him. Then and only then can we be ambassadors of His love, and He promises that if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. (See Psalms 37:4) I believe that it was basking in God’s love that Francis of Assisi could pen his prayer. (See http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2010/04/800-years-later.html) And basking in His love, our own prayers come alive.

copyright ©2021 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/) 


Saturday, September 11, 2021

America remembered on 911

20 years ago today America was attacked. This is not a day of celebration, unless we celebrate the first responders who stepped up to their sworn responsibility. This is not a day to forget either. “Those who fail to remember history are destined to repeat it.” 

For me, it’s a day of reflection, remembering where I was as the first plane hit the tower, the call from my wife, the amazing stories of lives that were somehow spared because they didn’t follow their normal routine. And in the days that followed, listening to a liberal pundit turned conservative as he realized that many of his liberal colleagues truly hated America. 

We have made mistakes, but I believe the vast majority of Americans have desired good things for our neighbors and tried to do what is right, both domestically and abroad. But I also see the moral decline, increase in selfishness and waning of love. Brother fights against brother and violence increases… and it will continue to increase unless we come back to our First Love.

It is our love of God that makes us loving. (see 1John 41:19) When we spend time with Him, in His Presence, we are transformed, becoming more like Him. This is our only hope; He is our only hope!

I love America, the ideals that made this a giant among nations for a season. The ideals weren’t original. They came from Scripture, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. These same ideals can come alive in each of us today if we would just return to a love for God and the collections of history, prophecy and proverbs that He has given us in His Holy Word.

America is no longer a superpower. Others will try to fill that void, but we live in biblical times. Israel is once again a nation and will grow in riches and power as the Bible predicted. America will heal as the unproductive shoots are pruned, and pruning doesn’t feel good at the time. Still, God is in control, and all of this is proof of His Word and His love for us. 

So at the risk of sounding like a street preacher: repent… turn back to God… because the time is truly near. No man knows the day or the hour, but it is surely nearer today than ever before. It’s your move. It’s my move. May we move wisely.

copyright ©2021 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)