Is God really good?

Is God really good?

Nov 09
Is God really good?

On December 26, 2004 an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia created a series of devastating tsunamis.  Roughly a quarter of a million people were killed by one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.  Afterwards, there were a lot of questions about God.  Where was He?  How could He allow this to happen?  How can anyone call this good?

One writer observed, “If God is God, He’s not good. If God is good, He’s not God. You can’t have it both ways, especially after the Indian Ocean catastrophe.”

The premise is simple.  If God is God, then He had the power to stop it.  If God is good, then He wanted to stop it.  So either He had the power but not the desire or He had the desire but lacked the power.

Others have made similar observations when comparing God from the Old Testament to God in the New Testament.  In the OT, God is vengeful and wrathful and often commands His people to destroy other nations, killing every living creature among them.  The Old Testament is also where God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses.  The Sixth Commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”  We often take that to mean that God said killing is wrong.  Yet God either kills, allows death, or commands His people to kill.  Is God exempt from His Commandments?  Do they only apply to us?

This poses a rather challenging theological question for many people.  How can God be good yet still allow natural disasters?  How can He be loving and either allow or encourage the deaths of innocents?  Why does anyone die at all?

I would like to propose a third option to the quote above.  Perhaps God is both God and good and that it is our understanding of “good” that makes Him seem otherwise.

Let’s assume that God is, in fact, who He says He is.  He is God.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing.  He knows everything that is going to happen.  He knows every possible outcome of every possible situation.  In contrast, we have a rather limited perception.  We have an “event horizon” beyond which we cannot see past.  Sometimes our event horizon is an exam, a presentation, a vacation, or some other important event.  Sometimes our event horizon is a time frame, such as the end of the work week.  But there is always a limitation.  We can only see so far.  Some of us will look at the tsunami of 2004 and have an event horizon of death and destruction.  Others might look at the same event and have an event horizon that includes the generosity and outpouring of volunteers and support that came in the aftermath.  However, I contend that only God knows the extent of the ripples of that event.  He has promised that all things work together for good.  He didn’t say all things are good, but that He makes all things work toward good.

Have you ever experienced something that seemed awful at the time, only to later decide that good came of it?  Have you ever experienced something that you thought was good at the time, only to later decide that bad came out of it?  At what point in time did you know for certain whether it was good or bad?  Is it possible that because of our limitations in time, because of our event horizons, that we cannot know if in another day or another year or another 100 years that something incredibly beautiful might result?

I contend that when we call something “bad,” when we fail to see God’s goodness in it, what we are really saying is “I don’t see good yet.”  I agree that there are things and events that are not good in and of themselves.  Death is one such thing.  However, I believe that God works good out of bad.

The entire purpose of Christianity hinges on that concept — that God can take the bad and work good out of it.  Even from death.  If that isn’t true than why would God come and die on our behalf?  Not only to die, but to suffer.  I believe God wanted us to know, even thousands of years in the future, that He takes our suffering so seriously that He was willing to endure it Himself.

Perhaps it also speaks to our extremely narrow view of death.  Death is often a necessary transition for new life.  A seed dies to become a tree.  It is no longer a seed.  The seed is dead.  Until the seed died, there could be no tree.  A caterpillar dies to become a butterfly.  A baby dies to the womb so that it can be born into a new world, a new life radically different from the one it had always known.

Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that there is another life after this one.  Would it be possible that, just as we see all around us, death is just a transition from one life to the next?

We see all these other transitions and accept them without question.  We are surrounded by ways in which death leads to life and we do not call these things bad.  Could it be because our event horizon extends to both sides of that death?  We have seen and experiences the outcome and so we know it to be good.  Perhaps death is no different from everything else we have seen — we are only afraid because we have not experienced the other side to know that it is okay.

But Jesus did.  He died and rose to a new life.  He is the example that death is nothing to fear.  He has shown us the other side of death and the good that God works from it.

If we say that God knows the outcome of everything, the result of every possibility, then God would know every decision you will ever make.  He would know every choice and every outcome.  This is not to say that He determines these choices — there is a difference in knowing and determining.  Suppose God knew that a particular event or influence in your life would lead you to choose a life with Him — would He make sure that thing happened so that you would choose Him?

We as humans are very familiar with this idea.  We call it wooing.  I wooed my wife.  I did everything I could to convince her that I was the man she wanted to spend her life with.  I tried to influence her choices, but I didn’t force her to choose me.  She chose me.  It is her choosing me that makes our relationship special.

God woos us.  All of us.

He knows which of us will choose Him.  And He knows which of us will reject Him no matter how He tries to win our hearts over to Him.

I firmly believe that God gives us every opportunity we need to choose Him.  He puts everything in place, makes every influence, woos as only He can, but it is always our choice.

I also believe with all my heart that God is the perfect Judge.  That if we knew what He knew, there would be no question of His decisions — everyone would agree that they are Just.

Putting all of these thoughts together, I believe that God will not allow anyone to transition to the next life until there can be no question in their mind whether they would have chosen Him or not.  If you read the only Biblical account I can think of where there is a conversation with someone in Hell (Luke 16 — the rich man and Lazarus), when the rich man is in Hell and speaks to Abraham he never says that if only this or that had happened that he would have chosen differently.  He never says it is unfair or undeserved.  Instead he pleads for his family that is still alive.  He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them from the dead, that they would believe the words of someone risen from the dead.  Abraham makes it clear that if that would convince them, then such a thing would be done — but that they would not be convinced, even if someone were to rise from death.

Lastly, I would say that for us to tell God what is or is not good, for us to make Him subject to our concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, is to replace Him with ourselves.  It is to say “I know what is good better than You do.”

The implication is that there is good apart from God.  That there can be good without Him.

I’ve heard it said before that God created man in His own image and then man returned the favor.

I have chosen to believe that God is the source of all good things, that there can be no good without Him.  When I see something that doesn’t seem to me to be good, I conclude that I have less information than He does.  That if I knew what He Knows then I would see the good that He is working.

Since I have chosen Him and put my trust in Him, I don’t need to know all those things.  I don’t need to know what He Knows.  I don’t need to know what He is doing.  I know that He Knows.  I know that He is the source of everything good.  I know that He is Working.

No, not everything is good.  But it will be.  I believe that with every fiber of my being.

That is all I need to know.

4 comments

  1. The way I see it, several things happen when a natural disaster strikes. Those who believe and are saved, are brought home. Those who do not believe, or condemn God, learn the Truth. Charity, giving, and compassion come out of the hearts of the compassionate (and sometimes, even the hearts of the jaded). And, new life finds a way to start a home. While I agree that death and destruction hurt us as humans, I also see how wonderful a thing death really is, because it’s the door to new life. And, without the fire, the Phoenix could never rise again.

  2. As I read your comment about ripples, I flashed back to “Captain, Edith Keeler must die.” Seriously though, you do a good job here. One thing I would point out in the discussion about the fact that God ordered women and children to be wiped out in the OT. What would have happened to those women and chuldren had they lived with all their men having been wiped out? Their best hope would have been starvation and the likely outcome would have been subjugation, mistreatment, and death at the hands of other surrounding people. Did God see those ripples and thus give His orders?

    • That’s a great question, Scott. It’s certainly a possibility and a reasonable explanation of what God might have been thinking.

      Regardless of my understanding of God’s reasons, I trust that He is Good.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Who is going to Hell? | Taylor, Made For Him - […] things happen to good people, but that’s a discussion better addressed elsewhere (see “Is God really good?” and “Where…

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