If God is in Control of everything, is He really Good?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I was asked the question recently, “If God is in Control of everything, is He really Good?” The timing of this question was poignant in my life because this past week we found out my daughter, who just graduated from high school, has cancer. She had a dark spot on her scalp and after the biopsy came back positive for melanoma, further testing was done, and she will have to go to U.C. Davis to have more if it removed, and possibly some lymph nodes removed. While the prognosis at this point seems to be optimistic, it would be natural for someone to ask God why.  

Out of all of our children, she is the one that eats healthy and is genuinely concerned about her health. No smoking, drinking, or drugs, (of course none of them do that), but she does not drink coffee, sodas, energy drinks, sausage, bacon, deep fried Twinkies, you know, all the things that most normal Americans consume.  

This is not the first time I asked God why something was taking place. Years ago, I lost my best friend Keith to cancer. He left behind a wife and young son who he was deeply concerned about. Over the years, both my wife and I have known many people who have struggled with cancer and lost the battle. Many have left behind a spouse and young children. At our own church there have been young children struggling with diseases, and others born with defects which the families have to struggle with for the rest of their lives. Would a ‘good’ God allow this? 

So if God is in control, and most Christians I know of believe that, why would he allow adults have so much pain and suffering? Not to mention children, some under the age of five, whose worst sin might be cutting Barbie’s hair without permission, coloring on the white wall in the bed room with crayons, poking metal keys in a light socket, (OK that had its own consequence which Beth learned about first hand), or attempting to feed the family dog peas from her dinner plate. Adults I get it, some probably deserve the pain and suffering they are struggling with, at least from my perspective, but young innocent children? How can a Christian respond to that question?  

How many of us would heal the sick and the lame if we could? Hopefully, everyone we know. Then again, if one of us had that kind of power, I can’t help but wonder if it would turn into some commercialized healing center with millionaires from all over the world knocking at our door, (or using RPG’s to get in), to heal a child or loved one. Nevertheless, just about everyone of us would do what we could to heal those in need. Regardless of what that kind of miraculous ability would morph into over time, especially if it were public knowledge, most of us would make the effort to help those who were in anguish. 

As Christians though, we do believe God has the power to stop evil from taking place. Not only the evil of diseases, but the evil humans inflict on each other in wars and domestic violence. The recent shootings in Orlando Florida where a follower of ISIS shot and killed 49 people in a late night LGBT bar. Then there is natural evil; you only have to reflect on the 2011 tsunami in Japan which killed over 15,000 and left homeless almost a quarter of a million people.  

Here is the classic argument about why evil can’t be stopped by God.
1. If God is all good, He would destroy evil.
2. If God is all powerful, He could destroy evil.
3. But evil is not destroyed.
4. Hence, there is no such God.

In his best seller book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins puts it as well as any atheist could when he describes what God is, if he exists. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”1 

So with our back to the wall, we as Christians have to look at why an all loving and all powerful God would allow this kind of evil to continue in the world today. I would like to answer this in three ways.  

First, let me ask you a question. Do scars have a purpose? Yes, one purpose is they serve as reminders of an injury we endured. The injury may have been inflicted by others, (I recall a beautiful spinning heel kick that landed perfectly on my left temple). It may be self inflicted due to a mistake in judgement, (ask Beth if she remembers keys and sparks). Finally, it could be due to some natural occurrence such as cancer or an earthquake.  

In the first example, I learned not to spar with someone whose legs are longer than mine. In the second example, you can ask Beth if she has stuck any keys into a wall socket recently. In the final example, someone who has a history of skin cancer may be diligent in checking for dark areas on their skin. A Californian may move out of San Francisco, (think of the year 1906), to any location in Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, not quakes. In other words, we can learn from our suffering; in fact, you can learn from the suffering of others without having to make the same mistake yourself. Rebecca, our youngest daughter, never stuck keys in a light socket.  

Second, I want to point out that evil cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom.2 Think about this for a moment. It is free beings who are the cause of great evil in the world today. If freedom was destroyed, it would destroy evil, but what else would be lost? Matthew 22:36-37 tells us the greatest commandment is to love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. (I will point out that loving God with your mind is a huge plug for apologetics.) If freedom was destroyed to rid the world of evil, then it would also be destroying love, which according to Jesus is the greatest commandment.3 It is not possible to love without free will, unless you consider matrimony by gun point a legitimate form of marriage.  

This line of thinking puts us between a rock and a hard spot. Apparently, God can’t rid the world of evil unless He also rids the world of freedom, so what are we to do? Scripture is packed with verses that talk of overcoming evil, defeating evil, overpowering evil, outsmarting evil. For example: 1John 3:8Ephesians 6:11, 1 Corinthians 15:57, 1John 5:4, 1Peter 5:8 are just a few. Finding verses in scripture on defeating evil would be about as easy as finding a lake in Minnesota.  

Geisler and Brooks puts it this way, “The very argument used against the existence of God turns out to be a vindication of God in the face of the problem of evil. There is no question here that if it has not happened and God is as we supposed Him to be, that we simply haven’t waited long enough. God isn’t finished yet. The final chapter has not been written. Apparently, God would rather wrestle with our rebellious wills than to reign supreme over rocks and trees.”4 Just because there is evil in the world does not mean God is unable or unwilling to overcome it.  

The third and final way I want to address this is by pointing out the use of the word ‘good’. How we feel about something does not determine if it is good or not. Goodness is not a subjective truth. Goodness must be an objective truth. Let me explain the difference.  

If I told you mint chip ice-cream tastes good you might not agree. You might go so far as to say it tastes terrible. This is a subjective opinion on how we each feel about the taste of ice-cream. Now if I said mint chip ice-cream is a good cure for cancer you would probably not agree. If we began to debate this, sooner or later I would have to come up with some evidence or proof for this claim. Is there any documented evidence that suggests people with cancer are cured if they eat mint chip ice-cream? No, of course not.  

Alex McFarland wrote The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, and in it he addressed feelings, truth, and goodness. “Often people do not even know they have cancer until a routine physical examination reveals it. Many people who are diagnosed with cancer for the first time have this reaction: ‘How can that be? I feel great.’ Then, of course, the treatment begins. To aggressively fight a tough disease such as cancer, it requires strong medicine that can make the patient feel perfectly miserable. But it is important to remember that although the patient feels worse, he is actually getting better… I say all that to make this point: Feelings are important. God gave them to us for many good reasons. But they are, by themselves, poor guides in life.”5 

To determine if something is good we need a standard to compare it to. For example, if you bowl, you know that a perfect score is 300, and how close you are to that score would determine how well, (good), you bowled that game. If you bowled a 27, no matter how good you feel about it, no one would ask you to join their bowling league, even if they were members of a blind bowling league.

Most of us recognize how evil the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis in World War II was, but many Nazis may have felt it was a ‘good’ deed. That is the problem with using culture or feelings to determine if something by nature is good. To use the word good, we need a standard to measure the meaning of the word. The question if God is in control and asking if He is good, slips in the objective meaning of good, but where is that objective meaning? What standard of good are they using to determine if God is good?   

Peter Kreeft put it this way, “The ultimate source of morality is God. We must be good because God is good. God repeats over and over again to His chosen people the reason for morality in the Old Testament: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ (Leviticus11:44)…God’s law comes from God’s will, and God’s will comes from His nature. He wills the moral law according to His nature.”6 It is God’s nature that is our standard, just like a score of 300 is our standard in bowling. Any other standard of goodness is subject to change without prior notice, just read the fine print.  

 

Sources:
1. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.
2. Geisler, Norman. Brooks, Ronald. When Skeptics Ask a Handbook on Christian Evidences. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990. Print.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. McFarland, Alex. The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2007. Print.
6. Kreeft, Peter. Because God is Real. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008. Print. 

 

 

Creative Commons License
If God is in Control of everything, is He really Good? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Does God Try?

Does God Try?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

I was listening to someone who was talking about God speaking to us. In a roundabout way, he was explaining how we can hear His voice and be led by the Spirit, but we have to listen. In the conversation, I asked if God struggles getting through to us, but he never really answered my question. I have been thinking about how God communicates with us, and our men’s Bible study for the next few weeks is about ‘being led by the Spirit’. So, it seemed like a good time to look into the subject of hearing from God and how we, as Christians, use scripture.  

Hearing from God has become a ‘popular’ pastime in many Christian circles. In the past few years, many pastors and authors have written books that ‘teach’ us how to hear from God. Many expect Christians to have two-way communication with Him. Craig Von Buseck wrote in a recent article titled Seven Keys to Hearing God’s Voice, several common and widely accepted views on how Christians hear from and communicate with God. After reading this article I found multiple cases in point I will address in this post. Other examples in the article are well-intentioned words of encouragement but a grave misuse of scripture.  

One reader asked Buseck how he could know for sure he was hearing from God. Buseck replied, “Well, I have good news for my friend and for you—God wants to speak to us, and yes, you can ‘know’ that you hear His voice. 

God wants to fellowship and communicate with us. That’s two-way communication. Why? Because you can’t really have a relationship unless there is true dialogue. How do we get to know a person? By communicating with them. By talking and listening. 

It’s the same with our relationship with God. He talks, we listen. We talk, He listens. 

There is more good news — we can hear His voice. The Bible, God’s love letter to mankind, makes it clear that we were created to have two-way communication with Him. Jesus tells us in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.1

Further on Buseck wrote,  “The most difficult part of hearing God is the fact that it takes time to learn to discern God’s voice — and it takes a humble heart.  Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”1

He also wants us to be fulfilled, blessed and successful in the plan that He has established for our lives — so that we can be a reflection of His love and blessing in the Earth. In  Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord makes clear His intentions for you and I, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”1

I want to first explore John 10:27 and the implication that the sheep (believers) hear His voice, and He knows us, and we follow Him. Four times in John he mentions Jesus talking about His sheep hearing or knowing His voice. The verses are John 10:3, John 10:4, John 10:16, and John 10:27. John 10 is often cited as a ‘proof’ text that believers should be hearing the voice of God. 

Before we dig a little into John 10, I want to define what a metaphor is. A metaphor is a figure of speech (word or phrase) that is applied to an object or action that is not literally applicable. It refers to something being the same as another thing. It can compare people, places, things, or animals. Some examples would be:

  • He drowned in a sea of grief.
  • She had a broken heart.
  • You are the light of my life.  

They all express a situation that is compared to something real, but the situation is not the implied real thing. How can you find a sea that is full of grief instead of water? How do you break a heart of flesh into pieces? How can someone actually provide light (illumination), to the life of someone?  

These are all examples of metaphors, and in John 10:6, John makes it perfectly clear that Jesus is using a figure of speech or a metaphor. “This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.” If this was a figure of speech, then the word ‘voice’ cannot mean an actual voice. Metaphors are pictures of something else. Greg Koukl put it this way: a thing is never a metaphor of itself. So the phrase, ‘hear my voice’ must mean something else. What could that be? I believe it is the working of the Holy Spirit calling those who don’t know Him to salvation.  

In chapter 10, Jesus talks about shepherds, sheep, thieves and robbers. He explains that He is the door that the sheep must pass through to enter into pasture and abundant life. Now look at John 10:27-28; it provides a sequence that is important to see. The Jews were questioning Him, wanting Jesus to tell them straight out that He was the Christ so they could stone Him. Jesus told them He had already explained it and then said again that His sheep hear His voice, they follow Him, and Jesus gives them eternal life. Did you catch that? If the conclusion to hearing His voice results in salvation, then it is not believers who are hearing His voice.  

The Jews have no trouble hearing Him; they just don’t believe or understand what He is saying. The hearing is for non-believers, not for believers. The hearing is what calls unbelievers to salvation, not something (a still small voice, a prompting of the Spirit, being led by the spirit) that God is speaking into the lives of believers. The Henry Matthew commentary also noted the sequence, “…they heard and believed his word, followed him as his faithful disciples, and none of them should perish.”2

Gorden Fee and Douglas Stuart wrote How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Their focus is simply to put in the hands of laymen tools to understand scripture. They warn us that some seek to find hidden meanings and then share their spiritual discoveries with the rest of us. “Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to ‘outclever’ the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive persons with special insights)…”3 In other words, “The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the ‘plain meaning of the text,’ the author’s intended meaning.”3

Jesus’ own words make it clear that those who hear His voice will gain salvation. In John 10:16 Jesus even talks about other sheep not of this fold and they will become one flock with one Shepard (Jesus) after, I repeat, after hearing His voice. See Isaiah 56:8.  

Some people look at the wisdom of the Bible as a list of prepositions that are to be obeyed. Their focus on verses subtracts from the intended meaning, the old saying you can’t see the forest for the trees comes to mind. 

Fee and Stuart also wrote, “…invariably there is a great deal of picking and choosing among the propositions and imperatives. There are, for example, Christians who, on the basis of Deuteronomy 22:5 (a woman must not wear men’s clothing), argue that a woman should not wear slacks or shorts, because they are deemed to be ‘men’s clothing.’ But the same people seldom take literally the other imperatives in this list, which include building a parapet around the roof of one’s house, Deuteronomy 22:8, not planting two kinds of seeds in a vineyard, Deuteronomy 22:9, and making tassels on the four corners of one’s cloak, Deuteronomy 22:12”.3

Plucking verses out of their context and applying them to our own personal lives is also a common practice within the church. Above Buseck says it takes time to learn to discern God’s voice. I was not aware He was whispering, or dropped His megaphone. We are talking about the God of the universe, the God of creation, the God who created all matter and time? Does God have to try harder? What does it mean to try? When someone tries to do something, it means the outcome is questionable. In other words, when someone tries, they may fail. Is it possible for God to fail if He is trying to communicate with us? Did the Israelites have to learn to hear from God? Did they take some night classes? Was a PhD required?

After receiving the 10 Commandments, we read the following in Exodus 20:18-21. “All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance.” Charles Spurgeon wrote concerning v.18 “If the giving of the Law, while it was yet unbroken, was attended with such a display of awe-inspiring power, what will that day be when the Lord shall, with flaming fire, take vengeance on those who have willfully broken that Law?” I don’t believe if the God of Creation wanted to speak to us, He would have any problem making Himself quite clear.  

Buseck also quoted Jeremiah 29:11 in his response to the question about hearing from God. Several times a year, I hear someone say to another, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Buseck and so many others quote Jeremiah 29:11 as if it were written for them. Some think or claim God has everything organized and outlined for your life and His plans include health, peace, prosperity, or specifically a future and a hope.  

Can someone tell me how Jeremiah 29:11 applied to the Christians murdered on October 3rd, 2015, by the gunman in Winston Oregon at the community college who shot in the head those who admitted to being Christian?4 Did it apply to the 2,996 who perished in the 9/11 attacks? 

How about pastor Han who was brutally murdered and disfigured beyond recognition on April 30, 2016? Voice of the Martyrs reports, “Pastor Han was known for helping anyone who crossed into China from North Korea. He would help in practical ways, like food or clothing, and introduce each person to the gospel. Then he would send them back to share Christ inside North Korea and help their families.”5

Does anyone remember 29-year-old Jim Elliot, who, along with four other Christian missionaries, was killed by natives in Ecuador? This list could be lengthy and go back as far as the Apostles and almost all of them died for their faith in Christ.  

My point is this, Jeremiah 29:11 was not written for the Christians today. It was written to the exiled Jews in Babylon, and the news was not good. They were going to die in captivity, as were their children. This was not good news.  

How did this come about? To understand this, you need to read Jeremiah 28 to gain some background. Never just read a Bible verse, but read the chapter or chapters surrounding it to get the meaning that the author intended. If you read Jeremiah 28:1-4, you will see that another prophet, Hananiah, had proclaimed that God would break the yoke of Babylon within two years and restore all the exiles of Judah. He made this prophecy in front of not only Jeremiah but the people and priests within the house of the Lord. Then the Lord gave Jeremiah a prophesy and it was quite contrary to what Hananiah had said. Within a year, Hananiah was dead, and the prophecy delivered to Jeremiah came true.  

It was after this exchange that Jeremiah was given another prophecy to the exiles. They were to build houses, plant gardens, take wives, and become the fathers of sons and daughters. Then after 70 years, God would visit them, Jeremiah 29:10-11. God was letting them know He had not forgotten them, but some time would pass before He would restore and rescue them.  

Chris Blumhofer in Relevant Magazine wrote, “When we realize our interpretation of Jeremiah (or any passage) has given in to such a misreading, we should step back and consider how we arrived in a place where God more closely resembled a vending machine than our creator and savior.”10 How many other verses are believers guilty of picking and choosing to suit their current life situation?  

Of course, just a few verses down from Jeremiah 29:11, you have Jeremiah 29:17: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold, I am sending upon them the sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like split-open figs that cannot be eaten due to rottenness.” Or how about Jeremiah 29:18 “I will pursue them with the sword, with famine and with pestilence; and I will make them a terror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse and a horror and a hissing, and a reproach among all the nations where I have driven them.” How many would put a dollar in the machine and pick that verse? 

Scripture is God’s special revelation to us. He chooses various ways to reveal His character and intent within scripture. To name a few: proverbs, narrative history, genealogies, poetry, riddles, drama, parables, prophesy, letters and sermons. Some of the special revelation is written for each one of us, just look at the 10 Commandments. Other scripture is written not for us but others, and we are blessed enough to see the outcome and truth of His word over the centuries. Gorden Fee wrote, “A text cannot mean what it never could have meant for its original readers/hearers…the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written.”11 

Can God use scripture to speak to us in a way that moves beyond the written word? Certainly, but I just don’t believe it is as common as many are taught, nor do I believe that scripture teaches us to use individual verses as ‘personalized’ messages.

Spiritual maturity does not mean ‘hearing from God’; I have learned that true spiritual maturity means striving to know, penetrate, and apply God’s special revelation to every element of our lives. It means searching His word to a greater understanding of who He is and what He has done for us. I have a long way to go, but I now realize that no matter how many dollars I put in the vending machine and pick verses that I want to apply to my life and claim to be mine, it will not change the truth of their intended or original meaning.  

Creative Commons License
Does God Try by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

  1. Buseck, Craig. “Seven Keys to Hearing God’s Voice.” CBN.com. Christian Broadcasting Network, ND. Web. 28 May 2016. [] [] []
  2. Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible”. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. Print. []
  3. Fee, Gordon. Stuart Douglas. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids, Zondervan. 2014. Print. [] [] []
  4. Brown, Michael. “Christians Murdered in America for their Faith; Media Yawns.” Christian Post. christianpost.com, 5 October 2015. Web. 5 June 2016 []
  5. “North Korea: Pastor Killed.” Voice of the Martyrs. Persecution.com, 3 May 2016. Web. 5 May 2016. []

Pin It on Pinterest