Now, she is very angry with God, and declares that if He exists, He is only a tyrant unworthy to be served.Posted: March 25, 2009
Dr. Beeke asked, “You have an agnostic friend who longs to have a baby. Twice she has managed to achieve pregnancy. Both times she carried the baby to full-term, and both times the umbilical cord of the baby was wrapped around the baby’s neck so tightly that the baby was still born. Now, she is very angry with God, and declares that if He exists, He is only a tyrant unworthy to be served. Write her a four-page letter from a 2nd person perspective, using your apologetics skills throughout!” (Apologetics)
My Answer to him: I understand that you have a perspective of God as a tyrant, not worthy to be served. I would like to show you why I believe this isn’t true. I must begin by explaining that the presumptions I carry and hold to aren’t the same as yours. However, if you believe that there is a God – the God I hold to as sovereign over all things and reigns over all, allowing all that happens to happen for His purpose – then I can help present the reality of Him so that you may understand who He is. Because I hold to the truth that the Bible is the only sufficient rule for faith, and as it shapes my practice, it also governs every aspect of my life in both belief and conduct. This is why I am able to face any suffering, hardship, trials, or good and happiness that I encounter in my own life knowing they are predestined by the Creator (and sovereign) God. Here, I must tell you (my friend in hardship) that this is where I place the biblical theory of values. God Himself has declared what is good in His revelation throughout the Scriptures. What I mean by this is that you and I are not able to determine exactly what we think should be done or what we wish would be done based on our own perceptions; nor can we declare things good or bad based on our experiences. This is because good and bad are to be categorized by the revelation of God Himself – not our own judgments. What He does in the life of a believer is for His own purpose. To put this in the simplest of terms so that you may understand, the issue here is that what you and I may believe is good or bad, may not be good or bad to God. This is best shown through the progression of the Covenant of Grace, played throughout the Scriptures. I have illustrated some examples:
Examples from the Covenants from Scripture:
Genesis 3 —> fall of man —> to bring redemption for mankind (Adam)
Genesis 6 —> flood of earth —> to bring grace to the Lord’s people (Noah)
Genesis 22 —> sacrifice of Isaac seems bad —> to bring the gospel to all nations (Abraham)
Exodus 20 —> Law to live, that Israel broke —> to bring one who fulfilled the Law (Moses)
II Samuel 7 —> King to Israel that man failed —> to bring Christ our King (David)
Examples from personal living in Scripture:
Job —> suffering —> for the Glory of God to be seen
Paul —> suffering —> for the sake of the gospel to the Jews
The Disciples —> for the sake of the gospel to the N. T. Church
Christ —> suffering & cross —> for the sake of the elect
I have never seen, heard, nor read a better work explaining or addressing this very issue than Daniel Howard-Snyder’s article in Reason for the Hope Within. Therefore, I will largely be using the same mindset as that from Daniel’s article on dealing with those who suffer and do not understand the sovereignty of God.
The main issue to look at is that when you raise your fist in anger and curse someone for causing events that allow you to suffer, the questions arise in you – “How could God allow this to happen?” or “Is there even a God?” The first question implies that you want to establish a relationship with God, to know Him who allowed such events to happen. The second expresses that you want to know that a God even exists in the first place. Thinking of these, I would like to say that because you are separate from God (if He even exists) then when difficult experiences come into your life, you look for someone to blame. I must point out, however, that when evil or suffering come into your life, it is important that you understand that your experience does not determine what you believe. Your thought of a God in most cases is that of a “loving God.” It’s easy to think of God as loving when you’re experiencing times of happiness and joy and all is going well in life. This is the God we all want, we think we know, and we wish to have. However, the mindset of this can sway your views of God when He allows suffering and turmoil to come into play. As soon as something bad happens you suddenly think God doesn’t exist, or declare you don’t want to know Him because He is not what you want. Daniel Howard explains this all best, as he said:
“If they (the sufferer) truly come to grips with the theoretical problem of evil – they may well be on their way to finding the comfort they need; consequently, they may gain the strength to respond aptly to the horrific evil and suffering the encounter in their own lives and in the world at large.”
From here it is important for you to understand why “if there is a God” He would ever allow evil and suffering in your life. Both of us – regardless that you may not believe there is a God, while I do believe – know that God could prevent suffering and evil from happening. So you ask why He doesn’t do that? Why does He allow so much suffering? You ask these questions as if to hint that there is no God, because if there was, then there wouldn’t be evil things happening. But why would you assume those questions in the first place?
It is important for you to understand that every single argument for evil will fail. You say something like this:
1. If God exists, then there is no evil.
2. The truth is that there is evil.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.
Your argument shows that statement 3 follows from 1 and 2. I will agree that statement 2 is true. However, that leaves statement 1 as your premise. Is that statement true? Could it not be possible that if God exists He would prevent evil as much as possible, unless there was a reason that would justify Him permitting it? If there is a God, a Creator of the universe, could He not do what He deems right? Perhaps you argue that there is no reason to justify God permitting evil. But, is not one way of preventing much evil by allowing some evil, or some suffering? For example:
You’re a lifeguardà 3 people are drowningà if you go for person 3, then 1 and 2 will die, but if you go for the closest, you will be able to save person 2 as well.
The point I am trying to make is that God can permit greater good, even though He allows some evil in that purpose of His will. This is even better seen in Christ’s sacrifice for God’s people:
Event: Christ suffering on the crossà Christ bringing redemption to His Father’s people
What seemed evil and awful, and was the event of much suffering, was done for a truly good purpose – a purpose that resulted in ridding of even more sin, more suffering, more evil, and more bad situations. What seemed to be a catastrophe, ended up being the best thing for the world. What seemed bad, and seemed that only worse could come from it, brought deliverance, freedom, and joy.
It is very important that you understand that people try to justify God’s permission for allowing suffering and evil. They are known as Theodicies, meaning that there are vindications of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil. These are perfectly explained and shown clearly in Daniel Howard’s article on God, Evil, and Suffering. (I would then go through these with the individual so they understand the many different arguments in dealing with good and evil.) However, no argument on evil can prove to me that there is not a God, for evil only exists in the absence of God (if you believe there is one) right?
What you must understand is the “reason” that such events take place, in order to understand God. It might be best if you hear my thoughts and my presumptions in order to understand where I am coming from. Let me share with you Isaiah 55:8-10: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”
Friend, at times pastors and many people will do much harm by trying to explain to you exactly why God allows suffering and evil. But I must tell you that I myself will own to the fact that I cannot always justify God in permitting all the evil that He does. None of us know His thoughts or reasons. But think about this:
· God allows all events to take place
· God allowed His (human) Son to suffer
· Suffering will take place in our own events
God calls His people to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Can you love this God with all your mind as you conceive that this God allowed the suffering of His Son, for His church and His people, so that you will not have to suffer eternally? Is that not the very reason you then would believe in God, or love a God that gives you joy, peace, and a faith that helps you understand that you can have hope in suffering because you know God allows it? Can you deny that someone or something permits the suffering in your life? This is what this understanding looks like:
1. Good and evil are permitted by a higher power
2. Good and evil happen
3. What happens is permitted by a higher power
Whether we like it or not – whether it be suffering or happiness, evil or good – all is permitted by someone else; someone who I believe to be God.
This line of thought is best played out in James Grier’s article on “Philosophical Calvinism” in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism, ed. Joel Beeke, Reformation Trust: Orlando, 2008, p. 150-9.
Reason for the Hope Within is a book that was required for Introduction to Apologetics class by James Grier, taught at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary during my M.A. R. The title, though from a Reformed Epistemological approach, still is my personal favorite on dealing with the topic when I address areas of individuals that are suffering due to many circumstances in this world, and do not know how to understand God, or even believe that there is a God.