Yesterday I woke to find messages on my phone from a dear friend whose daughter was in a horrible car accident. And then last night I heard that 21 Christians were beheaded by ISIS for being a “people of the cross.”
Yesterday was a clear reminder that the world is not as it should be.
Honestly, in these moments it is hard to make sense of why God allows events like these. And we have to say God allows them because we believe he is sovereign. That isn’t to say that God controls every thing that happen. In no way did God act as a divine puppeteer, manipulating ISIS to heinously murder 21 Christians. While hyper-Calvinistic representations of Reformed theology may carry the idea of God’s sovereignty to this extreme, overall it is a gross misrepresentation of most Reformed, nay Biblical, thought. God caused the events of yesterday to happen insofar as he caused humans to have freewill. Upon giving humans freewill God no longer existed as the only active agent in the world. You and I have agency. We have been empowered to act in freedom.
Yet, God is sovereign. And sometimes it seems like he chooses not to act.
That is why we must say that God allowed these events to happen. Even if you believe God has limited his power and knowledge about the future, or has chosen to step back from the world to create space for humans to act in freedom you have to say that God, in his choice to limit himself, is allowing evil to occur. We cannot rationalize away the problem of a transcendent, all-powerful God and evil. If God is all-powerful there isn’t anyway to get around the fact that he has the ability to stop evil and suffering and chooses not to.
Which means we should blame God when events like yesterday happen.
Before you think I just committed an egregious heresy, consider for a moment the psalms.
“Why do you hold back your hand;
Why do you keep your hand in your bosom?” (Psalm 74:11)
“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!” (Psalm 44:23)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a)
The psalmists, again and again, hold God responsible for their suffering. And we should! It is exactly because we believe that God is sovereign over everything that we have reason to lament. God, through his covenants, has promised to redeem and restore the world. He has promised to defeat evil. He has promised to dry every tear from every eye. And when our news feeds fill up with horrific events it doesn’t seem like any of those promises have been, or are being, fulfilled. Suffering is all around us, death is all too present, and far too many tears are being shed. God’s promises, it seems, have not yet been fulfilled and that’s on God.
So we lament. And in our lament we blame God for allowing evil and suffering to still exist.
After all, if God wanted, evil could be extinguished forever. In a moment.
Now, when we say that “we blame God” we should be clear about what we mean. We don’t mean that we have determined God to be guilty of not fulfilling his covenant promises. We aren’t declaring that God isn’t good or trustworthy. If we decided that God was not good, then we would no longer expect any good from him. There would be nothing to lament. Nothing to complain about. We blame God because we still trust God to be good. Our blame is the deep, guttural cry of our pain in the form our most honest, raw questions. If the Lord is good and has promised to deliver us from evil, then why are so many still suffering under evil? If God is the healer, why hasn’t he healed? If God is with us, why does he seem so far off?
These questions do not show a lack of faith or trust. Just the opposite. They show an incredible amount of trust as we refuse to abandon the promises God has spoken. In our pain and confusion we do not blame God as the source of our pain, but we blame God and protest that evil exists in the world he holds in his governing hands.
We will never know why evil exists. That’s the mystery. The Bible provides no clear explanation for why God allows evil. The closest we get to an explanation is being told we cannot understand God’s reasons for suffering and evil. Which isn’t an explanation at all. In a day and age where we think we have a right to any and all information, that’s extremely frustrating. What the Bible does tell us is that God can be trusted. That he is good. That in the end, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more pain, no more tears.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
*This post was inspired by J. Todd Billings book Rejoicing in Lament. Look for a review later this week.