Friday, March 11, 2011

Unhelpful Answers: “God had nothing to do with it.”

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?” (Lam 3:38)

When tragedy befalls people it is a natural impulse for them to ask the question “why did God allow this to happen”. When we encounter a person who is deeply wounded by some calamity in their lives as believers we are moved to compassion and our instinct is to comfort the afflicted. By grace we recognize that the ultimate comfort is found in God and we want to see the disconcerted flee to Him and so be delivered from their affliction. This is good and right but unfortunately many well meaning Christians try and place an unbridgeable gap between the negative experience and God in an unbiblical way. They respond to the question “why did God allow this to happen” by saying something similar to “God did not do this, the devil did, God had nothing to do with it.” While we may understand the intention of the person who gives this kind of answer upon further reflection we will see that it is most unhelpful.

All orthodox Christian’s regardless of their theological perspective wish to maintain the sovereignty of God in some sense or another. I have never met any Christian who denies it. There are, however, important distinctions in the way that various groups understand that sovereignty to operate. Many who would support giving the kind of answer referred to above deny that God plans or intends any calamity or affliction. They argue rather that He merely permits them.

Let us assume for a moment that this is true. Even If God merely permits these calamities He must retain the sovereign power to also prevent such things from happening. A person cannot be said to permit something unless they also have the ability to prohibit the same. If, however, God has the kind of sovereignty that gives Him the power to prevent such things or also to permit them then God must choose which particular actions or events He will permit or prevent. Therefore, even if you deny that the Lord ordains such things you still cannot claim that somehow He has nothing to do with them. Unless we deny God’s power over His creation in some circumstances (i.e. rejecting historical Christianity and the teaching of the bible) we must admit that God, for His purposes is in some sense involved in these events. The answer that “God has nothing to do with it” is simply not a possible answer for the Christian.

There is another reason why this is an unhelpful answer especially for those who are believers. Despite the best intentions it is simply not a comforting thought that the devil has some power to afflict, wound, or otherwise hurt us without that ability being submitted to the good purposes of God. It is not a pleasing thought that there is a raving maniacal enemy out there who has the power to randomly destroy based upon his own agenda. Is it not more comforting to know that even the devil himself is in the final analysis under the power of God and despite his own rebellious efforts remains a tool used by God to ultimately bring about His holy and good purposes?

How then should we comfort the afflicted believers? We should do it on the same basis that is used by the writers of scripture. The bible teaches that as believers we are included in the plan of God and that everything that happens, good or bad, will be for our ultimate good. Paul explains to the Romans that

“God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom 8:28)

James reveals to us that these trials actually provide a valuable contribution to our spiritual development.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Peter, like James shows us that we should rejoice at our trials because in addition to perfecting of our faith as individuals they will also result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of our Lord.

“ In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,  so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7)

These are just a handful of the numerous passages that demonstrate that there is a purpose in the suffering and trials in our lives that will ultimately be for our good and the glory of God. When we come to understand who God is and who we are we know we can trust Him that everything in our lives, though we may not understand it, is in His hand and ultimately will glorify Him. As His children our greatest joy should be in His glory. We should be willing to exchange all that we have if He should require it of us having implicit trust in His judgment. We should pray for the grace to say with Job “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) and “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15). We have confidence that the attacks of the enemy cannot go beyond what the Lord has purposed. Again we recall the story of Job where we see that Satan cannot afflict beyond what has been prescribed by God.

Likewise we know from many other places in scripture that it is the Lord Himself who ordains even the seemingly negative things in our lives (from our perspective). As Joseph tells his brothers after they learn who he is, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20) Notice that there are two distinct intentions referring to the very same action. The evil of the brothers caused Joseph to be sold but it was also the good purpose and intention (plan) of the Lord. This isn’t God reacting to the evil it is Him positively working out His plans even through the sinful acts of evil men. Jeremiah tells us that the Lord does not afflict from “His heart” but He does afflict. Our great hope and confidence is that He does so for a greater purpose.

When some affliction befalls us or someone we know we may not be able to explain the Lords purpose in it but for the believer there is no more comforting thing than to know that the God who loves them remains in control. If we trust in Him we can face whatever tomorrow brings not because of our own strength but because of the power of the one to whom we belong, the one who purchased us with His blood.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)


  1. Good thoughts on an important question. This is a topic that reveals how deeply believers trust their Savior and God.

    I think there is a tendency for the believer to intellectually push evil or bad happenings in the world off on someone other than God, because it make God easier to understand and relate to. I felt this response several times while reading your post. However, as you argue, we cannot say God had nothing to do with said events if we are speaking about the God of Scripture.

    The believer must understand, emotionally and intellectually, that at some point God is involved in the happenings of this world.

    To this I ask two questions:

    1. Job 1:6-12 provides a glimpse into Satan's need to be granted freedom for certain actions. However, for more mundane events or happenings in the cosmos do you believe God has ordained certain laws to oversee said happenings, or does he intervene personally. An example would be gravity.

    2. You cite Joseph's statement from Gen. 50:20, does one need to understand this statement as descriptive or prescriptive?

  2. Thanks for your comments. I will try to briefly answer your questions.

    1. This may be more complicated than it seems. I believe that there are natural laws that the Lord has put in operation to govern the universe such as gravit. On the other hand all the power, movement, and animation in the universe are continually dependent upon Him. God personally sustains the universe.

    2. This is a descriptive statement referring to the particular events. It is important though from a philosophical and theological perspective because it shows that there are dual intentions for singular events. This allows for a perspective that allows God's determination and preserves human moral accountability and source model responsibility.