Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question by Joe Rigney (original source here)
Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) is assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College & Seminary and author of The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He is a pastor at Cities Church.
Where was God?
The question is always the same.
After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: Where was God?
Did he know it was going to happen? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9-10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.
Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?
But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:
This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It For Good’”)
All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Does disaster befall a city unless the Lord has done it (Amos 3:6)? What about a school? I don’t say that lightly. I realize what I’m saying. Or rather, I know what the Scriptures are saying. I’ve wept with parents as they watched their child die slowly of an incurable disease. I’ve watched dementia rob me of my father, taunting me and my family with his slow death. I realize that confessing God’s absolute sovereignty over all things, including the pain in my lower back and the cruel disease stalking my dad and the horrific actions of a wicked man in Connecticut, is hard to fathom. But I’m not helped at all by removing God from the equation, by making him a spectator watching the tragedy unfold on CNN like the rest of us. If he can’t keep evil from happening on the front end, then how can he possibly bring us comfort on the back end?
It’s questions like these that have driven me again and again to the Scriptures. And what I’ve found there is a wealth of help in navigating the problem(s) of evil (there’s not just one, you know).
There’s the biblical-theological problem: What does the Bible teach on God’s goodness and the reality of evil, and how can we coherently put the pieces together? Continue reading