Why Bad Things Happen

I heard a clip from an interview with Rob Bell and he was asked whether God is all-powerful, or whether he is good, because he obviously isn’t both given the state of the world (the tsunami in Japan was the example in the interview; there are countless examples). Rob Bell answered that it was a paradox.

So I was thinking about that tension that we face as Christians in reconciling beliefs that God is both all-powerful and completely good. But I don’t think necessarily that it is a paradox when you account for God’s gift of free will and for the reality of sin in the world. We know that God will restore all of creation after judgment day (which ISN’T marked on my calendar, by the way), but until then the world is not as it should be. There are times when God intervenes, and times when he doesn’t, and in his sovereignty and goodness, that is allowed.

The problem for me is when people say that they don’t believe in God or in a good God because bad things happen in the world. Because in addition to what I’ve already said, I also believe that nobody on Earth is innocent. First of all, we all participate to some extent in the broken systems that oppress or objectify people, and that pollute the earth. In our personal lives we sometimes make wrong decisions, selfishly hurt others and fail to be loving or compassionate.

SO when we see things that are wrong – injustice, natural destruction, death, abuse – we can wish that God would set it straight and make it all right, but when we wish for that we also wish for our own judgment and reckoning and that of our loved ones, family, neighbours.

God’s love for the world causes him to suffer infinitely more from its brokenness than we do. Because we are part of the system, some of the bad things benefit us, and we are participants in the whole broken system even when we despise it. Where do our clothes come from? How much money is in our bank accounts while people across the world and in our own cities starve? God has no benefit in any of this system except that by extending his grace and allowing this world to continue allows us the opportunity to turn to him, to share the Gospel with others, to enjoy the goodness that this life has to offer, flawed though it is.

I was thinking about this after hearing a sermon that challenged the message of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Rob Bell says that Christians do not have reason to believe that God’s redemptive work though Jesus depends on us believing/accepting Him in this life. Eventually, even the hardest cynic will be softened by God’s love and accept Jesus, even if this acceptance takes place after earthly death. Thus, Hell is not a place of eternal conscious torment where unbelievers are banished on judgment day, but it is a state of resistance to God that can be left behind in exchange for Heaven once a person chooses to believe in Jesus.

If Hell is not real/permanent, and if everyone will ultimately put their faith in Jesus before their eternal fate is sealed, then what is the purpose in the ongoing suffering of life on Earth? If Love Wins every time, why should God not let the world collapse, call off the failed experiment that is Humanity, and get to work winning souls without having to endure the suffering caused by sin?

One of the big misconceptions about Christianity is that it is primarily concerned with getting people into Heaven. Yes, as a Christian, I believe I am going to Heaven when I die, and I hope that everyone will believe in Jesus so they can go too. But I believe there is a lot more to this life than a bunch of us getting our feet in God’s door – I believe this is a time of preparation, of personal formation, of learning about God and what it means to be human and how to live well, AND to share the message of God’s love and redemption so that other people can also accept this offer of salvation and make the most of their time.

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Susan 27-09-2011, 23:47

I think you'd be a better spokesperson for Christianity than Rob Bell! Well said!


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