Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen? Part 2: The Sovereign God

I think the next best thing to bring to the table here are some of the attributes of God. Again, I, nor anyone else, can tell you all the “why’s” behind the actions of God, or the thoughts of God. This is just an issue of our inherently different natures. God is immortal and eternal and infinite. We are mortal, physically temporal, and finite. While every single person has an eternal soul, meaning it will continue on after death to either Heaven or Hell, our physical bodies and physical existence on this cursed earth is helplessly limited in many ways.

While Christians have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2), we are in no way, shape, or form as wise as God, nor do we know everything God knows, “for who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” By his divine revelation through Scripture we know what we need to know for salvation and holy conduct. As Deuteronomy says in 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Right away, we should understand that there are things that we will just not know or begin to understand when considering the works of God. Why? They have not been revealed to us. For instance, why create the world and men in the first place? When is the second coming of Christ? Why the elect? How could God have always existed without a beginning? Some things we must believe without fully understanding. We believe because we have faith that was granted to us from God, who is our ultimate authority in all things. If everything could be explained within the incredibly limited realm of science, then faith would not be faith.

Is this a reckless faith, then? Certainly not. As Hebrews explains so well, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (11:1-3).

Going back to the 1 Corinthians 2 passage is helpful because it gives us the balance in understanding that God is God and we will never understand His mind, yet we do have the mind of Christ to comprehend the things that have been revealed. Herein lies the key to this whole issue. The things that God has not revealed and kept secret, we will never know. The things He has revealed in Scripture we can only fully understand and believe when we are given the mind of Christ and given the gift of faith in the first place. Capisci?

This is why Paul says earlier in this very same letter to the Corinthians, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18). Unless God has revealed Himself to someone and opened their eyes to understand (Jn. 12:40) then the message just reeks of foolishness to people.

Consider also what other Biblical authors said about the unmistakably, unfathomable wisdom of God. Isaiah said in 40:13, “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows Him his counsel?”

Paul echoes this in his letter to the Romans when he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (11:33-34).

Some other specific attributes we need to realize about God, specifically, is his omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. These are important because they help us have a better understanding for how unlimited and magnificent God is and how He alone holds all the wisdom and knowledge of everything. They also help to put our million dollar question into perspective: How could God let bad things happen?

Let me copy a section or two from a post I did in February 2011 titled “Free Will & the Attributes of God”:

***What does omnipotence really mean? An online dictionary will quickly tell you it means having unlimited, or universal power. Scripture easily confirms this attribute of God. Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too hard for God?” Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Paul has a great piece in his letter to the Colossians about the supremacy of God. Chapter 1, verses 15 through 20 say, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

How perfectly explained, the power of God. He is firstborn over all creation, living and dead, so that he is supreme over every possible thing. This means He is in control of everything. Nothing is beyond Him, nor can escape Him. Everything happens as He determines and purposes.***

Additionally, God’s omniscience is crucial to understand and believe as well. Again, it brings the right perspective to everything because we know that we are not in control and not “in the know” for everything that goes on in the world. Scripture clearly shows us that God is omniscient. In fact, our faith would crumble if God was a god that did not know everything.

I met a man in a Cleveland Starbucks once who asked me what I was reading and it happened to be a book about the history of the Protestant Reformation. We got to talking and God’s attributes came up and he flat out told me he didn’t believe God actually knew everything. He didn’t think God had any idea what would really happen in the future. I was bewildered at his confidence in his opinion. We ended up talking for a few more minutes about where the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty and such before his wife came with their drinks and they had to leave, but he was genuinely glad to have spoken to me and for that I was thankful. I had to disagree with his view on God and in our discussion he seemed quite intrigued by it, so I hope it challenged his opinion on the matter.

In either case, the idea that God is insufficient to know everything, is out there, even in “Christian” circles. This man I spoke to was a “proud liberal Lutheran” as he put it. Unfortunately, pride was all he had because he certainly didn’t have an understanding of Scripture, which was sad to see. My heart genuinely went out to him. I hate it when I see people really miss what the Bible teaches because it is to their loss that they do! This is why it is important for us to know what Scripture says about anything; In this case, about God’s omniscience. Here is another excerpt from my earlier February post:

***Omniscience means knowing everything. Nothing is unknown to God. He knows what has happened and what is going to happen from every wisp of breath to all the hidden plans of man for all ages. He knows how many hairs are on your head [Matt. 10:30] and when a sparrow will fall down dead [Matt. 10:29].

We see all throughout Scripture, evidence of God’s omniscience. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus knew the thoughts of the Pharisees, regardless of what they actually said. He knew their motives. John 2:24 & 25 says that Jesus knew all people and knew what was in each person. God alone knows every human heart (1 Kings 8:39). Isaiah says no one can fathom God’s understanding (another reason to not presume on God, or doubt what God says, even if it doesn’t make logical sense), (40:28). Psalm 139 is all about the infiniteness of God in knowledge and presence. Finally, 1 John 3:20 says so plainly that God is greater than our hearts and that “He knows everything”.***

I would also like to add that even the things we may consider “chance” or “luck of the draw” are all within the scope of God’s will and sovereignty. Proverbs says “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (16:33).

This is fleshed out in Acts 1:24-26 when the disciples were deciding which person should replace Judas. “And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Finally, God’s omnipresence should not be forgotten. This means he is everywhere at the same time. He is not limited to being in one location at a time like we are. This does not mean that he is partially here and partially there, either. God is fully here and fully there without diminishing his fullness in any way, shape, or form.

Why mention this particular attribute? I think it’s important to remember it so we don’t think that God can’t handle being God in one place because He is too busy in another. That just doesn’t happen. When terrible events happen and things seem to be unfolding around us, it can bring great peace knowing that the Lord is still with us and He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8).

An absolutely beautiful Psalm that David wrote that proclaims and praises God for his many sovereign attributes is Psalm 139 as I mentioned a bit earlier. I highly commend to you to read that Psalm and think about all the ways it speaks of God’s unlimited and infinite wisdom and knowledge and power.

Of omnipresence it says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (vv. 7-10).

And if that wasn’t good enough, then here are some words from the Lord Himself, spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD” (23:23-24).

The Lord also speaks through Isaiah and says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” (66:1).

What we need to understand is that God is the Almighty Creator and the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Who are we to ever question Him? To ever doubt Him? To ever challenge Him? Or to ever reject Him? Additionally, who are we?! A real understanding of our depravity in the midst of God’s holiness should drive us to our knees in fear and submission and repentance. It is so important to know who we are dealing with on a day to day basis.

If I had to suggest one other passage to read through, it would be Job 38-41. It is perhaps one of the most humbling, perspective-clarifying, attribute-declaring passages in Scripture, spoken from God Himself.

It starts off (v. 4) with God challenging Job by saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

It just gets better from there. You have to read it.

After this lengthy list of rebukes and challenges from God, Job had the proper response when he said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:5-6).

Even Paul, in Romans 9, says to those who would ever second guess God’s sovereignty in salvation, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (vv. 20-21).

Our understanding needs to be that there is a lot about God that we will not completely understand, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t make sense, it only means that we are finite creatures trying to comprehend an incomprehensible God. His greatness and glory are unfathomable, indescribable and incomparable.

I purposely want us to remember this majesty of God as we head into the murky waters of why bad things happen in the world and why it seems as though God would allow bad things to happen, especially to innocent people. Why the tsunamis? Why the earthquakes? Why 9/11? Why so much tragedy in this world? Why do they happen to good people? To young children? To unsaved people?!

Now that we have set the context in Part 1 that we are in a fallen world where Satan and sin abound, and we have set the standard in Part 2 that God is infinitely greater than we could ever comprehend and in control of everything, even over Satan… Stay tuned for Part 3 where we can get a little more specific to our question: “How could God let bad things happen?”

In His Sovereign Grip,



  1. Amazing job Ben of setting up the stage for what's to come. You are tackling this question in a very important way by sharing about who God has revealed He is through scripture. I think that's a necessary way to approach the ultimate difficult question at hand. Without one you can not fully understand (or at least try to) the other. Keep it comin', you're doing a great job! Kim

  2. Thanks, Kim! That's super encouraging! I was hoping that it would have that exact affect to where one is necessary for building off of the other. I've been enjoying the topic myself as I've been digging around the Word for it. The next post I'm the most excited about because it brings the first two together. I'll try and get it posted in the next day or two!