If God is real, why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?

These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.

But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.

The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.

Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.

Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.

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Is God a Megalomaniac?

In a recent Everlasting Truths radio broadcast one of the pastor’s commented, “God is not ultimately for us, He is ultimately for Himself.” By that he meant God’s work in this world is to bring glory to Himself. Some see this and believe God must be a maniac who is psychotically bent on having everyone worship Him and on doing that which makes Himself looks better. Does the Bible teach that God is doing everything for His own glory? If it does, does that mean God is a self-centered jerk?

The Bible does teach that God is working in this world to bring glory to Himself. Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In Isaiah 48:11 God tells the Jews why He would rescue them from captivity and judgment, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? And I will not give my glory unto another.” God is working in the world for His own glory.

Since this is a Biblical idea, does it mean that God is a self-centered maniac? If a person acts this way he is considered to have a mental disorder. Brad Pitt could not accept God’s call to worship Him alone. He said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” Michael Prowse, a writer for a London newspaper said, “We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?”

Statements like these suppose God’s desire for the exaltation of His own glory is a personality flaw that brings injury to others. When a maniac rules a nation for his own aggrandizement, it always bring suffering and ruin on that nation. Only when the unfortunate citizens of that land are freed from his tyranny is there a measure of good brought to them. Is this true of God? Does His rule result in our misery? Is our rebellion the only means to bring joy to mankind?

When God created humanity He designed men to know Him, to walk with Him and to love Him. The Bible gives a glimpse of the paradise that existed while man walked with God and obeyed Him fully. When man rebelled paradise was lost. Misery, death, sorrow and pain filled the world. When God calls men to worship Him He is calling them to return to the place we abandoned to venture into the desolation of sin. He is calling humanity to leave the things which bring condemnation and wrath upon the world to return to Him who gives goodness and joy. When God demands men worship Him it is for His glory and for our good. These two things cannot be separated: what exalts God is good for mankind.

God does not demand our worship as if he needed his ego soothed or his self-esteem bolstered. God does not need anything from man. Paul says in Acts 17, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-25, 28) God does not need our worship for His own sake. He commands our worship because it is due Him and it is good for us. God is ultimately concerned with Himself because He is infinitely concerned for us.

Was Jesus created?

A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research indicated that over 3/4 of Americans believe “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father.” This finding is astounding because it shows that many Americans hold to a belief that contradicts one of the most significant tenets of Christianity. The doctrine of the deity is Jesus is shared by all Christian denominations except the Christian cults. From the very earliest days of Christianity, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the eternal God.

The Athanasian Creed declares, “The Son is uncreated”, “The son is eternal” and “The Son was neither made nor created.” These statement are merely a reflection of the clear New Testament teaching that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) The words of John 1:3 make it impossible for Jesus to be created by God. If nothing was made apart from Jesus making it, then Jesus Himself could not be a creation. He must have eternally existed, as John 1:1 teaches. He was in the beginning with God because He is eternally God.

Why then does Colossians 1:15 describe Jesus as “the firstborn of every creature?” The word “firstborn” in Colossians speaks to rank, not birth order. Paul is saying that Jesus is the chief over all creation. This becomes obvious in the next couple verses as Paul goes on to say, “By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth . . . all things were created by Him, and for Him . . . that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Jesus is Creator and He is supreme over His creation. This great position is His so all will know He is most important.

Why then is Jesus called “the only begotten Son” of God? Jesus is the Son of God. He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. He is not the Son of God because in eternity past the Father caused the Son to come into existence. Jesus is the Son of God because that is the title given to Him in Scripture which describes the eternal relationship which exists between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God because He is God the Son who was begotten of God as a human being. The begottenness of Jesus is not a description of how the Son came to exist, but of how the Son became a man.

The New Testament consistently declares that Jesus is God, the Creator of all things and the Savior of men. He is “the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) Jesus was not created by the Father. He had no beginning and will have no ending.

What is God’s “still small voice”?

When seeking the will of God, some Christians counsel that we should be listening for the still small voice of God. When we are at peace, prayed up and waiting on the Lord, then He will speak quietly to the soul to make His will known.

The phrase “still small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:12. At Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a test to see who was the true God. Though 400 prophets of Baal spent most of the day praying for their god to send fire heaven, their false god did not hear. Elijah offered a simple prayer to Jehovah and God sent fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar it was offered on. After this dramatic victory, the Queen Jezebel swore to put Elijah to death. In fear for his life, Elijah fled. Over six weeks later he was 300 miles away at Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai God spoke to Elijah.

While Elijah was camped in a cave, a strong wind blew that broke the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. After all those terrifying events there came a quiet gentle whisper, the sound of silence. When Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave and God spoke with Him.

The lesson many take from this passage is that God speaks to us quietly in a way that is often very hard to hear. If we will just listen carefully God will tell us His will. However, 1 Kings 19 has nothing to do with how Christians today find the will of God. Even if it did, the passage does not prove what is being asserted. God did not speak to Elijah in a still small voice. After Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave. Then God spoke with Him. The conversation that Elijah had with God was clear and audible. God asked Elijah a question, Elijah answered and God gave Elijah specific instructions. When God began to speak with Elijah, there was no whispering involved. There was no gentle prompting of the heart. God spoke clearly.

If the still small voice is not God whispering to our soul, what is it? The still small voice was part of an object lesson to Elijah. Elijah was a fiery prophet who had just come from a great, dramatic victory. After the victory the people praised God, the prophets of Baal were put to death, God sent rain to end a 3 1/2 year drought. Things were going great, God’s power was on display and then Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. In an incredible emotional reaction, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Elijah saw the fire, felt the earthquake, heard the roaring wind, but God is not in them. God is not using those things to reveal Himself to His people. Instead, God was doing something else. God’s plan is not for a dramatic display of His power. God planned to do something even more effective- the quiet, almost unnoticed work. God was telling Elijah that He can and does work just as powerfully in the quiet as in the dramatic.

The still small voice of God is not the secret whisper of His will to your heart. The still small voice of God was an illustration to Elijah that God works in ways that are easy to overlook. God’s gentle goodness works powerfully to accomplish His perfect purposes. We do not need to listen for a still small voice in our hearts telling us God’s will. God speaks to men today just as clearly as He did to Elijah. His words are not audible, they are written down clearly for all to see and understand.

What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.

Why was Jesus born when He was?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city of the province of Judea, under the rule of Herod the Great. Herod was the king of Judea appointed by the Roman government to oversee the region. Jesus was born into a captive nation under the dominion of the mightiest empire the world had known. Why then? Why was Jesus born in the Roman Empire instead of into a Jewish kingdom? Why not earlier in history? Or later?

The Bible says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.” God’s Word does not give the reasons why Jesus was born when He was. Scripture makes clear, though, that Jesus was born at a very precise time, a time determined and prepared by God for the redemption of men. Jesus was born at exactly the right time.

Some Biblical factors shaped when Jesus was born. Following the covenant between God and Israel the Jews constantly rebelled against God. Their rebellion eventually resulted in the nation being conquered and many Jews being taken captive by the Babylonians. The prophet Daniel was one of those taken captives. He knew the writings of the prophet Jeremiah and knew when the time of captivity was coming to an end. As Daniel prayed God showed to him things that were going to happen in the future. God showed Daniel that the Jews were going to be returned to Jerusalem and that the temple would be rebuilt. God said the Messiah would be in Israel 483 years after the command to restore Jerusalem. Jesus was the Messiah and was in Jerusalem 483 years later, just as God had promised. This does not answer the why but it does show that Jesus was born precisely when God intended.

Historically there were advantages to Jesus being born at that time in history. The Middle East and Europe were under the control of the Roman Empire. A large portion of the world’s population was united together by Roman government, Roman peace and Roman roads. This aided the spread of the gospel. This was a rare time for Jerusalem in which Jews were under outside domination but were at relative peace. By 70 AD the city of Jerusalem was besieged, the temple destroyed and the Jews scattered. Nearly two thousand years would pass before the Jews would once again have a kingdom in Palestine. Greek was the common trade language of the Roman Empire, aiding the spread of the gospel across broad regions through the use of a common tongue. God does not tell us that Jesus was born at that time because of these historical advantages, but they help us see some of the wisdom of God’s determination.

God was not showing favoritism to the Roman Empire by sending Jesus at that time. Nor was God arbitrary in determining that Jesus would be born during that era of world history. The birth of Jesus was precisely when God determined it would be. He rules over all things and worked specifically in the world to prepare things for the incarnation of God the Son.

Why doesn’t God stop senseless tragedies?

Another terrible tragedy has hit America. This time a gunman murdered dozens of people and injured hundreds more. We all grieve for the families of those killed and pray for those recovering from their injuries. We weep with the thousands of people directly affected by this horrible event.

Tragedy leaves many who are interested in the claims of Christianity tragedy asking the question, where was God? In times like these Christians also wonder what is God’s involvement in the catastrophic moments. Underneath everything is a sense that this should not happen and a question of why God does not stop senseless tragedies.

When tragedy strikes the presence and plan of God is no mere intellectual theory. God becomes personal and very real. For some God is the source of comfort and hope. For others God is the subject of their anger and bitterness. An in-depth theological discussion of all the issues is not appropriate. Now is not the time to solve the dilemma between Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. However, some principles from Scripture help us better understand why God allows tragedy to occur.

God allows tragedy as part of His judgment and His mercy. God allows tragedy so people might be brought to salvation. The tragedies of this world remind everyone that things are not as they should be. All know the sudden death of many is not right. All creation groans under sin. In tragedy it becomes impossible to ignore those groans. Tragedy brutally tell us something is wrong with the world and causes us to long for a fix. The solution is not in gun control, mental health care or tighter security. The solution to these problems is only found in the transformation of hearts and the eradication of sin. God allows these things to reminds us this world is broken and the only solution has been provided by Him.

God allows these things to bring sinners to repentance. Tragic death is a reminder that all humanity is under sentence of death. God decreed, “The wages of sin is death.” Because all have sinned, all will die. The people who die in tragedies do not die because they are more wicked than the others. Their death is a reminder that everyone will die and warns us, “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) When death dominates the news coverage it reminds us that we all suffer under the sentence of death.

The wise man considers death. He says, “teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) Like the judgments of Israel, the warnings of the prophets and the tribulations of Revelation, God uses tragedy to call men to turn to Him that they might be saved. Tragedy reminds us that this world and all humanity is under the judgment of God. God allows tragedy that we may not forget our condemnation. God works through tragedy that men might turn to Him for mercy. God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11) God uses tragedy so men will cry out like the Psalmist, “Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me.” (Psalm 30:10) When men call out to the Lord He saves them. “His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life.” (Psalm 30:5)

Are natural disasters the judgment of God on a nation?

Every year various natural disasters hit around the world. These tragedies, especially the ones in America, draw responses indicating that certain major disasters are the the judgment of God on the nation or the particular city. Are things liek hurricanes, droughts, floods, earthquakes and terrorist attacks the judgment of God on a nation?

The Bible contains numerous specific accounts of destruction coming upon cities as part of the judgment of God, cities like Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, Gomorrha and Jerusalem. The reason we know these disasters were the judgment of God is because the Bible tells us so. God did not tell us about other cities. He does not tell us about the tragedies that happen in cities today. A person cannot assume that a terrible event is the judgment of God on those people. Jesus speaks about this in Luke 13. A tower in the town of Siloam fell and killed eighteen men. Jesus asked the crowd, “Think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?” They were not judged for their wickedness. Jesus used their death to warn that judgment is coming upon all men.

The philosophy that disasters are God’s judgment is based upon an idea that believes God brings physical cursing upon those who do wrong and physical blessings to those who do good. In the Old Testament God promised Israel to bless the nation for her obedience and punish her for disobedience. Those promises were part of the Mosaic covenant made between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai. They never applied to any other nation. Through the death of Christ God ushered in a New Covenant. The New Covenant included people from all nations of the world, not just Israel. In this New Covenant there is no promise of physical prosperity or tragedy. God has given no warning to bring natural disasters upon those who disobey Him.

The New Testament gives a list in Romans 1 of the judgments of God upon a nation. The judgments of God are an increase of sexual perversion, proliferation of homosexual behavior and the rise of all manner of violent, deceitful and hateful activities. The judgment of God on a nation is seen in the wickedness of its people. (Romans 1:24-32) God is not judging America for things like abortion and homosexuality. Those things, and many others, are the judgment of God upon America. Ultimately, God’s judgment on a nation is to leave it to itself, to let its people wallow in their own wickedness and destroy themselves in their depravity. God judges the nations that reject Him by giving them what they want. He leaves them to their own devices.

This does not mean that natural disasters are to be thought of as nothing more than geological or meteorological events. God is actively at work in the world. All natural disaasters are a part of His perfect plan. The heavens always declare the glory of God. The landscape always shows His handiwork. The sky declares God’s glory when it is blue and when it is black with tornadoes. God’s hand is seen when the earth is still and when it quakes violently. The hand of God that blesses and judges should be seen in all the events of the world.

God is the just judge who will one day perfectly and completely bring justice upon all sinners. The tragedies of this life warn of the need look ahead to the coming judgment and seek His mercy today.

Is God Perfect?

Some have asserted that the presence of sin and suffering in this world are evidences that God is not perfect. His character and power must be flawed or else He would have created a perfect world free from all bad things. Some have suggested that the perfection of God is an idea brought in from western philosophy and is foreign to the Bible. What does the Bible teach about the perfection of God?

The angels in heaven praise God because He is “Holy, holy, holy”. The saints before the throne of God declare that God alone is holy. (Revelation 15:4) Believers in both Testaments are commanded, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” The claim that God is holy can be found throughout the Bible. A holy thing is different from all other things, separate from all else and free from any corruption or contamination. God is unique, separate and sinless.

The Bible teaches that God is not the author of sin. He never tempts any one to sin, neither is He tempted to sin. (James 1:13). He does not approve of sin and He does not overlook sin. (Habukkuk 1:13) Sin is antithetical to everything that God is.

God’s perfection is such that all He does is free from sin and is exactly what He intends it to be. The creation account of Genesis 1 says repeatedly that God considered His work and saw “it was good.” God’s works are always what He desires them to be. This does not mean that God’s works are always what man would desire them to be. God’s work is always right, just and perfectly suited to His eternal purposes.

In Matthew 5 Jesus teaches what it means to be truly righteous. External, shallow righteousness is not real righteousness. Jesus concludes His teachings on righteousness by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” God is perfect, He never sins in word, thought, action, attitude or by accident. His perfection is a positive perfection. Not only does God not commit sin, He always does what is good, wise and best.

Perfection does not mean God does everything according to the way a majority of humans think it should be done. God’s perfection does not mean that this world is not broken and flawed. Creation suffers because of sin. God is not responsible for the suffering, sorrow and trouble of this life. The world man experiences right now is marred and distorted by the sin of man. Living man has not seen the perfect handiwork of the holy God.

God is perfect. Man’s ability to understand God has been shattered by sin. Though man may not be able to understand genuine perfection, God is eternally and entirely perfect.

Did the Holy Spirit Indwell Old Testament Saints?

New Testament Christianity teaches that the Holy Spirit resides within every saved person. At the moment of salvation God the Spirit takes up residence within the believer’s spiritual part of his being. What about the believers in the Old Testament. Did the Holy Spirit reside within them?

The Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit takes place primarily through the stories of the people of God. Few sections are specifically intended to teach about the Holy Spirit. The majority of those teaching passages are found in the New Testament. By observing how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of specific people an understanding can be developed of the Holy Spirit’s Old Testament ministry.

The Holy Spirit was actively at work in the world before the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament describes various instances of the Holy Spirit coming upon individuals. The Holy Spirit came upon people to enable them to prophecy. (Numbers 24:2) Sometimes this “coming upon” happened at the beginning of their ministry like Othniel in Judges 3:10. Sometimes, like Samson, the Spirit came upon the person multiple times throughout their ministry. The Holy Spirit filled individuals like Bezaleel to perform a specific task. Very rarely does the Old Testament describe the Holy Spirit as “in” a person. Pagan kings said of Joseph and Daniel that the Spirit was in them. God told Moses that Joshua was, “a man in whom is the spirit.” (Numbers 27:18) Aside from these few references the Old Testament gives no indication that every believer possessed the Holy Spirit or was uniquely empowered by the Holy Spirit. The active working of the Holy Spirit was not the normal experience for Old Testament believers.

The Old Testament also presents the possibility of the Holy Spirit being removed from a person. This is the tragic case of Samson and Saul because of their sin. When David repented of his adultery and murder he prayed that God would not take His Holy Spirit from David. (Psalm 51:11) Those who knew the presence of the Holy Spirit were not assured of His continued working in them.

Jesus sums up the difference between the Holy Spirit’s ministry. In preparing the disciples for His departure Jesus promised to give them His Holy Spirit. He tells them the Holy Spirit was currently with them (Old Testament work of the Spirit) and in the future would be in them (New Testament work of the Spirit). (John 14:17) The Holy Spirit did indwell some believers before Pentecost, but that was not His usual ministry. The Holy Spirit empowered Old Testament saints without taking up residence within them. The Holy Spirit was with Old Testament saints. The Holy Spirit now resides within every child of God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer is a unique thing that began at the day of Pentecost.