The Bible’s descriptions of God’s dealings with men leaves us with some questions and difficulties. Mankind has a hard time understanding how God can be sovereign, remain just and hold man responsible for the decisions he makes. We will not fully understand God’s dealings with man until heaven. In the meantime, we must trust God and rely on what He has told of us Himself in His Word. The Bible does describe God as being fair. Fairness is doing the same for everyone regardless of ability or what they deserve. God does not operate on terms of fairness, but in terms of justice and equity. God is just, always treating all men according to the perfect standards of His holiness. He does not modify justice to suit His desires or because He prefers one person over another. God judges all men according to the same standards. Equity is closely related to His justice. Justice is God’s dealing in relation to His holiness. Equity is God’s dealings in regards to people. God does not play favorites with anyone. The religious are not preferred by God, the wealthy are not preferred by God, and the poor are not preferred by God. God deals with all men according to His justice regardless of the personal merits of any individual.
What about those places in the Bible which describe God’s hardening someone’s heart? How is that just? One of the most familiar places which describe God hardening someone’s heart is in Exodus regarding Pharaoh. Pharaoh and others like him lived in rebellion against God. God does not judge them for His hardening of their hearts. Instead, God’s hardening of their hearts is His judgment against them for their rejection of Him.
Consider more fully the case of Pharaoh. Setting aside Pharaoh’s life of idol worship and his persecution of the Israelites, one passage will suffice to show the true nature of this case. Exodus 5 recounts when Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh with the request for Israel to be allowed to go into the wilderness and make sacrifice to God. Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD.” (Exodus 5:2) Yes, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in later exchanges with Moses, but Pharaoh’s heart was already opposed to God. God did not prevent a man from turning to Him who might otherwise have repented and worshiped God. God confirmed Pharaoh in his rebellion.
The same is true with all others who are condemned by God. Romans 1 teaches that when men rebel against God and replace Him with idols, He judges them by no longer restraining the wickedness of their mind. Every man is naturally a rebel who refuses to worship God. Only the grace of God at work in the heart is able to draw a man from rebellion to worship. Those who refuse the grace of God are justly condemned by Him.
The world is filled with scenes of tragedy. The world’s woes show in gory detail that all is not right with the world. The calamities that affect every person and place on this globe have prompted some to wonder about God. If there is a God who is all powerful and rules everything, why does He allow terrible things to happen? If God is good, why does He let so many bad things take place? These questions are sometimes phrased in such a way as to imply that disaster proves God does not really exist.
The Bible provides a coherent explanation for the existence and purpose of misfortune and misery in this world. The history of bad things begins at the very beginning. God created everything and everything He created was perfect. Everything worked as it was intended. Death, tragedy, sorrow and despair were nonexistent until God’s creatures began to rebel against Him. The rebellion began with an angel named Lucifer, who was joined by countless other angels in opposition to God. Lucifer then persuaded Eve to disobey God and eat the fruit He had forbidden them. Adam joined Eve in disobedience and the whole human race was plunged into sin and death.
Following Adam and Eve’s sin, God spoke to them and declared judgment against them for their rebellion. In Genesis 3 God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” The sin of man brought down God’s judgment which encompassed all creation. Everything in creation is now cursed because God’s creation rejected Him. The apostle Paul declares in Romans 8, “We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” All of creation groans in intense agony because of sin. Bad things happen because man rebelled against God. God does not delight in the suffering anyone, but He will always be just. Sin will always be punished. Part of that punishment is the present suffering that fills the earth.
To decry the goodness of God because we don’t like the consequences of our sin against Him is foolish. Such outcry is a bit like a guy in prison complaining that the other inmates are mean to him, the guards don’t like him, his bed isn’t comfortable and he doesn’t get to decide in which cell he sleeps. Judgment is not pleasant and has consequences far greater than the mere pronouncement. A sentence of imprisonment always involves many inevitable unpleasantnesses. The sentence of death that came upon the world involves many unpleasant deaths and much suffering along the way. This is not to make light of the severity of suffering. Compassion moves us to aid and comfort those enduring greater agony because of sin. God in His mercy has done much to mitigate the severity of man’s suffering in this life.
God in His wisdom has not removed all the painful, present consequences of sin. The tragedies of this life serve a good purpose. The sorrows of life cause us to turn our eyes upward. What good would it do us to go through life free of pain, free of sorrow, live to a full age and then die peacefully in our sleep? The warnings of the judgment of sin would seem empty and even kind of silly. The suffering of this world remind us that we live in a place broken by sin. The sufferings of this life remind us that the consequences of sin are terrible. These tragedies remind us of sin’s horror and provide opportunity for repentance. The mercy of God gives men a temporary taste of sin’s judgment that they might be motivated to turn from sin to Him for salvation.