Why did God order all those people killed in the Bible? Why does he condemn people to Hell? Why did he let so-and-so die or such-and-such terrible thing happen?
Even Christians like myself wrestle with these things. Unfortunately, giving a satisfactory answer (or rather, answers), would take ten books, four articles, and three Youtube videos. I only have a single blog page, and I doubt you want me to ramble forever.
So instead of giving you a rushed answer with too many holes to be useful, I’m just going to ask you five question in order to get your brain working. My hope is that these questions get you asking new questions, questions most people don’t bother asking, questions that lead to real answers.
Some of these questions sound glib and insulting. That is not my intention, and I apologize if they hurt anybody. I’m only asking stark, frank questions in order to get your brain working, not to make fun or deride. When we talk about the “evil deeds” of God, we come to them with certain assumptions and presumptions. My purpose is to shake off these presumptions so we can get deeper.
So here we go: five questions to probe the original question of why God does so many terrible things.
1. Do You Really Want to Know?
When we ask hard questions, we need to do one of three things: drop the snark, grieve, and/or prepare yourself for hard study. Are you willing to do one or all of these things? If not, then you don’t want to know the answer, so none should be given.
A) Drop the Snark. More than once, I’ve heard something along the lines of, “Go ahead, explain why God committed more genocide than all parties in history combined. I’ll wait.” But they’re not waiting. This glib reply is a shut-down, not an opening. People focused on put-downs aren’t listening, just waiting so they can speak. If they’re not listening for an answer, none should be given.
B) Grieve. When the bad thing is personal, no rational answer will satisfy our raging emotions. When the pain is near, we first need to grieve. This means crying, screaming, ranting, punching the wall, shoveling ice cream, or lying in bed for days. Only when the haze has cleared, even a little, can reason be of any comfort. So if you’re hurting, don’t turn to rationality just yet. It’ll only sound cold and unhelpful.
C) Prepare Yourself. There’s a reason I’m not giving a short answer to the question of why God commits such horrible deeds: there isn’t one. No short answer will suffice, no one-size-fits-all rationality satisfies. The answers are deep, complex, and often inspire more questions. Are you willing to take that journey? I hope so, because it’s the only journey there is.
So are you willing to put down the hatchet, cry it out, and/or dive into deep waters? If so, you may find the answers you seek. Otherwise, you’ll only waste your own time.
2. Do You Know Everything?
I doubt anybody would answer “Yes” to this question, but we act like it, don’t we? How many of us scream at God because of something he did without ever truly asking why? It’s because we think we already know. God’s a jerk. God is fake. God is a liar. And so on.
But let’s go deeper. Often times, the reason we get mad is because nobody seems able to answer our questions. “Why, God?” We don’t know, God’s not spelling it out, and nobody else can answer, so we reason that God is just plain mean.
Did you catch it? The missed step? We ask why, don’t get an answer, then judge God. But how can we judge God without an answer? This assumes that because we can’t find a good reason for God’s actions that God must not have one. But how does that work? Just because we don’t have a good answer does not mean that a good answer doesn’t exist.
Hence my question: do you know everything? If not, we must admit that a perfectly good reason for God’s actions may in fact exist, we just don’t know it.
So why doesn’t God just tell us? That brings me to question number three, and I’ll warn you: it’s going to make you mad.
3. Why Should God Answer You?
Once again, I’m not trying to be derisive. I’m only asking a calm, simple question. When we cry out to God, why should he answer? After all, simply asking a question does not entitle the questioner to a response.
If God is, well, God, then he is high and above us, and not bound to our rules in any way. And if he’s not God at all, then our anger is just. But not answering doesn’t make him not God. In fact, it could very well be a sign that he is God: he decides for himself when to speak and when to be silent.
Job spends his whole book questioning God, and when God finally shows up in chapter 38, he never answers Job’s question of why. He merely reminds Job of who he, God, is. And Job walks away satisfied, with a newer understanding of God (Job 42:1-6), which is more satisfying than any answer.
Let me make one thing clear: it is NOT wrong to ask God questions. Job got a lecture, but he was deemed more holy than his friends who didn’t question God (Job 42:7-8). Why? Because Job’s heart wanted to understand God while his friends thought that God was a formula and didn’t need further understanding. Questions can certainly bring us closer to God, so don’t be afraid to ask. Only be afraid when you give orders to Him who cannot and will not be ordered.
4. Why is God here and why are you here?
One reason we all get angry when life goes wrong is that we assume God, if he exists, should stop hardship, pain, and suffering. He can snap his fingers and fix the world, so why doesn’t he?
But where did we get this idea that God is here to make us happy, healthy, and wise? Yes, God wants what’s good for us, but no part of the Bible says that God exists for mankind. The creation may be for us, the rules may be for our benefit, but God himself does not exist to be our servant. Not the Christian God at any rate.
And why are we here on this Earth? What purpose makes us think our lives should be good, free of suffering and devastation? If we have no inherent purpose, then why are we surprised at the chaos of the world which thwarts our plans? If life is random, there’s no reason life should be good.
We’ve got it backwards. God created us for his glory, not ours. You want a Bible verse to prove it? Open your Bible to any random page and put your finger down. I bet you just found one. God is constantly talking about his glory, not ours. God does delight in meeting our needs (Matthew 6:25-26), binding up our wounds (Psalm 147:3), and saving us from darkness (any Gospel), but it is not ultimately for our sake. If God is real, we exist for God, not the other way around.
And when you realize that God was never, ever your butler, you start wondering just why he did any good things for you at all…
5. What makes things good or bad anyway?
This is the kicker: why do we say these bad things are so bad, anyway? What’s our standard for right and wrong? I would wager that many people are measuring God by a ruler that only exists if God doesn’t.
Here’s an example: God says, “Do not murder,” then slaughters friends and foes alike. Why do we say this is wrong? One might say, “It’s hypocrisy.” The other might say, “Human life is sacred.” But both of these responses eliminate God as a factor, and if God is not a factor, why are we yelling at him?
God is God. If he’s real, we have to re-frame everything. If God is real, then he made humankind and has authority over them. If neither of these statements is true, he is not the Christian God and we have a big problem up in the sky. But if he is, then he has the right to choose who lives and dies. Not us. So God’s actions are not hypocritical because that rule was for us, not him. Like how an ambulance can run through a red light but you can’t. And human life is only sacred because it’s God who gives and takes it.
In my experience, most people who yell at God do so because they’ve taken him out of the equation. They yell at God for reasons based on his nonexistence. In that sense, we only say God is wrong because he’s not fitting our world that runs without him. But if God is real, the Christian God, then he is the creator of the world and the moral rules on which it runs. Which means right and wrong have to be reshaped to fit him if we’re ever going to get to the bottom of why God does the things he does.
The Most Important Question
As I said in the beginning, this is not a complete defense of God, not by a long shot. If you find holes in my arguments, I’m not surprised because this was meant to be more of a proposition than an argument.
But at some level or another, there is no straight answer. Christianity seeks to understand God as best it can, but also knows that it can never do so fully because God, on some level, is unknowable. He’s God.
So the most important question of all becomes, “Can you trust?” This is the crux of Christianity, to believe there’s a God bigger than myself, that he knows what he’s doing, that he’s good, and that he doesn’t always explain himself.
I’m not so bold to think you’ll suddenly trust God by reading this. My only hope is this will challenge you to think in new ways, and, by God’s mercy and intervention, find the trust that frees you from the addiction to understanding, an addiction which is never fully satisfied in any realm of life, much less God.
I welcome further discussion and questions in the comments.