Monday, August 08, 2011

Does God test us with bad things?

Too often we'll hear someone say (after going through a horrific ordeal): "Well, I guess the Lord was testing me." The more sensitive types will respond, "There's no way God would want you to go through (fill in the blank: bankruptcy, rape, divorce, disease). Doesn't James say God doesn't tempt anyone with evil?" Then the God-is-sovereign types will speak of Job and the Akedah (Gen. 22) and then say, "God doesn't cause evil. But He certainly allows it."

Of course, I'm not expecting us to solve the problem of evil and suffering, but I would like to change the way we talk about it. Shouldn't our theology of the cross help us make sense of this dilemma? Should we blame God for "allowing" evil things to happen to us? How do you talk about God's role in the testing of our faith?


Jordan said...

I agree it changes our way of seeing troubles/testing(temptation)/evil when we use the cross as a lense to see. A God who didn't spare his own son of these issues, but showed us how to persevere. So how can we blame him for our own situations. (Gorman is helping me see this way)

The World of A&E said...

Is this a round-about way of asking "Why does God let bad things happen to "good" people?" Great question.

Well, who am I to say that I or anyone else is good? If the Bible states that there is none good but God (Luke 18:19), and that no one is righteous (Romans 3:9-10), are we not deserving of our share of toil and trouble? Who is to blame but ourselves?

Jim, a friend of my pastor's, lost his daughter in a tragic car accident Saturday night. Jim has been recently called to pastor a church in Midland, TX, and yesterday was his first day in the pulpit. Talk about adversity in your sermon preparation!

Here is a quote Jim gave to a reporter after his sermon yesterday:
“If I preach (God’s word), I have to believe it and act by it. God gave me the strength to get through it... We don’t always understand God’s timing, but God is perfect and you have to keep faith and trust.”

What a faithful response to such a trying time. I will continue to pray that God will comfort them and his faith will remain strong. God is perfect. God is righteous. God is just. Even if we claim to be Christians, we have none of these Godly traits. We cannot justly put blame on anyone but ourselves, even if we can't admit that on a personal level. God tests our faith not by the things that happen to us, but by our response to them. I don't blame God for the trials I am put through, even if the trial is an evil one. I trust Him to get me through it, and that He will be glorified through whatever the outcome is.

Rodney Reeves said...


Certainly you're not saying that your friend Jim was to blame for his daughter's death, are you?

Aaron Allison said...

"World" here. I see you haven't lost your great sense of sarcasm! Haha. No, I did not mean to imply that Jim was responsible for what had happened to his daughter; only that we can't blame God for us having to deal with evil situations, and for quite a few we know we are to blame because, like it or not, we aren't 'good.'. As for the ones that come 'out of nowhere,' such as a tragic death, terminal illness, or sudden job loss, these may not be our fault, per se, but they aren't God's, either.

Assigning blame is no easy feat unless we know it is ourselves that are at fault. If it's not, then maybe there is no blame to be assigned, we just have to trust God that He knows what He's doing and quit trying to control everything from our end. His yoke is easy and His burden is light; I know my soul could use some rest from all of the stress that surrounds me as an employee, husband, and father. I take comfort that God is in control because I know that things would be far worse for me if I was really in control instead of God.

The answer to your original question is a mystery to me and has been for a long time. My only solace is knowing that God will take my hand (and Jim's) when I start to sink and will make the storm go away when I'm ready to listen to Him and trust in Him.

Rodney Reeves said...

Aaron (aka "world"),

Sorry for the sarcasm (I am trying to take my own advice!).

So, by implication, then, not all "tests" come from God?

Let me push a little harder: was the cross a "test" for Jesus? What do you think? How do you apply our theology of the cross to situations like your friend Jim's horrific tragedy.

JDTapp said...

I tend to use the "God allowed..." but if God uses all things for our good (Rom 8:28) and only gives good gifts, is it right to say the bad things that happen to us are "evil"?

Didn't Paul see his thorn as a bad thing? He asked God to take it away, which would seem to indicate he didn't like it, didn't feel he'd deserved it. And God did not take it--which I think means God wanted him to have it.

Rodney Reeves said...


Was the cross of Jesus an evil event?

Aaron Allison said...

RR -

It is important to discern exactly what you mean by 'test' before I attempt to answer the origin question. Are you referring to the events which cause the test of one's faith as well as the test itself? If not, then I would certainly say that yes, all tests of faith come from God. As for where the events themselves come from, it's hard for me to settle on that one. A part of me feels like it comes as a consequence of choices on our part or on the part of others within our earthly circle that affect us, but some events are so chanced it becomes difficult to see where the test came from. I'm not sure if I can muster much more than idle speech on the subject of origin, but I do trust that God tempts no man and that loving God works out to our best benefit, no matter the nature of the tests we endure.

Knowing that Christ suffered more than anyone is a comfort to me when I am in a state of suffering, by his sacrifice he became an empathetic intercessor for us in this regard. His suffering was a test from God, a test that broke his union with the father (if only for a short time), a test that likely broke his heart to endure as well as his body. I think that if we are to follow Him, we should expect to suffer as well, should we not? A servant is not greater than his master. I am sure Jim has an understanding of this as well. As hard as it can be, we need to have an eternal perspective at all times, especially when the waves come crashing in. His ways are not our ways.

Prior to his death, I respected my grandfather more than anyone else in this life. My grandfather's hero was the apostle Paul, and I know you hold him in high regard as well (really looking forward to the new book, by the way). Paul, I think, did the best job anyone could to model the cross as a lifestyle of suffering on behalf of the cause of Christ. He had plenty to complain about, even blame God for, and I would be reluctant to criticize him for doing so. However, his response was to rejoice in the Lord always, to give thanks in everything because it's God's will for our lives, to understand that the natural man cannot understand the things of God because they are spiritually discerned! I believe putting on the mind of Christ will help us to better understand why these tests have happened to us, and in hindsight give us a little more clarity than we had at the first glimpse of the test.

Leaning not on your own understanding is an incredibly hard feat for me, and pride is an ever-present problem when it comes to understanding my own situations. But I take comfort in knowing His ways are not my ways, and that suffering in this life leads to a crown in the next.

B Grif said...

This one is in process. (Much like everything else in my life)

If I were an omnipotent, sovereign, omniscient being, the cross would be among my last ideas on how to save the world. So, I question, "why the cross?"

J. Moltmann offers, I believe, a convincing response to this question. He describes the cross as an event between the trinity, specifically a separation. Through the cross Christ identified with the God-forsaken here on earth.

Although it is far from a knock out blow to the problem of evil, this theology of the cross possesses many practical applications. Even more, it enabled me to find communion with Christ while standing beside friends in the wake of the Joplin tornado.

William Bell said...

JD's initial question highlights for me the problem of theodicy in general: it eliminates the category of evil all together (or at least qualifies it to such an extent that evil loses its repulsiveness). The bad stuff that happens is not really bad stuff (in the end).

I'm not a fan of any theology which questions whether or not God is against evil or which pacifies the impulse to resist and protest against sufferings. I too am attracted to Moltmann's handling of the theodicy question in CG and in particular his finding of a dialectical element of protest in Christ's death cry of abandonment. Thus Christ identifies with and protests along side the God-forsaken of the world, crying out in solidarity- 'why have you forsaken me?'

Though there are places in Moltmann that worry me-when he is doing his Hegelian thing he comes pretty close to valorizing suffering.

Is the crucifixion of Christ an evil event? I'll say this-Christ did not approach his death in some stoic manner, as if he is cultivating his pain and agony.

Rodney Reeves said...

Do you hear the tension (in the positive sense) in these comments?

I'm wondering if the problem has as much to do with the paradigm we use, i.e., a more static response (esp. a dogmatic one) seems to be insensitive to the problem of evil, a more fluid response (esp. process theology) causes us to rethink what God accomplished via the cross "once and for all."

For the record, I wish believers would be more careful talking about evil, either the suffering of others or the suffering of Jesus. At times we come off sounding a little cavalier.

JDTapp said...

"Is the cross of Jesus an evil event?"
I think "yes..." but yet it was by the "predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God," (Acts 2:23, NASB). God didn't send Jesus reluctantly, He sent him to die, which was an act of obedience (Phil 2:8). John Piper (a "God is sovereign" type) puts it bluntly, that "God killed Jesus."
If so, can we still call that act evil?

JDTapp said...

If I can amend the above, can I say that it's an evil act performed by men but perpetrated by a good God in whom there is no evil?

JD said...

I used to have this one figured out. Until I entered a time of suffering brought about because of great evil. The only thing I know now is that the way out of sadness and depression is obedience to Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross (and subsequent resurrection) makes it possible to look to brighter days. Without the cross and resurrection, we would have no hope. The cross was evil, but God was (is) faithful. God will be faithful to make things anew in my suffering, and he'll do the same in the cases of everyone of his children. We may not see those things made right this side of the grave, but they will be made right.