In the wake of the horrific slaughter of Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, many are asking, “Where is God? Why did He allow this to happen?” It’s asked every time there’s a tragedy and, of course, it’s understandable that people — even those unsure about the existence of God — would ask the question. It’s brought up by atheists all the time who say that evil in the world is proof that God does not exist. If God existed, they say, He would not allow little children to die of cancer or Jews to be slaughtered in synagogues.
But “why did God allow this” is the wrong question. The question we should be asking — and one that nags at me at times like this — is “why doesn’t it happen more often?”
I’m a Christian who believes in a grammatical-historical interpretation of scriptures. It’s not a living document and it doesn’t evolve to keep up with the times. So when God says this in the Psalms, I believe Him:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good, not even one. [Emphasis added]
That “none” includes you and me and everyone else who has ever walked the earth in a human body — except the sinless Jesus Christ.
When God tells Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I believe that too, not only because I believe the Bible is true, but because I know the deceitfulness I harbor within my own heart. It comes out in a myriad of ways — when I put my needs before my husband’s, when I get angry with another driver and curse him out in my mind, when I grumble about having to get up early for church, and when I choose to do a thousand other things besides read my Bible and pray.
We’re all children of Adam, hopelessly infected from birth by a sin nature that causes us to have a propensity for evil. We’re selfish, we desire to have our own way, and we rebel against our Creator in big and small ways that we won’t fully comprehend this side of heaven. But a day will come when we meet God face to face and cry out as Isaiah did when he was given a vision of the heavenlies, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
It’s not just our actions that displease God, it’s our wicked thoughts as well. Jesus said that if you even look at a woman with lust it’s as if you’d committed adultery and if you say you hate someone, it’s as if you’d murdered him. God takes sin seriously and we should too. Anyone who’s been a Christian for a number of years knows that as you mature and grow in your faith, rather than thinking you’re doing great in God’s eyes, you begin to understand the depths of your own depravity.
The Westminster Confession of Faith explains it this way:
I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.
IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good and wholly inclined to all evil do proceed all actual transgressions.
V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.
Once you understand sin — how much God hates it and how much we’re unable to control it — it’s not difficult to understand how someone could shoot up a synagogue or a school or anything else. It’s not hard to understand how someone could sexually abuse a child or break up his marriage over an affair with a stripper. We’re desperately sick and none of us does good, according to God.
Why does God allow us to do evil? Because he gives us free will. The other option would have been to make us automatons who were incapable of disobeying God. Again, from the Westminster Confession:
I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.
II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God, but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.
III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he frees him from his natural bondage under sin, and, by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good, yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.
V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only. [Emphasis added]
Not until we reach heaven will we be unable to choose evil.
So the question then becomes, “Why isn’t there more evil?” I think about this sometimes when I’m walking down a busy street. I imagine how easy it would be for someone to intentionally ram a car into the crowd and wonder why it doesn’t happen all the time. Or when I’m at a baseball game or concert I wonder why there aren’t terrorists constantly opening fire on spectators. Why aren’t we plagued by constant terror attacks, murders, and rapes?The answer to that question is two-fold. First, God, in his immense kindness, gave us authorities to rule over us and to protect us from evildoers. The authorities aren’t themselves necessarily good, but we’re commanded to obey them — they have a role to play in protecting us from those who would do us harm. We’ve been particularly blessed in America to live in relative peace, amongst a people who have been, compared to other nations throughout history, largely lawful in their interactions with one another, although that seems to be changing at an alarming rate.
The second reason is perhaps more profound and more incomprehensible — God’s common grace protects us from harm. This is the same grace that allows our hearts to continue beating even though God could strike us dead at any moment — and would be entirely justified in doing so (see above). He keeps the earth rotating on its axis at just the right speed and gives us exactly the right chemical combination in our air to allow us to breathe. He restrains the sun from coming too close to earth and often — but not always — restrains evil. Why doesn’t he restrain it all the time? Again, because of our free will. But also because He has appointed a time for every man to die — and then the judgment, we’re told. Job explains that our “days are determined” and God has “appointed his limits that he cannot pass.”
Going back to our sin nature — God says, “the soul that sins shall die.” It’s the human condition to die, and only through Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for our sin can we have the hope of eternal life with God. The sinless, unblemished Lamb of God — whom God punished for our wickedness — secures our future, if we would only believe. We’re wicked to the core and deserve death — and desperately need saving. Thank God He made a way for the human race that was incapable of saving itself.