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The big 'why' question

The recent massacre in Las Vegas, Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York and this week’s shooting at a Colorado Wal-Mart are nothing short of pure evil. The question that comes to mind when these things happen is, “Why? Why would God allow such a horrible thing to happen?”

In a poll conducted by the Barna Group, the question was asked, “If you could ask God one question and knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?” You probably can guess what most people said. They wanted to know why there is pain and suffering in the world.

In fact, people will point to the problem of evil and suffering more than any other reason for not believing in God. It is not merely a problem; it is the problem. Why does God allow tragedy? And if God can prevent such tragedies, why does he allow them to take place? A classic statement of the problem usually goes along these lines: Either God is all-powerful, but he is not all good, and therefore he doesn’t stop evil, or, he is all good, but He is not all powerful, and therefore he can’t stop evil.

The general tendency is to blame God for evil. We effectively transfer responsibility to him. But let’s come back to the core question: If God is so good and loving (as it’s often framed), then why does he allow evil? The first part of the question is based on the false premise that we will determine what goodness is. When we ask that question, what we’re really saying, in so many words, is that God is clearly not good and loving, because if he were, he wouldn’t allow that. We are already making a judgment of God.

I wish you could have met me when I was in my 20s and was starting out as a preacher. I knew everything. I knew the answer to every question. Of course, I really didn’t, but maybe I thought I did. One of the things I’ve learned with the passing of time is that I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily need to have all the answers. God has all the answers. He gives us some of those answers this side of Heaven. And then there are other answers we’ll have to wait for.

When our son Christopher died on a Thursday, I was in church the following Sunday. I wasn’t preaching, but I was attending. People saw me in church, and they saw my wife and son Jonathan with me. They said, “You are so courageous to be in church. You are such a model of faith.” But I wasn’t there because I was strong. I was there because I was weak. I needed to be in church. I needed God. I needed the Bible. I needed worship. I needed perspective. So I looked to the Lord.

We don’t always know the answers, so we have to go back to what we do know: We know that God is good. We know that God is loving. I know that God loves me. This brings us back to the question, “If God is good and loving, then why did he allow this to happen?”

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First of all, God did not create evil. God gave us a free will. In the Garden of Eden, he allowed our first parents, Adam and Eve, to make a choice. He could have made them robots. He could have created them to do whatever he wanted them to do. But he wanted us to follow him out of choice. Adam and Eve sinned, and sin entered the world. Now we have the choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing.

What these men did in Las Vegas, New York and Thornton, Colorado, obviously was pure evil. All the experts, pundits and news anchors try to figure these things out and want to make it a political debate. But I’m going to settle it for you right now. These men did these things because they were motivated by evil and by the devil himself. I wish that were not the case. I wish we lived in a pain-free world, a crime-free world and a sin-free world. But we don’t. It is humanity – not God – that is responsible for sin.

As Christians, we know that God can bring good despite the bad. However, sometimes we can be a little too quick to quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV). Let’s not misunderstand what the Bible is saying. This verse isn’t saying that we know that all things become good. Rather, it says that all things work together for good.

Sometimes things happen in life that are bad. They always will be bad, and they never will stop being bad. So we don’t have to say that God will turn a bad thing into a good thing. He never promised that. But he did promise that good can come despite the bad. And that is a very important distinction.

One thing that happens after tragedies like these is that people start re-evaluating their lives. They think, “That could have been me. I don’t know why I survived, but I did. What does this mean? What is my life about?” They start thinking of eternity and about the things that really matter. That is a good thing.

Death comes to every person. We don’t know when it will be, and that is why we all need to be prepared to meet our God. We live in a fallen world with evil people. We live in bodies that break down and don’t work the way they once did. Our health fails. But here is the good news. If you have put your faith in Christ, then you don’t have to be afraid, because when you die, you will go straight into the presence of God in Heaven. That is the hope of every believer. Do you have that hope?