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Answering those that say God cannot exist because bad things happen

How do you answer such an assertion?

What does the question mean?

Some say God is capricious to the extent of practicing genocide (a modern term), especially in Old Testament times. They appear to mean that God is very ‘judgemental’ and either directed or caused large numbers of men, women and children to die.  The essence of the complaint is that since “bad things happen”, there can be no God.

Short Answer

God is not capricious but rather He is holy and righteous, meaning his judgements are perfect. In contrast to capriciousness, he is very slow to anger (2 Peter 3:9). God, who created all things, must watch in great disappointment as humans, whose will is independent and autonomous, attempt to usurp Him, when humans know so little – as God himself puts it, humans do not even know where the edge of the universe is:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

God is full of grace and mercy (Psalm 86:15), and his patience is long (Nehemiah 9:30, 31; Romans 15:5); however this does not mean he will not judge the works and behaviour of humans. The Old Testament is about human behaviour contrasted against God’s grace and righteousness, showing, without prejudice and with impartiality, that humans are incapable of because all have sinned. And in the natural order of things, since the beginning of time, sin causes death. Therefore, whether God shortens a person’s life because he sins, or allows it to run its full course (which today is 70 years – Psalm 90:10), is God’s business.

God is not capricious

The real meaning of ‘capricious’ is having an ‘uncharacteristic change in mind’ usually for the worse. In its basic form it means ‘impulsive’. It is ironic that humans have the nerve to state that God is impulsive, when God is exceptionally slow in anger and demonstrates extreme patience and it is man who is very impatient and impulsive, especially when demanding good fortune, riches, honour or glory.

The context is important. Those that sin must end in death – this is the natural order of things. On death the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God is taken to heaven; all others will, in the future, be cast into hell[1]. Those that view God as capricious do not view humans as being sinners deserving of death. In any case a capricious God, the creator (and therefore owner) of all things, would have killed all humans and not put up with their self-righteous pompous, proud and arrogant ways for the past some 6000 years. This is because humans have deliberately set about from the beginning to systematically destroy God’s creation which was ‘very good’ (Psalm 2). On the other hand God has not changed his mind – the sinner will go to hell.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
(2 Corinthians 9:8)

God is slow to anger and is righteous

God has the authority to punish His creation when they disobey him because He is their creator. In the same way a potter has the right to keep or destroy anything he makes (Isaiah 29:16; Romans 9:21). No righteous person can accept wrong. For example a judge simply cannot turn a blind eye to a proven misdemeanour brought before him. Our righteous judge, the Lord God Most High, being holy, also cannot turn a blind eye to evil.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
(Romans 1:18)

Yet although God could make rapid decisions to deal with the stupidity of man – in particular his pride and arrogance, He is slow to anger. The Old Testament attests to this. The chosen people of God – the Jews were blessed with land and riches but decided to worship dumb wooden idols (1 Col. 12:2). As Nehemiah attests:

They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.  (Nehemiah 9:17)

God punished them and in doing so many people died. Their stubbornness left them in the wilderness, after being saved from slavery to the Egyptians, ensuring all adults had died before reaching the Promised Land, except for 2 men.

Another example often put about the capriciousness of God, is the occupation of the land of the Canaanites. The Canaanites – the people who occupied the land of Canaan, now called Israel, which was once called Palestine by the Greeks, were given more than 430 years to turn from their evil ways, which included child sacrifice, and to worship the God who created them. They did not and God judged them – and many men, women and children died. There is nothing capricious here; righteousness demands judgement and judgement requires punishment for evil or wrong doing. God gave them 430 years to turn to Himself (Galatians 3:17).

God is slow to anger, but this does not mean He avoids punishing those who disobey Him.  Furthermore, he God is never impulsive, that is, acting without giving thought or reason to His action. God always approaches justice righteously (Deuteronomy 32:4; Romans 1:32). He is slow to anger and in that slowness, grace is allowed to abound. That is not to say that the full weight of the law of justice will somehow be diminished, nor does this mean His actions are slow, once implemented.

On a single night in Babylon, when Belshazzar was king, the Lord God Jehovah (meaning saviour) God sent a short text message, which was written on the wall of the palace. Daniel, a Jew and captive of the Babylonians, interpreted the text which stated the kingdom was judged because they king had, that day, blasphemed the holy name of God. (They had also continued the internment of the Jews, who had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon.) Their judgement was the kingdom being snatched out of the hands of Belshazzar the Chaldean king within 24 hours of the announcement – the Medes attacked the Chaldeans, and killed King Belshazzar.

The main reason for asking this question

Those that ask this question do not believe or understand that humans are God’s workmanship and creation, and unlike a pot or some other object, our creator has given all humans a free will to decide whether we obey our creator or not (1 Corinthians 10:13). Indeed, we are made ‘after His image’ (Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6), with the ability to reason (Job 13:3; Isaiah 1:18) and make decisions. What people don’t want to hear is the truth that disobedience leads to death (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Why is this so? God is Holy and cannot (it is impossible for him) to tolerate sin (Leviticus 11:44 etc.), which corrupts all humans. Indeed we were marred with sin from birth, inherited from Adam (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 5:14, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Since death is the curse of sin (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:1-34), it is only God himself that can provide a way of saving His creatures (John 10:7-9; Acts 4:12 etc.). Yeshua also known as Jesus Christ, who is the Messiah, died in our place, as a substitute for our punishment (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:23-25). This alone shows God is not capricious – but rather a loving God (Exodus 34:6, 7) who provides, at the cost of His own son, a way of being saved from the blight of our sinfulness (unrighteousness) (Romans 6:23; 1 John 2:2). The Bible assures us that anyone who believes on the Messiah is saved (John 3:16). On the other hand, anyone who does not believe will be judged and his or her soul will be cast into hell.

What about sickness

All sickness and illness entered the world through the sin of man – commenced by Adam who gave all a sin nature (Romans 5:12). Cancer in children, some exclaim is proof, that God is capricious, yet benzene that spews from our cars which is a human action, contaminating our environment and leads to childhood leukaemia. Our insatiable appetite for a ‘good-life’ has led to many millions of chemicals to be invented and the entire planet polluted by them – no-one can be surprised to find children getting cancer. Children die of starvation, yet there is enough food on the planet to feed all, enough wealth for all to be well off – yet a few greedy men (and it’s mainly men) control the wealth of billions. The vastness of the inequity of our plant is human derived; and this inequity is a principal cause of ill health in millions. In this we see that sinfulness has dominion over our life just as the Bible said it would.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Furthermore, one can ask; who invented the gun; God or man? Or, who injurers their wife by hitting her, or enslaving her by economic poverty? Man of course. The misery in this world, every bit, is created by humans disobeying God; tempted by the great tempter, Satan whose beguiles and lies  to us (1 Thessalonians 3:5). The Bible states that even nature groans because of the sin of man as it waits for God’s judgement to come (Romans 8:23).

Some say God is capricious because he allows war, famine and death yet in each and every case it is the sin of man that leads to these catastrophes. God actually does not run a nanny state, but he does allow Satan relative free reign – Satan is power of darkness that rules this planet at this stage (See Ephesians 6:10-20). Man has a choice, since he has a free will – which means every man and woman has the freedom to do to good or to do evil – succumb to temptations or resist the devil. The holocaust, as terrible as it was, was carried out by humans and humans alone. God will judge those responsible – in His own good time. War and domestic violence is always man’s invention. Famine tests the loving kindness of the human race and we fail dismally each time.

When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)

However, we need to acknowledge that we don’t know all the reasons for sickness. For instance, in a case where Jesus treated a sick child who was blind we are told he was blind for the purpose of demonstrating the righteousness of God – Jesus healed the boy (John 9). What humans fail to appreciate is that God the creator is sovereign to do what He wants, yet he is faithful to be always righteous! Furthermore, God never assured anyone they would be trouble free; indeed, Jesus said the opposite – the followers of Christ would suffer (Mark 8:34 – 38).

From a Christian view-point; suffering is the Lord working on our behalf to develop spiritual maturity and a godly character. “Bad things” are trials that produce patience and dependence upon God (James 1:2-3). Indeed, a believer is to rejoice, because it means that the Lord has counted us worthy to receive this spiritual direction; in the end we will lack nothing (Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 3:14).

Finally, contemporary western culture, in no longer recognising that God is sovereign, fails to comprehend the importance or relevance of the human soul, which is not destroyed upon death. That a child dies is sad for humans, but the soul of that child merely transitions from the earthly human body to the spiritual, either in paradise or hades (1 Corinthians 15). For a Christian, we know that it is far better to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), where suffering has ended (Revelation 21:4). Furthermore, Jesus indicated clearly that children are special to God (Matthew 18:5, 6) and we are also told a child of believing parents are sanctified by the faith of the parents (1 Corinthians 7:14).

Therefore, as a believer in Christ, I have confidence He will save me out of this sinful world (2 Timothy 1:12) because His righteousness is perfect, and those that do evil will be judged.

 The LORD shall judge the peoples; Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, And according to my integrity within me. Psalm 7:8

Summary

That bad things happen is not evidence there is no God; but rather points to the sinful nature of men and women, whose will, intellect, and lack of wisdom causes everyone to be incapable of righteousness and justice. It is the sinful nature of all humans, first seen in Adam, then all his descendants, that leads to bad things  happening, not a lack in the God of Heaven. Thus the folly of humans; pride, lust, envy and all unrighteousness, to name a few, are what causes wars and famines, and the gross inequities we see every day, that directly impacts the health and wellbeing of each and every person.

It is God that brings justice, being a holy God, in whom we can have absolute confidence that He will exercise righteousness. He will revenge those that are evil and who do not repent (Hebrews 10:30; Revelation 6:10; 19:2 etc.); but this will be in His timing not ours.

That God exists is in no doubt; consider the Jew, consider Jesus Christ, consider the prophecies of the Holy Scriptures and lastly, but not least, consider the Bible as a whole; all attest to God being the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and the saviour of this world.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20) 

However, even when Jesus was raised from the dead, they did not believe; but do you?

 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31 

[1] This forms the foundation of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4) and is what is emphasised when a Christian is baptised (Romans 6:4)

David L Simon
22 February 2022

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