This discussion, written by Rev Dr Paul Severs, contemplates this statement so often given as a reason or proof that there is no God worthy of acknowledgement. Over a series of articles Paul will consider this question based on bibles teaching as he approaches the subject through a series of questions.
Whilst the introduction is below further parts can be chosen from the menu on the right.
Introduction (updated 12 March 2011)
How often have you asked a question beginning like that? Perhaps it was when you saw some sad or even disastrous item of news, or lost a friend or family member to an untimely death.
Why did you ask it?
For many, that question is simply a way of justifying their unwillingness to believe in God, but for others, it is a real puzzle, which makes it hard to accept what the Bible teaches about God. If only they could see a proper reason for why the Bible’s teaching seems to contradict what they see with their eyes, an explanation which is not shallow or trite; then they might be able to believe.
Whichever you are, whether you know it or not, you have made two basic assumptions about God which the Bible does teach as true: that He is all-powerful (omnipotent), and that at the very heart of His nature He is infinitely loving towards the human race; if either of those things is not true then your question has no meaning:
• If God is not all-powerful, if somehow he just managed to get creation going, but then does not have the power to overrule what happens after that, then however powerful his love may be, we cannot reasonably expect him to do anything about what is wrong in the world.
• On the other hand, if He is all-powerful, but He is indifferent towards us, if His nature is not love, then why would we expect Him to act for us when things go wrong? If one of my children has a problem, I will do my best to help because I love my children; but I do not expect to have to bail out someone else’s child when, say, they run out of cash!
Instinctively we sense that what the Bible teaches is true, that God is both all-powerful and all-loving, that He does care about what happens in the world, and is responsible for it. That is why we find it reasonable to ask ‘Why does God allow... all the bad things in the world?’
In future installments we will look at some of the specific events which make us ask such a question, but for now we need to lay down some simple principles which are vital to really getting to grips with the matter.
1. The Bible must be our basis.
This is absolutely crucial. Now at this stage we are not asking you to believe that the Bible is
In other words, all we are asking is that for now you will accept the possibility that the Bible is a record of God making Himself known to a number of different people over a period of about 1500 years, and that because it is God’s word, the book we have now has His authority and guarantee of truthfulness. If you ask God’ ‘Why...?’ you must let Him answer!
2. God is not only all-powerful and loving.
In one sense, we cannot truly answer the ‘Why does God allow...?’ questions until we know all about the nature of the God we are questioning. In practice, that is impossible, but we do need to know what other basic, essential aspects of His nature define more clearly what His ‘omnipotence’ and ‘love’ mean:
• Being all-powerful means He can do anything, but there may be things which He will not do;
• being all-loving means He does care about what happens in the world, but there may be other aspects of His nature that contradict a course of action which we would approve of as loving.
What other things does God teach us about Himself in the Bible? For a start we find three ‘God is..’ statements, and they are all found in the writings of the Apostle John:
God is spirit [John 4 v24]; God is light [1 John 1 v5]; God is love [1 John 4 v8];
and that is the order God gave them! So if we think we know what God's love is, because we think we are in some way like God (a true biblical idea) and we can love, God says, ‘first you must understand that I am not like you!’
What God is telling us is, “I am spirit, eternal, with no beginning or end and not in any way physical or part of your universe! I am utterly different to you! I am also light, that is, absolutely pure and holy in moral terms, with no imperfection in my thoughts, desires, affections or actions. I am utterly different to you!” The Bible also tells us that God is infinitely wise and all-knowing, and present everywhere at all times, again unlike us. Therefore we must accept from the outset that His love and power will be qualified by these other aspects of His nature (theologians call these ‘attributes of God’) and so unless we understand at least something of these other truths, especially His holiness, we will have a incorrect understanding of ‘love’ and ‘power’ as they relate to God, and will be unable to grasp the answer God wants to give to our questions.