If God is in Control, Why is the World Such a Mess?
“Your God seems like a real jerk.” I plucked this line from a book by one of my favorite authors, quoting an agnostic friend. I certainly get it. This animosity toward God. The sense that the man upstairs is sleeping on the job while the world goes to crap. I understand how bearing witness to suffering can mess with our long-held beliefs about God’s sovereignty. Is there really an almighty being up there and, if so, is he really standing passively by as children starve, people die from cancer, and shooters steal innocent lives along with our long-cherished sense of security?
As a Christ-follower, I feel the need to defend him. To prop God up with convenient language that glosses over people’s anger and seething disbelief. God is good. God is in control. God has a plan.
We skim the surface because we're afraid to go deeper. Will our faith shatter if we dare to pull back the curtain of platitudes?
The truth is, we're not doing God (or ourselves) any favors by sidestepping our doubt or our burning questions; he is more than equipped for our cross examination. And while it will always be in my nature to wrestle with God over the "why's" in this earthly life, here are a few things I've come to understand about him.
1. God is in control, but he is not controlling
If only you would pay attention to my commandments! aThen your peace would become just like a river b And your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:18)
While God has the power to intervene in any circumstance, he created humans with free will. With Satan's needling and our James Dean disposition, it didn't take long for us to bust up perfection. We mess up. Others mess up. Cue pain, broken relationships, even disease and death. God allows us to take the wheel of our own lives even when our reckless driving takes us far off course. And let's not forget that it's often other fellow travelers careening through life who send us into a tailspin.
2. God longs for us to choose him
For God so loved the world... (John 3:16)
God could have fashioned marionettes and pulled the strings on our every action, forcing our undying love and devotion. Instead, he gave us a choice and delights when our hearts turn toward him.
3. Suffering offers opportunity for connection and comfort
The Bible does not depict a malevolent God, itching to strike us with lightning bolts. Zap, cancer. Zap, miscarriage. Zap, car accident. In most cases, God does not cause the suffering we encounter, but here's the cool thing: He does use difficult circumstances to draw us closer, to comfort us, and to instill in us a deeper understanding of his unshakable character.
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4. Experiencing suffering teaches us how to comfort others
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
That's right. Our own experiences with suffering might be aptly named "Empathy 101". God designed us so that our hardships mold us into excellent counselors for the hurting...without a 4-year liberal arts degree. How cool is that?
5. God invites us to be part of the solution
3 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
God doesn't need us to fix the problem of suffering, but we become agents of healing when we follow this second greatest commandment: Love others as yourself. Bringing meatloaf to a sick friend, babysitting for the mama with a disabled child, writing letters to school-shooting victims, going on mission in your own community or to the third world. These are all ways we partner with Christ to lift up the hurting and, in doing so, experience his heart for this broken world.
6. Life + God = Hope
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Having a relationship with God offers the promise that this is not the end. No matter how tough we have it, we look forward to a life after this one that is free from fear and pain. This truth allows believers to experience a joy and peace which this world cannot offer.
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7. Suffering + God = Redemption
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new! (Revelation 21:5)
There is truly no circumstance which God cannot redeem for good. He sews every straggly thread of our heartbreak into a pattern that brings immeasurable beauty to each life and to creation as a whole. What's more, his reclamation plan is not a consolation prize. It is his very best for us.
8. The bad guys will pay
10 Just a little while longer, and the wicked will be no more; You will look at where they were,And they will not be there. 11 But the meek will possess the earth, And they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace. (Psalm 37:10-11)
As this article at jw.org says, God will tolerate those who misuse their free will to harm others only for so long. We all enjoy picturing Fabio Jesus with the tranquil smile and long flowing mane, but how about the warrior who gallops in on a white stallion to slay the dragons which torment us? God is both grace and truth. Love and justice. And I simply cannot wait to witness this part of the story!
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The way I see it, suffering is an invitation. We can RSVP by throwing up our hands and railing against God and the mess or we can turn our struggles over to the almighty and trust that he is working to piece together the bigger picture.
So, back to the question: Is God a jerk? Seeing as he turns us loose to make our own choices, comforts us in our distress while teaching us to comfort others, and shapes the wreckage into something beautiful, I'd say not. In fact, peering through his eyes puts suffering in perspective and greases the skids for our own transformation.