Not long ago, I read a tweet by Ricky Gervais, asking why God let terrible things happen. It was framed as a multiple choice question, with the answers stacking the deck, naturally: God must not exist, or God is allowing terrible things as punishment, or God doesn’t care, for example.
All of the choices reflected negatively on God. The answers presupposed that “terrible things” were of primal importance, as if the comfort of this very moment were the only thing about which we or God should care.
I don’t mind the sentiment, honestly. In the 1940s, most of my family disappeared in the Holocaust; I can fully sympathize with the anguish associated with terrible things.
Yet… God is responsible, but not to blame for these terrible things. He’s responsible in the sense that in the end He will create a new Heaven and a new Earth, using the construct we have at our feet.. but not to blame, in that we choose.
And blame presumes that the “terrible thing” is evil, when it may or may not be. Perhaps it was caused by evil; maybe it is evil indeed. (Or perhaps it’s a natural event which causes harm, like a tsunami or tornado.)
Regardless, the event is not normally the result of God hitting the “smite” key.
What it comes down to is this: God allows events to happen in accordance with His plan, such that an event chosen by Him will occur in His time and in His way.
That event is His reforging the earth, the “Day of the Lord,” when He returns.
Everything that has happened or will happen on earth is designed to advance His inestimable will. Every event causes a ripple in a sea that flows to His desire.
A terrible event – let’s say a tornado – happens, killing a family of five Christians. Are they being punished for their sin? The Bible says “probably not.” (It’s possible, but not very likely; “natural consequences” are by far more likely to be chosen as “punishment” rather than a tornado. If there’s abuse going on, then the consequence is normally going to be family ruin, not a natural disaster.)
Yet with this “terrible event…” what is God doing?
Honestly, I don’t know, and can’t presume to know. Yet I think God can use that terrible event – not just to usher that family into His arms, but possibly as something that leads others to Him as well. Perhaps the grief of the community leads someone to search for Him, for example.
Of course it’s possible that the event could turn some away. But someone who’s turned away by such things… their faith is in desperate need of shoring up, because they’re seeing God as some kind of magic vending machine, that disposes candy when we dance in a certain way.
God is not a vending machine. God is greater than our ability to describe; expecting Him to dance to our tune, and turning away when He does not, is more of an indictment of us than of Him.
Terrible things, indeed. Perhaps the focus shouldn’t be on the terrible events that catch our eyes, but on the terrible things that those flashes of despair illuminate through our responses.