Earlier this year, comedian and talk show host Chelsea Handler asked Neil DeGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist, author, science communicator) whether or not he believed in God. As always, deGrasse Tyson gave a gracious, brilliantly explained, evidence based response and in it, he addressed the frequent question – why does God let bad things happen? You can watch the interview here, he says:
Every description of God I’ve heard, holds God to be all powerful (very typical) and all good. And then I look around and I see a tsunami that killed a quarter million people in Indonesia, an earthquake that killed a quarter million people in Haiti, and I see earthquakes and tornadoes and disease, childhood leukemia: and I see all of this and I say I do not see evidence of both of those being true simultaneously. If there is a God, the God is either not all powerful or not all good. He can’t be both.
It’s the greatest contradiction of the traditional Christian God, and the most common question I’m asked by friends and family as a Christian: How can a God who loves the world and all the people in it let such terrible events occur? Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
Let’s first have a look at the traditional view on who God is.
Who is the God of the Bible?
The Bible paints God as all powerful. With power over the heavens, the earth and all people. God created the universe (Genesis 1-2), caused the Great Flood (Genesis 7-8), sent the 10 plagues to Egypt (Exodus 7-11), parted the Red Sea to free the Hebrew slaves (Exodus 14). God gave Sarah and Abraham a child late in life (Genesis 21), cured a man of leprosy (2 Kings 5), caused an Aramean army to go blind (2 Kings 6) and killed an Assyrian Army (2 Kinds 19: 35).
Through Jesus, God has performed countless miracles. He healed the blind (Matthew 9:27-31), the deaf and dumb (Mark 7: 31-37), resurrected the dead several times (Luke 7: 11-18 and John 11: 38-44, not to mention Jesus himself), and cured a woman who had bled for 12 years (Matthew 9: 20). The list goes on.
There is no doubt that if you believe these stories then you must believe that God is all powerful. With power over the natural world as well as life and death.
Despite having read the atrocities of the Old Testament and believing them to be the will of God, most Christian’s also believe that God is perfect, entirely good and that his love knows no bounds.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life – John 3:16.
It’s the most quoted verse of the Bible. During difficult times it brings many Christians comfort in the knowledge that God knows everything about them and yet still loves them. And there are countless other verses with the same message. We believe in a God that is good and loving.
One of my favourite Australian comedians, Jim Jefferies says: “Religious people will forgive God for ****ing anything. In their mind He does good things.” It’s easy to see why this contradiction is one of the common arguments made by atheists.
So how can we as Christians, reconcile these conflicting concepts of God? Well the answer is that rationally we can’t.
Nevertheless, Christians scramble to find an explanation that ensures their faith remains intact and their understanding of the world is steadfast. We want to know that things happen for a reason, that there IS a God who loves us and has a plan and all those other clichéd statements that make us feel warm and fuzzy when our world is falling apart.
So let’s examine some of these common explanations of God’s contradictory nature.