Where is God When Bad Things Happen? – Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2011
If God is all powerful and He is in charge of the things that happen in this world and determines whether they happen or not, if He could stop a tsunami, if He could stop a tornado, why doesn’t He? How can He be all powerful and all loving all at the same time? Is God responsible for some of these destructive things that happen in the world? And is there a meaning to it?)

Dr. John Ankerberg: We are talking about Erwin Lutzer’s new book, Where Was God? Answers to Tough Questions About God and Natural Disasters. The question is this, if God is all powerful and He is in charge of the things that happen in this world and determines whether they happen or not, if He could stop a tsunami, if He could stop a tornado, why doesn’t He? How can He be all powerful and all loving all at the same time? Is God responsible for some of these destructive things that happen in the world? And is there a meaning to it?

Do you see why this is so crucial to all of us? Some of you have been touched either by Hurricane Katrina, or by tornados, or by floods. Maybe you were part of the tsunami overseas. And you know the devastation these events cause. What is the relationship of these events to the God of the Bible? And, Erwin, you started off this chapter in terms of, is God responsible for natural disasters, talking about a group of ministers that met after an earthquake in California. Tell us the story.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Well, here they are, they are at a prayer breakfast and they are discussing the question as to whether or not God had anything to do with an earthquake in California that upset the various freeways, etc. And they all agreed, no, because you know, the earth is fallen and God kind of backs off and just lets things happen however this fallen world happens. But when it came time to close in prayer somebody thanked God that the earthquake came at a very early hour in the morning when there were few people on the expressway. And I am sure that everyone said, “Amen, thank you, God, that it came at a good time.”

Now, what are we saying? If God had nothing to do with it, why thank Him that it came at the right time? After all, God is removed from natural disasters, according to some people. What I tried to show in the book, John, is that both biblically and logically it simply does not make sense. Now, you know, there are two ways that people try to distance God from natural disasters. One is to say that God is essentially weak. He did the best that He could.

I was personally disappointed in Tony Campolo, because after Katrina he wrote an article in which he said that basically God did the best that He could do. In fact, he said that God was the first to weep after Katrina. The whole idea is that nature is fallen, God is not omnipotent. In fact, he quotes Kushner, and he does so with approval, that God is mighty but not Almighty.

Ankerberg: Yeah, Rabbi Kushner that wrote the bestselling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Lutzer: Right.

Ankerberg: We’ve had him on the program. I remember him saying that.

Lutzer: But now think about this, John. Are you telling me that God who created the world and threw the stars into space, that that God could not have controlled Katrina or didn’t know that the tsunami was coming? That is a God that is not worthy of the Christian faith. And so that is a bad way to try to distance God from natural disasters.

Ankerberg: Let’s add a little hook to that, and that is, the fact is, if that is the God that you believe in, the implication of that are what?

Lutzer: Well, the implications are you don’t know whether or not He will even win in the end. People like that always say, “Oh, yeah, He is doing the best that He can.” William James essentially taught the same thing, that God is doing the best He can, but this is the best He can do. Pardon me? This is the best God can do? Maybe we should weep for Him, too.

Ankerberg: Yes, then why pray that God will spare you when the tornado is coming?

Lutzer: That’s right, that’s right. We will get to that in a second. The second more popular way that Christians reason is this; they say the devil did it. And the book of Job confirms that because God used the devil to bring wind and lightning and killed Job’s children. And so they say, “You see God has a hands-off policy.” And what He does is He backs off and says that the world is cursed, the devil is in charge—he is the god of this world—and so I am going to stand back and watch what happens. And He will get involved, God will, on occasion, but in no sense is He directly responsible.

The answer to that question is this. Re-read the book of Job. Certainly Satan did it, but Satan couldn’t wiggle until God said, “I am giving you permission to wiggle.” So ultimately what we must do is to distinguish between the immediate causes of a natural disaster—which may be Satan, it may be the earth’s crust over in California and where ever earthquakes occur, and certain weather patterns when it come so tornadoes—we have to distinguish between the immediate cause, but back of that the ultimate cause is God. And you find this in the pages of scripture.

Could I ask a question? Who caused the pestilence and the plagues that came during the time of Egypt? Who caused such things as the devastation of the original flood? God sent it upon the earth. It came when He commanded it, and it left when He was finished with it. And you can go through the scriptures: Jonah 1:4, I love the translation that says, “And the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea.” Let’s be plain here, when Jesus was on the Sea of Galilee and said, “Peace, be still,” and the wind and the waves obeyed Him, the same Jesus could have spoken and the tsunami would not have happened, and Katrina would never have taken place if He had so willed it. Despite all the secondary causes, the Bible does not back down from showing that ultimately God is in control of this world. In fact, there are passages that teach that explicitly.

If you have any doubt that God has control of nature, just listen to what His Word tells us. Amos 9:6: “He who builds his lofty palace in the heaven and sets its foundation on the earth. Who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land. The Lord is His name.” God says, “I take responsibility for the tsunami.” Wow! And then you have passages of scripture such as Psalm 135:6: “The Lord does whatever pleases Him in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth, He sends lightning with the rain, He brings out the wind from His storehouses.”

I can prove that all Christian believe God is in charge. If you are running through a lightning storm, have you ever prayed? Have you ever prayed for nice weather for a wedding? Have you ever prayed that it would rain after a time of drought? No matter what we might say, ultimately every Christian knows when he or she bows his head in prayer, he knows that God is in charge.

Ankerberg: Then we need to ask the question, dare we blame God? Is He responsible for these natural disasters?

Lutzer: John, the answer to your question is this. We should never use the word blame for God, because that implies that He did something wrong. And whatever God does is wise and good. Now, I used the word responsibility earlier, I talked about God being responsible. I don’t even like that word responsibility, because it implies accountability, and God is accountable to no one. So it is best to simply say that God is in charge of natural disasters. He is in charge of His world. Directly, or indirectly through secondary causes, God is in charge. And what did Isaac Watts say? “There is not a plant or flower below but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise and tempests blow by order from thy throne.”

Ankerberg: So good, Erwin, but you are creating so many questions in people’s minds. We are knocking off some questions, but we are getting to the spot of, we want to talk about the difference, I think, before we move on to is God responsible and how do things operate. How can God be good and all-powerful and have these things, these tough things happening in the world that He is in charge of ,that He controls and could just say the word and they wouldn’t happen, okay? We need to talk about the difference between the Creator and the creature. You have some tremendous insights. One of them is that the Ten Commandments do not apply to God. What in the world did you mean when you talk about the Creator compared to we who have been created? Talk about that the Ten Commandments do not apply to God, not all of them.

Lutzer: Well, of course, the very first commandment can’t apply to God, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” in the sense that it applies to us.

But here’s what I had in mind. For example, the Bible says, “Thou shalt do no murder.” Now, John, if you were standing at a swimming pool and a little toddler fell into the pool and you could very easily rescue this child and you don’t, because you say, “You know, the toddler fell in of his own free will. This was his decision. I didn’t push him. I will just let him drown,” you would be culpable. And yet God sees that happening millions of times a day and does nothing. We are obligated as people to keep others alive as long as possible. If God had that particular principle and was held to that standard, nobody would ever die; God could keep us alive forever if He wanted to. So, you see, God plays by an entirely different set of rules.

That doesn’t mean that He enjoys our suffering, by the way. And we need to emphasize that. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, for example. God does not take delight in the suffering of humanity. But there is no question but that the suffering of humanity has to, and I want to underline that word, has to have a larger, more eternal purpose. Because there is no question that God would allow it or even ordain it, depending on which word you want to use, unless there was some ultimate purpose.

And, by the way, today listening to this program there are probably some people who say, “I don’t like your God. That God that you said was responsible or at least in charge of natural disaster, I don’t want to have anything to do with Him. I don’t want to have anything to do with Him.” Someone might say.” You know what, you have no choice. God didn’t even choose His own attributes. All of His attributes of sovereignty and justice and love and mercy were all a part of Him from eternity past.

And I really do think, John, that when God was speaking to Moses and said, “I am that I am,” what God meant was, “I am who I am and not who you prefer Me to be.” This is the God that we have to put up with.

By the way, you know the God of liberal theology, the God that just loves us and doesn’t judge us? Not only is that unscriptural, but look around at nature. Does that God exist? Absolutely not. The God who is always trying to make life as easy as He can for us? Are you kidding? Just turn on the television set and see the brokenness of humanity, see the disasters, replay the tapes of the tsunami and then answer that question.

Ankerberg: Yes. You have a verse that you bring out in the Bible and I would like to read it and have you comment on it, because the God that we are depicting here, the God of the Bible, is a scary God. He is a loving God, but we have gotten so chummy-chummy, the fact is, we need to have some of the corrective that comes out of Scripture. And here is a verse that you brought up that I thought was very interesting. Deuteronomy 28, Moses said, “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.” Erwin, why does it please God to ruin and destroy?

Lutzer: The answer is because God is pleased when His own judgments are executed. This is serious now. Now we are in deep water, but that is true. And what we need to understand is that whether God sends us blessings as He normally does, whether or not He sends judgments—and later on we are going to be talking about whether or not natural disasters are judgments and the lessons that we can learn from them—but God is saying that “I take pleasure in the exercise of all of my attributes.” Frightening in some sense, but isn’t it wonderful to know, John, that in the midst of all of that, and we have been saying some very hard things here today, that God says, “Now, I also take delight in mercy”—that is what the text says—“and I urge you to come to Me when you still can.” And, of course, all of that is centered in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ankerberg: Let me jump ahead. One of the things people said was, you know, when New Orleans caught it; they should have caught it because Mardi Gras and the occultism that is there. But then you say, well, why didn’t Las Vegas then, “sin city,” experience this? What people forget is that we have all sinned and we are all under the judgment of God. And the fact is that we all deserve Katrina in a sense. And the fact that we haven’t had Katrina happen to us is the mercy of God. But we shouldn’t forget that we are standing under His judgment even now.

Lutzer: John, I don’t think that anyone has said it more profoundly than you just have. I want to emphasize that point. Because, you see, this is what we get into when we talk about the judgments of God. We can’t say that New Orleans was a more evil city than maybe Las Vegas. But all of these are judgments. Death is a judgment. And your father, John, who loved Jesus Christ with all of his heart, he was still judged by sin and he died. You see, the effects of sin continue for all of us and death is a judgment for sin and even Christians are not exempt from that kind of judgment.

Now, the good news is that Christians are exempt from eternal judgment. And that is why the Bible says that, if we believe in Christ, the wrath of God does not abide on us but rather we are saved from wrath through Him. I can’t do anything more, John, than to encourage your listeners and those who are watching us today to say, “By God’s grace I want to believe in Jesus.” Because what we have said about God is so harsh, appears to be, and so frightening, I need a refuge from His piercing eyes and from his judgment, and only Jesus qualifies.

Ankerberg: Yes. We are talking about this thing, Erwin, that we have a loving God who is also a just God, a holy God. And we go back to the question, Is this the best of all possible worlds? Leibniz said, you know, God is good and if you had a multiple choice of all the worlds He could have created, the one that He did was the best of all possible worlds. And Voltaire, after that earthquake in Lisbon that you were talking about, said, “No, I don’t think so,” and wrote Candide and talked about this person, this boy, that every time he saw something happen, a rape, a murder, or a tragedy he said, “Well, it is still for the good.”

Lutzer: Right, right.

Ankerberg: Okay? And this is where our people are at. The fact is, they are starting to get into this idea of there is an all encompassing reason, but we haven’t got a handle on it yet. Let’s go back to, is this the best of all possible worlds? What is God’s ultimate purpose here? Why does He permit death and sin and the destruction of nature? And we are jumping ahead in some ways, but let’s start to take a nip at it here.

Lutzer: John, you have opened here a huge question which I am going to answer in summary form only. This is not the best of all possible worlds. You know, you look around you and the brokenness. If you ask a different question though, and look at this question through a different set of lenses, is this the best of all possible plans? The answer has to be yes, because a good sovereign God would have never allowed all of this devastation unless it can be justified and has some eternal purpose. And as Christians we believe that. Could I just throw this out? Let us suppose that you had all of God’s power for 24 hours, wouldn’t you change everything? Boy, think of all of the things that you and I would change, the things on this world that we would take care of. But if, at the same time, we not only had God’s power but also His wisdom, I believe that we would leave things as they are.

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