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God of the Good and the Bad

Updated: Jul 2




Rev. Rob Jones                                                    

February 18, 2024

 

Genesis 9:8-17 NRSVue

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

 

Mark 1:9-15 NRSVue

In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove upon him. 11 And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased." 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tested by Satan, and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of  God 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

 

Prayer

O Lord, allow your Holy Spirit to descend. Open our Ears and prepare our hearts to receive your message. Let everyone hear, not my words, but your “Word” this morning. AMEN

 

God of the Good and the Bad

Once, a while back, I was talking with someone, and we began conversing about evil. I said that I had read somewhere that the ancient Hebrew people believed that all things good and evil come from God, and the concept of the devil is a New Testament idea. It was a typical theological discussion that I have been known to have. My interlocutor then told me a story he heard from a friend. (I’m not sure when or where it happened) A brand-new father had a Newborn baby, and he was changing the baby on a high changing table; he did not strap the child down, and he turned away to grab a diaper. When he turned away, the baby rolled over and rolled off the table and died. He asked me if that came from God. [The story is awful to hear. I want to pause and say I know… some of you may have experienced something just as horrific or maybe even worse.

 

I do not want to diminish the event; I even prayed for this person and his wife, whom I don’t even know; it seemed the right thing to do. I do not mean to diminish the event or even downplay it for a theological discussion. But I do want to clarify why I said what I said because even in light of this story, I still agree with the ancient Hebrew people.] After that conversation, I read an article online (the citation is below) by Naume Mubure posted online titled “God’s Permissive Will vs. His Perfect Will (It is worth the read too). I was transported back to this conversation and the thought of free will and God’s plan for our salvation. The Spirit led me down a theological rabbit hole that only becomes more profound the more one thinks about it. This article is a continuation of the thoughts that began in her article.

 

We can imagine what people said to this father and maybe what someone may have told you if you suffered such a tragedy. In trying to comfort and offer some consolation, they said, “Well, it is part of God's plan. For some reason, we don't understand it, but this is all part of God's plan.” It was said to me when I was 15 years old. My dad’s brother came to visit; he always seemed to show up twice a year, on my birthday and Christmas. He was the stereotypical fun uncle, but he was an alcoholic, and my parents didn’t want him around the kids; I understand this as a parent. My uncle lived in Michigan, and he had hitchhiked all the way down to South Carolina. My dad took him to the edge of town and told him not to come back until he sobered up. That was my 15th birthday, and four days later, he was dead. He had hitchhiked to Atlanta, and drunk, he tried to cross the interstate at night. I do not know the details, but I was told his wallet identified him. Why would God let that happen? Was it God’s plan? That is essentially what I was told by the adults who were tasked with explaining the situation to me as a young teenager. I had a hard time reconciling how I felt.

 

 I am guilty of saying something similar in the past myself. When we don’t know what to say, it just seems easier to transfer our pain, guilt, and questions to God. Today, I want to do two things: one, apologize if I said this to you, and two, clarify that our spiritual journey is not always a straight path. It may wind back and forth and even circle a time or two until God reveals His will to us. This is why I study scripture, doctrine, history, and science. I want to confess to you that I am still growing in my faith, and I hope the same is true for all of you. However, if you have it figured out, let’s get together and talk because I have questions. The thing that we must understand is that, as Christians, saying such things, even with the best of intentions, is not the entire truth. Bad things, especially evil things, are not part of God's plan, and we need to stop saying such things. Let me pontificate a moment; we like to think, “Well, God's in control.” Because… God is in control of everything. Yes and no. I would say God is intimately involved with everything; God is aware of everything. But if you believe the words of the popular country song “Jesus, Take the Wheel” are the gospel, then you may be surprised the next time someone cuts you off in traffic.

 

God is not in control of everything. God could be (absolutely) because God is the creator, but God is not in control of everything by choice, and this is God’s design for creation. God is indeed omnipotent. We have all heard that word preached at some point. This means God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and so God could be in control of every little detail. But here's the crazy thing: as Christians, our view of scripture shows us that God is independent of all creation. (Acts 17:24-25; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:10-12; John 1:3; Romans 11:35-36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Ps. 90:2; Ex 3:14) (to cite a few verses)

 

God is the source of all life… and the moment that God created anything outside of himself, he gave up, voluntarily, a degree of power. What I mean by that is, at the moment that God created concepts like physics or thermodynamics, God gave up power over there being the possibility of smoke in a house fire settling on the floor instead of rising to the ceiling or any other possibility that physics doesn't work. Science has proven this decision of God over and over.

 

The moment God created anything outside of himself, he gave up a certain degree of power. The moment God created free human beings or free angelic beings, he gave up a certain degree of power, a certain degree of control. God is not in control of us; that is why we can choose to sin; we are not puppets. God is not in control of the angels; that is why we have the concept of hell and fallen angels. Unless we submit our wills (small w) to God’s Will (Capital W), we fall subject to sin, but we all know this on a fundamental level; we know this is what sin is. When I say to God, “I know what you want, but I'm gonna do what I want anyway.” I let my will supersede God’s Will, and that’s never a good thing. Paul tells us this leads to death.

 

We look at the world, especially amid war, civil violence, school shootings, and church and synagogue shootings, and in the midst of all this heartbreak, we think, “God, it would be really awesome if you could just take away some human freedom and give us safety, give back that child, give back mom and dad.” Wouldn’t it be awesome if Jesus would take the wheel? If God took control, everything would be perfect. But that’s not God’s will for us. That’s not what Jesus meant when he prayed, “Let your will be done.” God wills that you and I retain our freedom and that this world still acts according to specific laws. We know that God did not make that baby fall off the changing table or make my uncle get drunk that night. In fact, the Book of Wisdom [in the Apocrypha of the OT] says…

12 Do not court death by the error of your life.

Or bring on destruction by the works of your hands,

13 because God did not make death,

And he does not delight in the destruction of the living.”

 

So, when someone dies, it's not God's will; it’s not part of God's plan. Does this mean that God is distant? Does it mean that God doesn't care or is disengaged? No! God is intimately involved with every moment of our lives. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” God is deeply, intimately involved in every element of our lives. That doesn't mean that everything that happens is, therefore, part of God’s plan, even if God is aware.

What we should say is, “It's all God's will.” We need to make a fundamental distinction when we think of will. God has a perfect Will and God’s allowed will. Those things that God directly wills are goodness, life, love, reason, wisdom, and all these good things. This is God's perfect will. We have to understand this is what God's very essence is, and so whenever there is life and love and joy and wisdom and truth, all of the beautiful things are always part of God’s directly willing those things. When bad things happen, that was not part of God's perfect will. That's part of God's allowed, or permissive will, what God allows to occur through nature, choice, or happenstance. This is the result of God giving us free will. We have a choice: to submit to God’s will and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance and understanding. We have the option to serve others as Jesus commanded or to serve ourselves. To be present in the light of God, or self-seeking, and hurried in order to reach our worldly goals.

 

So, when someone says about the child who fell off the table and died, it is part of God's plan. No, false. That is not Plan A. This is what God allowed that to happen. It's God’s permissive will. God did not want that to happen; he allowed it to happen because he created a world where God is not a tyrant and is not a dictator. Where he's not in control of every little thing, but where everything is controlled by what God allows. God gave us free will to choose between this and that, to pray now or later instead of now and later. To come to church to worship or stay home and get ready for the big game. I don’t take attendance on Sunday mornings, but if this theology is correct, God does. God allows us the free will not to worship but hopes that we will freely choose to worship, to study his word, and to serve others as Jesus commanded. Jesus tells us in the gospels that we will all stand in judgment, and some who called on his name will hear, "I do not know you."

 

Yes, bad things happen, but let’s go back to this thought, “God, why don't you just take it away? Please take away some freedom. Turn off the laws of physics. Turn off the laws of thermodynamics. Turn off the stuff in the air that can poison us and kill us; do something about the things that cause us pain.” There are two reasons why God doesn't violate our free human will. (At least two, but if one thinks too hard, there are probably more.) First, apparently, God deems the retention of our freedom to be for the greater good than even the momentary suspension of human liberty for human security and safety.

 

The second reason is that God knows that even in the midst of the worst evil, he can bring about a greater good. Fundamentally, we understand that this is true. God did not will that Jesus died. That's not part of his perfect will. That's part of his permissive will. He allowed that to happen, and Jesus submitted and allowed it to happen to him. He offered himself up, but that's not part of God's Plan A. Plan A would be for humanity to be good and kind to each other, not to sin, and to seek a relationship with God. God allowed it to happen, knowing that he could bring about a greater good. God became human, became vulnerable, and we killed him. That led to the greatest thing that ever happened in human history. God allows these things to happen. Not because he wants them to happen but because he knows that freedom is the greater good.

 

God can bring redemption through even the worst stuff that happens. The reason why modern civilization no longer allows all-powerful kings to rule nations, or why America has consistently helped overthrow dictators around the globe since the end of WWII, is that we know what happens when you give one human absolute power. God understands this, and “Goodness” comes from when we work together and help each other. We would never be able to do that if God took away free will. In Genesis 9, we see sin becomes so bad (and the Bible tells us the wages of sin is…? Death. Romans 6:23) that the only way to stop it is with a flood that kills everything… but culminates in a new covenant with God and a promise that it will never happen again. In Mark, Jesus was tested in the wilderness and eventually hung on the cross, innocent but killed by his people. This act saves humankind from sin and death itself and ultimately changes the world. In Genesis, God did not want to send the flood; Genesis tells us that God saw what we had become through sin, and He was sorry. By the time of Jesus, Sin had become institutional in the Temple, in Government, and in daily worship. Jesus came not to stop us but to offer us a new way to come back to God.

 

How do we find a word of Hope if we are not guaranteed that we will not suffer? Is God just going to let anything happen? Not exactly. God does not “will” evil into the world, but even when evil happens, it does not thwart God's cosmic plan, God’s perfect will. When someone dies, when someone is attacked, brutalized, or violated, that still does not thwart God's plan. God can take this broken thing and make it whole again. God can take your destroyed heart, your destroyed life, and bring it back to “whole.” If we hang in there, God will bring about a greater good. Don't give up. God not only can, but God wants to; his perfect will is that he brings about a greater good even through stuff that we don't get, even through death, even through accidents, even through disease. When we look to Jesus, to the cross, and think about the horror of that event, but then accept the power exuded by God and the consequence of that event, that is where we find Hope. That is where we see God’s Plan A, God’s perfect will. That is where the understanding of God’s desire for us is found…

 

God is still God in the good and the bad… AMEN.

 

 

 

Works Cited

Mubure, Naume. “God’s Permissive Will vs. His Perfect Will - the Weight She Carries.” The Weight She Carries - Award-winning platform facilitating emotional healing for daughters of Africa & WOC around the world, April 18, 2021. https://theweightshecarries.com/gods-permissive-will-vs-his-perfect-will/.

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