I had an interesting exchange with a Facebook friend who asked, “Where is God when genocide, rape, and starvation are part of everyday life?” Our short discussion revolved around injustices done to South African blacks during the era of apartheid. Her challenge was a significant one, and usually many Christians have great difficulties answering it, often overwhelmed with the scope of evil in the world.
I’d like to try my hand at an answer. Actually, I want to give five answers to this question. This may be a little forensic for some. You may not like these answers, but they at least address the issue from a theologically biblical perspective, which is my objective.
First, we should recognize that there are four reasons why people sometimes ask this question.
- They are seeking comfort because of a terrible trial or injustice
- They are seeking answers to why there is suffering and injustice in the world if a good God exists
- They are seeking to blame God for suffering and injustices when he doesn’t appear, from their perspective, to take corrective action, or
- They are seeking to demonstrate that God does not exist since a so-called good God could not, from their perspective, exist and allow such terrible things to happen
All of these may be boiled down to a single question: Is God just? These questions apply to everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. Even believers struggle with the issue of God’s justice. When bad things happen to good people we sometimes shake our fists at God and ask, “Is this how you treat your servants?” Many Christians go through their experience and wind up with the standard answers that we’ve all heard before: God is disciplining us, or God is punishing us, or God is teaching us a lesson, or God’s way are mysterious, etc. For a few people these pat answers may be enough but they really don’t tell us anything that addresses the issue: Is God just? The unbeliever hears these answers and usually turns away because these answers seem simple and unconvincing. They really don’t tell us much about God or about why he does what he does.
Job was a man who questioned God’s justice. After having his family killed, his home destroyed, his wealth obliterated, and his health ravaged he wanted an answer from God about why he allowed what he did. God’s answer? It’s brutal. So let me paraphrase it: “Who do you think you are?” (Job 38-41). Ouch. Not exactly the answer most of us are looking for. In fact, the Apostle Paul followed a similar theme when he answered questions about God’s justice in Romans 9:14-15, and 20, “There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion…Who are you, O’ man, who answers back to God?’”
I know that these scriptures may not exactly be satisfying—we often don’t like God’s choices. But when you read those chapters of Job, Romans, and others you come away with something significant—our first answer.
- God is not obligated by man’s injustices.
Another way to say this is that God is sovereign. Theologically speaking, God has made choices about what he will and won’t do as he superintends our history. He is rolling out his plan for humanity. For some there is grace and mercy and for others there is suffering and trial, and for most there is both. God is the author of the book, so to speak, and he’s is writing his story to accomplish the end that he intends. In one sense we might say that we are writing the story with him through the choices that we also make. Let’s expand upon God’s obligations.
- God cannot be obligated to do anything except that for which God has promised to act upon in covenant.
Man is responsible for his own injustices. However, there are times when God can be called upon to act, in one sense we might be able to say that God is obligated to act— when we call upon him to act according to what he has promised to do. A good example of this is found in the books of Nehemiah and Daniel. In Daniel 9 Daniel read the promise in the book of Jeremiah where God promised to repatriate his people back to Israel after a 70-year exile. Daniel noted that the time was at hand and prayed for God to fulfill his promises, which he did. Nehemiah had a similar experience in Nehemiah 1.
We may ask God to do something that he has not spoken about in scripture, but we have no guarantee that he will act. We can only fall upon his mercy.
- God is sovereign (whether we like it or not) and has chosen, thru his sovereignty, to act on man’s injustices thru judgment, forgiveness, and Christ’s death.
This is one that man tends to forget. We see injustices going on and wonder why God does not put a stop to it, why he does not give us a solution. When this happens we fail to remember that God has already acted through Christ. Injustice is nothing more than a form of sin, no matter how terrible it may be. God has acted once and for all through the unjust execution of his son to pay the penalty for all sin no matter how small or great. When we surrender ourselves to Christ we come into agreement with him about our sin and the process of transformation begins. Man’s failure to act upon what Christ has done does not make God unjust. The scripture records that there will one day be a reckoning for all who have lived. Those who have rejected Christ and opted to continue in sin will be judged (Revelation 20:11-15). Those who have accepted God’s solution through Christ will receive eternal life. It’s no more simple than that. Full justice, the kind we want for the victim, may be delayed, but it will definitely happen. But forgiveness brings eternal life.
- God is available in the aftermath of whatever evil to provide comfort, meaning, and recovery.
For those who have surrendered to Christ there can be great meaning and comfort through suffering. The fruit and the lessons learned will last beyond this earthly life into eternity. It is true that a non-believer can find comfort, meaning, and recovery without submission to Christ. In such cases man creates his own meaning. There’s no denying that. But it cannot have an eternal effect. It is temporary only until the day of death. Sadly, no one will find comfort or recovery in the judgment. We should also remember that Christians are called to bring comfort to the suffering of others just as God has brought us such comfort. II Corinthians 1:3-5 states, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”
- God is available in his people’s response, even though his people fail and are not perfect.
The scriptures teach that man is designed as God’s image on earth and is therefore the responsible agent to act on God’s behalf to perform justice. God is not obligated to act if we fail to act—he has ALREADY acted by making us his agents (II Corinthians 5:20). In other words, WE are the answer. We have the knowledge, the capability, and are assigned to act on God’s behalf. Therefore, if we fail or do not act then the responsibility for failing to correct any injustice lies solely with us and not with God since we are his agents. As an example: the injustices done during apartheid? Man’s actions, man’s responsibility, man’s guilt, man’s missed opportunity. If good parents teach their children honesty and a child steals, are the parents responsible or the child? So it is the same with God and his people.
As mentioned earlier, God is not obligated by us to do anything. But he chose to act in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is his solution. We may not like the solution and wish for something else. The reality is that there is no “Plan B.” Therefore, protesting God’s take on justice doesn’t really do us any good. Just as Adam blamed God for his own sin so too we sometimes do the same. But what’s the point? Just as Christ suffered and provided a solution, so too we are to do the same. We may fail from time to time but that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility as those created in God’s image. Man’s injustice is always man’s fault. But we have everything we need to act and to take responsibility for our collective actions. Thus, I think, the question we should be asking is not, “Where is God when such and such happens?” Rather we might consider this: “Where are we?”