Is God Out to Get Us?
Let’s take an inventory of all that’s been happening in my life for the last two months. First, came the pandemic. Then came the leaking garbage disposal that spewed water in our cabinet. That was followed by the broken refrigerator that spewed water on our floor and through our floor. That led to replacing half of the ceiling tiles downstairs. Then the camera that we use to record Sunday mornings (my guess is that you would think that might be an important element of life these days) decided to flip the image on the viewfinder, so everything was upside down (annoying, but not devastating). Then the camera decided to turn off randomly during recording (very annoying and a little devastating). Then, for the last two weeks, the camera has chosen not to turn on until it wants to, sometimes not for hours (both very annoying and very devastating). But there’s more. Our upstairs toilet won’t flush properly. Our kitchen light is also on the fritz. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a snake in our backyard. A snake. It’s May. And while it was only a juvenile snake, our guess is that mom and dad and the siblings are also in town. And to top it all off, there is also something living under our deck. It could be a rabbit. It could be mice. My bet these days: it is an alligator. All that to say, I believe God is out to get us.
Okay, I don’t really believe God is out to get us, but after reading Paul Froese and Christopher Bader’s fascinating book, America’s Four Gods, I have a new appreciation for the question, “What is God doing in all of this?” The answer, not surprisingly, depends on which of America’s “Four Gods” you believe in and how you read the Bible. So, today, let’s ask the question: Did God cause this pandemic? There are at least four different views.
First, some Christians will read Deuteronomy 28:15-68 and will conclude that, yes, God is absolutely causing all of this. And the reason is clear: According to Deuteronomy, if we abandon God and disregard his commandments, then all the curses of the covenant will fall down upon us. And what are those curses? Here are some of the highlights:
- You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. (verses 15-16)
- You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. (verse 19)
- The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, which will plague you until you perish. (verse 22)
- The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. (verse 27)
- You will be unsuccessful in everything you do. (verse 29)
- The Lord will send fearful plagues on you, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses, and they will cling to you. (verses 58-60 )
Side Note: Interestingly, there are only thirteen verses dealing with the blessings of the covenant and fifty-three (53!!!!) verses dealing with the curses! Yikes!
Now, if you apply Deuteronomy to our situation today, chances are pretty good (at least according to Froese and Bader) that you believe in an Authoritative God (you may remember that in the book, one who holds this view believes that God is very engaged in our world and is very active in judging sin).
So, if you believe in an Authoritative God and you look out your window and see a pandemic, what do you think? You think God is judging us (or at the very least trying to get our attention!). And why would God judge us? Two answers rise to the top. He is judging us to glorify his name and to punish us for our sin.
Let’s make this a little more real. After Hurricane Katrina, an Alabama state senator said (and I am quoting from America’s Four Gods here): “New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness. . . . It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God.” There you go. God used Katrina to punish New Orleans for her sin. Another example. After the citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania, had voted their school board out of office for supporting the teaching of intelligent design, Pat Robertson warned: “I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God; you just rejected him from your city.” All that to say, many Christians believe God causes calamities to fall upon us to glorify his name and to exact judgment for sin.
But not everyone believes that. Some people struggle with the sentence, “God causes disasters,” and opt, instead, for a more moderate approach. In this second approach, God may not cause disasters, but he does allow them. For these people, the early chapters of Job are the lens through which we should look at most of our troubles and trials. Two verses from those chapters in Job stand out:
- Job 1:12 – “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’”
- Job 2:6 – “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’”
If you needed to choose one word to summarize God’s role in Job’s misery, you couldn’t do much better than the word “allows.” Such a view would also be consistent with an Authoritative God, but it wants to soften the language a bit and, in so doing, protect God from any mistaken notion that he is the author of sin. This seems to be the view of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In chapter 3 (“Of God’s Eternal Decree”) we read:
- “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
Now, I know, that whole second part sounds like it was written by a task force of contentious lawyers, but it is trying to do something important. It wants to assert that God ordains all things; but at the same time, it wants unequivocally to negate the idea that God is the author of sin. And the best way to do that is to propose that God works through secondary causes which is another way of saying he allows certain things to happen. And while only “allowing disasters” still doesn’t seem like good news, this view comes with a promise, that when all is said and done, all that is done will be for God’s glory and our eventual good. Another quote from American’s Four Gods, this one from a guy named Peter in Alabama who said: “I remember Hurricane Katrina. . . . I believe God was in control of that. I believe God could have stopped it. I also believe God allowed it. I believe it got the whole country’s attention. I believe it was very much a wake-up call to America.” There it is: God allows tragedies as a means to get our attention. They are a severe mercy designed to open our eyes to our sin in hopes that we will turn to God.
But not everyone believes that either. Some take a third position. They wholeheartedly believe in and interpret everything in light of 1 John 4:8:
- “God is love.”
As such, they might even say it this way: God is love and in him are no disasters at all. Back to America’s Four Gods. People who take this position believe in a Benevolent God (they define a Benevolent God as one who is highly engaged with our world, but does not act to judge sin). For them, the question is not, “Does God cause disasters?” or even “Does God ‘allow’ disasters?” (after all, how could a truly loving God have anything to do with calamities?). Instead, the question is: “What will God do in the midst of these travesties?” And here’s the quick answer: God will do all sorts of loving things in the midst of these horrible situations to help and bless us. Or to say it another way, God will use these trying times for our good. Look around, and you will see God miraculously rescuing people from danger. Look around, and you will see God answer prayer. Look around, and you will see God stir up his people so that they will help others. A Benevolent God intervenes in our trials in ways that help us. When asked to list all the ways God has shown his benevolence and all the ways he has shown his anger, one person interviewed by Froese and Bader commented that he would have to stop writing when he got to 100 benevolent items, but that he would have a hard time even coming up with one single item for the “anger” list. For those in the Benevolent God category, it is clear that no matter what the situation, God is working for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
But fourth, not everyone believes that either. Some Christ followers read Genesis 3 and Romans 8 and the newspaper and conclude that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people. According to the book, these people may be classified as believing in a Critical God (low on involvement, high in judging), but I like to see them as more of a combination of characteristics from both the Benevolent God and the Critical God. Here, God has little to do with “causing” or “allowing” disasters. Instead, the best explanation is that we brought these things on ourselves by our sin (or, if you prefer, by Adam’s sin). Plus, generally speaking, God doesn’t like to intervene in our lives. Phil Yancey says it this way: “God is shy. By that I do not mean bashful or timid. Rather, God is shy to intervene. Considering the many things that must displease him on the planet, God exercises incredible – at times maddening – self-restraint.” For advocates of this view, life in a fallen world never works the way we want. Paul says it this way (Rom. 8:20-21):
- “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
Bottom line: Trouble and heartache are the natural consequences of living in a fallen world. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Yes, God is with us, but usually will not intervene. He will, however, make this right, but probably only in eternity. If we are waiting for God to intervene now, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.
Four views, four very different views. But each can find support from the Bible. It’s all a question of interpretation, on how you read the Bible. So, let me leave you with three questions and one request. Question One: Which view best represents your answer to the question: “Does God cause pandemics?” Question Two is far more important: When it feels like God is truly out to get you (I am not saying he is, but that sometimes it feels that way), can you still believe that God loves you? And Question Three: How should we respond when troubles and pandemics come our way and we can’t figure out why? That’s the topic of our next blog. In the meantime, here’s my request. Please pray that nothing else breaks down in our house. It would be absolutely awful if our computers suddenly di