I’ve been a long time reader of The Punch, an online opinion website (and a good one at that). Shortly after the Queensland floods hit, this article was posted by Tory Shepherd which raised questions that both deserve and have answers. Tory’s piece focussed on God’s hand in the Queensland flood and certainly provoked a fiery response from many readers. Tory claims that the answers provided for where God was in the Queensland flood provide a classic case of cognitive dissonance, where two conflicting ideas of God’s goodness and the evil involved in such tragic floods cause the religious to flounder.
That might be case for some Christians; however, the Bible has no such issues. The question of how a good God is present in a world full of evil is not a new question, not even a new question in the Bible. From the time humanity rebelled against God in Genesis, the Bible is dealing with the question of what is the good God going to do about the evil in the world and over the course of the entire Bible we see a deep, meaningful and complete response to the problem of evil.
And we see the problem of evil, and what part God has in it, displayed no more prominently than in the death of Jesus. Here we have the ultimate expression of injustice – an innocent man, who never did anything wrong, was executed as a traitor and criminal by the religious and civil authorities at the time. How could God have a hand in such a terrible event?
Well fortunately, the Bible spells it out for us in Acts, chapter 2, sentence 23:
This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
So what role does God play in the execution of an innocent man? It was by his set plan and foreknowledge. God knew it was going to happen because it was his set plan. God made it happen.
But are humans responsible for it? Yes, as Peter tells us in Acts. He is talking to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem a couple of months after Jesus’ death and he clearly points out that it was the Jews (at the time), with the help of the Romans who put Jesus to death. Peter says that through the valid, un-coerced choices they made, they are responsible for the death of Jesus.
So here we have a clear case of God and humans both actively working in an evil act. How is that possible? How can both actively, without coercion, making choices that they are responsible for? It is here we must reject simplistic explanations that if God must be at work, then humans are being like robots, or that God must be a passive agent if humans are calling the shots.
It is at this point we must come face to face with the real God in all his power. If God is actually all-powerful, why would it surprise us that God would be powerful enough to actively work through the valid and un-coerced choices of humans? That is what the Bible presents to us – a God so powerful that even the un-coerced choices of humans are within his control.
We see this idea clearly when Joseph (of Technicolour Dream-coat fame) speaks of his own ordeal at the hands of his selfish brothers:
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
The evil that Joseph’s brothers intended (selling their brother into slavery) was also God’s purpose to save his people.
Unlike these cases though (where God’s purposes are clearly stated), we cannot be sure of what specific purpose God has for the Queensland floods or Cyclone Yasi or any other disaster or evil act. The Bible doesn’t speak of the specific events we are going through. However, we can be certain that he is using these events for the ultimate good of all people, since he has revealed that he is both good and in control. Jesus’ death shows us that even in the most unjust event, God is working to save people and draw them into relationship with him, which is the ultimate good for everyone.