Jesus

The Curse of Free Will: Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen

Why does God allow suffering?

There is so much awfulness in the world, from war to sickness, to homelessness, abuse, violence, and heartbreak. Too often it’s said, “Everything happens for a reason.” What’s more appropriate to say is, “everything that happens because of free will.” No, we don’t willfully choose to have cancer, or to be homeless, or to be abused. But, how many of those things occur because of choices—whether ours or someone else’s? People mismanaging finances. People hurting others. People corrupted by power (how many wars started because people treated their neighbors as themselves?). People’s lifestyles affecting their health. Smoking isn’t necessarily a sin, but the addiction is—and it can also be deadly. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction—Newton taught us that much.

I don’t think God says, “you, John Doe, are going to die in a car crash at 37.” I think God says we have the choice to drive a car, or to ride in a car—just as we have the choice to live, as we willfully choose, and thus suffer the consequences. On a much larger scale, war works the same way. Ideologies conflict, egos expand, and dominance or submission is demanded to prove “rightness.” People choose to live for certain causes, and even die for them. Innocent people die because of others’ choices for those causes.

Think of how someone’s free will has hurt you—and vice versa. I would argue it is not often people set out intentionally to hurt others, but actions require reactions.

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).

As this verse states, God can easily change the hearts of man. Why, then, does he “allow” this suffering in the world? Why doesn’t he use his God-powers and abracadabra everything to goodness and health? Simply put, because of man. Because of our free will.

When Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, they lost their oneness with God—but they gained knowledge, and with that knowledge, free will. Man could now choose his own course of action. Unfortunately, man often chooses for his own benefit, which often causes the suffering of others. If man chose, every time, to serve God instead of himself, he would be loving his neighbor as himself, which would greatly minimize the suffering in this world.

God doesn’t enjoy suffering. The evil in this world breaks his heart even more than ours—but man was given free will. The choices we make in life show God our true hearts. It is how we live our lives that determine the character of our faith. After all, we owe it to the Lord to live for him—doing as much good on this earth as we can, because that is what Jesus did, before he gave us the ultimate sacrifice of his life.

What about things out of our control?

My own mother passed away from leukemia. It could have been caused by years of taking her arthritis medicine (due to willfully laboring for her family for years), which warned, “may cause blood cancers.” It could have been caused by a number of things. She didn’t choose to have cancer, or arthritis, though. But, the choices still existed, along the line. Pharmaceutical drugs have side effects. Using a microwave or a cell phone has side effects. God gave man the incredible gift of knowledge—look how far science has come in even 100 years—the fact that we have drugs, microwaves, and cell phones. Yet each invention is made with both known and unknown consequences. We move forward both knowing and ignorant, but forward nonetheless. And with each step and misstep, we learn.

Even in the suffering itself, we learn. As pastor Timothy Keller states in The Reason for God, “Though none of these people is grateful for the tragedies themselves, they would not trade the insight, character, and strength they had gotten from them for anything.”

My mother, in the grips of her cancer, said, “Win or lose, it’s a win-win for me.” She knew where she was going when she died. I was the one to learn in her stead—I learned not to be bitter at her loss, and I learned to desire the faith she had.

Much of the world’s suffering is out of our control—but it’s in someone’s. God is not “causing” our suffering; it is usually our own creation. In fact, God sent Jesus to pay for that suffering. Jesus died because of our sins and sufferings, so that we may live in eternal greatness one day.

As Keller also points out, “People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak—these things are all perfectly natural.”

So what do we do?

As stated earlier, if Christians live for God, and not themselves, we would be combatting suffering. It will still happen, and Christians are not going to solve the conundrum of world peace—God will do that, one day. But if we live in ways as to glorify God, we can know that he knows the goodness in our hearts, and we can leave the rest to him. We are told in James, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). We are not to sit idly, but to help where we can.

We can also stop trying to rationalize it. God tells us so many times in the Bible that we don’t understand his ways. Ecclesiastes 11:15 tells us, “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Is God saying there’s a reason for our suffering, as in, a reason for everything? Nope, but he’s saying don’t try to understand things out of our control.

The existence of suffering in the world is not an excuse to not believe in God. If anything, it’s an argument for—I certainly don’t want to live this life, knowing there’s nothing better after it. Suffering is a universal problem. As a final thought from Keller,

“The problem of tragedy, suffering, and injustice is a problem for everyone. It is at least as big a problem for nonbelief in God as for belief. It is therefore a mistake…to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle.”

7 comments on “The Curse of Free Will: Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen

  1. Hard topic to cover….I have heard the question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” the problem with this is that the premise of the question is wrong. There are no “good” people. All are broken and helpless except for the Blood of Jesus that heals and restores back to life.

    I have also heard, Why me?” the better question, especially regarding the first question, is, “why not me?”

    You said, “I learned not to be bitter at her loss.” My mom died in april at 101yo. She was doing totally fine until she fell. She spent the last 2 weeks of her life in massive pain that nothing would help. And then she died. I out loud yelled at God (for whatever good it did), “Why? What good did this do her? What lessons did she learn just before she saw You in her new body? What am I to learn from being helpless to stop her pain when she would plead with me to do so?” Still don’t have answers but she is now in the Presence of her Savior and that’s all that matters.

    There really are no answers…If one has the power to stop evil, and doesn’t, our sense of justice says that that person is evil. And yet we know that God is loving and good, all the time, even when it seems He is not.

    Like

    • Nicole Sherwood

      My mother was in severe pain as well, especially in her last week. I changed her, fed her, and held her as she couldn’t speak. I questioned many times “why,” too. But she never did- she never complained even once during her two year battle. I didn’t realize that until she was gone.
      I also had visions of my kids spending summers at grandma’s farm, making soap, tending animals, etc. She died before my son’s first birthday, and never met her granddaughter. It would be so easy for me to be bitter, to feel that life was “stolen” from me.
      I don’t know why she suffered, and I don’t know why my kids will never get to know her. But somehow, that experience solidified my faith in God, despite my pain. I know that when I see her again, and meet our Saviour, that my questions and hurt won’t matter any longer.

      Like

  2. Great post – hard topic. I also think that love plays an important part in this. Love isn’t controlling and God loves us so much that God gives us free will, so that we can love God freely in return. It wouldn’t be love if we were forced to love God back, would it?

    Like

  3. Jay Arnn

    Just some points to consider: When Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, they lost their oneness with God—but they gained knowledge, and with that knowledge, free will. – not entirely true – Gen 2:16-17: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Here we see that man had free will by the grace of God before they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What they were given was a commandment by God not to eat from a specific tree which satan – the father of lies, prince of the air, and the lion who walks to and fro on the earth devouring how he can – tricked them into partaking. Free will was a gift already bestowed on man – even under the law man had free will. Now, many think that free will, as you described above in your post has to do with what man does on a day to day basis – this is choice – which is a fruit of free will not the root. Free will is your choice to chose life or death – in that decision – when you chose life or death this impacts those choices you make in life. For example, when I chose life, I have chosen Jesus – I have belief in his finished works at the cross and I (like Sarah did) judge Him faithful and know that His promises are real and that He keeps them. This is not a work of belief – it is a passive belief in rest. Consider the gifts you received on your birthday – what work did you do to receive them? None. You invited your friends – they presented you gifts – even though they did not need to – but they did in your honor. The same is true with God – for His glory He sent His Son to die in your place on the cross and through your belief in Jesus’ faithfulness you were justified by faith through Jesus – this means that you were acquitted of all guilt by God by your faith in Jesus. God did this with Adam when He sacrificed the first animals – shed the blood of the innocent – sound familiar? And God covered Adam and Eve in the skins of the sacrificed animals – this is the type and shadow of the sacrifice of Jesus. Those who have rejected Jesus have chosen death – they have no sacrifice to rely on – they rely on their self works or their conscious to guide them – but we know that through scripture that justification is by faith and apart from works – their free will to reject God condemns them to death. John 3:16 God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Jesus’ sacrifice was for the entire world – everyone may benefit from it – but you must use the free will God gave man to chose life. Once you do – the fruits of your good works are evident – you have protection, you have wisdom, and the choices you make are better – however, if you falter, if you sin, if you make a bad decision – you know that He remains faithful even when we do not – and the blessed is the man whose transgressions are not counted against him and his sins are not imputed to him through faith in Jesus. Free will is only the choice between life and death. You are correct that when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – they disobeyed God and through that disobedience Adam and Eve passed the dominion of the world (Which God had entrusted to them) to satan and mankind was now born into the world a sinner. This is proven in Adam and Eves sons, Cain and Able who both offered God their sacrifice as a sin offering to God – they were born sinners and therefore had to offer the sacrifice to atone for their sin – neither one had disobeyed God – but because of fallen man – Adam – the world fell into sin. So man continued to offer the sacrifice to atone for his sin, but this was a mere covering of sin – it did not wash sin away – therefore the Holy Spirit could only come on man – it could not reside in him because man was not pure. Then, when the Hebrews were lead from Egypt by Moses, they stood at the bottom of Mount Sinai and boasted that what ever God wanted of them they would do. This was a boast and God gave them the law through Moses – not as an instruction which most believe – but as a sign that they needed God – that they needed a Savior – that they could not live up to the standards of God no matter how they tried. Now, sin was imputed to man through the law – God actually would place this on your account – and you had two choices – live to the standard or utilize the sacrifice to atone (cover) your sin. The law was in effect until the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross – where the perfect sacrifice was made for us – which reconciled us back to God – which washed us clean once and for all – which made our bodies pure and righteous by faith apart from works – no longer is God imputing sin to our account – blessed is the man whose sin is no longer imputed to him – The law came by Moses but truth and grace came by Jesus Christ. Now that we are caught up lets talk about the rest of the post. First free will is not a curse – it is a gift from God through His mercy, grace and truth in that His plan was to live in a circle of love with the Son, the Holy Spirit, and man along with Himself where man had dominion over the earth. But man fell and passed dominion to satan – satan was defeated at the cross but Jesus has yet to return and take His rightful place on His throne through the legal and rightful lineage of David. Now you can see a type and shadow of this in the story of David where God has David anointed as King, but Saul remains on the throne as a usurper while David remains hiding in a cave out of sight. Until Jesus returns, even though we are under the protection of the day of salvation through Christ Jesus and we live in the body of Christ – the world is still under the dominion of satan – even though he has no control of the believer – there are things such as war, famine, poverty, greed, death, etc, etc.
    The choices we make in life show God our true hearts. It is how we live our lives that determine the character of our faith. After all, we owe it to the Lord to live for him—doing as much good on this earth as we can, because that is what Jesus did, before he gave us the ultimate sacrifice of his life. Sorry – this sounds good – but it isnt the Gospel, it isnt the good news from God through Jesus. We do not get our character right and then live for God – we chose life through faith in Jesus then the Holy Spirit works on our character by transforming us into a new creation. In Romans 5:1-4 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance and perseverance, character; and character, hope. As partakers of the covenant in the body of Christ (The Church) having been justified by faith – we have peace with God through Jesus. Here is our peace – because we are justified by faith and not works. If you judge Him faithful then you are dwelling on what is true. Now look at the order of things: 1. Justified by faith 2. Access to His grace by faith 3. We rejoice in the hope (the confident expectation that His promises are true) and glory of God 4. We glory in tribulations because we already know 1-3, we know the truth. 5. Because we know the truth and the truth dwells within us and we within Him (Holy Spirit) we can persevere. 6. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are transformed and the Holy Spirit builds our godly character 7. Because the Holy Spirit has made us a new creation in that we are born again through faith not by works we have hope (the confident expectation of things that have already been done by God). This is the order of transformation – this is the order to godliness through transformation by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. This is how we live for God and in order to preserver to build our character through transformation by the Holy Spirit – this takes time and it is not something we do ourselves to get right with God – it is something He does for us. The fruit of that transformation of character are good choices, wisdom, freedom from addiction or sexual perversion, or any other thing you can think of – remember what is not of faith is sin. What you have posted and several have applauded it to put people back under the curse of the law – where we do good to get good and do bad we get bad – this is the law and the law was fulfilled by Jesus and that old covenant has passed away. The Christian faith is not a religion – there is only one true religion on earth and it is Judaism – God’s chosen people. Christianity is an invitation to a relationship with God – to draw near to Him by faith in Jesus. I agree that making the world a better place is a good thing – but this is not going to happen until Christ returns and takes His rightful throne and the Kingdom of Heaven is on earth. Not all the good works or right thinking is going to change that – what we are here to do has nothing to do with the world but everything to do with the people on it – we are to reveal Jesus to them – help them in every loving way to chose life over death when they believe on Jesus and they rest and wait for His return. This is our calling in the world – to share what we know about the love and kindness of a God who wants His children to return to Him. And we know if they wont listen that we shake off the dust and move on.
    God is not “causing” our suffering; it is usually our own creation. So true – there are many unbelievers who rely on their own wisdom and we know our best is a dirty rag to God. There is also satan who continues to usurp the throne of Jesus and have dominion of the earth. As a final note – the world is heading for a one world order and one religion system where the idea is that we all put aside our theological differences and come together to better the world and ease suffering – sounds great – who wouldn’t want that? However – when we put aside our theological differences we put aside the cross and the belief in the finished works of Jesus and play right into the lying hands of satan. Many will fall into this trap and I see it today where many religious factions get together putting aside their differences to better a community. I am not against making the communities better – nor am I against faith without works – but understand what that means. What I am against is placing the body of Christ – the church – back under works or to deny Jesus in order to make the world better. Honestly, this is not going to happen until Jesus returns. Where we can have peace in all of this is that we are protected through faith in Jesus and no arrows formed against us shall prosper – Psalms 91:4-7: He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. For the believer this is comfort in these times before the return of Jesus.

    Kind regards,
    Rabbi J. Arnn
    Jewish Studies for Christians

    Like

  4. Anonymous

    With all due respect, Rabbi, it was not my intention to convey that we are saved by works. We are saved by grace, yes. What I tried to convey was that we need to stop blaming God for allowing suffering, when it is often self-caused. By looking to the Lord, and serving Him, is a way to help our own suffering. I did not say the way. I did not say do good works- I said faith also needs good works. We do need to act righteous and holy-we need to strive to be like Jesus, in our hearts. We will never suceed; that is why we are saved by grace. But we cannot blame God for our problems, and we cannot live according to sin.

    Like

  5. Jay Arnn

    My points were not to accuse but to consider (take it or not) – to clarify and support the Gospel. In this post it was suggested that man gained free will after partaking form the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “When Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit, they lost their oneness with God—but they gained knowledge, and with that knowledge, free will”. When, in fact God had given man free will prior to partaking of the “forbidden fruit”.
    Again, here is an example of a concept that is not supported in the Gospel and I do not mean this in a condescending way because so many are taught incorrectly and that teaching has it’s beginning in AD 325, when Constantine called the Council of Nicea in an attempt to unify Christianity. The error came into the Gospel at this time and amazingly the errors are still being taught today. However the comment: “We do need to act righteous and holy-we need to strive to be like Jesus, in our hearts.” is not according to the Gospel. This is where I say, consider the Gospel and the order of God’s plan for us. 1. Justified by faith (through our belief in Jesus, God has acquitted us of all guilt) We dont act righteous and holy because we are righteous and holy by the sacrifice of Jesus and our belief in His finished works 2. Access to His grace by faith 3. We rejoice in the hope (the confident expectation that His promises are true) and glory of God 4. We glory in tribulations because we already know 1-3, we know the truth. 5. Because we know the truth and the truth dwells within us and we within Him (Holy Spirit) we can persevere. 6. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are transformed and the Holy Spirit builds our godly character (after we believe on Jesus we are saved and His blood washes us pure so that the Holy Spirit can dwell in us and begin our transformation into a new creation – because of the relationship we are righteous, we are Holy and the transformation brings about the fruits of good works – not our own self works. 7. Because the Holy Spirit has made us a new creation in that we are born again through faith not by works we have hope (the confident expectation of things that have already been done by God). This is the order of transformation. Believers, Christians – the body of Christ, the Church – all one and the same do not strive to be like Christ. Why is this error? Think about the Jews at the base of Mount Sinai who boasted to God in Exodus 19:8:Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” What the Hebrew people were saying in their boast is that we can do everything by our will which the LORD has spoken – can you see the boast? That the Jews were in fact stating that they could do according to their will and not the will of God what He asked of them. But what really happened when the Jews relied on their will and not the will of God? Exodus 32:1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” They convinced Aaron to build a golden idol – the golden calf – and they worshiped a false idol – not wanting to wait on Moses because they did not know what had become of him while on the mountain. Therefore the law was given through Moses not as an instruction on how to be holy (like God or like Jesus) it was given to show man that he needed a Savior – the law was given to lead the Jews back to God. To show them that no matter how hard you try you cannot be “like” God. Now for the good news – when you believe on Jesus you are saved and God judges you righteous and holy in that moment when you call on the name of Jesus. 1 John 4:15-17 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. You see, for the believer, the confession is Jesus and we know the love He has for us and He (Jesus) was perfected among us in His sacrifice for us so that in the day of judgement we can have peace that He was judged in our place and now we are pure, righteous, holy, saved, and an heir to the kingdom of heaven through adoption in faith. We don’t have to act or be like Him because the scripture says in that moment as He is, so are we in the world. Then, in the perfect plan of God – because we are made pure now the Holy Spirit can dwell in a Holy temple that is our body and sin no longer separates or disqualifies us from God. Now the Holy Spirit can transform us into a new creation and the fruits of the new creation is our good works, our thoughts, or wisdom, our character – we don’t need to do this ourselves because Jesus has already done it for us. When we act or strive we miss the point of God’s plan and we allow our self works to deny us the free gift and in that moment we blame God for the bad things that come on us in this world by, mostly, our own doing – rather than resting and waiting for the promised return of Jesus. Romans 5:1 Rom 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (of note in Romans 5:1 – have – is the word echo which means by a bond of blood or marriage – so when God says we have peace with God through Jesus – He means this as a bond between Him and us through the blood Jesus and our marriage to Jesus – that is how strongly we have peace with God). Free will is not a curse – it is a blessing from God. I agree, do not blame God for the bad things in life which many bring on themselves through their own will – but do turn to God through Jesus Christ, for He has the power and the will to relieve you of your burdens, your worry, your anxiety, and strengthen your faith – even when we are faithless, He remains faithful. I say these things in hope that it helps you and those who seek God – and to show that God’s plan is hopeful and man’s plan is hopeless.

    Kind regards,
    J Arnn
    Jewish Studies for Christians

    Like

  6. Why should the staggering amount of evil be source of enormous confusion for believers on God? Is there any legitimate argument to justify the confusion? Is there any plausible pretext or historically compelling observation to rationally feed and sustain the puzzlement? Is there any credible reason to even suspect that the world has somehow gone terribly, drastically, hopelessly wrong, as opposed to it simply performing precisely as desired by its Creator?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: