|Volume 20 Number 5 May 2018||
Why Do Bad Things
Happen to Good People?
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is the question of the ages—one of monumental significance in the discussion of the existence of God.
Atheists argue that God cannot have all three traditional characteristics, that is, that He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving (omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent). Since there is suffering, they say that at least one of those characteristics fails Him. “If He is powerful enough to stop it and knows about it, He must not care enough to stop it,” they allege. Or, “If He is powerful enough and loving enough to stop it, He must not know about suffering.” Thirdly, they posit, “If He knows about it and cares enough to stop it, He must not be powerful enough.” From Ivy League academia to street smarts, people use this kind of argument (differently worded in many cases, to be sure) to attack the existence of God. How can this be answered? Can it be answered?
First, realize that when God created everything, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He made no error or pain. Man was given freewill with the placement of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden, and man was warned (Genesis 2:16-17). Where there is choice, there must be consequences. Man chose unwisely, and the consequences of death and suffering were set in motion (Romans 5:12-14). The existence of suffering in the world is not God’s fault; it is altogether man’s fault.
There are several reasons men might suffer, but they are all traced back to sin. First, one might suffer because of his own sin. This is not always the case, but sometimes it is. Job’s friends tried to make him out to be some kind of profligate sinner, because they held to the theory of retribution—one suffering must surely deserve all that he is getting. One of them even said, “Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your iniquity deserves” (Job 11:6). Still, it is possible to bring on one’s own suffering by one’s own sin. An alcoholic or a drug addict knows the pain of self-inflicted illnesses and perhaps arrests.
Secondly, it is possible to suffer because of someone else’s sins. A drunk driver might kill an innocent, travelling family. That family suffers because of the sins of someone else. That is where people cry, “Unfair!” I guess it is unfair, but in this world of freewill, that is how it has to work. If God took away consequences, he would essentially be taking away choice. If my choices had no consequences, would they be choices at all? Could a drunk be drunk enough to unwittingly kill a deserving family but not an undeserving family?
The laws of nature factor in as well. God set in motion the laws of nature. He, throughout history, has only temporarily suspended them for miraculous verification of His messages (Exodus 5-12; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:1-4). All such miraculous deeds have now ended (1 Corinthians 13:8-13; Acts 8:14-17). If, as some seem to expect, God would halt the course of natural law whenever it would accidentally (or purposely) hurt someone (e.g., misuse of fire or water), we would have no knowledge of natural law on which to depend. Yet, we depend on a lot of natural law for our good (use of fire, water, chemical reactions for prescription drugs, etc.).
Thirdly, one might suffer because of sin’s very presence in the world. After sin entered the world, a totally new set of circumstances followed. There would be death and disease. Some cite evidence that a major climate change would have indeed happened after the global flood of Noah’s day, which was brought about because of man’s wickedness (Genesis 6:5). The “world that then existed perished” (2 Peter 3:6). Perhaps the changed world allows for more climate disturbances (hurricanes, tornadoes) that hurt people. In other words, innocent people are hurt by natural disasters and by seemingly random incidents of disease.
Still, the existence of God need not be questioned. There is plenty of evidence otherwise (in design, cause-and-effect) that points to His reality. Furthermore, on top of all that, He has indeed done something about suffering. He did not take it away because that would have taken away freewill. Rather, He came and suffered with us representatively in the person of His Son (1 Timothy 3:16; Philippians 2:5-7). “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Now, having been risen from the dead, He sits at God’s right hand to mediate on behalf of those still on earth suffering (Hebrews 2:18; 7:25).
Suffering is a real problem. We are right to do all we can to avoid and alleviate it. However, remember, it is not God’s fault. Neither His existence nor His love can be questioned because of it. In fact, through it, He shows Himself to be “the Father of all mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Can a Child of God Commit Sin?
T. Pierce Brown
About 60 years ago, I was reading 1 John 3:8-9 and 5:18, both of which say that the person begotten of God does not commit sin. I was considerably disturbed, for I was just a little boy who had not yet obeyed the Gospel, but I was studying God’s Word, and it appeared to me that since John had just finished saying in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” there was some terrible problem somewhere. Because of my simple, childlike faith in God, I felt sure that the problem was with my understanding and not with the apparent contradiction of the text.
Since a nationally known Gospel preacher was in a nearby town preaching on the radio, and my neighbor had a radio, I wrote him a postal card asking him about it. He did not reply, so I asked a younger preacher, and he told me that the idea of “cannot sin” in 1 John 3:9 meant “cannot afford to sin,” very much like Exodus 19:23 where Moses said, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai.” It appears evident that they could come up, but if they did they would die, so they were prohibited and could not afford to ascend the mountain. A mother might tell her child, “You can’t play in the street” without meaning that it was impossible to do so.
Since that was the best explanation I could get, it seemed to help, though it did not explain why it was that he specified that the one born of God could not afford to commit sin, as if others could. It also seemed unreasonable to me that God would say, “Those born of God are prohibited from sinning” as if others were allowed to do so. In those days, I did not know there were any such things as commentaries, and if I had known, I could not have afforded to buy them, so I had to wait until I learned a little about the Bible for myself before I discovered a better explanation.
The basic thought in both the aforementioned passages is the same—that the one who is begotten of God sinneth not. There are two things in the passage that need to be understood before one can see properly the meaning of John. First, the expression, “is born of God.” The Greek word “gegennemenos” is a perfect, passive participle. The significance of that is that it is used to describe an action that has reached its termination, with emphasis on the fact that the results of the action still remain. The approximate meaning is, “Whoever has been begotten of God, and still remains in that same relationship.” Now, what is that relationship? Surely it is evident that one cannot be begotten of God who is not doing the will of God. First Peter 1:23 says, “Having been begotten again—by the Word of God.” The seed of the kingdom is the Word of God, and that seed does remain in the person about whom he is speaking here. We know it does, for two reasons. 1. The tense of the verb indicates it; he remains like he was when he was begotten. 2. The text actually says, “for his seed remaineth in him.”
The second thing we need to know about that verse is the meaning of “doth not commit sin.” Again, the tense of the verb is significant. The verb is “poiei” and is present, indicative, active. The usual indication of that tense is “continuous action.” The man who is mentioned here cannot continue in willful sin. It is not merely that he should not or that he “cannot afford to.” It is simply a fact that a man who continues in a relationship of obedience to God cannot continue in actions of disobedience to God at the same time, for the simple reason that the “seed” (the Word of God) remains in him. “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).
There is an additional question about 1 John 5:18 that is raised as different texts are consulted. The explanation above takes care of the first part of the verse, but the question about the last part of the verse, where the phrase “he that is begotten of God keepeth himself,” needs our consideration. Without dwelling on the fact that there is considerable doubt as to whether the original text has “keepeth himself” (heauton) or “keepeth him” (auton), and therefore some doubt as to whether “he that is begotten of God” refers to Christ or the saved person who has been begotten of God, let us realize that it really does not matter with reference to the end result.
It is my judgment that the weight of evidence leans slightly in favor of the conclusion that it speaks of Christ. This is not only because of the many manuscripts, copies, etc. that indicate such, but primarily because the last phrase, “he that is begotten of God” is not the same as the first phrase, “whosoever is born (or begotten) of God.” Everywhere else when John speaks of the saved person, he uses “ho gegennemenos” and never “ho gennetheis” as he does here. This is a first aorist, passive participle, and literally might be translated, “He that was begotten of God,” referring to Christ.
Translated in a broad, amplified way, it is my judgment that this is its meaning: “Whosoever has been begotten of God and sustains that kind of relationship with him does not continue to sin, but He that was begotten of God (The Christ, the “monogene” of John 3:16) keeps him.”
However, the reason that it does not make any practical difference whether the passage says, “He keeps himself,” as the King James Version puts it, or “Christ keeps him” as I believe the best manuscripts and versions indicate, is that the Bible indicates that both must operate for a man to be kept. We are “kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 3:5). He will keep us, but we are the ones who must have and demonstrate the faith. “I know him whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). He does the keeping, but you and I must do the commitment.
So, Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me—they shall never perish.” That is so true! The sheep are the ones who are hearing (continuous action) and following. There is no power on earth or in hell (neither man nor the Devil) that can pluck such a one out of the hand of Jesus. Yet, the fact that a person can quit being a sheep and turn into a goat needs to be understood! None of these verses give any hope to him. The goat can never be saved, and the sheep can never be lost! By definition, the goat is one who is not following God, and the sheep is one who is following Him. We should know, however, that the “goat” can turn into a sheep by following Jesus, and then he can be saved. The sheep can turn into a goat by turning away from following Jesus. Then, in that condition, he cannot be saved. That person who is following Jesus and heeding His voice cannot be touched in a harmful way by the wicked one (1 John 5:18; 1 Corinthians 10:13).