“The Lord is good to all…” Psalm 145:9
“…No one is good but One, that is, God…” Matthew 19:17
With this post I’ll finish up my series “Is God Good All the Time?” In the first post, I explained why the title question is a reasonable one. In the second, I listed five facts that lay the foundation for a Biblical answer to the question. Now, with this third post I’ll use post two to interpret post one. I’ll do this by taking those instances of “bad” that I named in post one and filter them through those five facts from post two.
Now, as I wade into this I soon realize that the combination of facts 3 and 4 provide the explanation for the majority of the examples of “bad.” By way of reminder, fact #3 was God Shouldn’t Be Blamed For “Bad” Caused By Man and fact #4 was God Shouldn’t Be Blamed For “Bad” Caused By Satan. Obviously, between the sinful deeds of people and the destructive work of Satan and his fellow fallen angels, there is a whole lot of “bad” being churned out that has nothing to do with God. So, from my list of things in post one, I don’t blame God for: the Holocaust, the numerous deaths caused by wars He didn’t sanction, terrorist acts, lynchings and other murders, rapes, acts of sexual molestation, acts of adultery, divorces, any instances of injustice large or small, world hunger (there is enough food to feed everybody if mankind managed it properly), undiscerning judges and juries, my struggles in the ministry, and the tight finances Tonya and I have sometimes faced. Just because God doesn’t overrule the moral free-will of nations or individuals, even when that free-will is being used wrongly, that doesn’t make Him responsible for the sin or the consequences produced by the sins. And, for the record, the same thing applies to attempts to blame Him for the actions of Satan and the other fallen angels.
Okay, so facts three and four working together explain most of the examples of “bad” from post one. Got it. But what about those examples in which God either commanded the nation of Israel to kill people or did the killing Himself? Well, those deaths all fall under the heading of fact 5, which was God Can’t Truly Be “Good” If He Doesn’t Deal With “Bad.” To see this, let’s retrace that list:
- The millions of people whom God killed by way of the great flood were exceedingly sinful. Genesis 6:5 says that mankind’s wickedness was great in the earth, so great that, “…every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” You talk about strong language! Come on now, who could expect a holy God to sit up in heaven and take all of that without eventually dealing with it? To God’s credit, He gave the human race 120 years to repent (Genesis 6:3) while Noah worked on the ark as a public object-lesson and preached the coming judgment (2nd Peter 2:4-5). Someone asks, “But what about all the babies, infants, and small children who drowned in the flood?” The answer is: The Bible teaches that the souls of children who die before reaching what we call “the age of accountability” go to the same place as the “saved” in the afterlife (2nd Samuel 12:22-23). This includes miscarried babies, aborted babies, and all other children who die before reaching an age where they can mentally understand their sinful condition and their need for salvation. It also includes children who die in worldwide floods.
- The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were a wicked, sexually perverse people. God described Sodom’s sin as “grave” and said the outcry against its citizens was “great” (Genesis 18:20). The situation was so bad that He couldn’t even find ten righteous people there (Genesis 18:23-33). Sodom was marked by pride, gluttony, laziness, and a lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49), not to mention the city’s trademark sin of homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-11). The Bible describes Sodom’s homosexuality as “abomination” (Ezekiel 16:50), “sexual immorality” (Jude v.7), and going after “strange flesh” (Jude v.7). Furthermore, homosexuality also ran rampant in Gomorrah and the other cities that surrounded Sodom (Jude v.7). So, again, how could a holy God who loves “good” do nothing as all that sin and perversion played itself out each and every day? He couldn’t, and He didn’t. Just as in the great flood, though, the souls of the children under the age of accountability went into a blissful afterlife.
- The Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizittes, Hivites, Jebusites, and Girgashites were sinful, idolatrous races who flaunted their idolatry and their evil ways before God for many centuries. Actually, by the time God gave Israel the command to wipe out these races, their sins had reached a full measure of completeness (Genesis 15:16). These races were all built around false religions that featured bizarre worship practices such as ritual prostitution (Deuteronomy 23:17-18) and infant sacrifices to the false god Molech (Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5). To God’s credit, He gave these people an extra 400 years – the 400 years in which the Israelites were slaves in Egypt – to repent of their sins and serve Him (Genesis 15:16). But they never repented and continued instead to teach their children to perpetuate their ungodliness. Therefore, God in His holiness at some point had to deal with all the ‘bad” that was going on in Canaan. He even made it clear to Israel that those races’ prolific sinfulness was the reason for Him using Israel’s army to pour out His judgment upon them (Deuteronomy 9:4, Deuteronomy 18:9-12, Leviticus 18:24-28). And, one more time, the good news is that the souls of all the children under the age of accountability ended up with the Lord.
- All those laws that God expected Israel to live by in Old Testament days were commands, not mere suggestions. And, yes, those laws did include many death-penalty offenses. God’s recurring theme of justification for the death-penalty was, “So you shall put away the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 13:5, 17:7, 17:12, 19:19, 21:21, 22:21, 22:24, 24:7). If Israel had kept that body of law rightly and dutifully carried out the varying punishments prescribed by it, including the ones involving capital punishment, the nation as a whole would have been well served. For example, if a proven murderer had been legally and publicly executed, who could have predicted how many other lives that one death might actually have saved? Obviously, it would have saved the lives of any other victims that murderer would have killed in the future, but it also might have saved even more lives by throwing a scare into other budding murderers (Deuteronomy 19:20). You see, when you understand how the Old Testament law was designed to function, you realize what a tremendous template for “good” it was. You also realize that God shouldn’t be blamed for any deaths produced by it being broken.
- The citizens of Jericho can be lumped into the same group as all those other “ites” who called Canaan home, and God’s judgment upon them was justified for the same reasons. Why are we always so surprised when holy God comes down hard on unholiness? Also, here again the age of accountability applies to Jericho’s children.
- The Amalekites were an immoral, murderous people who were a special thorn in Israel’s side. As Israel was making its way toward Canaan under the leadership of Moses, the Amalekites launched an unprovoked attack upon them. At the time of the attack, Israel didn’t even have an organized army. Not surprisingly, God didn’t take kindly to that sneak attack and swore to wage war against the Amalekites “from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). Later on, His command for Saul to kill all the Amalekites, including the infants and nursing children, was a part of that war. So, putting it simply, God didn’t pick a fight with the Amalekites; they picked a fight with Him. And as for the infants and nursing children, see my previous comments.
Alright, at this point my list of examples from post one is getting seriously whittled down in terms of assessing blame for them. But now let’s tackle another one from the list. Isn’t it “bad” on God’s part that lost unbelievers will first be sentenced to the “hell” that is Hades and will ultimately spend eternity in the “hell” that is Gehenna (Luke 17:19-31, Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:47-48)?
Well, here again the explanation stems from fact 5: God Can’t Truly Be “Good” If He Doesn’t Deal With “Bad.” Throughout all history God has granted individual salvation on the basis of individual belief (faith) in Him. In the Old Testament era, believers such as Abraham and David were saved by placing their belief in the one true God (Romans 4:1-8), even though they had a somewhat limited understanding of Him. Later on, in the New Testament era, the one true God revealed Himself more fully in the person of Jesus Christ, which meant that salvation then came by way of individuals placing their belief (faith) in Jesus (John 3:16-18, Acts 4:8-12). The point is that in either era God had a way of salvation in play, and that way was always centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Just as Christians now look back to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, Old Testament believers looked forward to it in confident expectation of the Messiah who was prophesied to come. So, from God’s viewpoint He has provided the human race with everything that is necessary for salvation and He wants everybody to get saved (2nd Peter 3:9). Sadly, though, the majority of people do not take advantage of God’s way of salvation. (Matthew 7:13-14). This leaves God no choice but to punish these unforgiven sinners. Someone asks, “But what about God’s love?” Unfortunately, that isn’t the relevant question because God’s love isn’t the issue. The issue is His holiness, and even His great love cannot override His holiness. Think of it this way: People go to hell unsaved, not unloved.
“But,” someone else asks, “what about all the people who die without ever having a chance to hear about Jesus?” The answer to that is found in Romans 1:20, which teaches that creation itself conveys the existence of an intelligent, all-powerful Creator God. Individuals living in every corner of the world can choose to either embrace what creation is conveying and seek out the truth concerning this Creator God or ignore the lesson and ignore the God. If a person responds rightly to what revelation he or she gleans about God from creation, God will somehow orchestrate circumstances to make it possible for that person to hear the story of Jesus (Acts 17:26-27). Biblical examples of God sending sincere “seekers” the evangelistic help they need are found in Acts 8:26-40 and Acts 10:1-48.
You say, “Alright, but what about the deaths of all those soldiers that Jesus will kill at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21)? How can they be explained in light of God being good all the time?” Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that those deaths also fit under the category of fact 5: God Can’t Truly Be “Good” If He Doesn’t Deal With “Bad.” Trust me, Jesus returning to walk this earth again and reign over it for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-6) is a good thing. This return will take place to close out the seven-year tribulation period that is prophesied to come upon this world. But when Jesus returns will He receive a King’s welcome? No. Instead, His first order of business will be to make His way from the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:1-5) to Megiddo (Revelation 16:16), where the soldiers of the armies of the world will be gathered for what has come to be known as the battle of Armageddon. These armies will think they are there to fight either Israel, each other, or both, but in reality Satan will have them there to try to accomplish a far loftier goal. That goal will be to prevent Jesus from establishing His reign upon the earth (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:19). As for the soldiers themselves as individuals, despite the fact that the gospel will be preached throughout the whole world during the tribulation period (Matthew 24:14, Revelation 7:1-8, Revelation 14:6) each of them will have rejected Jesus and chosen instead to take the anti-Christ’s “mark of the beast” (Revelation 13:16-18). This means that when these soldiers see Jesus interjecting Himself into the battle of Armageddon, rather than fall down before Him and worship Him, they will try to wage war against Him to stop Him from establishing His earthly reign. Their efforts will be futile as Jesus will merely speak the word and slay them all (Revelation 19:21), but their feeble attempt will serve as evidence that He will be perfectly within His rights to do this killing. After all, He’s trying to do something good (reign upon the earth) and they are trying to prevent it.
But now, at last, all this brings us to the final grouping of examples from post one, and these are the ones that can’t be so easily explained by any of the five facts from post two. From my own personal list of examples, these would include our two miscarriages, the unexpected death of Tonya’s dad Charles, and the medical issues that Tonya and I have been inflicted with from time to time. Likewise, from post one’s list of examples from around the world, I would group the millions of deaths caused by the Black Plague in Europe into this same category. While it’s true that Satan does have a limited ability to affect the medical realm (Job 2:7, Luke 13:16), I’m not prepared to lay all the blame on him for all these hard-to-understand happenings. To paraphrase pastor E.V. Hill as he was preaching the funeral of his wife, “If we give Satan the power to decide who lives and who dies all of us will be gone before nightfall.” Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. So, I don’t blame Satan for the two miscarriages, Charles’ death, all our ailments, or the millions of deaths from the Black Plague. Furthermore, I can’t explain away these things as God somehow dealing with “bad” either. And so I’m left with the question, “In light of God’s goodness, what do I make of these happenings?”
What I make of them is that even though my finite mind can’t see God’s goodness in these things, I know enough about His nature, character, promises, mercy, grace, and LOVE to know that the goodness is in there somewhere. This is not me “spinning” God as I talked about in that first post. Instead, it’s me giving someone I know very well the benefit of the doubt even when I don’t have a clue what He’s doing. I love Abraham’s question to God in Genesis 18:25. He asks, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” I also like Deuteronomy 32:4 where Moses says of God: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
Coming at the issue another way, I’m not so arrogant as to think that I, someone who can’t even do higher math and has trouble working a smart phone, can figure out God’s ways. In Romans 11:33, Paul says that God’s judgments are “unsearchable” and His ways are “past finding out.” Along the same lines, in Isaiah 55:8-9, we read: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” These passages let me know that God isn’t sitting up in heaven quaking in His boots, saying, “Oh no, I’ve done something that Russell can’t understand. I’d better explain it to Him.” Frankly, if I could match God mentally and beat Him at chess, He wouldn’t be much of a God, would He?
And so, in the end, I’m left with two very important conclusions. Conclusion #1: I know that I can take the Bible and offer logical explanations for the majority of “bad” that goes on in this world. (That’s what I’ve done with this post.) And then Conclusion #2: I know enough about God to give His goodness the benefit of the doubt in the remaining minority percentage of occurrences that on the surface appear to be void of that goodness. You see, folks, sometimes we just have to let God be God and trust that He will always do the truest, purest, most impacting, and long-reaching version of “good” even if His actions don’t appear that way to us. Is such a mindset particularly satisfying to our human egos? No, it isn’t. But is it a mindset that will allow us to forge ahead with God in exceedingly difficult and confusing times when we don’t know what just hit us? Yes, it is.
In my files somewhere I have a quote from an old preacher who once said of God, “Even when I can’t track Him, I can trust Him.” I’ve got that quote on my mind as I write the close to this series because I think that simple line encapsulates the one lesson I want you to claim from everything I’ve said in these posts: Even when you can’t track God, you can trust Him. You take that lesson right there and hold on to it tightly anytime something “bad” happens that you can’t explain. Just put your trust in God and know that somehow, someway, somewhere, in His timing, in His plan, and in His will, the Judge of all the earth will do right and His goodness will be in the doing of it.