by J. Grant Swank, Jr.
“A cyclone packing winds of over 200 mph hit the southeastern coast of Bangladesh, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. According to the latest news reports, over 1000 are feared dead and thousands are homeless.
“Winds tore through thatched houses, uprooted trees, and blew salty water from the ocean into the fresh water supply. . . .”
If you were among the 1000 feared dead (let alone those left homeless), would you conclude that a good God had a plan for your life?
Good question. One often asked in the head, but rarely in public.
Tragedy in Siloam
Jesus referred to a similar situation – not as widespread in stats, but just as painful to each human body involved in the pain: Eighteen people were snuffed out when the tower of Siloam fell atop their bodies (Luke 13:4).
It is interesting to note Jesus’ philosophical analysis of such calamities, considering that He claimed to be the embodiment of the good God.
Jesus gave no lengthy philosophical “answer” to the pain and death resulting from the fall of Siloam’s tower. It appears as if He practically passed over the Big Questions. In truth, it appears rather cold of Him — aloof, unfeeling — something akin to a reporter’s write-up of the local school burning to the ground.
What gives here?
It gets worse. Jesus’ answer is in reply to the gross, macabre play-out of Pilate mixing Galileans’ blood with their sacrifices. Don’t know much more about that, for the record says no more. Nevertheless, it sounds like a first century Stephen King midnight stroll with the bats.
Jesus answered a question by highlighting another unfortunate incident. In essence, He said: “Do you imagine that, because these Galileans suffered this fate, they must have been greater sinners than anyone else in Galilee? I tell you they were not. But unless you repent, all of you will come to the same end.”
Not much in-depth philosophy here, especially when one considers that the Nazareth Rabbi should have trekked off to seminary course 101: “The Problem of Pain.”
But He didn’t. So what can we make of Galilean blood, a Siloam tower, and Jesus’ unadorned replies?
Bad things and free will
First, Jesus took as a premise that bad things happen to good people in the daily mix of good and bad people. There were no theological interweavings on that point.
How could there be? The evidence is daily fact.
Second, Jesus acknowledged a spiritually fallen world. The good God did not intend all this loss of Eden. Homo Sapiens’ free will brought about the macabre, the tower collapse, and all the other workouts of Murphy’s Law. So the blame goes to free will gone amuck and not to the good God.
But, you say, the good God should not have allowed free will to go amuck.
Excuse me? Free will is either free or it isn’t. If it is, then free will has locked into its potential the possibility of going wrong. If free will is a charade, then we are all wind-up toys and nothing more, no matter how many word games one may twist and turn to conclude otherwise.
So free will got us in this mess. That mess includes guys like Pilate who thirst for blood and walls that tumble down. It includes sadistic parents who burn their babies’ bodies with cigarette butts. It includes bank robbers who shoot a teller-mother in the back of her head. It also includes a Cain who hacked down Abel.
In other words, since free will went amuck from Adam’s start, things have not been all that good much of the time. Don’t blame the good God. Blame Homo Sapiens who listened to a snake.
With evil planted in our midst, let’s move on.
Does God have a plan for your life?
No — not if you do not will it. He permits you free will. When you activate free will for sin, self, and stupidity, the good God allows that due to His high regard for free will.
Does God have a plan for your life?
Yes — if you submit your free will to that plan. When you do, then Romans 8:28 kicks in, but not before: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).
When you do, you will His will. You pray for God to return to Eden control for you. At that point He does, but only because you have activated that permission by your free will.
As long as you maintain that absolute submission, God’s will overlays your all. That includes stubbing your toe, taking chemo, psyching out tyrannical bosses, tending to fender benders, dying in Bosnian famines, waking up to baby’s raging fever, discovering your son is doing drugs, and all the otherwise nice stuff that could balance out this sentence on the side of songbirds, tulips, rainbows, and hugs-and-kisses.
Value of faith
What about the awful things that happen in this world over which free will has no control — like cyclones and such? Good question.
These anomalies in nature are there because, when Adam’s free will went amuck, so did nature. It fell. We have been dealing with that horrific reality ever since.
However, faith in the good God still concludes that my house being swept away by a hurricane will work for the kingdom’s good and my good, because God will see to it — if my life is submitted to the ultimate scenario and if I have willed His will for my life.
The same goes for a bullet in the back of the head? Right. Ask John the Baptist who lost his by sword. Then move on to countless martyrs. They too banked on that when tied to the stake.
Next, ask Jesus on the cross. He also banked on that as He obediently died on the cross.
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