CloudsI was reading through the prophet Isaiah a few days back and came across this intriguing verse …

"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things." [Isaiah 45:7. NIV]

What an interesting thought or should I say a somewhat perplexing thought. Here we see a God who describes himself as being actively involved in all that is happening in our world – in the good and the bad – at least permitting it, if not causing it. I know of some people who would prefer this verse to say that "God forms the light and brings prosperity" and that "the devil creates the darkness and brings disaster." But it doesn't say that. I wonder why?

John Oswalt in the NIV Application Commentary on Isaiah says this: "In this assertion Isaiah is denying the pagan understanding that good and evil (or light and dark) are two externally coexistent principles battling in the universe. There is only one first principle, and he is light and good. If darkness and evil exist, they do so because the one God permits them to exist. In that sense, he is responsible for their existence. But if the thought ended here, we might conclude that God has a kind of neutral position on the direction of the world. Verse 8 shows that is not the case. God does care passionately about the direction his creation takes. He expects that 'right' (understood as an expression of his own character) will prevail and that 'salvation' (in thesense of deliverance from all the effects of evil) will rule. That is what he created the earth for." [Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2003, p.514]

I find this all both scary and comforting. Somewhat scary in that God is allowing a lot of evil to happen in our world causing suffering for many people. Comforting in that God is obviously in full control of all that is happening and is bringing about his purpose and plan through it all.

The apostle Paul reflects on it this way …

"… we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them … Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:28, 35-39. NLT]

We can only trust that although God is not safe (as C.S. Lewis says of Aslan the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia), he is good.

19 thoughts on “Trying to Comprehend the Incomprehensible God …

  1. Thanks for a great post Mark. The concept of free will for me is a profound thought when contemplating the existence of evil. This concept that God chooses not to enforce his will on creation but rather allows creation to choose, a God that is eternally present yet extremely consistent in allowing creation to accept or deny his presence as they choose. This for me leads to the question does evil exist? Was it created? The obvious response would be yes of course, how can something exist outside of God’s will or design. Genesis 1 describes the existence of darkness that was over the earth. God created Light and separated it from the darkness; darkness exists in the absence of Light.
    Simply put God created free will which created the opportunity for creation to acknowledge or deny God’s presence thus creating evil, the negative space of God’s presence.
    This concept is perfectly exampled in the second law of thermodynamics which deals with entropy and the transfer of energy. Does cold exist? The law of entropy suggests that there is in fact no such thing as cold. The term cold has been allocated to describe the lack of energy creating heat. In the absence of heat there is cold, the lack of energy creating friction that sustains heat. Entropy shows that all things tend towards decay, energy is expelled and finite and as it decreases so does the product of its original design.
    Darkness is the absence of Light.
    Cold is the absence of heat.
    Evil is the absence of God.

  2. Is 45:7 (NASB)
    The One forming light and creating darkness,
    Causing well-being and creating calamity;
    I am the LORD who does all these.
    Does God bring calamity on the righteous or the unrighteous?
    Jer 29:11 (NASB) ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
    So, it is not God’s will to bring calamity on us.
    Gen 18:23 (NASB) Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
    Gen 18:32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”
    It seems if calamity comes from God it comes on the unrighteous — not the righteous. In fact the unrighteous might even benefit for the sake of a few righteous in their midst.
    2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
    Gen 1:27-28 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    Ps 82:6 (also John 10:34)
    I said, “You are gods,
    And all of you are sons of the Most High.
    So we were given authority by God to subdue the earth.
    Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
    James 4:7 Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
    The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but we can resist him and he will flee (as long as we are submitted to God).
    So can we point to God when calamity comes into our life? The first place we should look is at ourselves. Even if the thief has come and stolen from us we should be submitted to God and resisting him.
    Job had to repent to be restored (and he didn’t know God as well as he could’ve):
    Job 42:5-6
    “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
    But now my eye sees You;
    Therefore I retract,
    And I repent in dust and ashes.”
    Now condemnation does not come from God. Conviction comes from God and, if we accept it with a repentant heart, it empowers us to move closer to the will of God for our lives. If we do not accept conviction, and feel condemned, our heart gets just a little harder and we invite all the more calamity in.
    Calamity from God is for the unrighteous, not for the righteous.

  3. What role does eternity play in the roller coaster of life that we ride? Is it possible that God holds more credence in shaping and strengthening our souls for his kingdom than he does in ensuring a comfortable and pleasant journey? how is it that somewhere we have tried to fit the almighty architect and creator of this existence into a box to be called upon for our pleasure and enjoyment. We can easily find faith for life love and prosperity, but do we allow for faith in the face of a brokenness and silence?
    It seems that for time immemorial man has attributed negative experience including sickness to a dark side of spirituality.
    The idea that sickness or affliction is wholly the result of sin is one that very much survives today. It is especially evident in the charismatic healing movements where a great majority of faith healers consistently attribute sickness and suffering to either the Devil or human disobedience.
    Satan and sin alone account for ill health and financial destruction. God is the opponent, never the origin, of adversity such as Job experienced [Storms, 1990: 47]. Norvel Hayes a charismatic faith healer writes, “Know this once for all, all bad things that come to visit you are from the devil – all bad things! They come from hell – not from heaven” [Hayes, 1986: 9].
    Statements such as these are proclaimed and accepted within the walls of the church on a shockingly regular basis, and although there is no argument against the impact of sin on our world and the consequences of disobedience on our lives; one is compelled to contemplate the implications of such a statement in a hurting world. If health and wealth are the signs of blessing and poverty and sickness the sign of sin where does that leave a huge percentage of believers around the world who constantly endure pain and suffering in their world.
    It seems particularly narrow to proclaim that all suffering is the doing of Satan after reading Job. Job replies to similar sentiment by stating “shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” [Job 2:10 NIV] Job was righteous in the eyes of God yet God allowed Jobs suffering. There most certainly is a relationship between the consequences of sin and sickness both in terms of physical affliction or spiritual turmoil. But to say all such afflictions are of Satan and all good things are of God implying that never the two shall meet is wholly inappropriate.

  4. I see your point Strider. However, consider the following.
    You ask “how is it that somewhere we have tried to fit the almighty architect and creator of this existence into a box to be called upon for our pleasure and enjoyment. ” I agree that God is not simply there to provide us with comfort and enjoyment.
    Is it not comforting to believe that God is working all things together for good for those that love Him? Is it not comforting for me to believe that I’m really a good guy and the bad things (or at least some of them) that happen to me are really just God disciplining me and testing me and working all things together for my good?
    Surely that is seeking comfort.
    A scenario. A guy has some terminal illness and is lying on what doctors believe is his death bed. A pastor comes over to pray for the guy and comfort him. He uses scripture like Rom 8:28 to comfort the dying man and reassures him that he is really a good person and God has a purpose in all this.
    What’s happening here? It looks all very Christian but really what is happening is the pastor is just making the guy feel better by telling Him that God allowed this sickness to come on him and to God be all the glory.
    This is just self righteous, impotent garbage. Make the guy feel good about himself so he can die in peace. This is bordering on humanism.
    We are to glorify God. We are to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. I’d say in the church today there is this huge movement to avoid judging one another and to avoid repentance.
    Let’s learn from Job. When bad things happen, throw ash in your hair, tear your beard and get truly remorseful before the holy God so he can restore us.
    None of us is so good that we do not deserve bad things. Bad things don’t happen to us by God’s grace and mercy, not because we are good guys.
    When bad things happen, we have stepped out of God’s protection, He does not afflict us, or even allow affliction to come on us.
    If sickness does not come from the devil and if it is not a result of sin where does it come from? I’ve heard the old “It’s flu season so I got flu” type reasoning. The only reason sickness is there in the first place is because of sin.
    If we will submit to God and resist the devil there is no reason for us to get sick.
    To teach anything else is dodgy to say the least and is really just aiming at comforting those that are sick.
    I’m not talking about bringing judgement and condemnation on sickly people. I’m talking about building their faith so they can believe God for their healing and freedom.
    Also, not all affliction is of Satan. It’s ultimately down to us. We can submit to God and resist Satan. So we can’t really even blame him.
    So, in summary, when we are well and prosperous it’s not a sign that we are good guys, it’s a sign that God is good. When we are sick it’s not a sign that we are bad guys (we are always bad guys) it’s a sign that in some way we have stepped away from God’s protection. No condemnation and all glory to God.

  5. Anonymous wrote: “When we are sick it’s not a sign that we are bad guys (we are always bad guys) it’s a sign that i some way we have stepped away from God’s protection.”
    WOW! What a statement – so everyone sick has made a step away from God’s protection? We are responsible for our sickness? There is no room for the fact that in a fallen world sickness will play its part often without any “movement” away from God’s protection? So anyone sick straight away comes under condemnation frantically discovering where they have “moved” away. My goodness!! Timothy must have frequently moved from God’s protection (1 Tim. 5:13)? And how dare all the brothers and sisters sick and dying in 3rd world nations right now be moving away from God’s protection? How inconsiderate of them – can someone please give them directions into God’s very limited sphere of protection – it must be very small for people to move away from it so frequently.
    Then again, maybe that whole thought is simply that – just a thought – and not grounded on the completeness of God’s word.

  6. When we comfort people the comfort should be in the fact that God is good, not in the fact that they are good.
    We should be comforted by the fact that God is faithful and good, always, and that every good things comes from Him.
    If we need to hear how good and faithful we are to be comforted, then we are in trouble.
    We are all sinners, not deserving of God’s goodness. But, because of Jesus and the work He has done we can approach the throne of grace with confidence.
    If it makes people angry to hear that they may be suffering because they are not submitting to God then I’d say that anger speaks for itself.
    You have to submit to God to be under His protection. To submit to Him you have to believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. How can they believe if they have not heard and how can they hear unless someone teaches them?
    If we go about telling people they are fine just as they are instead of teaching them to submit to God then we are at fault.
    There is no condemnation in this. If someone is sick they are not to be condemned, only to be taught that in God is well being and freedom. And they should make every effort, even to the day of their death, to diligently seek Him. There is no condemnation in that.
    We will all spend our lives seeking God and never quite hit the mark, otherwise we would be perfect. The world is fallen because of our sinful nature, in each one of us.
    Acknowledging that is the very basis of repentance and the first step to entering the kingdom of heaven.
    Again, the glory goes to God, not to the people.
    Can we please stay in unity as we discuss this. If it seems to be going to angry divisions then we should probably just end it here.

  7. “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God” (Job 1:8)
    – Job had not stepped away from God’s protection. He was the most pure man on the entire planet, yet God permitted Satan to wreak havoc on Job’s world.
    “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecc 7:20)
    – This is not talking about non-believers, but all humanity. All are unrighteous, all have sinned. So those who have everything going for them (i.e. healthy, rich, prosperous), are also unrighteous, along with those who are poor and sick.
    “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else.” (Matt 11:2)
    -John the Baptist, the man who prepared the way for the Christ, was in prison. Did he deserve prison? Was he a sinner? Was he out of God’s protection? Jesus instead of rescuing John, told him of his ministry, and not to lose hope or doubt. But he left him in prison. Doesn’t really fit with our ‘do good get good’, ‘do bad get bad’ pop theology. Perhaps the tsunami was judgment, God calling all the homosexuals and people with tattoos, and porn stars to judgment? Or perhaps it was a call for all people, both homosexuals and homosapiens to look to him. What about hurricane Ike? Perhaps it was God using it against the church? Against the religious Pharisees who had taken his temple, and turned it into a den of thieves. A marketing gimmick, where everything is broken down into simple formulas and steps. ‘7 Steps to Success’, ‘7 Reasons why good things happen to good people, ‘7 reasons why i am awesome’.
    “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? ‘NEITHER this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’
    – Oops, looks like we can’t use the good guys, bad guys theology. Looks like God allows bad things to happen so that He might use them for his will. Looks like bad things happen to people who ‘deserve’ it and ‘do not deserve’ it.
    In summary, God is big, bigger then the teeney tiny little theologic boxes we try and stuff him in. We can’ diminish his ways and his works to mere steps and formulas. God heals, sometimes he does not heal. God saves, sometimes he does not save (or perhaps not in the way we like). In conclusion, we know nothing, He knows everything. We don’t have all the answers, so we trust in the one who does have all the answers.

  8. Suffering for the sake of the gospel (John in prison) is not sickness and calamity brought on by sin.
    If some guy has cancer because he is diligently spreading the gospel then let him die in peace.
    So neither the blind man nor his parents sinned? Is that true? So they were sinless? Obviously not. Even so, if Jesus is saying that the blindness was not a result of sin, does that mean we can safely say every time we are sick it is not a result of sin? No, you need to go and ask the Rabbi each time if there is something in you that is not submitted to Him. Almost certainly, almost every time, you will find there are things in your life that need to be sorted out.
    And who is talking about who deserves anything? It has nothing to do with deserving and everything to do with God and faith in Him.
    If God sometimes does one thing and sometimes does another what does that do to your faith? How can you trust God to heal you if you don’t know He will? That is contradictory.
    Are you saying you would say “Lord, heal me if it is your will?” Then why bother praying at all?
    If it is God’s will to allow you to be sick then why go to a doctor to get well? Then you are being disobedient. Rather stay sick and stay in God’s will then.
    It is not God’s will for us to be sick and suffer. It is His will for us to be healthy and to prosper in every way. Sickness is hardly prosperity.
    I’ll take God’s will over some guy’s sensitivity any day.

  9. I missed the Job thing. God did call Job upright and righteous. That did not make him perfect. He had to repent at the end and then his restoration came.

  10. Anyonymous- O hear comes that word “angry” again. What is it with Christians the minute you disagree strongly (which I do) then we get marked as “Angry”?
    Peter couldn’t cope with the thought of a suffering Christ – so he rebuked him. Today we still can’t cope with the thought of suffering christians – so we rebuke them. 1 Peter 4:12 asks us why we are so surprise at suffering – as if it were strange, as if we were out of God’s “protection”? We may not like it. It certainly doesn’t fit into our “genie-in-the-bottle” understanding of God, but that is exactly it. God doesn’t fit into neat and tidy boxes. Especially when it comes to suffering, grief, illness, affliction and persecution.

  11. Suffering for the gospel is one thing. Getting cancer or losing the use of your legs for no good reason at all is quite another.
    Persecution for the sake of the gospel does not come in the form of sickness, it comes from other people, prison, stoning, bashing, etc.
    And, in fact, the pop gospel issue here is that people don;t like to be told that they are sinners and need to repent. They’d rather say they are good and righteous like Job and are suffering for no good reason at all so that God can get some purpose fulfilled than they’d say that they are just plain old sinners like the rest of us and need a good repenting.
    In almost every case a man cannot compare himself to Job or the blind guy. In almost every case (probably every case except Job and the blind guy) it is repentance that is required.
    Remember that repentance is not just to stop committing bad deeds. It is actually a complete change of heart and mind – a complete turning around and having a new understanding and view of things.
    Often repentance will simply be changing our view of God to be more in line with scripture. Some may be of the opinion that I need repentance in that sense. Clearly I disagree and I believe we all need to wake up and get back to the simple “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.

  12. Thanks for clarifying. So the person having their head chopped off right now for their faith in parts of India is under God’s protection? And the little girl dying in her mother’s arms amidst fervent prayer because of diarrhoa or malaria has obviously wandered very far from Gods protection? She just needs to repent.
    That makes so much sense.

  13. Hey,
    Some great books on this:
    N.t. Wright – “Evil and the Justice of God”
    Peter Greigg – “God on mute”
    C.S. Lewis – “The problem of pain”

  14. I know it is only one biblical example and there are others. I feel Anonymous that you are miss representing the story of Job. Not sure what translation you read but hear are some verses that I think will help clear up the issue surrounding jobs righteousness.
    1:1 – this man was blameless and upright: he feared God and shunned evil.
    1:8 – then the Lord said to Satan “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
    1:21-22 – Job said “Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked I will depart. The lord gave and the lord has taken away; may the name of the lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
    2:3 – Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without reason.”
    2:10 – “Shall we accept good from God and no trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
    I think that it is pretty clear that God upheld Job’s righteousness, he allowed Satan to test Job but it had absolutely nothing to do with sin.
    It is clear after reading Job that Satan had no power beyond that which was given by God. And although God did not cause sin he allowed Satan access to Job, who was blameless, in order to prove to Satan that Job trusted not because God had protected him or made him wealthy and wise, but because he was God [Storms, 1990: 48].
    To say that Satan is the cause of all negative things is only true in the fact that sin has permeated our would, our existence so much that we will never attain perfection as it was intended until Christ returns.
    So often we are told that it is only a matter of faith that lies between our healing and us. But the question must be asked; if we need to have faith to receive the healing that we are entitled to [Osborn, 1986 p129] then how do we allow for faith when God denies us healing?
    Where has our theology taken us when it becomes commonplace to speak of healing as a right that we have because we believe in Jesus. How often do we pray to God as though we are entitled to service from God? A prolific writer and healing evangelist T L Osborn writes “bring your request to Him [being God] and leave the results with Him. Give Him a chance to do for you what He has been waiting so long to do, but could not until you were ready to act on his word in faith. Right now go to God and quote any of his promises that you want him to fulfil for you. Ask Him to do it. Pray the prayer of faith for that promise; place your order in the letter-drop of faith and turn it loose. Trust it to the heavenly authorities to take it through and to bring you the order properly filled” [Osborn, 1986 p137]. Faith healers across the globe fall into this trap of demanding things of God, as if He is a deity that is bound by legalistic dogma that enables us to perform prayers in such a way that he cannot refuse.
    How totally absurd to think that God is waiting for us to order him into action on our behalf, Jesus himself quotes when being tempted by Satan in the desert “do not test the Lord your God” [Deut 6:16]. It is crucial that we make a paradigm shift in our thinking.
    We must take God out of the box that humanity so often tries to squeeze him into and have a simple faith like Job did that says “though he slay me yet will I trust in him” [Job 13:15 KJV].
    We are often taught to have faith for things including healing but we need to have faith for things that we do not understand. We can be defined by the desire to escape hardship and trial or we can accept Gods providence and love and be defined by the way we can operate in a grief stricken world to shine out the saving grace of Christ Jesus. Death and sickness are a reality and life is a gift lets get over all the religious and legalistic guff and realize that we live in a broken world. Bad things happen to good people good things happen to bad people it has nothing to do with sin or righteousness it is just life!

  15. Strider, I like the way you have articulated what I believe to be a very accurate account of this topic. Anonymous, you said “I’d say in the church today there is this huge movement to avoid judging one another and to avoid repentance.” Well, we’re not to judge each other, because that raises us above God who knows all. Yes we can judge the “fruit” of others, but we are not to judge people.
    I have to share something that happened to me 11 years ago. I lost a child at 24 weeks gestation and had to be induced to give birth to a still born. She had all sorts of problems with her heart and other organs. Do I have sin in my life, of course, we all do. Do I believe that my sin caused the death of my child, no.
    I believe the problems with our baby were as a result of this “imperfect world” where sin and sickness abounds. I prayed for God to heal my baby. Did He not answer my prayer because she’s not here with me today? No, I believe that He did heal her, just not in the way I would have liked. He allowed her to pass on, and now she is with Him, whole and healed.
    I went through an incredible journey of intense pain, anger at God, I questioned Him and my faith. But never once turned from Him. I held on to my faith by a thread simply because…..He is God.
    Never in my life had I had something “bad” happen that shook the very foundation of my faith. I had to question why I served God. Was it because life was good and I was getting what I wanted from God, or was it because He is the very creator of the universe and the reason I exist?
    Through that journey I now have a faith as strong as a cedar of Lebanon. My roots go deep and I feel I can take on any challenge with God by my side. I have a sympathy for others that did not exist before this, a deeper level of empathy and compassion.
    God even spoke to me through that journey and conveyed to me that He allowed me to go through that horrible experience to shape me and that I am who I am today because of it. Our lives are a journey toward who God wants us to be. We will not be complete in that journey until we see Him face to face, but every experience we have has the potentional to move us one step closer.
    How much more can we reach the lost when we’ve experienced the very suffering and pain that they struggle with….but we are here to show that you can come out the other side of that in victory when you ask God in to your life to walk it with you.
    To reduce illness simply to “you’ve moved away from God” is to deny God’s grand and amazing plan to mould, shape, and refine us through those experiences.

  16. Fascinating theories and arguments re. why ‘bad’ things happen. Very timely for me as I recently sprained my ankle badly. Why accuse God of removing His protection or even dig deep to see hidden sins in me? I love Him so dearly, and regardless of anything, I want to be marked by His presence each day – that is sufficient!
    Ancient stories like Job, hold meaning for us mainly as examples. They can teach us what is possible. We must create and find our own stories, carve our own history. Quoting Denzin & Lincoln, ‘We are subjects of our own lives and narratives, not objects in the stories of others’.
    PS I’m no great theorists, this is my own outlook. Nevertheless, this blogsite is edifying.

  17. “Jumping In”…thank you for sharing, I quote you:-
    “…I went through an incredible journey of intense pain, anger at God, I questioned Him and my faith. But never once turned from Him. I held on to my faith by a thread simply because…..He is God.”
    … and HE IS GOOD!
    Currently our readings in the book of Isaiah remind us time & again how we drift away then blame God but He saves nevertheless. Romans 8:28 stands true.

  18. Loved reading all the comments. Nothing like pain and contradiction to make all of our “house of cards” theologies come tumbling to the ground. And from the ashes emerges a strong faith “God is able, and God will, but if He doesn’t….. YET will we serve Him.”

  19. Amen Savannah. > “God is able, and God will, but if He doesn’t… YET, I too, will we serve Him” < In every situation God is still Sovereign and He is ALWAYS good!

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