Trusting the Heart of God when there is trouble and bad things happen
In some of the most difficult times, people have asked, “Where is God? Does He see what is happening? Does He care?” And the ultimate question is, “How does a good God allow bad things to happen?”
Let’s start with the last question first. Everyone has some significant level of free will. That is evident in feeding a baby who then spits out food or shakes his head side to side to avoid the offered food.
Is the goodness of God questioned when God doesn’t intercede to stop the consequences of our choices? Often, we fail to see the many times God does intercede: the car that just misses a collision, the thief who looks at your home and decides on another, the red light, the misplaced keys, the upset tummy that delays and protect us by seconds. Ultimately with free will, when people choose to do something wrong, it reflects the hardness of their heart, the deviousness or confusion of their mind and their determined persistence to carry out the deed in spite of God or anyone else’s warnings. As far as health or natural disasters are concerned, can we assign blame to God for all the abnormalities of the body and bad weather that occur in this imperfect world without also crediting God for the numerous days of good health and weather?
What about the abuse perpetrated upon others that last for years or the mass murder/abuse of certain ethnic groups? Did God care? The Bible tells of several such incidents that answers this question.
Noah’s Flood - Before the Flood, Genesis 6:5 spoke of the people’s thoughts (and actions) being evil continually. Genesis 6:5 “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:6 says their actions grieved His heart.
Sodom and Gomorrah - Genesis 18:20-21 records God saying, “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great… because their sin is very grievous.” God went to investigate prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jonah & Nineveh - Jonah was sent to warn the people of Nineveh (a city in Assyria) of God’s coming destruction. Knowing the Assyrians’ long history of mistreating other people horribly, and their promise to come after Israel, Jonah tried his best not to obey God’s instructions. In chapter 4:2 Jonah says knew the people would repent and God would show His mercy and spare them. “…For I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.”
The Children of Israel in Egypt - The second book of the Bible tells the story of one family (66 people) who moved to Egypt when they had a prominent and respected family member serving Pharaoh there. Over the decades that turned into centuries, this family grew and became the Hebrew nation of Israel (with approximately 2 million people); a nation within a nation. The Egyptians leaders became concerned that these people could become too powerful and cause them problems. Out of fear, Exodus 1:11 says the Egyptian leaders set taskmasters to afflict the Hebrew people with burdens.
Exodus 2:23 said the Hebrew people cried out God. Time and again, through their days, and years they cried out. Through the tragedies, the accidents, the harsh treatment of the young, the elderly, the weak, they cried out. When Pharaoh’s horrible edict came to kill all baby boys, did God see, hear or care? When the Lord encountered Moses in the burning bush, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows…” (Exodus 3:7).
God did not learn of the mistreatment the first time a Hebrew child, man or woman cried out in anguish. God had spoken of their coming enslavement and burdens of bondage nearly 600 years earlier. In fact, God told Abraham of the coming affliction before Abraham’s first child was conceived (Genesis 15). He said the people would be delivered from their bondage and He would return them to the very land on which God was speaking to Abraham. But the people who already lived there would not be removed yet. God said “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
What was the sin of the Amorites? Leviticus 18-20 cites the prohibited sexual relations of the people who had inhabited the land (often as part of their worship to idols). These sins included worshiping other gods, incest, child molestation, rape, bestiality, forced prostitution, and sacrificing children to idols. Apparently, the time of deliverance of a nation yet to be born was linked to a nation of idol worshippers whose wicked sins against others would spell their own expulsion and death.
God knew Israel’s plight, the tears and the day of their deliverance. Exodus says 12:40-41 says the people had lived in Egypt for 430 years and at the end of that 430 years to the exact day, they left Egypt…with God. God never lost sight of each person and all the moments of their lives.
There is another aspect of this story. The plight of Egypt began with a favored son named Joseph being attacked by his own brothers. Although they debated about killing him, they made money selling him to traders, who in turn sold him into slavery …for years to Potiphar, a prominent Egyptian officer of Pharaoh’s. Genesis 39:3 said the LORD was with him. Joseph would later be falsely accused of attempted rape and imprisoned…for years. Genesis 39:21 said the LORD was with him and made everything Joseph did prosper.
At just the right time, a dream of Pharaoh resulted in Joseph receiving his freedom, and being promoted to a vaulted position in the country. Day by day until more than seven years had passed, Joseph encountered his brothers. Then Joseph came to understand the underlying reason why he was attacked, kidnapped and sold by his own brothers. Now he understood why he needed to be a slave at Potiphar’s estate; he understood the connection that could only occur because he was imprisoned unjustly. Joseph’s insightful observation is told in Genesis 45:5 after he had revealed himself to his brothers, “…God sent me before you to preserve life.” And in Genesis 50:20 Joseph said this to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Now all the pieces fit together for Joseph to see the hand of God, to see God’s plan to save, to protect, to provide a future not just for Joseph, or his brothers’ and their families, but for future descendants whose numbers would exceed hundreds of thousands. This family was allowed to grow from 66 people into a nation nurtured within the borders of one of the most powerful countries of the world.
Why does God wait? Why does God allow evil to run its course? We ask these questions from our limited point of view. While we think we know what would be best for an individual or a group of people, we know neither the past of the perpetrator(s) nor of those mistreated or those yet to be born. We do not know the importance, timing, and connection of this or that one’s birth or death or the effects that will result because of a specific incident and its timing. God does know. Isaiah 55:8-9 says God’s ways and thoughts are not our ways or thoughts; His are higher than ours.
Adapted from the lyrics of the song entitled Trust His Heart by Babbie Mason, “When you don’t understand and you can’t see the plan; If we can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” Trust the Heart of God who is truthful, compassionate, all powerful, who loves us more than we can imagine and never leaves us.
Photograph on unsplash.com by Omer Salom