Why Would God Do Bad Things?

I could use your help!

WhyIn tonight’s session, as we learned about the Ten Plagues, one of the young ladies asked, “Why would God do bad things?”

I responded that, first of all, Pharaoh and the Egyptians were doing something very wrong – enslaving the Hebrew people, and that God’s purpose was to bring about an end to the oppression. My wife added that God always gave Pharaoh an opportunity first to repent but, since he refused, sent punishment as a corrective.

Even so, the young lady seemed unsatisfied, and I have to admit, my wife and I were too, because, in essence, we still seemed to be saying that God used evil to bring about good.

How would you respond to this issue? 

[photo courtesy of Tintin44 via Compfight]

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13 Responses to “Why Would God Do Bad Things?”

  1. Susan Says:

    God always wants what’s best for us, so by definition, choosing to ignore his will means we’re choosing less than what’s best for us, and perhaps even what’s worst for us. God doesn’t DO bad things, but he can allow bad things to happen as the logical result of our bad choices. If you jump off your garage roof, God isn’t going to turn off gravity to keep you from breaking your leg.

    Unfortunately, one person’s bad choices can cause bad things to happen to the innocent as well. We form the Body of Christ, so individual sin harms us all, not because God is “punishing” sinners, but because it’s the nature of sin to harm. We don’t know the literal details of what happened in Egypt, but clearly, Pharaoh kept making choices that harmed his own people, over and over, right up until he pursued the Hebrew people into the Red Sea and drowned with all his chariots and charioteers. Perhaps the Egyptian people breathed a sigh of relief as well as the Hebrews.

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  2. Dianna Says:

    That is a good question!

    My thinking: God is all good therefore cannot do evil. He does however allow evil to happen, and good can follow evil.

    So for instance in the Ten Plaques, God allowed the blood, frogs, flies, boils, etc. to happen, much of which are natural occurrences. The damage caused by the plagues was not so much ‘done’ by God but by the blood, frogs, flies, boils, etc.

    This thought pattern honors the fact that God is all knowing and all powerful, and places the ‘blame’ of the evil on the true culprits: blood, frogs, flies, boils, etc.

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  3. Joe Says:

    Derlene writes:

    God, acting as Father protecting His children gave the oppressors every opportunity to free His children from captivity. As a parent, I would reason and practice patience with those who were doing wrong by my children. In one particular instance, my son was being bullied and his (the bully’s) parents would not address because they didn’t believe their son would display such behavior. After many weeks of explaining to my son we are people of Jesus, we look the other way, avoid the boy, etc. to no avail, we told our son to do what he felt he had to do. It just took him using the power of his words and his stature; however, my point is God had to do what He had to do to protect His children.

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  4. Deborah Says:

    Well, that IS a tough question to answer. God DID cause “bad” things to happen to the enemies of His people.
    He himself says this is the reason: [Ex 9:13 ff, RSV] “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues . . . that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth For by now I could have put forth my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; but for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” We may not LIKE his reason — that the Israelites and the Egyptians and Bible-readers of all time would KNOW THAT HE IS GOD — but that is the reason given by Scripture for us to wrestle with. (This is the same reason he gave throughout Ezekiel as to why he sent his own people into exile, “That you may know that I am the LORD”.)

    Now, am I saying this is a palatable answer, or one that I have great peace with? Not necessarily. But this point was emphasized in a podcast series on reading the OT, by an Eastern Orthodox seminary professor, which I listened to just this past week or two. He says God is here displaying for all people his power and superiority over all other so-called gods, so that he can protect and hone his people and thus eventually bring his Messiah who will save even those he has just hassled and killed.

    Not sure what I’d say to a grade-schooler.

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  5. DJ Says:

    I like Deborah’s response because it refers to scripture and is logical. Consulting various study bible notes, commentaries, etc. one is likely to see a similar point: we are used to thinking since WE are told to love our enemies and do no harm, that God should do the same. But we forget that God is GOD. His judgements are just and right, unlike ours. He does have the right and power to avenge wrongs and direct events as he sees fit. I won’t even try to list scripture for this point, as it would be quite a list.

    Here’s just one:

    The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities —his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20)

    Be blessed and teach like their souls depend on it! ;)

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  6. Diane Says:

    I use the example of when you stand really, really close to a picture; all you see is one dot of color. As you start to move backwards, more colors start to come into view, then a pattern, then an image, and eventually the entire picture. It’s the same way with God. Sometimes when something bad happens, we wonder why God would allow this evil thing to occur. However over time and with lots of prayer, as we start to look back, we can finally see the “big picture”. We can start to see an inkling of God’s master plan for us. Which is, ultimately, to come closer to love and serve him.

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  7. DJ Says:

    Just stumbled on this in my evening reading (seriously!).

    Wisdom 12:23-27

    (regarding progressive punishment of the Egyptians)

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  8. Joe Says:

    Carl writes:

    Joe,
    If I were a catechist, I might have said something like:
    “First of all, please understand that Pharaoh had taunted God by saying: ‘Who is YAHWEH, that I should obey his voice and let his people go?’ ”

    Even then God demonstrated mercy and patience, calibrating His response to this sarcastic, sniggering taunt by observing: “I could have stretched forth My hand and stricken you [Pharaoh] and your people with pestilence, and you would have been effaced from the earth. Nevertheless I have spared you for this purpose: in order to show you My power and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world.”

    In other words: God, like a good father, did not lash out immediately in an unseemly display of overwhelming power and rage. Rather, He (a) carefully and measuredly escalated the pressure and severity of a just, corrective punishment (b) used Pharaoh’s defiance and arrogance as a “teachable moment” to instruct the rest of the world in His ultimate mercy, justice and goodness, resulting in (c) the fact that Pharaoh did ultimately free the Jews from an unjust bondage.

    Notice that God allows the Egyptians to exercise their free will throughout this episode; the ever-increasing punishments visited upon them are, biblically-speaking, entirely due to Pharaoh’s stubbornness and arrogant, slave-master pride.

    There is also the matter that, historically-speaking, these plagues may represent a folk-memory of sorts of cyclical disasters regularly visited upon ancient Egypt. The strictly-historical and the biblical explanation may very well overlap and buttress–as opposed to contradict and negate–each other.

    Finally, I might ask: “Have you ever, through stubborn, willful pride, defied your parents in some matter where they were right and you were wrong? Would you have wanted them to immediately come down on you ‘like a ton of bricks’? Or might you have appreciated a more calibrated, instructive approach, where you were led gradually, through a series of teachable moments, to an ‘Ah-ha!’ epiphany of your own that they were right and you were wrong, howsoever initially embarrassed and small this may have originally made you feel. Sometimes—this is a true-ism of life—pain is the only thing we learn from; pain (physical, cognitive and spiritual) focuses the whole of our attention and being like nothing else.”

    Of course, I’m not a catechist, heh!

    ;)

    Yours In the Holy Spirit, Carl

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  9. Joe Says:

    Carol writes:

    Take the quantum approach that says we can, in some way, create or choose our own ‘universe’. These Bad Things may then be viewed as the Egyptians creating/choosing their own chastisement – which God allowed to happen since the Egyptians would not repent.

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  10. Joe Says:

    Derlene writes:

    God, acting as Father protecting His children gave the oppressors every opportunity to free His children from captivity. As a parent, I would reason and practice patience with those who were doing wrong by my children. In one particular instance, my son was being bullied and his (the bully’s) parents would not address because they didn’t believe their son would display such behavior. After many weeks of explaining to my son we are people of Jesus, we look the other way, avoid the boy, etc. to no avail, we told our son to do what he felt he had to do. It just took him using the power of his words and his stature; however, my point is God had to do what He had to do to protect His children.

    Reply

  11. Rocio Munoz Says:

    Darlene,
    Although I agree with you, I still have the question: Were the Egyptians not His children too? I have always had a hard time with Exodus. I personally like to think of the Book of Job in which it tells me that bad things also happen to good people and that that is a fact of life. We are no one to question God’s will. He knows why, we don’t. We need to trust that He will guide us when we perceive “bad” things happening to us, that He will use them for our spiritual growth.

    Or Luke 13

    Luke 13
    New International Version (NIV)
    Repent or Perish

    13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

    6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

    8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

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    • Joe Says:

      I think that’s precisely why this is such a difficult issue to talk to children about (it’s hard enough for us adults!). Ultimately, it feels as if we are justifying God’s decision, as justified as it may be, to do harm to people. In the end, I think we can talk about righteous anger to an extent but I think we need to admit the fact that there are notions in this story that our beyond our limited grasp. God is indeed slow to anger, yet, the Old Testament authors do not deny that he does indeed grow angry.

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  12. Marie Becker Says:

    Old Testament stories are hard. I think we need to remember what the world was like at the time of Moses and of the plagues. Monotheism was still an experiment that didn’t make sense to many polytheistic religions that existed at that time. Thinking from the perspective that the Egyptians had many gods – some of whom were to be feared greatly and some were not, God would have to be very bold to make an impact of his superior greatness and why He should be obeyed, respected, and feared above all other gods. He also needed to remind his own people of how far he would go to prove he loved them and heard their cries. Think about how important such stories would be for this relatively small number of people, the Israelites, to encourage their faithfulness in new lands, bombarded by so many different pagan gods and religions.

    Certainly a very tough subject with elementary students!

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