I could use your help!
In 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]
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.
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.
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.
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! 😉
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.
Just stumbled on this in my evening reading (seriously!).
(regarding progressive punishment of the Egyptians)
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!