In light of what has gone down over the course of the past week (and further prompted by my pastor’s recent sermon), here’s the question for this week.

Does God cause or allow tragedy to strike?

12 Replies to “The Monday Muse: Tragedy

  1. God has no evil… therefore, God can do no evil… therefore, God does not cause tragedy to happen as that would be doing evil to people. Bad things happen because Evil exists… Evil exists because people have free will… God knows what will happen but that isn’t the same as causing it to happen…

    Matt

  2. Flash: i like ur muse idea alot. nifty!
    Matt: are we talking about evil or tragedy? does tragedy = evil? or can tragedy be unevil? is tragedy a neutral event that becomes evil when certain things result, or when viewed from a certain perspective? do tornadoes have free will? apparently my comments only come in question form?

  3. meta –

    hmmm… if a tornado knocks your house down, that’s just nature… but if God sends a tornado to knock your house down, I think that’s evil… therefore against God, therefore impossible… dizzy? I am.

    Matt

  4. God is just – if he sends a tornado to knock down your house, then there was a reason for it. You of course wouldn’t like that one bit, but after all, he is God.

    God does allow tragedy to strike. And based on the assumption that it’s possible for tragedy, as defined by us, to be righteous, as defined by God, then yes, God does cause tragedy to strike.

  5. Matt,
    It seems like you are assuming that tragedy equals evil. I would say that the two are different. Evil is contrary to God. Tragedy may appear evil to us in our human perspective and this can lead us to a dark path in theology.

    “Pain and suffering are paths to the Dark Side they are.”

    Neither would I say that tragedy is a neutral event that God just allows to happen because forces in nature have created it. God is either in control of the event or he has no control over the event. I would much prefer the former.

    Let me take you to two passages that demonstrate my points. In Jonah 1 we see Jonah running from God in disobedience. Jonah 1:4 “The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.” This storm is later on called a calamity, and God created it. Now this wasn’t a punishment on Jonah, but God using the storm to get Jonah’s attention and turn him back toward himself. You will also see in the passage that the sailors also turned to God and worshiped him.

    Second, look at John 9:1-5, it is here that we learn that tragedy is not the same as evil, but controlled by God for his glory. The disciples had asked Jesus who had sinned to make the blind man blind from birth and Jesus answered them saying “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The tragedy of being blind is a tragedy to be sure for the man that couldn’t see from birth and for those who cared for him. But this tragedy wasn’t caused by evil (sin), but by God so that he could be glorified.

    Quoting Tommy Nelson from “The Big Picture”, “Nothing occurs by accident. Events occur by the decree of God.”

    If we set our focus on God and recognize his sovereignty in all things then we can be assured that he is in control and we can give thanks in all things. If we focus on earthly things (people, places, events) then we will seek to find answers that distort the nature of God – take a look at the Open Theist movement. They sought to find answer about tragedy, but instead of putting their faith in the sovereignty of God, that have redefined God to a God with limited power.

    What do you see? Does it match who God is? N-O-W-H-E-R-E

  6. There are some well spoken comments here, and it’s an interesting thing to ponder… When ever something like this comes up, I always look to Job. Read Job 1: 6-12… Go ahead, I’ll wait….

    Now, Looks to me like God said “Hey, Satan… Check out Job over here. he is good and upright and faithful.” and Satan replied “Oh, yeah, only because you are protecting him and giving him good things. Take all that away and he will curse you to your face.” So God tells Satan, “go ahead, do what you want to Job, but spare his life.”
    I get cold chills after that. Man, I so want to have the faith of Job, but not like that! It almost sounds to me like God allowed tragedy to befall Job to prove a point… and knowing that Satan would pull out all the stops, you could argue that God caused tragedy to come to Job.
    Now, Looking back at Johnathan’s comments, we also note that God did cause that storm to get Jonah’s attention. So, I think it’s safe to say that God ALLOWS tragedy and He also sometimes CAUSES tragedy. But, I think the bigger question is why?
    With Jonah, he needed to get his attention. Jonah was outside the will of God. With Job, well, that may be too much for my feeble mind to ponder… I believe Job suffered for many reasons. To prove to Satan that we mere humans can and will be faithful to God, to give later generations a role model to look to when times get tough, and I’m sure I could think of a few more reasons if I thought about it a bit longer…

    I’ve thought about what happened last week, specifically to Union (being an alum and all..) and I wondered why this happened… then, I watched from afar (I live near Ft. Worth) and saw how a difficult situation was being handled and I began to understand, just a little…
    Sometimes we need something like this to pull us closer together. Look at the Union community, it’s not just students, faculty and staff; it’s churches, families, businesses and other colleges. It’s not buildings and bricks and books, it’s people. Union University is it’s people and those are Gods people. God protected the most important part of that school. The entire nation had it’s eyes on that school if only for a few days. I think there will be news coverage when classes resume and I believe the way the family that is Union University is handling this “tragedy” will show the nation how Gods people are. They are not bickering in the SBC over details and ready to split, they have come together… and if you watch the signs of the times, you should know that God’s people need to come together now more than ever. My paster not too long ago told us as a church that you to get to know each other through recreation and play, but you will not be as close to someone as you will if you stand beside them and work, toil and labor for a common goal. I believe God is bringing His people together and when that happens we should look for great things to come.

    But, then, what do I know… I’m just a stay at home mom who happens to love and worship a mighty God.

  7. Does God cause or allow tragedy? I would say yes.

    Obliged that you would allow my input, defining terms is important here as in most similar discussions. I agree, certainly God would not cause evil (but obviously allows it), but causing what we would call tragedy is fair game for HIm without being evil. Scripture teaches that God caused destruction of Sodom/Gommorah for judgment, He caused Israel’s military to be overthrown numerous times, caused Pharoah’s heart to be hardened so that he might cause the plagues and ultimately He effected the tragic sentence of crucifixion on HIs own son. IS 45:7 and JER 32:42 have God admitting causing calamity and disaster. The great danger is when any one of us interprets modern tragedy as definitely caused by God for judgment on someone or discipline (Job’s friends accusing him of sin). Even if He does initiate such a thing, we can’t declare it for sure unless He reveals it as so.

    God also allows tragedies that He did not orchestrate, evil or not. Some are a result of specific sin. Drunk driver kills someone because they drank and drove and sin has consequences for people other than the sinner. Some tragedies are allowed not as a result of specific sin, but simply a part of a sin cursed world. Creation groans for the day this age is over, Rom 8. Who knows how often God miraculously prevents untold tragedies from happening? But not all of them.

    Romans 8:28 gives us the perfect and complete solution to how the loving and just God can cause or allow disaster without losing His agape for us or sovreignty over all creation. He takes it all, good or bad and converts the outcome for the good of His and the glory of Him.

    I tried to make it short :(((((

  8. I appreciate everyone’s points made. I think I have to argue against God “causing” bad things to happen. My church is doing a study in James and at my small group last night we were discussing James 1. James opens with “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” and later in the chapter he writes, “When you are tempted do not say ‘God is tempting me'”. In the original Greek, so I have been told, the word translated as “trials” in the first part and as “temptation” in the second part are the same word! So, God does not cause trials or temptation. Now, does He use them? Does He allow them? Does he know about them? Of course. Job was destroyed, not by God but by Satan. Because of a storm, Jonah was tossed overboard, but the passage reads that God sent the storm and buffeted the ship, but He didn’t sink it. No harm was done by the storm. In fact, the consequence of the storm was that Jonah was thrown overboard and God saved him which is God’s character of grace and mercy.

    I still argue that God does not cause tragedy. But, He knows about it, He allows it to happen, and He sustains us through it.

    My two cents,

    SDG,
    Matty

  9. Matt,

    You are correct, God will not allow temptation to overcome us beyond what we can bare, nor does he tempt us with sin. But I still think you are confusing tragedy with evil. It can often appear to our human perspective that tragedy is evil, but the two are not synonymous. Evil is the departing from God’s will, which can bring tragedy as a result of God’s judgment. However, Jesus clearly points out in John 9 that God use events, even ones that appear tragic to us for his glory and not only as a result of sin. Therefore, some events that are tragic in our perspective are not evil, but simply tragic to us.

    In Jonah, the calamity (tragedy) of the storm was upon the sailors, they were going to perish if Jonah wasn’t thrown overboard. But there is a separate calamity (tragedy) in Jonah and that is the destruction of Nineveh. God was in control. He was going to unleash the calamity, until Nineveh repented. Then God relented on the tragedy he was going to cause. It wasn’t a calamity that he was going to allow to happen it was one that he was going to cause and then relented in causing it.

    Does God allow or cause tragedy? Yes, he does. He’s in active control of events. He does not just passively let things occur because they fit into his plan. That is why we have to trust in the sovereignty of the one who is outside of time and can see the beginning of the picture as well as the end.

  10. Jonathan,

    ok… i feel like maybe we are going around over semantics now so, let me see if I can come at this another way…

    if there is a gas leak at your house and it blows up, that is a tragedy… if I blow your house up, the result is the same, but it is evil because I caused it to happen… the same holds true with God… as I said in my initial post, if a tornado comes and knocks your house down, that is tragic, but if god sends a tornado to knock your house down, that would be evil… it has to do with the causality… i don’t know what the calamity was that was to befall Nineveh… maybe God knew a typhoon or earthquake was headed their way and, when they were repentant, God stopped it from happening… I just don’t see God acting to cause tragedy/trials/tribulations/temptations in our lives…

    am I making sense? I mean, you obviously don’t agree with me. I hear you saying that God looks at our situation and says, “I’m gonna make something bad happen to Matthew so that he will grow in his faith.” No. That’s not in God’s nature to cause bad things to happen to me. Bad things happen to me because there is sin/evil in the world.

    also, you write: “He’s in active control of events. He does not just passively let things occur because they fit into his plan.” I have to disagree with you here as well… If we look at the tragedy that occurred this past week at Union College, you will never be able to convince me that God directed those tornadoes to rip through that college campus. The tornadoes came because of nature and weather patterns and all the things God designed into this wonderful, amazing planet of ours. You can’t possibly think that gravity works because God is actively involved in pushing down on us all the time. Gravity, like weather, is a natural phenomenon that takes place because that is the way nature was designed. The events at Union are/were tragic… but if God had caused them, that’s evil!

    We could probably go round and round on this and you are welcome to the last word. I think this is all I will choose to say on the subject.

    Thanks for participating in this discussion with me!

    SDG,
    Matty

  11. Matt,

    I’m glad that you don’t mind debating this topic as I feel it is a very important one to discuss.

    Our general disagreement is about how much God is in control. You believe that if God directed those tornadoes to hit Union University than that is an evil act by God, in the same way you see blowing up my house would be an evil act. However, you cannot compare your actions with the actions of God. You have a sinful nature, whereas, God has a perfect nature. I would say it was evil if he caused them based on my human (sinful) nature. But I don’t know the perfect mind of God. I don’t know the big picture and how he has orchestrated this to fit in, but I know that he is in control and in his perfect wisdom he directed the storms. To believe that God does not have active control in directing the tornadoes you are accepting the compliment to that argument that he does not have control to prevent the tornadoes from hitting a building. He either has control over the storm all the time or he does not have control over the storm at all. If you accept the argument that God does not have control at all, you stepped onto the slippery path of limiting the power of God. What else does he not have control over? Does he not have control over the will of people? Can man’s actions thwart God’s plan?

    In my first post I humorously quoted Yoda saying, “Pain and suffering are paths to the dark side they are.” But this quote is very true in relation to theology. If we look at the tragedy of the tornadoes from our human perspective and see the loss of life and property and believe that God is not in control what comfort can we have? He could not have prevented it and he can not control the result of it. But if we look vertically to our Heavenly Father who is in control of all things we can be confident that he had control of the situation prior to the tornadoes, during and after tornadoes even though we might not understand his purpose. Though we are feeling the emotions of sadness and loss we can be confident in his sovereignty and control of the situation.

    Matt, I’m not debating with you simply for the practice of skill, but to encourage and edify you to greater faith in God. I just remembered what my pastor is preaching on currently – the book of Habakkuk. In the book, Habakkuk is bring a complaint against God about the wickedness in Judah and God’s use of the even more wicked Babylonians to bring judgment on Judah. Habakkuk is questioning how these actions line up with God’s character. I encourage you to read it, and see God’s response.

    My heart goes out to the Union University family. I call it a family because I know of the community bond that can form on a Christian college campus having attended Cedarville University. But I have to be faithful in believing that God was in constant and yes in active control of the storm, even if I don’t understand it. Otherwise tomorrow, I will have no reason not to fear a tragedy occurring to me here in Ohio.

    I’m more than willing to keep discussing this topic as I feel it directly refers to God’s omnipotence. Not that I have to defend it, but I want to help myself and others understand it better to encourage our faith.

  12. Well…let me say that this has been a great discussion. I wish I would’ve had more time during the week to interact instead of jumping in at the tail end. Let me say welcome to Matt and Ronda since you all are fairly new to the blog. I appreciate you jumping in and look forward to more edifying discussions ahead.

    The question at hand…ah yes…tragedy, evil, and God. Well…I think we can all agree that God has the ability to control all things at any time. If this is not true then He is not worthy to be worshipped and praised. Who wants to worship a God who has limited power or who can be thwarted by some other force? However, it’s not a matter of preference but a matter of the testimony of Scripture.

    Does God cause or allow tragedy? Both. In both cases God is still completely in control. If God causes something to happen, he has control. But just because God allows things to happen does not mean that he has lost control. Just because God has the ability to do something and yet chooses not to exercise that ability does not negate his ability. Confusing enough? 🙂 I think Randall summed it up well. We see several examples of God “causing” things to happen. And Randall has given several examples of this from Scripture.

    We also see God “allowing” things to happen such as the affliction of Job. God doesn’t directly afflict Job though Job does attribute these things to God when answering his wife (who tells him to just die). But we see that God allows Satan to afflict Job. Yet Satan’s power is given to him by God and he is only allowed to use it because God allows him to. So God even has control over Satan.

    Does God “cause” or “do” evil? No. As Matthew mentioned, it would be against his character. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted by evil not does he tempt anyone with evil. He is perfect. Evil exists due to the curse of sin. But does God allow it and even use it for his own glory? Certainly. Again, his allowance does not negate his control over all things. Additionally, as already mentioned, evil and tragedy may not be the same thing depending on the perspective. Sodom and Gomorrah is destroyed. We see tragedy and may cry out that such action must be evil. Yet it was evil and sin that led to the its destruction. So was God’s action evil or rather a just and balanced reponse to sin and evil? I conclude the latter though I agree with Randall that we must be careful not to proclaim Katrina or other tragedies as the judgment of God. Only God can proclaim such things and we can only label such things based on what God has made plain.

    Matt…I love that you brought in some discussion of the original languages. It is always helpful to refer back to original languages if you are trained to handle them. However, I might add here that your argument based on the Greek word for “trial” and “temptation” is not necessarily accurate. As Martin Luther says in the movie Luther, “Words are like children, the more care you give them the more they demand.” With Greek, these two words may have the same Greek translation. However, they do not necessarily mean the same thing because we must consider context, grammatical case, tense, and syntax. So its a bit complicated. So we must be careful to base arguments simply on the spelling of words. I know this because I have made this mistake more than once. Peirazo and peirasmos (tempt, tempted, trial, trials) have the same root but can have different meanings or interpretations.

    Alright…this is why I need to interact more frequently. Look how long this is.

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