The God who Makes us Suffer "on a Whim"?
A responder to a previous hub, Those Disgusting Scriptures, writes as follows: “It strikes me that you find my stance somewhat unfathomable ~ especially as I speak of things that seem to reflect a loving creator; yet I doubt his existence. More specifically, I cannot equate this loving creator with God, as described in the Bible. But I find your stance somewhat unfathomable, too. You believe in a 'personal creator God', who supposedly loves us, but who is willing to make any of us suffer apparently on a whim.”
She cites numerous examples: those who were drowned in Noah's flood, David’s wives and baby, the people of Amalek, including specifically, the suckling babies; the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath; cheeky sons, daughters who cannot actually prove that they are virgins when they marry; the list goes on. Plus of course, all the doubters and followers of other faiths who will go to hell.
She continues, “You say 'There is so much of life that we accept on the basis of reasonableness, rather than scientific proof', but where is the reasonableness in believing that a super-being, who is omni-everything, would want to keep making his creation suffer ~ sometimes for absolutely no reason at all. For example, why would God, supposedly, chat with Satan, and allow him to torment poor Job in such a horrific manner?! That isn't reasonable.”
I quote the above rather fully because I want to address what is actually said. I’ve noticed that its easy to talk/write past each other rather than give honest answers to sincere questions. So does the God revealed in Scripture act on a whim? I don’t think so. He acts in accord with his holy nature. It is in the nature of fire to burn what is combustible. It is in the nature of holiness to destroy what is unholy. The Scriptures assert that God is, indeed, a consuming fire. Of course, to us he may appear to act on a whim because we don’t share His view of right and wrong.
God - A Consuming Fire
We measure right and wrong by observing and assessing outward behavior. Hitler is wrong because he massacred the Jews. Mother Teresa is right because she helped so many poor in India. God, on the other hand, looks at humanity as evil by nature. Thus, to continue the analogy, humanity is, by nature, combustible.
How did humanity become so horribly evil? Well. that too reflects the unique glory of the God who speaks in the Bible. When He created human beings, He embedded his own image in us. It is that image that enables us to think rationally, make choices, exercise freedom, enjoy beauty, love sacrificially and communicate in abstract concepts. God gave Adam and Eve the choice of following Him and live, or striking off on their own and die. When they chose the latter, God, true to his word as always, did not overrule their choice but allowed the consequences to kick in. Immediately they lost sweet fellowship with God. That loss began to take its toll on their inner well being and their outward behavior. They and their descendants face eventual physical death and certain eternal condemnation. The further away from the original offense we've come, the more compounded human sin has become. There really is no limit to the horrific suffering we may inflict on each other. One little understood point is that there are no innocents. Babies share the corrupt nature of their parents. Have you ever had to teach a child to lie or to be selfish? So it is that even children suffer.
What amazes me is that we are not all consumed instantly. If we are not, who is to be credited? God! He has communicated a set of principles and practices which have the effect of protecting humankind from his consuming holiness. It starts with his general beneficence toward us called common grace. It rains on the just and the unjust. It continues with the laws of nature discovered by careful observation. The heavens declare the glory of God. It then gets very specific, as God chose a nation through which to bless the rest of the world. This is what the Bible is all about. The Israelites were given a set of instructions by which they were enabled to approach God in all his holiness without being destroyed. It centered on their offering on an altar an animal to be consumed by fire. That animal was a temporary substitute for the sinner who wished to approach God. By humbly offering his lamb, he accepted reconciliation with God which would later be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Now this is a woefully oversimplified description of God grace. But it is enough to help understand the reasonableness of God’s response to those who willfully reject it. It is not destruction on a whim, but the inevitable result of combustible humankind rejecting God’s offer of protection. Ultimately then, all the suffering humans endure is of our own making. It’s not a mathematical thing as though a pound of sin brings upon you a pound of suffering. When committed against an infinitely holy God, all sin makes us equally “combustible” in his presence. Humans are so linked together that one person’s offense, be it small or great by our standards, contributes to the suffering of all.
Some will rightfully note that even followers of God often suffer; in some cases more than those who reject him. Believers accept the suffering as God’s temporary discipline and discover that his grace is sufficient even when under extreme duress.
Now here’s an amazing thing. There are lots of passages in Scripture which naysayers like to quote in which this horrible human suffering is attributed to God. Yes, God is not afraid to own responsibility. Being all-knowing and all-powerful he could have overruled human rebellion but he didn’t. If He had, he would have violated that which makes humankind utterly unique among the animals. We bear his image.