When I woke up this morning the first thing my wife said to me was: “There are 84 dead in the attack in Nice.” I was nauseated. Disgusted. How awful. You must be sick in your head when you ride a truck at full speed into an innocent crowd. Man oh man, what a misery.
And then I started work. As a team writing for
Another important question that almost any Christian asks is whether God could not prevent the attack in Nice. It is a logical question; one that I ask myself.
This morning I realized, however, that Christians measure with two different measuring rods. I want to share this with you. Not so much because I want to act like a wise guy but because I want to make you think.
Here are the two different measures I have encountered during my career as a Christian journalist.
When people see reports of the attacks like the one in Nice they often blame people. After all, it is people with their own will, i.e. IS fighters, who commit all these atrocities in the world. God is not involved in that.
When people are confronted with suffering and fund an escape they thank God and proclaim to everyone that God has his hand in everything. “Praise be to God that I’m still alive!”
As far as I’m concerned something is off in these responses.
Let me give you a few examples:
- I once interviewed Dimas Salaberrios, an ex-gangster. He told me the beautiful story about how God caused the gun that was pointed at his head to refuse. God has all power, he told me. But would that have been his conclusion if the gun had fired?
- I've talked to dozens of people who told us to have been healed after prayer. In almost all these cases people assured us that God had done this. But what about people who succumb to their illness?
- When people receive an unexpected bonus, God receives all the honor. Such a beautiful amount of money just has to be a gift from God! But this is not the case when the IRS comes calling.
Everybody will agree with me that these is often how believers respond to situations in their lives. Personally, I don’t really have an answer to this question, but I have three thoughts on the matter:
1. Christians have a tendency to ascribe suffering to human causes and success to God. Perhaps this is because we realize insufficiently that our God is a suffering God, who has been kicked, been, and humiliated. He suffered horribly on the cross for hours. The real ‘success’ of Jesus was in his suffering.
Suffering is one of the most important ways in which God works in this world. This is not a nice message but one that is essential for being able to handle suffering in our lives. It's because Christians do not see this that many people give up on God when they encounter suffering in their lives.
2. Perhaps we need to have the courage to acknowledge that God allows things that he could have actually prevented from happening. As I wrote above, we believe in a God who works miracles. A God who heals people, prevent murders from taking place. Do we have the guts to assert this same belief after the attacks? If we don’t, we use two different measuring rods.
A better option, perhaps, is to simply fully acknowledge that God is not willing to prevent awful things from happening even though he could by performing a miracle. And
3. At the same time, God remains sovereign. God is not a God who no longer has control over events in this world, even though that seems to be the case. We are confronted with two truths that are both equally true.
- Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth.
- Evil prowls around like a roaring lion.
God’s will is not always executed. One theologian once explained to me that there is a difference between God’s council and God’s ways. “God wills that all people are saved, but they are not all saved. Israel could have entered the promised land in 11 days but it took them 40 years. It was God’s council that they would reach the land, but it was his way to take 40 years for them to get there.”
Back to the attack in
Could God have prevented the attack there?
Yes, because God could have performed a miracle by blinding or paralyzing the terrorist or making sure that his engine wouldn’t start. He has all authority in heaven and on earth.
No, because God is a God who doesn’t break the will of people who commit the most heinous crimes. The fact that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth does not imply that are God’s string puppets. God doesn’t want string puppets but friends. And besides that, God is a suffering God himself. Suffering is one of the most important ways in which God works in this world.
In short, an answer that brings closure to the question is not available. And perhaps this is a good thing. Now we see through a mirror in riddles, then from face to face.
At times, God is really a mysterious God who works in mysterious ways. But this does not mean there is no reason to love Him or to follow Jesus Christ.