The Problem With Blaming God

Have you ever asked, or heard anyone else ask: “If God is so ‘loving,’ why is there so much suffering in the world?” Or, “Why is life so unfair?” Or, “What have I done to deserve this?” Or, “How can God allow babies to be born deformed?” Or, “Why doesn’t God do something about all the misery of humanity?” (Of course, some people say He is doing something – He’s adding to it!).

Traditional Christianity has failed to provide satisfactory answers to these questions. [1] Today, a great deal of what is represented as Christianity is, in reality, “religion,” that is, the doctrines and commandments of men.

“Religion” does purport to answer the above questions. For example: “The bad things happening to you must be because you’re a bad person or because you have sinned, and God is punishing you.” Or, “This sickness is God testing your faith.” Or, “God allowed that tragedy to humble you and strengthen your faith.” Or, “This terrible situation is how God is breaking your pride.” In reality, such “answers” only add to man’s already unbearable burdens.

Millions of people accept such erroneous ideas, and it is not because atheists tell them so, unless perhaps they are atheistic lawyers or insurance agents who, acquiescing to the jargon of their trades, often describe many natural catastrophes as “acts of God.” Sometimes it seems that just about the only folks who don’t hold God accountable for human suffering are atheists. Well, at least they have one thing right.

How sad that so many Christian people also attribute to God these traumatic occurrences, as well as accidents, persecution, disease and death. One reason they do is because other sincere but misinformed Christians have failed to understand God’s wonderful Word, and have thus distorted it. These erroneous teachings have not only wounded people emotionally, but also turned them away from the only true source of comfort, strength, wisdom and supernatural deliverance, which is God, through His Son Jesus Christ. The fact is, the teaching that God causes suffering causes more suffering. As we will see, an accurate biblical understanding of the origin of evil and suffering relieves God of all responsibility for it.

At this point we feel it is appropriate to quote at some length from the book When Bad Things Happen To Good People, by Rabbi Harold Kushner. This is a book well worth reading. In the first chapter, “Why Do The Righteous Suffer?” the author sets forth a number of familiar answers to this question, and why they leave much to be desired. Although we feel that Kushner’s book itself does not adequately answer this question, his insight, especially in the first chapter, is most pertinent to our subject.

Kushner addresses seven commonly held “reasons” as to why people suffer, which are as follows:

  • We deserve what we get.
  • People do in fact get what they deserve, but only over the course of time.
  • God has His reasons for making people suffer, reasons that they are in no position to judge.
  • Suffering is educational.
  • Suffering is just a test.
  • Suffering comes to liberate us from pain and lead us to a better place [after death].
  • An all-powerful God does not necessarily have to be fair and just, from our limited human perspective. [2]

Kushner elaborates upon these reasons:

One of the ways in which people have tried to make sense of the world’s suffering in every generation has been by assuming that we deserve what we get, that somehow our misfortunes come as punishment for our sins…

It is tempting at one level to believe that bad things happen to people (especially other people) because God is a righteous judge who gives them exactly what they deserve. By believing that, we keep the world orderly and understandable. We give people the best possible reason for being good and for avoiding sin. And by believing that, we can maintain an image of God as all-loving, all-powerful and totally in control…

The idea that God gives people what they deserve, that our misdeeds cause our misfortune, is a neat and attractive solution to the problem of evil at several levels, but it has a number of serious limitations. As we have seen, it teaches people to blame themselves. It creates guilt even where there is no basis for guilt. It makes people hate God, even as it makes them hate themselves. And most disturbing of all, it does not even fit the facts…

Sometimes we try to make sense of life’s trials by saying that people do in fact get what they deserve, but only over the course of time. At any given moment, life may seem unfair and innocent people may appear to be suffering. But if we wait long enough, we believe, we will see the righteousness of God’s plan emerge. [3]

Often, victims of misfortune try to console themselves with the idea that God has His reasons for making this happen to them, reasons that they are in no position to judge. [4]

There is much that is moving in this suggestion, and I can imagine that many people would find it comforting. Pointless suffering, suffering as punishment for some unspecified sin, is hard to bear. But suffering as a contribution to a great work of art designed by God Himself may be seen, not only as a tolerable burden, but even as a privilege. [5]

On closer examination, however, this approach is found wanting. For all its compassion, it too is based in large measure on wishful thinking. The crippling illness of a child, the death of a young husband and father, the ruin of an innocent person through malicious gossip— these are all real. We have seen them. [6]

How seriously would we take a person who said, “I have faith in Adolf Hitler, or in John Dillinger. I can’t explain why they did the things they did, but I can’t believe they would have done them without a good reason.” Yet people try to justify the deaths and tragedies God [supposedly] inflicts on innocent victims with almost these same words.

Furthermore, my religious commitment to the supreme value of an individual life makes it hard for me to accept an answer that is not scandalized by an innocent person’s pain, that condones human pain because it supposedly contributes to an overall work of esthetic value. If a human artist or employer made children suffer so that something immensely impressive or valuable could come to pass, we would put him in prison. Why then should we excuse God for causing such undeserved pain, no matter how wonderful the ultimate result may be? [7]

This is a very valid point that should to be taken to heart. It seems that the idea that “God has His reasons,” even though we do not understand them, is the single most common excuse that people give as to why God causes suffering. For example, writing about the biblical character Job, Philip Yancey stated: “In some mysterious way, Job’s terrible ordeal was ‘worth’ it to God…” [8] “Mysterious” indeed, so mysterious that even God Himself apparently does not understand this concept well enough to explain it anywhere in Scripture. [For further study read Job: The Righteous Sufferer.]

It is a common moral axiom in our society that “the end does not justify the means.” Getting an “A” on a test does not justify cheating. Winning a race does not justify using steroids. Getting a job does not justify killing the other job applicants. In the Bible, God spends a lot of time defining what is moral and holy behavior. He makes it clear that a good end does not justify evil means (Rom. 3:8). One place where God makes this point, using an analogy, is in 2 Timothy: “…if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).

Does the God who teaches us that the end does not justify the means then deal with us as if it did? We think not. If God is somehow responsible for mankind’s misery, if He could stop it but doesn’t, if He has “reasons” because somehow this is all part of some unseen “plan” that will work to His glory, then He does not practice what He preaches.

In this vein, Rabbi Kushner comments on the “educational” value of suffering:

Let us now consider another question: Can suffering be educational? Can it cure us of our faults and make us better people? Sometimes religious people…would like to believe that God has good reasons for making us suffer… [9]

The problem with a line of reasoning like this one is that it isn’t really meant to help the sufferer or to explain his suffering. It is meant primarily to defend God, to use words and ideas to transform bad into good and pain into privilege. Such answers are thought up by people who believe very strongly that God is a loving parent who controls what happens to us, and on the basis of that belief adjust and interpret the facts to fit their assumption. It may be true that surgeons stick knives into people to help them, but not everyone who sticks a knife into somebody else is a surgeon. It may be true that sometimes we have to do painful things to people we love for their benefit, but not every painful thing that happens to us is beneficial.

I would find it easier to believe that I experience tragedy and suffering in order to “repair” that which is faulty in my personality if there were some clear connection between the fault and the punishment. A parent who disciplines a child for doing something wrong, but never tells him what he is being punished for, is hardly a model of responsible parenthood. Yet, those who explain suffering as God’s way of teaching us to change are at a loss to specify just what it is about us we are supposed to change. [10]

We have all read stories of little children who were left unwatched for just a moment and fell from a window or into a swimming pool and died. Why does God permit such a thing to happen to an innocent child? It can’t be to teach a child a lesson about exploring new areas. By the time the lesson is over, the child is dead. Is it to teach the parents and baby-sitters to be more careful? That is too trivial a lesson to be purchased at the price of a child’s life. Is it to make the parents more sensitive, more compassionate people, more appreciative of life and health because of their experience? Is it to move them to work for better safety standards, and in that way save a hundred future lives? The price is still too high, and the reasoning shows too little regard for the value of an individual life. I am offended by those who suggest that God creates retarded children so that those around them will learn compassion and gratitude. Why should God distort someone else’s life to such a degree in order to enhance my spiritual sensitivity? [11]

We too are offended by such preposterous ideas. The value of one human life is a lesson well taught in Scripture, especially in many of the parables of Jesus. What was the lesson of the one lost sheep? What was the value of the one lost coin? Was it not the importance of one individual to God? The following verses corroborate this truth:

Deuteronomy 32:9-11
(9) For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance.
(10) In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
(11) Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.

Addressing the commonly held belief that suffering is God testing us, Kushner writes:

If we cannot satisfactorily explain suffering by saying we deserve what we get, or by viewing it as a “cure” for our faults, can we accept the interpretation of tragedy as a test?…[Many believe that] God sends such tests and afflictions only to people He knows are capable of handling them, so that they and others can learn the extent of their spiritual strength.

Does God “temper the wind to the shorn lamb”? Does He never ask more of us than we can endure? My experience, alas, has been otherwise. I have seen people crack under the strain of unbearable tragedy. I have seen marriages break up after the death of a child, because parents blamed each other for not taking proper care or for carrying the defective gene, or simply because the memories they shared were unendurably painful. I have seen some people made noble and sensitive through suffering, but I have seen many more people grow cynical and bitter. I have seen people become jealous of those around them, unable to take part in the routines of normal living. I have seen cancers and automobile accidents take the life of one member of a family, and functionally end the lives of five others, who could never again be the normal, cheerful people they were before disaster struck. If God is testing us, He must know by now that many of us fail the test. If He is only giving us burdens we can bear, I have seen Him miscalculate far too often. [12]

Kushner expresses excellent insight about the rationalizations necessitated by such false premises:

Sometimes in our reluctance to admit that there is unfairness in the world, we try to persuade ourselves that what has happened is not really bad. We only think that it is. It is only our selfishness that makes us cry because five-year-old Michael is [supposedly] with God instead of living with us. Sometimes, in our cleverness, we try to persuade ourselves that what we call evil is not real, does not really exist, but is only a condition of not enough goodness, even as “cold” means “not enough heat,” or darkness is a name we give to the absence of light. We may thus “prove” that there is really no such thing as darkness or cold, but people do stumble and hurt themselves because of the dark, and people do die of exposure to cold. Their deaths and injuries are no less real because of our verbal cleverness. [13]

In summation, Kushner states:

All the responses to tragedy which we have considered have at least one thing in common. They all assume that God is the cause of our suffering, and they try to understand why God would want us to suffer. Is it for our own good, or is it a punishment we deserve, or could it be that God does not care what happens to us? Many of the answers were sensitive and imaginative, but none was totally satisfying. Some led us to blame ourselves in order to spare God’s reputation. Others asked us to deny reality or to repress our true feelings. We were left either hating ourselves for deserving such a fate, or hating God for sending it to us when we did not deserve it. [14]

Kushner is so right in saying that semantic shenanigans have not given us satisfying answers to the problem of human suffering. Unfortunately, much of this cleverness has been presented as being the truth of God’s Word. As E.G. White accurately observes, these manmade theories presented as biblical doctrine drive people away from God.

The errors of popular theology have driven many a soul to skepticism who might otherwise have been a believer in Scripture. It is impossible for him to accept doctrines which outrage his sense of justice, mercy, and benevolence; and since these are represented as the teachings of the Bible, he refuses to receive it as the Word of God. [15]

Endnotes

[1] We would like to say a word to our Christian brothers and sisters who have handled distressing and difficult times by taking comfort in the belief that everything that happens to us is somehow the will of God. If this is you, our book may at first leave you feeling open and exposed. If so, please persevere and withhold your judgment until you have read the whole book. You will see that not everything that happens to us is the will of God, but the Christian who stands firm in the faith will eventually see that we have a God who turns “lemons into lemonade.”
[2] Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen To Good People (Avon Books, New York NY, 1981), pages 9, 12, 14, 19, 24, 26, 27, 40.
[3] Ibid., pages 9-12. Kushner rightly points out that the argument that “we get what we deserve in this life if we wait long enough” is patently false, because countless people go to their graves without having seen their unfair suffering cease. What he fails to point out is that “long enough” primarily regards life in the age to come, when the justice of God will prevail and, thankfully, the suffering of God’s people will end. At that time, the saved will see God’s justice dealt to the wicked (Matthew 5:11,12; Romans 2:5-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6,7; 2 Peter 2:1-10).
[4] Ibid., page 14.
[5] Ibid., page 18.
[6] Ibid., page 18.
[7] Ibid., page 19. The fact is that very few people really do excuse God. Most feel angry, hurt and betrayed. Their tragedy (bad enough by itself) and their anger toward God are then compounded by the guilt they feel for being angry at God. Furthermore, they have no basis to ask God to relieve their suffering. This is how terribly frustrating life can become due to error about God’s Word in regard to evil, sin and suffering.
[8] Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God (Harper Paperbacks, New York NY, 1991), page 249.
[9] Kushner, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, page 19.
[10] Ibid., page 23.
[11] Ibid., page 24.
[12] Ibid., pages 24-26.
[13] Ibid., pages 27,28.
[14] Ibid., page 29.
[15] E.G. White, Final War (Inspiration Books, Phoenix AZ, Reprinted 1979), page 70.

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5 comments

  1. Wow. His observations express my heart and mind perfectly. I am glad for the author’s courage in challenging these important topics and seeking truth behind these commonly made explanations that offer nothing of truth and heap more guilt, shame, and futility on people. That so many Christian apologists and theologians espouse these views and they get repeated as godly wisdom to sufferers and survivors is no wonder so many turn away from God and live the rest of their lives in confusion, pain, and disbelief. I am experiencing personal suffering that is emotionally relentless and a robber of joy and understanding. I feel like the author is a genuine and true advocate to separate truth from fiction and is offering me a ray of hope and some clarity. I definitely look forward to finding the book and pondering some of these questions and hopefully finding valuable enlightenment.

  2. Well i have a very EXCELLENT REASON to hate GOD since he never gave me a good wife and family that i always wanted to have since he gave it to so many other MILLION AND MILLIONS of people on this earth especially when i am NO DIFFERENT than they’re. What made these type of people that were so very SPECIAL in the first place? What am i suppose to do? Be ALONE for the rest of my life? Then again if he didn’t create so many low life pathetic loser women that we now have out there today since they’re very much adding to the problem for many of us GOOD MEN since i know other men in my situation as well and feel the very same way that i feel. Didn’t GOD say that man shouldn’t be ALONE? Well i agree on that.

    1. Why blame God for “not giving you a wife?” Whether you marry or not is your choice. Be the kind off man a woman would want to marry and you will have them liked up. Quite blaming God for what is your responsibility.

  3. Did I miss something here? You said that we should not blame God or people for the suffering in this world… but then I came to the end of the article and there didn’t seem to be your answer or thoughts on who or what is to blame.

    Also, children with intellectual handicaps​… are not somehow lesser human beings as you seemed to infer. Its ok to be different.

    Thank you,
    Jenny

    1. Problems in life can be from a variety of sources> First, the reality life is tough and chance happens. God told Adam after he disobeyed that he would now have to work and only from the “sweat of his brow” would he be able to survive. The Eden Garden program was over which is why life can be so hard at times. There is also the physical laws of the universe in play. Two objects cannot occupy the same location a the same time. Otherwise there will be an collision (an accident). This is an example of chance and circumstance and these things happen to all of us. Third, we can make foolish and unwise choices, so because of the Law of Sowing and Reaping, when we do we reap bad results. Eat garbage and never exercise and you will have bad health. That is not God’s fault. Forth, there is a spiritual battle and God’s enemy does seek to harm us. So in light of the above, it seems silly to blame God for things act he does not do.

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