Whenever there’s a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe such as the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., or the shooting of Sikh worshipers in Wisconsin, invariably someone asks: “How could a loving God allow this to happen when He could have protected those people?”
Fair question, but I think it’s the wrong one. Most of us live our everyday lives independently of God. Aside from mouthing an occasional “God Bless America,” we want God to mind His business while we mind our own.
My question: Why do we expect a God we ignore to come running to our defense when all hell breaks loose?
The God of the Bible does not obligate Himself to act as a universal bodyguard. God loves the world (John 3:16) and is rich in mercy to all His creation. He rains on the just and the unjust, extending common grace to us all.
Yet, God specifically reserves His protection and deliverance for a subset of humanity:
- “The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” Psalm 34:7
- “The Lord watches over all who love Him….” Psalm 145:20(a).
- “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.” Psalm 37:8
God knows if we love Him based on whether we do what He wants.
Jesus told the story of two brothers whose father asked each of them to go work in his vineyard. The first initially refused to go, but he finally did. The other said he would go, but did not. Jesus asked: who actually did the will of the father? The one who did what the father asked.
Think of God’s care as a kind of umbrella. When we rebel, we step into the rain. God’s love is unchanged; we just don’t experience its benefits. “Your sins…. have cut you off from God.” (Isaiah 59:2) If this sound unfair, I hear you. But it’s simple family dynamics.
I take responsibility for nurturing and protecting my children. They are a part of me; we have a blood tie. It’s not that I have no concern for my neighbors’ children. If they have a need or are in danger, I can help. But I am not obligated to do so. We don’t have that kind of relationship. Even my own children can refuse my help; and I cannot make them accept it.
Similarly, the Bible says, “I will be a Father to you, And you shall by My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18)
A Father is responsible for His own children; obedient children submit both to their Father’s loving care and His correction. Yet, we expect God to intervene at crisis points in the lives of people who may want nothing to do with Him. This is a wrong-headed expectation for two reasons.
First, our safety isn’t God’s only concern. He wants to make us holy, which sometimes means allowing us to suffer. Life happens to us all. God has not promised all rainbows and roses. He simply has said He will never abandon us.
Secondly, while God’s explicit protection is a family privilege, the Good News is we can be adopted into His family. Whether we start out near to God or very far away, through Christ “we have access by one Spirit to the Father.”(Eph 2:18)
My challenge, perhaps yours too?, is to let God be my Father when there is no crisis – when I like it and when I don’t. No one can invoke God’s favor as some kind of force-field against the vicissitudes of life, but we can choose to trust Him day by day. He obligates Himself to us only when we commit ourselves to Him.