Why Would A Good God Allow Bad Things To Happen?

Yesterday, a friend’s Facebook post quoted Rom 8:28 that “all things work for good”. And since the verse contained the words “all things” and “good”, it meant that nothing bad would come from God. Extending from this interpretation, the idea that God would “allow” bad things in our lives shouldn’t even be considered at all! Normally, I’d read and let such posts go. But for some strange reason – perhaps due to two cups of coffee in the morning – I felt an (holy?) irritation that propelled my fingers to respond, “Dear brother, however nice and encouraging this may sound, it is best to read this verse in its entire context.”

Why are we so afraid of God allowing bad things? It’s been in my heart to address this for some time. Admittedly, my procrastination is due in part to my own wrestling, just in case I might have missed something in this aspect of the nature of God. After all, why would a good God allow bad things to happen? This question is not a new one and has been around for the longest time. And because the finite-ness of man (coupled with his selfishness) cannot answer this satisfactorily, I believe the solution is simply to pass the buck and blame someone else – so what else is new? I even know of some who simply refuse to sing the bridge of Matt Redman’s song, Blessed Be Your Name, inspired by Job 1:21, “You give and take away!” That God would take anything away from them, or allow anything bad to happen to them, is utterly unthinkable. But honestly, why are we so afraid of God allowing “bad things”? Does this rock our theology so bad? Does this diminish or reduce this God we worship and serve?

What does God say? Instead of trying to defend God, let’s hear what He says about Himself through the Holy Scriptures. For those who have only a one-sided view of God, Isa 45:7 will pose a serious problem: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Wait a minute!? I’m cool with light and peace. But God creates darkness and calamity?! Before you play the ‘Old Testament God’ card, may I urge you to consider His immutability. God never changes, so stop changing Him with our fickle and selfish minds! Now, if God says He did and does all these things, who are we to say that He didn’t? Okay, okay. I will grant some slack for we know it was the Assyrians and the Babylonians through whom the Lord brought disaster upon His people. As such, technically, God did not do it. Ah, but did He allow it? Do you understand what you are actually saying if you hold to a God-does-not-allow-bad-things position? If God did not allow it, then it simply means He was powerless to prevent the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, amongst other catastrophes we are experiencing around the world! What does that do to all your faith claims and declaration of His power and protection? We’d have to change one of His titles from God Almighty to God Not-So Mighty. And if you can’t trust Him on that, how would you believe Him for eternal salvation?

Discipline as a Blessing As a father, I love my children and I want to bless them. And yet, embedded within that blessing is my discipline for them. Don’t get me wrong please. If it is possible, I never want to hurt them nor see them hurt. But I know that at times, I have to stand back, to allow them to make a decision, and to reap the consequences that come with that decision. Admittedly, it is painful for me and for them, but that is how they will learn – through their mistakes and through the challenges they face in a fallen world. If I didn’t allow it, I would be robbing them of the opportunity to learn, to grow and to mature. There is an old English word that describes this — spoil! Yes, I would be spoiling them and that’s the last thing I’d want to do to my children. Similarly, God doesn’t want to spoil us. As such, He will allow tribulations and trials; and for some, deep suffering. I’m sorry if this does not sit easy with you. All I can urge you to do is to read the Scriptures again; not selfishly nor lopsidedly, but rightly and contextually.

God of the good times only? Understandably, no one enjoys the pain of difficult times. Thankfully, we have a God who promises to never leave us! In tough times, I am thankful I don’t have a God who denies His involvement in anything bad, all too quick to wash His hands off anything undesirable for fear that we would stop trusting in Him. What a wimpy God that would be. And yet, unfortunately, that’s the kind of God many are attracted to these days. These love to declare Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn.” but entirely miss the preceding verse where God Himself takes full responsibility (credit?) for the fire and destruction. “Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy.” If God has no problem admitting that He is in control and sovereign in all situations – and He is – why are we so apologetic about it?!

What then shall we say? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Rom 8:31 Contextually, we now understand that “these things” refer to the sufferings we face in this life when we take a stand for Jesus. With the victory that God has already secured for us in Christ, there is absolutely no problem with Him allowing trying situations to buffet us. For if we understand who we truly are in Christ, we shall overcome as more than conquerors through Him (Rom 8:37).

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

Working for Good With this, I shall conclude with the verse this post started with. Without doubt, the “all things” mentioned in Rom 8:28 include both good and bad things which collectively work for good in the believer’s life. And what might that good be? Rom 8:29,30 provides the answer — that we might be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus. That is God’s purpose for every believer.

If God does not allow the bad times in our lives but only the good stuff, how then would our faith be tested and refined as pure gold? (1 Peter 1:6,7) How then would we, like Jesus, learn obedience and grow towards perfection? (Heb 5:8) How then would we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him? (Rom 8:17) Regardless the agents through which or through whom we experience difficulty, it seems clear to me that these all fall within God’s purpose for me to become more and more like Jesus. Now, why would God not allow that?

After commenting on my friend’s Facebook post, I wondered why there was no response from him, nor from anyone else. Out of curiosity, I checked his wall this morning only to discover that the post had been removed.

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A Positive Church Experience Is Nice But Not Enough

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This has become a concern as I interact more with various Christians facing challenges and difficulties in their situations and spiritual walk. In the course of our conversation, I would always ask them where they worshipped at. This would indicate at least three things to me: one, if they belonged to a local church; two, if they are regular in their attendance at this community; and, three, if they are actively involved in the life of this community.

Without prompting, these would proceed to describe their church experience, and it would usually sound like this: “Oh, I enjoy the fellowship. The worship (referring to the time of singing) is wonderful and touches my heart. The messages are really good and I am always blessed by the preaching of the Word. The pastor is very nice and friendly.” In other words, on the surface, everything sounds ok to me … you are blessed and having a great time in this church.

And so, I ask the next question, “Why aren’t you talking to your pastor or church community about this problem you are facing right now?” And almost always, the reasons given do not necessarily line up with the positive church experience described, ranging from “I don’t feel a connection or belonging,” to “I don’t think it would be right to discuss this with my church,” to “My church doesn’t teach us to handle such challenges.”

As I thought about this, I realised something about this rather common occurence: All these may have had a nice, positive church experience. But the main question that must be asked is, “Have these grown in the Lord at all?” Sadly, from what is shared and observed, I don’t think so. This may sound overly harsh, but it is the truth. The scary thing is that these can quite readily quote Scripture and spew Christian slogans as well as any other believer. But they go on living compromised lives, basking in the feel-good messages of God’s love and grace. They are deluded and deceived into thinking that as long as the church experience is positive, they are ok. NO, IT IS NOT!

I believe these are not isolated cases that I have come across in my limited sphere of ministry. Given today’s consumer culture that has crept into the Christian community, more and more are going to church for that feel-good factor. This explains the musical-church phenomenon that is so prevalent amongst believers as they scout for the best speaker, the message, the ambience, the experience, the goose bumps, the worship team, the children’s ministry, the youth ministry, and the menu for Sunday lunch. If they feel good about it, they stay. And if they don’t feel good, it’s time to be ‘led by the Spirit’ to look for another church.

In case anyone misunderstands me, or the point of this article (rant), I am not begrudging anyone of a great time in the community and fellowship of believers. As a pastor, I definitely do not wish for my congregation to be dragging their feet to church, or dreading another Sunday morning, or another sermon preached by yours truly (God forbid!). But more than just a positive church experience, my deepest desire is for each to grow and mature in Christ.

To this end, I am challenging and provoking us all to reflect and ponder more deeply what our faith is really about. Is it just about having a good time, being entertained and feeling good about ourselves? I think not! We have been saved from sin and judgment for a plan and a purpose! Hey, Jesus paid a high price for that! The spiritual journey is about growth and maturity towards the image of Christ. Along the way, we must be meaningfully engaged in the ministry and mission for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom.

Don’t be fooled that everything is fine just because your church experience is fun and happy-clappy, or if bank accounts are full and life appears good. The Pharisees and the rich of Jesus’ day were all deceived into thinking they were the ones more favoured and blessed of God. We could as easily fall into the same trap.

All said, praise God if you are really enjoying church and Christian fellowship! But don’t stop there. Ponder the following questions, and allow the Holy Spirit to search deep to reveal what is truly in your heart …

  1. Is it primarily all about you, your emotions and your desires?
  2. Have you placed church experience above your relationship with God?
  3. Do you worship God for who He is, or only for what He can do for you?
  4. Is worship defined as a good song that brings tingles and tears, or a response to the awesomeness of God?
  5. Do you know and agree with the vision and mission of your church?
  6. Are you contributing, with God’s help, to the fulfilment of this vision and mission?
  7. Is it just between you and God, or are you connected with others who truly love Jesus?
  8. Are you willing to be held accountable, allowing others to speak the truth into your life?
  9. Is confession and repentance something you do regularly?
  10. Are you a taker or a giver?
  11. Do you ask “what’s in it for me?” or “who/what/where have you called me to serve, Lord?”
  12. Do you enjoy church only for yourself, or do you derive joy from serving God and others?
  13. Do you get upset and think of leaving when things don’t go your way in the church?
  14. Are you following the crowd, or truly being led by the Holy Spirit?
  15. Do you read your Bible? Do you know and abide in the Word?
  16. Are you a hearer and a doer of the Word? Are you applying all you are learning?
  17. Are you one who professes faith with no works to show for it?
  18. Do you only talk Christian but not live Christian?
  19. Are you growing and maturing spiritually?
  20. Are you pursuing a life of holiness by His grace, or presuming upon His grace with a life of compromises and excuses?
  21. Do you love Jesus as King and Lord of your life?
  22. Are you one of the multitude, or are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  23. Are you willing to surrender, to yield, to deny yourself, to take up your cross and to follow Jesus?

Raising Christian Families in Today’s World

At the invitation of Wesley Methodist Church’s Family Life Ministry, I will be sharing this family seminar, “Raising Christian Families in Today’s World”*, on Saturday 18 August 2012, 9am to 12nn. Registration Fee: S$5.00 per person. For more information, you can contact Priscilla Shin at 6837 8610 or priscillas@wesleymc.org

Synopsis: Families today are under extreme pressure as they face new challenges in a fast-changing landscape. The enemy knows that if he hits the family unit, relationships will be broken and the testimony of the church will be weakened. What then are our roles as Christian parents? How do we protect our families from the spiritual and moral decline that is prevalent in societies today?  Indeed, parenting skills are important; but even more critical is a return to God’s Word and His mandate for parents to raise godly families for His Kingdom and glory!

If you can make it to attend, I’d strongly encourage you to; even better if both parents can make it. I won’t position this as a parenting talk, but a talk to and with parents. Feel free to share this seminar with others from your Christian community. It’d be a wonderful time of interaction, learning from one another and being made aware of the challenges that surround the Christian family in these perilous times.

*formerly titled, “Building a Household of Faith”

Rising Costs. Rising Faith?

I remember the day in 2003 all too clearly. Prior to leaving my job and company for fulltime ministry, I did what most would consider a responsible thing to do – I reviewed our family’s finances. Taking our savings and dividing it by monthly expenses, the wave of emotion that overwhelmed me caught me totally by surprise. Fear flooded my heart, my knees went weak and all I could manage was a prayer that whimpered, “Oh God…” Quite immediately, I heard the Lord ask, “Have I not shown you I am faithful?” Although I struggled, I decided that day, that moment, to trust God completely with finances.

Fast forward a few years to 2007, to when Serene was pregnant with Deborah Hope, our 6th child. One afternoon, when I was just thinking about how we would manage with a growing family and one more on the way, fear gripped my heart … again. What followed was a series of questions in my mind, pondering and considering the financial needs of our larger-than-normal family way into the future! Amidst the voices in my head, the Spirit spoke, gently but so assuringly, “One day at a time. One day at a time.” I can’t explain the peace that ensued but it sure brought me back to the right perspective, putting my trust in the Lord again.

Well, it’s 2012, and today, we have seven children. Yes, in total, nine of us in the Lim Tribe. In terms of finances and provision, one would think that there would no longer be any shred of doubt in my heart, having heard so clearly from God and experienced His grace and provision all these years in full time ministry. Well, yes and no. Yes, because we are still trusting in God, holding on to His Word and standing on His unfailing faithfulness. We are so thankful for what we have and how He has blessed us by His grace. Does it mean that I am no longer affected by what goes on around me? I wish that would be so, but truth is, I am still learning and growing in Him. And until I get there eventually, I still struggle and waver every now and then in my journey of faith.

At times, I like to be that proverbial ostrich with my head in the sand. It’s easier that way, I rationalise, if I don’t take too much notice of news reports of inflation and rising costs. After all, I don’t want fear to affect my faith. Sounds nice and spiritual, but this is merely denial and totally unrealistic. The fact is costs have risen across the board and our family needs and expenses have all increased.

The same trolley full of groceries costs more this year than one year ago. Our special diet and health needs require less processed foods and more fresh foods – organic at times. I am also discovering that a growing teenager eats more than growing toddlers, and more often too! Eating out is a luxury so I am thankful that we eat home quite a lot – thanks to Serene’s labour of love in our furnace of a kitchen. Then again, the rates for utilities, like water, electricity and gas, are also climbing.

The younger ones may be more easily occupied by recycled toys and books but new hobbies and activities for the older ones all cost money. How I long for the good old days where kids catch fish in the longkangs and spiders in the bushes. Today, you must pay for artificial longkang fishing. Plus, don’t forget the cost of petrol to drive there.

Grateful as I am to list ACS as my alma mater, my only regret is that I did not take Chinese more seriously, preferring instead to join the league of ACScians who proudly declare our deficiency in the 2nd Language. This simply means that I am unable to save on Chinese tuition fees since I do not have the capability of teaching my own kids – not that my schedule permits it in the first place. Thanks to Singapore’s education policy, we have another figure to consider. It has also just dawned on me that tuition fees for three children is different from that for six. Seven soon?

Still on education – homeschooling more precisely – the question, “Lord, we did hear you correctly to homeschool, did we not?”, pops up a lot more in today’s economic scenario. For one, we lose out on subsidised education and Edusave. Even public transportation is more expensive for our children because they are not issued Student Passes to enjoy student rates. For another, we have to purchase curricula and books on our own, often importing from USA.

Like I said earlier, it’s extremely tempting to just be in denial, to ignore the rising costs and the crazy economy. If I position it really well (ostrich butt sticking out and all), I might even be seen as extremely spiritual and full of faith! Well, I don’t think that’s the right response at all. As a steward of the finances God has blessed us with, we must do our part to be prudent, to spend wisely and to cut unnecessary expenditure. To do that, we should and must evaluate our family’s finances in the context of the economy and determine how to best manage with godly wisdom.

Invariably, the issues of contentment and covetousness will have to be addressed – not just once, but over and over again. When we can afford it, are our wants rationalized and justified as our needs? The line is just so fine and the heart so deceitful. Now that belts have to be tightened, would we remain satisfied or would we grumble and complain? Would we continue to give thanks for what we have and not gripe about what we don’t have or could have?

All said, one thing remains very clear to me. The Lord has called me into fulltime ministry, to serve Him and to serve others. As a servant of God, I am convinced that I have the best Master who loves me and truly knows how to look after me and my family. The Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out grain,” and, “The labourer is worthy of his wages.” (1 Tim 5:18)

In the words of Jesus, we are of more value than the sparrows and the flowers of the field. If God looks after them and provides for them, how much more will He take care of His children? For sure, there is no need to worry at all for my heavenly Father knows our every need. My part is to continue to faithfully serve Him, to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”; His part is to ensure that “all things are added to me” (Matt 6:33).

The words of the Lord still resound in my heart: “Have I not shown you I am faithful?” and “One day at a time … one day at a time.” Yes, Lord, You have been more than faithful! Even when I have been faithless, You remain totally faithful for You are consistent and unchanging. I will take it one day at a time. As You have seen me through my yesterdays, You will walk with me today, and will also lead me into all my tomorrows.

Amidst rising costs, let faith arise! … “Hey, who left the fan on?”

I’m Surrounded!

Have you ever felt totally and utterly overwhelmed before? You try to keep your head above the water but your mind is just cramped full of details and questions. Try as you might to escape these thoughts, there just seems to be no way out. You are crying out for answers and all you experience is this oppressive sense of the entire room closing in on you! All too soon, you are surrounded and hemmed in by fear and anxiety.

That must have been how Gehazi, felt too when he went for a morning walk with Elisha, only to see the city entirely surrounded by the Syrian army! Immediately, he says to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” It must have been a scary sight! They were totally surrounded by horses and chariots. And it would only be a matter of time before the army closed in on them. However, whilst Gehazi saw and reacted in the natural, Elisha saw something else in the spiritual, and coolly replied, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16

Gehazi must have wondered, “Hello?! It’s just the two of us. Who else is with us? If we don’t start running, we are dead ducks!” At the request of Elisha, the Lord opened Gehazi’s spiritual eyes and the young man couldn’t believe what he saw … he was still surrounded, but this time, by a far greater number of the Lord’s army, horses and chariots blazing with fire! (2 Kings 6:17)

Whether you are an executive braving the corporate jungle, or a homemaker trying your best to keep your house and children in order, you know what I am talking about. There are just those days when you feel totally surrounded and overwhelmed by the ridiculous demands and pressures of life. You look at the “Syrian army” around you and are so tempted to say, “It’s no use! I’m totally surrounded. I might as well give up!” DON’T!

The enemy wants to keep you in the natural, but you need to understand that the battle is in the spiritual. If your eyes are continually fixed on the problem, it will appear larger and larger until it consumes you! Do you not see that this is the ploy of the enemy? He wants to surround you, to besiege you, to starve you, to weaken you and finally, to kill you.

“‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10

Instead, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see! Ask Him to reveal the truth of His presence and protection over and around you. In Psalm 125:1&2, the psalmist declares, “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (emphasis mine) In Zech 2:5, God Himself declares, “I will be a wall of fire all around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory in her midst.” YES, people of God, YOU ARE SURROUNDED … not by the enemy … but by the power, by the presence, by the abundance, by the grace, by the love of God!

I know it’s not easy when you are in the midst of a trying time and everything seems to be closing in on you. In the narrowness of that moment, call on the LORD and ask Him to open your eyes that you may have the right perspective to be strong in Him. Learn from the psalmist who said, “I called on the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6&7, italics mine.)

Indeed, if God is for you, who can be against you (Rom 8:31)? Do you not know that the battle is not yours to fight, but the Lord’s? Do you not know that the heavens have been opened over you, that every spiritual resource has now been made available to you in Christ? Do you not know that whatever the enemy throws at you, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God? If not, then ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see!

As God’s children, the safest and most secure place is in the Father’s arms, where we are constantly surrounded by His everlasting love.

My dear friend, no matter how tough a situation (or a person) may be, nothing is too difficult for the one who places his trust in God. Pray for the Lord to open your spiritual eyes to see Him for who He truly is and that you, being wrapped in Christ and His righteousness, are totally safe in His arms because He surrounds you completely. And then, walk in the freedom and victory He has already secured for you by the precious blood and through the completed work of Jesus Christ upon the cross!

God Is In Control

A couple of evenings ago, I went to the kitchen to fix myself a drink.  I reached for my trusty, old coffee mug and noticed something odd about it … the handle had fallen off! I couldn’t help but notice the powerful message that was right there in my hands.  I couldn’t resist taking a shot of it.  As I’ve often remarked, God is a great communicator and sure has a wonderful sense of humour.  If our spirits would be open to hear His voice, He desires to speak to us through symbols and pictures.

Through this beautiful object lesson, I was reminded (yet again) that God is in control regardless the brokenness, the pain, and the seeming hopelessness we may experience in life.  No matter what we go through, God is in control.  We may not fully understand the reasons and it’s ok to question.  But in the end, it’s not in circumstances or feelings that we put our trust, but in God and His unchanging Word.  We must stand resolved and convicted that nothing escapes our God and nothing surprises Him.  His allowing of a certain challenging (even devastating) situation does not mean He is no longer there, or that He no longer cares.  The handle of my mug may be broken, but it does not mean that it cannot be filled anymore. Remember, our brokenness is no indication of our capacity to receive!  Because Jesus came that I might have life to its fullest (John 10:10b), my cup can and will still run over (Psalm 23:5)!

May this little message encourage you … whoever you are, whatever you are going through, however you are feeling at the moment.

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19