Shall I Receive Evil at the Hand of God and not Good, Also?

Theology Thursday

Potter's HandsAlert readers will realise that title is not really how the Bible verse goes.

Job has just had all the good things of his life ripped away from him, and his wife (who, debatably, might not have been one of those good things) counsels him to “curse God and die.” Job, having been fairly newly–and excessively–bereaved, nevertheless says to her,

Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Later on, after being browbeaten some more by his unimaginative friends, Job maybe doesn’t quite curse God and he certainly doesn’t die, but he just as certainly gets really ticked off at the injustice of his circumstances, and he lets God know this unequivocally.

We could analyse the book of Job and protest that he was treated unfairly and point out sagely that the really unjust piece of the story is that God never even tells Job about the wager between Himself and the Accuser, and we might be right or we might be wrong, but right this second I just want to talk about Job’s question to his wife: Shall we receive good from God’s hand and then reject the bad times when He brings them instead?

Last week in class we talked about whether or not God was inherently and completely good, and our professor pointed out other passages in the Bible outside of this Job one, where it states that God “creates evil” or even “does evil,” even though elsewhere (sometimes in the self-same books, even) God is described as completely good and having no evil within Himself. I don’t believe these statements necessarily contradict each other or are mutually exclusive, but I do think they can bring up a huge load of questions, including all of the “Why me, God?” (or “Why not me, God?” depending on the scenario) ones. If we’re suddenly giving God the responsibility for the unpleasantness of our lives, those questions seem really well-justified. But I have another question.

I used to have an atheist friend who had an ex-wife who was, out of spite, going to prevent him from refinancing his house by refusing to sign certain papers to remove her from being a part of the proceedings or something. My friend was stressed and grumpy about his ex-wife’s hardheadedness and hardheartedness, but completely confident in it. There was absolutely nothing on earth that could change this woman’s mind, evidently, and he knew it. He also, as was his wont, used this as yet another nail in the coffin he was constructing for God. I, on the other hand, thought I knew differently, so I prayed that his ex-wife would sign the papers.

The next time I talked to this friend, his ex-wife had signed the papers. He couldn’t explain it. I thought I could. “I prayed for her,” I said, thinking, Surely he has to acknowledge God’s presence now . . . at least a little bit?

And he did get quiet for a minute, but then he said, “Why would God show me grace through my ***** of an ex-wife, instead of through you when you’ve been trying to preach to me about Him for so long?”

I wanted to bash my head against a wall–and maybe bash his head against one, too. First of all–why wouldn’t God do that? Who really cares who the instrument of God’s grace is, as long as the grace is delivered? In my experience, God prefers to utilise the unlikely in His plans. This seemed like a signature God-move to me, but maybe this friend of mine, who was so intent on not-believing, wouldn’t have known that. Second–God did show grace through me (also unlikely), because I prayed about it and He answered it–and then allowed me to be there to interpret the answer. I guess He hadn’t guaranteed that even the interpretation would be understood, though.

It was this interaction, and many others like it, both with this friend and a few others like him, that made me start reversing Job’s question in my head. I wasn’t simply reversing it in self-righteous judgment of my doubting friends. I was reversing it because of my long-term tendency to blame God when things go wrong, myself, and my equally long-term inexperience with gratitude to God for the things that go right.

Should I receive evil at the hand of God and not good also?

By which I mean–if I believe God is sovereign, maybe it’s fair to say God is somehow in or connected to even the situations I find unbearable, though it may not be in the way that it immediately seems. This is something that I need to work out, surely–and something I may still get in God’s face about from time to time because I haven’t yet learned how to be that malleable lump of clay that He can make into something beautiful. However, if God is in some way attached to the difficulties in my life, how much more is He responsible for the good in it?

I’m pretty sure God can handle my rants, but what I suspect is unjustifiable are all those times I rant at Him for the “bad” things (which quite often turn out all right anyway) and take the good things for granted. When it comes right down to it, it’s the good things which should take me by surprise–not because God isn’t good, but because I’m not:

Ranting or not, I rebel against God every day. And this isn’t a question of simple obedience or disobedience. This is about insurrection–about a created being trying in little ways to usurp the role of an entirely different kind of being–and uncreated one–the only Uncreated One. I highly doubt God is threatened by my feeble but stubborn attempts; nevertheless, trying to be something I’m not and trying to take over a role I cannot fill can’t be good for any relationship, not least the relationship with the One I’m trying to become. I don’t deserve the good I receive from God. But He still gives it and gives it and gives it, and it’s pretty arrogantly foolish for me not both to receive it and to thank Him for it.

I suspect, the more I grow in gratitude, the more beautiful and useful He will make me. And that is a good in itself.

Ready for service?

Ready for service?


12 thoughts on “Shall I Receive Evil at the Hand of God and not Good, Also?

  1. Fantastic, thought-provoking post! I am not a biblical scholar by any means. However, it seems to me that good things come from God, and bad things come from Satan; therefore, why would we ever blame bad things on God? Blaming things on God would mean that we were not responsible for our lives. This is not the case; God gave us the gift of choice — ultimately, the gift of responsibility for our own lives. God gave us choice in order that we can willingly choose to be with him.

    My entire life, I’ve never really understood people who lose their faith when bad things happen. It seems to me that these are the times we need to cling to God. On the other hand, I’ve never been the type to read the Bible literally (Jesus spoke in parables, after all), so maybe I just have a different perspective.

    • Thanks, Christi, for your thoughtful response.

      We’ve been exploring these issues (on Thursdays) over here for the past few weeks, and I think I’m almost getting ready to sound off on human responsibility :), which you quite rightly remind us of! I do believe that God is ultimately in control, and although I think that Satan does many many bad things in the world, he’s not God’s equal or (because of not being equal) opposite–that is, he’s under God’s control in the end, too. Which is what causes some people to ascribe evil to God, I guess.

      I probably take the Bible more “literally” than you do but I would qualify “literally” because you’re correct–there are different LITERARY techniques employed in the book, some of which require more literal interpretation than others!

      You’re also right that the bad times are the times we NEED God–I’ve come close to rejecting Him during one or two of those times, but I’ve never actually been able to because, yep–I need Him too much!

      Thanks for the follow and for joining the conversation! I look forward to hearing from you again.

  2. I loved reading your thoughts. Your reversal of the question is a good one. While reading, I caught myself nodding along (I hate it when people nod along to biblical ideas, especially in church, also because afterwards I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary). The atheist view can be a stubborn one, just as much as a limited Cristian view will be (for instance, those that will deny anything bad can happen to a good Christian and will lose their faith before they lose their principles). I struggle with the idea where evil comes from, too. In the end, I think it’s selfishness that is the root at all evil, giving it room to creep in and take over. Evil never comes marching in so we can confront it right away, it seeps into our minds and whispers in our ears until we start believing how selfishness is actually the best option and we can perfectly rationalize it. Nobody can do evil without reason, it is evil that gives us reason.

    I believe bad things happen to good people. I believe good things happen to bad people. I believe God is good through and through and that we ultimately (or, as a Christian, on a daily basis) need him to purify our world. Even with the personal view I laid out above, I cannot account for all bad things. I believe I don’t need to (although sometimes my feelings and beliefs can collide).

    Also, not only might God be able to handle your rants (he is), I truly enjoy reading them. Your rants more often than not reflect my own and I love to read how you transcribe those big ideas to clearly laid-out blogs. Your rants never fail to spark something in me, which sometimes translates to blog comments that reveal being sparked rather than comments that truly fit; a testimony of unleashed thought.

    • I seem to be nodding along as well. YOU, on the other hand, seem to have just written a blog post. šŸ™‚ Thanks for coming along on the journey. “Iron sharpens iron,” as the Good Book says . . .

      Speaking of evil, I’m currently reading a book for class by a guy with a Dutch last name (Cornelius Plantinga Jr) which I think you might get into–I think it’s fantastic: “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin.” (Plus the subtitle uses the word “breviary.” How great is that?)

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  4. Very though provoking. Thank you.

    Evil is something that baffles me. If evil exists, then I have met it. I have experienced hatred and venom beyond anything I could ever imagine, and survived several very near attempts on my life. I have survived a terror campaign that destroyed my life and reputation, and been accused of every crime under the sun. All false, and without foundation. I live with compassion, kindness, and love, and this was, in all likelihood, the reason I became a target.

    My stalker had no morals, no compassion and no humanity. She had no limits. Taking a life meant nothing, although she openly boasted of how she had driven other victims to attempt suicide. She took great pleasure and joy in seeing how she could make others suffer.

    By any standard, she must have been evil.

    But I honesty don’t believe it. In fact, I don’t believe in evil at all. She was an incredibly damaged and tormented women. The pain in her heart was only ever eased by creating pain in other people. Then, for a moment, she didn’t feel so bad. It was the only way she knew. Horrible for her victims, but far worse for her. Imagine living like that ? Having to hurt and destroy to make yourself feel better, just for a very short time.

    She wasn’t born that way. We all spring from the divine. As we take our first breath, we are all perfect. We all have unlimited potential at that point. We can all change the world. But then things happen. Things go wrong. Bad childhoods, abuse, bad experiences. There but for the grace of God go all of us.

    My stalker wasn’t evil. But many of her acts were evil. They way she thought was evil. The results of many of her actions were evil. But herself, no, she was desperately sad, desperately hurt, and a lost soul. We can argue that she had a choice. We all have a choice. When I teach my students, I always teach we must take responsibility for EVERY thought and EVERY action. There are no ordinary moments. We have the power to create and we have the power to destroy. Its up to us. She chose to destroy, and live with hate and anger. But only through her pain.

    So I believe evil is a concept. And an abstract concept at that.

    Remember Eichmann ? A man responsible for the deaths of millions. Yet, in Hannah Arendt’s book, Eichmann in Jerusalem – The banality of Evil, she realises he is just a sad, rather pathetic and banal little man. Not a monster. Just a man. He had choices. He made bad choices. He didn’t think.

    Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen describes evil as being just an extreme lack of empathy. And perhaps that the truth. So called ‘evil’ people just don’t care. They don’t feel. They don’t understand. And if thats evil, then at sometime or other, most of us have been guilty of being less caring than we could have been. We all make mistakes.

    Bad people exist. But does evil exist ? I don’t think so.

    • I like your statement about there not being any ordinary moments. I think that’s true.

      As for evil “existing,” I think that’s a sort of inherently unhelpful way to talk about it. I don’t think of evil as an entity, but as (I think I said here or somewhere else) a corruption, negation or absence of something good. I believe there is evil, but if we had another verb than “is,” I would use it, because “is” implies existence, and I don’t think evil “exists” in that way.

      The banality of evil is right on target, I think. I haven’t read Hannah Arendt, but the “evil is boring” concept is a thread that runs through the works of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Charles Williams, too.

      Thanks for your comments! I’m sure we’ll have more discussion . . . šŸ™‚

  5. We certainly will !

    Life is Intentional. We create our reality. Evil, good, and everything in-between are relative concepts. All we can do is live with compassion and empathy. Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

    Thanks again for writing thought provoking and interesting stories.

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