“Do bad things just happen?”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor
Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The question above raises at least two others. First, what constitutes a bad thing? Second, how do we know what a “bad thing” is?
The first, “What constitutes a bad thing?” The answer is often given based on man-centered criteria. That is, we look around us and see abusive acts of violence and diseases and conclude that those acts and those conditions are bad. In other words, we set ourselves up as the deciders of what is bad. To make the issue more accurate, the term evil is a better and more comprehensive description of “bad things.”
The problem with man as the determining factor in what is evil is that we tend toward arbitrariness. In order to discern what is evil, there must be a standard of that which is good. Evil is not rightly based upon one’s personal view. After all, what might be evil for one person might likewise be good for another.
I recall an interview with Joseph Campbell who was a Philosopher and Professor at Sarah Lawrence College. On the issue of good and evil, Campbell said, “I know that good and evil are simply temporal aberrations and that, in God’s view, there is no difference.” Campbell also said, “My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” (Quotations are taken from “The Power of Myth”. Anchor Books, 1988)
Campbell was simply saying in sophisticated language what our relativistic culture believes. Evil like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Yet, all men know intuitively that there is good and there is evil. We all have a moral standard imprinted upon us. We are all made in the image and likeness of God. He has imprinted on us the reality of good and evil. Jesus said that God alone is good, Luke 18:19. Therefore, the standard of good is absolute as it proceeds from God. We know evil because there is good. Evil is anything that falls short of God’s goodness. We can look at behavior and determine whether it is good or evil because we can hold that behavior up to the light of God’s revelation.
The answer to the first question, “What constitutes a bad thing?” also answers the second, “How do we know what a bad thing is?” A “bad/evil thing” is anything that falls short of God’s goodness which He revealed.
Now to the question which is the title of this article, “Do bad things just happen?” The answer follows from the two secondary questions discussed. Since God is the standard and He has revealed that which is good, we must go to His word to arrive at the reason for the existence of evil/”bad things.”
First, the proposition of the sovereignty of God must be stated. God’s sovereignty means that God rules all things absolutely. There is nothing outside of the rule of God nor is there anything that can occur outside of His rule. Either God has ordained everything that comes to pass or He is not God!
What saith the Scriptures? “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Lamentations 3:37-38. And, “God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matthew 5:45. And, “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law,” Romans 2:12
What has the church confessed? “God, from all eternity, did… ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3, Par. 1)
Note that God is not the author of evil, for God is altogether good. Yet, He is sovereign over all things and by secondary causes He has factored into His good plan things that are evil.
Things just don’t happen! God has ordained them all. Our certain hope in the midst of evil is that God will work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose, Romans 8:28.