John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

A Permissive God?

If you want to help the Haitian relief efforts, please consider giving to World Vision. An independent audit showed that 87% of their funds actually get into the hands of people they're helping. That's a remarkably low overhead (13%), and they have my full support. ==========

When something like the earthquake in Haiti (or the tsunami in Sri Lanka or Hurricane Katrina) happens, it can be disorienting. We claim to serve a God of love and power. It only makes sense for us to believe that our God could have used some of his power to stop the disaster -- if he really loves us. Some are claiming that God (who is also a God of justice) uses events like these to balance the books, to pay groups of people back for the way they've treated him and others. I do not believe them.

Now, let me go on record here and say that I disagree with Pat Robertson's theological take on this situation (as I disagreed with him over Katrina and 911). However, Pat and his organization are doing a lot of good -- raising lots of money and sending tons of medical supplies to Haiti. And he is not alone in his views. Actor Danny Glover said just the other day that this earthquake was payback (from Mother Earth?) for the way the governments of the world responded at the recent global climate change conference in Copenhagen. I remember hearing Muslim religious leaders say that Hurricane Katrina had been a soldier for Allah. Pat's in the crosshairs now, but he's far from the only one with wacky ideas about the cause-and-effect of natural disasters.

My goal here is for us to work towards understanding what has happened, how it happened and how we are to live in light of such tragic events.

Something too many Christians fail to acknowledge is that there must be a distinction made between what we can call God’s causative will and God’s permissive will. Not everything that happens was caused by God, though it was clearly allowed by God.

I hear a lot of people say things like, "Well, it happened, so, clearly, it was God's will." Let's be clear about what we're saying, okay? Just because something happened, that doesn't mean God caused it to happen or desired it. He may have simply allowed it because of some principle he sovereingly established.

For example, God doesn't cause temptation, but he allows it. And he doesn't always block temptation from us (like an internet filter that won't even allow you to visit a provocative website) because God established your freedom to choose and refuses to violate that freedom.

Likewise, we know that God doesn't want anyone to live outside of a personal relationship with him, but billions of people do. We could ask, "If God wants everyone saved, why doesn't he just save everyone?" Well, as Chuck Swindoll has written, "He predetermined the plan of salvation, knowing that many would refuse it. The plan is set. Fixed. Unchanged and unchanging. But some prefer darkness to light, so they willfully refuse to turn to Christ for salvation."

And -- get this -- God allows them to do this. I do not believe he causes them to do this, though.

This is a knotty problem, and people smarter than I have spent years trying to untangle it. I don't mean to give you the impression that this is a simple matter. Still, our faith seeks understanding — so, we grope around for answers.