The letter was written by a young boy named Peter. He had been taught about God — told God would protect, preserve, heal. But his brother, Tommy, was dead. Why? Why does God allow tragedy? Why do innocent babies suffer? Why the caprice of tornado, hurricane or typhoon? Why, if there is a God, does God allow wars, and crime, and automobile accidents? These questions have perplexed the greatest theologians for centuries yet the answers are simple.
When he was hit by the car, my mother prayed to you to let him live, but you wouldn't. My little brother was only two years old," wrote Peter to a newspaper advice counselor, "and he couldn't have sinned so bad that you had to punish him that way... you could have saved my little brother but you let him die. You broke my mother's heart. How can I love you?" Peter's grief was genuine. So was his perplexity over the goodness of the God of whom he had heard from his parents, and the evil of the terrible accident that took his brother's life. His young mind simply couldn't accept it. Tommy was dead. But mother had prayed. And God — the God he had heard of who helped people, and who was good and merciful, had let Tommy die. If He was God, He had the power to stop Tommy from dying, didn't He? And Peter's mother had fervently asked Him to, hadn't she? Well, then — why had God let Tommy die?
The newspaper columnist had no answers. He simply replied, "Suffering of innocent people is something we cannot understand." But is there no answer, then? What about the millions who died in the Nazi torture camps, the tens of thousands in Nigeria and Vietnam, the millions on all sides during World War II? And what about the untold, unknown, unwritten calamities that have befallen human beings since time immemorial — whether infant mortality, accidental death, murder, sickness or war? Are human beings, then, just like animals — subject to the vagaries of weather and nature, to the passions of other humans, and to caprice? Or is there a God who could prevent human suffering if He so chose? Many theologians concur the answer is unobtainable. But why should it be? If there is a God, and most (certainly not all) theologians profess to believe in God, then would not that God leave a glimpse of His purpose, His plan, to His own creation which He loves? Wouldn't God have revealed the answers to human problems if He truly seeks to relieve such problems?
God Is Blamed.
It's a commentary on human nature that we tend to congratulate ourselves for our successes, and blame God for our failures. If we fail, if a loved one is hurt, we wonder why God "allowed" it to happen. When we triumph, we can think of many reasons why we did. One atheist expressed a rather common attitude: "If I had the power to fashion the universe and 'remake it nearer my heart's desire,' there would be no blind, no deaf, no dumb; there would be no crippled, and each child born would live free of disease and possess a mentality capable of withstanding all the rebuffs of life. There would be no deaths by accident. There would be no earthquakes, cyclones or tornadoes. Unless and until such a condition comes to pass, when we may live free from disease, sorrow and suffering, there is no God in this vast universe worthy of homage." At least, so thought a professed atheist. And our youth of today? They, too, wonder. Wrote one young teenager: "I am a teenager, a child of the 'age of skepticism'... frankly, I am angry at God for choosing this generation for the manifestation of His wrath." Millions of teens, having seen the blatant hypocrisy of much of professing "Christianity" — the "do as I say, don't do as I do" generation of once-a-week listeners and "never-doers" — have simply rejected the traditional "mainstream" of "Christian thought." Trouble is, they think that by rejecting many of the more commonplace religious denominations they have automatically rejected the Bible, and Christ, and God. Not so. But teens wonder, too. Do conditions in this nuclear-armed, overpopulated, polluted, war-sick, disease-ridden, tragedy-filled world indicate any successes whatever for the traditional "Christian" struggle? Or doesn't it frankly look like Satan wins all the battles? During World War II, a young German soldier wrote from Stalingrad to his pastor back home: "In Stalingrad, to put the question of God's existence means to deny it.... "I have searched for God in every crater, in every destroyed house, on every corner, in every friend, in every foxhole, and in the sky. God did not show Himself, even though my heart cried for Him. "If there should be a God, He is only with you in the hymnals and the prayers, in the pious sayings of the priests and pastors, in the ringing of the bells and the fragrance of incense, but not in Stalingrad." And so a youth, caught up in the shock of war, searched through traditional avenues for God, and couldn't find Him.
"The Invisible God.
"What about the claims of the atheist? Would a world "nearer our hearts' desire" without suffering and death be the only proof of a "God worthy of homage" in this vast universe? The greatest question in all this is "Does God exist?" Is there a God? If so, can you prove it? Is God a personal being, who hears, and answers prayers? What is His nature, if He exists? Is He a loving, merciful, forgiving God who is interested in preventing tragedy? Does He protect humans? Does He stop wars? If you haven't yet proved whether God is, then you need to write immediately for our booklet Does God Exist? Science proves there is a God. It is absolutely unshakable — the only intelligent answer. A creation demands a Creator. Life demands a Life-giver. Power, energy, force — all demand a source of power. Design is not through randomness or caprice, but by a Designer. A great Sustainer keeps it all working. Laws require a Lawgiver. And God has not left this world without a witness. He has given His Word. And the Word of God, the Bible, stands proved. God's Word is the handbook about human nature, the book that explains about life and the way it should be lived. While it sounds utterly impossible, the answers to the perplexing questions of youth, the bewilderment of Peter, the frustrated anger of the soldier at Stalingrad, the cynical atheist, are very plainly revealed in God's Word! God explains why He permits accidents, sickness, murder and wars! He plainly reveals why humans suffer, and shows why He does not prevent it.
What Are the Causes of Human Troubles?
But first, what caused little Tommy's death? Why the problems? Why war? For every effect there is a cause: that's a living principle. There must be causes for effects, action to bring about reaction. Why was the little boy struck by the automobile? Perhaps the answers are simple, if tragic; perhaps they're very involved. First, what about Tommy's training? Had he been taught never to run into the street? What type of discipline had he received during his young life? What about protective fences? What about speed restrictions in the neighborhood? An automobile was involved. But automobiles are not constructed by men whose whole purpose is the safety of other human beings. Assembly-line production — with built-in obsolescence, huge engines and flimsy bodies in ever-changing shapes — does not turn out carefully hand-crafted machinery that is totally safe. Perhaps the automobile had defective brakes. Perhaps the driver had been drinking or was under the influence of drugs. Even heavy doses of smog can markedly slow down a motorist's reactions in an emergency. So can pain killers, like aspirin. And, strange as it may seem, even an argument at home could have so affected the driver of the auto that he was driving angrily, at unreasonable speed. So there were many, many unknown factors involved in the accident that killed little Tommy. Let's ask little Peter's question again — and see specific answers. Peter asked God (or challenged God because his mother had asked) to remove the effect of perhaps many, many voluntary human actions. Were the two boys chasing one another? Had Tommy run into the street to retrieve a ball? Was he actually attempting to see how close he could come to the car? (Very real cases are on record of such pranks; and one, of which I know personally, resulted in the death of a child) The causes could have been myriad. If you wish to read, with your own eyes, some of the most nearly unbelievable advice you can imagine concerning childrens' ventures into busy streets, you should write immediately for your free copy of our book The Plain Truth About Child Rearing. Peter's letter didn't list any causes for the accident. Perhaps Peter's mother could have removed the cause. We'll never know for sure. But suppose more diligent training could have literally prevented Tommy from ever running into the street. It's possible, you know. Suppose Tommy had been told to remain in the backyard, away from a busy street — but that he had never been disciplined when he disobeyed. Suppose his foray into the street was a childlike act of adventurous rebellion. Human emotions always cloud facts. Bereaved loved ones, seeing only the immediate, terrible consequences of an accident, are stunned with heartsick moroseness. They are filled with feelings of pity and sorrow. They see the effect — the pitiful body of a dead child. But the causes? Most of us remain blind to them. I must realize, in writing this article, that some human minds will simply remain closed to the logical answers to little Peter's questions — that pity (and perhaps even a measure of self-righteous indignation which helps some to continually upgrade themselves, spiritually), will so cloud the mind that no matter what the causes, God will remain "guilty," in some minds. But what if the driver was drunk? God could have prevented such drunkenness, couldn't He? Yes — He could. But how?
The Atheist's Better World.
The answers are found in the obvious mistakes in the thinking of the cynical atheist, who would "remake" the world nearer his heart's desire. How would he do this? He would remove the effects of human action — of free moral agency — of free choice. He would demand there be no blindness, deafness, dumbness; no cripples, no disease, and no deaths by accident. He would insist each mind be mature, normal, stable, able to withstand all the rebuffs of life. He would, in short, insist man be allowed to continue breaking natural and spiritual laws — continue living the way that causes all these human miseries. Yet he would insist on removing the effects of free human action. In short, he would advocate the abolishing of the penalty for sin, while leaving the sin itself. Again, we must ask, "Why blindness, deafness, dumbness? Why crippling accidents, sickness, accidental deaths? Why wars?" The answer? Man is a free moral agent. He is free to choose his own way of living, free to act contrary to the interests of others, free to act contrary to his own self-interests. One common cause of congenital blindness, deafness, and other deformities is venereal disease. The atheist said nothing about the prevention of venereal disease — only that he demands the effects of human sin be removed, that humans be allowed to be as wretchedly disobedient to the laws of God as ever, but that the penalties for these broken laws be removed. Accidental deaths? He would remove them. How? He didn't say. But let's think of the many, many ways in which people die accidentally. Drownings, auto collisions, accidental shootings, falls, airplane crashes, accidental poisonings — these and a host of others take their fearsome toll each year. But let's be practical. Does the atheist, then, propose that God suspend His laws each time a person breaks them? Humans can't breathe under water. When people foolishly stand up in boats, or overload boats, or when children play on steep banks of rushing rivers, or when old craft, poorly maintained, flounder — does the atheist expect God to immediately rescue each person caught in such an act — that God remove the penalty for foolish actions? But how would God do this? Let's wonder together.
The Cigarette Battle.
Take cigarette smoking. It's been proved beyond the remotest shadow of a doubt that it is not only continually injurious to your health, but that it could kill you with lung cancer, heart disease, or emphysema. So a man, driven by his lust for the sensation of nicotine in his bloodstream, reaches for a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, he is repelled by an invisible, irresistible force. His hand stops just short of his shirt pocket. He can't believe it. He is trying desperately to reach into his own shirt pocket, and he simply can't! He tries the other hand. Same result. Soaked with perspiration, he struggles with all his power to get that cigarette package out of his pocket. He bends over, and jogs up and down. The shirt is open, and the cigarettes fall out. He tries to reach for them. But he can't. He is stopped by some unseen hand — some invisible force. After days, and finally weeks, he is on the verge of insanity. He looks furtively about, and surreptitiously attempts every conceivable ruse to obtain a smoke. It takes months, and finally, though his whole mind and body has suffered, he no longer has the cigarette habit. He is now conquered, in that one direction. God has stepped in. Do you see? You could apply this same example to any of the harmful human actions possible. Unless God Almighty steps in to force humans to do what they ought to do instead of what they wish to do, humans will continue to follow the way of human nature — of greed, vanity, jealousy, lust, strife, competition, racism, hatred and total self-seeking.
The atheist said there would be no more accidental deaths. Then the same, strange, invisible force would have to immediately interfere to prevent accidents. The atheist didn't know what he was asking for. He was requesting a world with a zombie-like populace, shuffling about in mindless obedience to myriad laws that would govern all human behavior. But if God were to impose such restraints on humans, what then? Very likely, He would be faced with a continual battle — a constant stream of hatred, invective, curses and screams of anger. He would be faced with a decision: whether to destroy His creation, and begin again, or whether to beat humankind into submission — with the end product a mindless, dutifully obedient organism without thought, without reason, without intellect, and totally devoid of character.
What Is Man?
The Bible narrative reveals that God created Adam — man — in the very image and similitude of God. He imparted to Adam mind power, limited ability to think, plan, reason, and to create. The Genesis account further quotes God as saying: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them [meaning all mankind, and not just Adam] have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:26). Later, it is revealed that God made man a "living soul." The Hebrew word is nephe4 and is used four times in the first chapter of Genesis for lower life forms before ever being used to connote man. In Numbers 19:11 and 13, the same word appears in reference to the words "dead body." Yet the English is rendered "soul." Millions have mistakenly embraced the pagan doctrine of the "immortality of the soul" without ever researching some of the simplest truths of the Scriptures. God reveals that "... the Eternal God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). Notice, man is not said to possess a "soul" within himself, but to BE a soul. Man is a "soul." And "soul" means earthy, temporal, transitory, fleshly and subject to death. (If your mind is open on this subject, please read our free booklet Do You Have an Immortal Soul?) Herein is one of the most vital points of the entire question of "Christian" philosophy. The major religions can be said to be divided on each side of the concept of WHAT IS MAN. Many believe man is possessed of some "inner goodness" within himself. That is, that there are some innate "Godlike" qualities within mankind. Most of the Oriental religions assume inner goodness in man. The basic "Christian" approach is an inner evil in man, hence the need for a Savior, a Redeemer, to expiate the evil acts of mankind, and to return him to his former state of "goodness." And, shocking as it sounds, both concepts are in error. Professing Christians assume Adam fell. But Adam didn't "fall" from any perfect state, he merely exercised his God-given right of free choice and made the wrong choice! Adam was created human. He was not immortal, but flesh — "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). He had human nature. Prior to being influenced to disobey his Maker, Adam was "neutral" toward God. He did not resent God as yet. There was no hostility evident in the conversations in the garden (Genesis 2nd chapter). But once Satan had influenced Adam — once Adam had exercised his own free moral agency to make a wrong decision — hostility toward God entered. Adam could have argued: "God, you knew we would lose our wonderful home (the Garden), and that our lives would be filled with work and sweat (Gen. 3:19), and that our children would eventually record the first murder (Gen. 4:8). You could have removed these consequences of sin; you could have prevented Cain from killing his own brother; you could have made life easy for us, with no bad crops, no bad years, no sickness, no heartaches, no anxieties and worries." And God could answer: "No, Adam: you could have prevented all these consequences of sin! Remember, I told you not to bring these things upon yourself. I told you you would surely die, that your mortal, human body would be subject to death (the Bible states that the wages of sin is death — Rom. 6:23) if you disobeyed my commands. I allowed you free choice, but I commanded you to make the right choice. But I wanted you to be the one to make the decision!" God could answer that His great love for Adam, His desire to see a human being rise higher and higher toward the very God-plane through building right character was the reason why God left the choice to Adam.
Notice what God said to our forefathers. "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil" (Deut. 30:15). God places before each of us a CHOICE. We may choose to obey the laws of good eating, exercise, sleep and clean thinking, and we will be automatically blessed because of the laws which God has set in motion. And we may choose to break those laws, ignore their existence, and suffer physical debilities, handicaps, sickness and early death! Most fat people were not force-fed. You "are" what you eat. And God has laws involving foods, believe it or not. You may choose to train your children God's way, according to the loving conditions of Scripture, and according to the examples of God's Word, and they will be greatly blessed — their lives protected and preserved. But then, you are also free to choose the current way of "situation ethics" and permissiveness which encourages disobedience in children, and which is a direct cause of much youthful rebellion of this age. For the most part, men and women have chosen the line of least effort in child rearing, and our enormous problem of juvenile delinquency and disrespect for authority (mere youths of 15, 16 and 17 accounting for most of the major crime categories) are the direct results of a cause. The cause? The unwillingness of man to obey His Creator. God said: "...I command thee this day to love the Eternal thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Eternal thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it... I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore CHOOSE life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deut. 30:16-19). God says CHOOSE. He reveals we are creatures of free choice in relationship to Him and to His laws, that we are free moral agents. God commands us to make the right choice — but He will not force that right choice upon us. Little Tommy was as yet too young to make serious choices for himself and should have been protected with the safeguard of loving discipline — first, perhaps a protected place to play, and second, protected with the removal of all those other causes of the accident. Just like that young boy — whose decision to run into the street was only one tiny part of the whole "choosing" situation which resulted in his death — each person must choose. The whole society has chosen. The fruits, the evidence, of that choice are all around you. Man has always chosen the way of disobedience; the way of vanity, jealousy, lust and greed. He has deliberately chosen the way of competition and strife, believing it the best way. In momentary triumph, he congratulates himself. In failure, he blames God.
God Keeps Hands Off.
Humans act unreasonably. But then, human nature (actuated by Satan's wavelength; request our free reprint article "Human Nature — Did God Create It?"), with the Satanic influence of this age and this society, is most unreasonable. Humankind wants God to "keep His nose out of our business" and not interfere in our daily lives. To be met with the "invisible spiritual straightjacket" described earlier would absolutely enrage most humans. Still, even though feeling animosity toward God and resenting His laws, we want God to suspend the penalty for breaking His laws! God says: "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be"! (Rom. 8:7) Human beings resent God's way — the only way to achieve "goodness." Goodness of character and good things happening all through life. Human nature wants to "appear" as "good," it wants to think of itself as "good," but it doesn't want to do that which is good. It wants to be "good" and to have good results, without living in a way which produces good! God is not presently interfering in a powerful way with this world. The horrible consequences of man, living man's chosen way, are self-evident. Crime, divorce, horrible disease epidemics, war, pollution, utter immorality, venereal disease — all are effects of man's own choices, his own bullheaded, stiffnecked determination to live contrary to God's laws, and insist God remove the penalties. But only when man has learned the bitterest of lessons, only when human beings can look back over the entirety of blood-stained human history and say with deep conviction that man's way is utterly evil, will God step in and rescue man from himself. It is a heartbreaking shame that little children must suffer the consequences of careless, sinning parents, neighbors, and sometimes even grandparents. But God warned us it would be this way. He spoke of allowing the consequences for sin to be visited from the fathers "upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Ex. 20:5).
Freedom of Choice.
Yes, God allowed little Tommy to die. He allowed World War II. He allowed more than 50,000 Americans to be killed in automobile accidents last year. And He allows people to make decisions for themselves. He permitted each of the parents, neighbors and friends of Tommy to contribute to his little personality. He permitted whatever sequence of events led to Tommy's trip into the street. He allowed the automobile to continue on the path chosen for it by its driver. God allows humanity to make serious mistakes for a great overall purpose. (Read our free booklet Why Were You Born? for further understanding of that great purpose) Yet God also makes available to humankind the way of life which causes happiness, success, rewards, excitement, fun, good health, and eventual eternal life. He commands us to choose to live that way! But He doesn't force us to make the right choice. God will allow us to choose life — or He will allow us to choose death. The choice is ours.