Praise God from Whom All Evil and Suffering Flows?

The Christian music duo Shane & Shane sing a song called “Though You Slay Me,” a worship song about suffering which features an excerpt of a John Piper sermon. Though it’s been out for several months, I’d not heard the song before yesterday. And to be honest, the lyrics (some of which were borrowed from the Book of Job) troubled me.

I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need.

Maybe I’m in a minority, but my spirit cringes when I hear those kinds of big statements about God, statements that make God out to be an abuser rather than a loving parent, a destroyer as opposed to a healer, an Almighty who slays, ruins, and tears apart as opposed to bringing new life. Now, it’s one thing to praise God through pain and suffering. That’s not easy to do. But as a person of faith, I do believe we can/do find healing and hope in suffering through gratitude. My grievance with this song is what it says about God. In these lyrics, God is a monstrous presence, a deity who is cruel and unusual, a Great Inflicter of pain… are there limits to what this so-called awesome God will do?

I understand that these same themes show up in the Book of Job. But Job, as book, is a complicated, and as a man, is complex. Some believe the story to be historical in nature; others suggest that it’s a grand allegory that sheds light on the relationship between God and people. Either way, Job is an uneasy biblical narrative that has befuddled wise people for thousands of years. And for good reason. That dialogue between God and Satan alone is filled up with complexities and details not easily understood as they relate to today. Do we really believe that every time somebody dies or gets cancer or loses everything that Satan and God have been wheeling and dealing? Are we supposed to assume that every time there’s a school shooting or a natural disaster that it’s an event spearheaded by God? Is that what we really think about God, that amid our human suffering, as we struggle through, seeking God’s light and healing, that we are also to assume that God is the author of our hopelessness? Is that what we’re supposed to believe?

And if so, are there any limits to this kind of God? I mean, if this God slays us and ruins us, does he also set up rapes? Does he schedule miscarriages? Murders? I mean, is God our hope and salvation or the disease-maker and/or terrorist?

Yes, I know what you might be thinking: But God allows suffering, suffering that God, if he wanted to, could stop. And yes, that is a confusing and complicated idea, that God allows suffering as opposed to stopping it from happening. But still, I think there’s a huge difference between finding reason to praise God through the mysteries and questions of human suffering and praising a God who purposely puts cancer in somebody’s body or demolishes a town with a tornado just because he needed a little glory that day.

While I don’t like to use human examples to portray concepts about God, many believers do it often. The most common example is that of a father who swoops in to rescue his child from danger. Many of us would praise that father, or at least, celebrate the rescue. But what if we found out that the child’s danger had been prearranged by the father, that the child’s rescue had been actually been grand scheme authored by the father so he could receive our praise. Most of us would say that’s sick and demented. And again, while no human example is good at explaining the complexities of God, that is what this song suggests. That is what Shane & Shane are singing about.

And yes, many believe that Book of Job suggests the same. But does that give us permission to assume that the story of Job is happening all the time? Is it wise for us to make these great assumptions about about every form or instance of human suffering. Do not genetics and habits and evil play a role? Doesn’t the Book of Job demand more than to be simply applied to our every struggle? Shouldn’t it at least be used with caution and mercy.

Because I’m all about praising God in and through all things. But I also believe that we should use a little grace, humility, and common sense when applying a 5000-year-old text to our circumstances, especially as it relates to making big seemingly ugly assumptions about God.

Do I understand every nuance and idea surrounding the ways of God and the realities of suffering? No, I don’t. And chances are, neither do you. And sometimes, rather than promoting our thoughts about God like they’re the gospel truth, the best theology one can offer is I don’t know.

Because in many cases, especially in circumstances involving suffering, we don’t know.

(You can listen to the entire song here and learn the story behind the song here.)

Comments

  1. TylerJPetty says

    “I mean, if this God slays us and ruins us, does he also set up rapes?”
    John Donne used God/rape imagery way back in the 1600s in his sonnet, “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God”:
    Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I 
    Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free, 
    Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee. 

    The difference between the poem and the song, I think, is that it’s a request or prayer for Donne, whereas it’s just something God does in Shane & Shane.

  2. RyanMcDermott says

    Why does suffering happen? It happens because of sin – the general dysfunction of the world brought about because of sin. It isn’t that sin A causes suffering B, in some kind of linear correllation; but that all suffering is a product of the curse of man.

    What I would take the stanzas quoted, as well as the theme of the Book of Job, the Psalms of lament, and other such texts, to mean is that even if we may see God as punishing us for our sin/sinfulness, what other choice do we have than to worship Him? “Curse God, and die”, like Job’s wife counseled?

    Suffering presents, among other things, an opportunity for faith to flourish, because it forces us to repent of our self-centered-ness and confess that we need God to protect and preserve us. Finally, the Christian worships in the midst of suffering because, like St. Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18). If we believe in the forgiveness of sins the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, what is a bit of suffering for a time?

  3. gbdill says

    The fact that John Piper is in the music piece is a huge indicator of the type of theology that accompanies this song and perhaps the artists. Piper belongs to a theological tradition that holds to the belief that not only is God the author of good, but He is also the author of evil. This tradition to which the neo-Reformed/hyper Calvinist tribe ascribes to is an extreme view of God’s sovereignty. Believing that He is in control of everything, both good and bad. And, that God uses evil to bring about good. Although it appears the Bible makes some allusions to this, it goes against every notion and character that we know about God as indicated in the Bible and through personal experience. In his outstanding book, “Against Calvinism” author and theologian Roger Olson finds the many cracks found in the theology of the neo-Reformed/hyper-Calvinism movement, including this one. I highly recommend it.

  4. BenDeRienzo says

    Job 13:15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
    Everyone always refers to this infamous phrase as a quote that shows Job’s alleged faithfulness towards God. Yet rarely anyone refers to Job 38-39 when God spent two entire chapters chastising Job for this state of mind that he had.

    That is the intro to this article on the passage. I thought this was an interesting read. 

    http://arevelationrevolution.blogspot.com/2012/06/though-he-slay-me-yet-will-i-trust-him.html

    If God chastised Job for not understanding His bigger ways, than perhaps He would say the same to the Shanes?

  5. LeanneZeck says

    Are we attributing to God our brokenness? Just because God can use the broken things which hurt us and the times we feel like our world is falling apart to accomplish good, doesn’t mean he ordained and caused those things. It doesn’t mean he is breaking and slaying us. It simply means God is the God of redemption and resurrection. The worst this world can do, God can still bring life from that.

  6. frognparis says

    I cringe at this every. time. 

    I almost walked away from God because this theology AND my own study were in congruent. I do love the book of Job. It has carried me through some very dark times-BUT- not because of what Job cries out to God. BUT what God replies back. God’s words are full of love and certainty. He never addresses Job’s laments of why. He does correct Job with the how.

  7. EstherGraceCoplin says

    gbdillIf God is not in orchestrating all things (Rom 8:28) what have we to trust in? This is idolatry. We’re creating a god that only orchestrates good things. Who are we to judge what is good and what is bad? Is not God the author of all things good? Does he not have the right to do what he pleases with his creation (Rom 9:21)?

  8. EstherGraceCoplin says

    Does not God orchestrate all things (things that we see as good as well as things we see as evil) for His glory (Matt 10:29 Heb 1:3) ? Are we not living and breathing at this very moment only because of the mercy of God? Are we even worthy of the good things He gives us (Matt 15:19-20)? If God is just and holy (and perfectly so) (Psa. 145:17), we deserve death for disobeying Him. He is supremely holy and worthy of all honor and glory. Does not the Most High God have the right to orchestrate events that bring Him glory?

    P.S. Don’t include a cop-out at the end of your article discrediting both yourself and anyone who might oppose your ideas. It just isn’t very flattering.

  9. EstherGraceCoplin says

    To answer your question:
    Yes! I will praise my God from whom all “evil and suffering” (as we
    perceive them) flow because He is sovereign and works all things for His
    glory (Rom 8:28). As Laura Story’s song goes: “what if your blessings
    come through rain drops? What if your healing comes through tears?” And
    as Joseph told his brothers: ” But
    now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you
    sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

  10. LeanneZeck says

    EstherGraceCoplin Just because God can use the bad things that happen to bring good out of doesn’t mean that God is orchestrating the bad things. It doesn’t mean that God is causing those bad things. It just means God is the God who is able to redeem all the crap that we can dish out and all the bad that happens because our world is broken due to sin.

  11. gbdill says

    EstherGraceCoplin gbdill  Evil is merely the absence of good. This is why everything was good before sin crept into the world. Once sin crept into the world, no longer was everything good.
    So, to say that God creates evil is a complete misnomer. Does he allow it? Arguably, yes.

    Nevertheless, let’s use scripture to answer this more clearly:
    Saying to the Lord: Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. (Habakkuk 1:13)

    Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10)

    Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. (Amos 5:15)

    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)

    And, the BIG one…

    God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (http://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/1%20John%201.5)

    So yes. God is the author of all that is good. When God is removed from the equation, then good is no longer present and evil takes root. Again, God does not create evil, it exists wherever there good is not present.

  12. LeanneZeck says

    EstherGraceCoplin gbdill If a parent was to hold a child’s hand to a burner to teach them a lesson, we would consider that abuse. Jesus said if we wouldn’t give our child a snake when they ask for bread, God would not. If we as parents know how to give our children good gifts, God is even better at that.
    Second, if I drive my car off a bridge and it doesn’t fly its not Ford’s fault. They made a car to drive on the road. I used it wrong and the ensuing pain and damage is my fault, not the manufacturers. Life was never meant to be lived selfishly, proudly, angrily, sinfully. We have been using life wrong. Its not the Creator’s fault. But unlike Ford, God can take our wrongs and make something good out of it.
    You use Romans 8:28–but that has nothing to do with who is the author of all things. That just says that God can take the good, the bad, the ugly and make something good out of all of it. Doesn’t mean he is orchestrating it. He’s just using the stuff he has given us the freedom to do and brings about salvation and healing in spite of us.

  13. says

    I think we’ve been given the beautiful story of Job as a sort of counter balance to other wisdom literature in scripture, the psalms and proverbs that seem to say, ‘do good, be rewarded.’ All the writing in this tradition is good and helpful and applicable to different situations/experiences in our lives. But none of it is simple or straightforward, and none of it can be taken as ‘gospel’ on its own. We need to read scripture in light of scripture. Each of the pieces helps to inform the others. The song you quote makes me edgy, too. There is a kind of determinism in the more extreme edges of neo-Calvinism that feels downright fatalistic at points. Is there no room for free will? For our own bullheadedness, callowness and cowardice? Is there no space in this worldview for the sometimes tragic consequences of naturally occurring events? Yes, God is sovereign. But we are surely not puppets. And we have been told, over and over again in the pages of scripture, what evil looks like. And though the after effects of an evil deed are never beyond the power of God’s redemptive love and mercy, the deed itself is still evil. And we know it when we see it. Yes, good can come from ugliness. Praise God this is true. But please, don’t label evil as good in the process of saying thank you for redemptive work.

  14. ah440z says

    gbdill Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10)…hmmmm Tell that to the families of missionaries who were killed for obeying him !!!

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