Does God Give Bad Gifts?


Does God give us sickness, poverty, and recessions? Should earthquakes, tsunamis and acts of terrorism be interpreted as his divine judgment on a sinful world? Does God kill babies? Are these dumb questions? You might think so except that many sincere Christians believe all these terrible things are from God.

In this two-part series on God’s gifts, I want to look at two people in the Bible who said some stupendously dumb things about God and his gifts. Both were believers who spoke with sincere hearts. Yet both had a distorted view of God’s character. Consequently their theology was a little messed up and the result is that their dumb comments were recorded for our benefit. Sometimes having the negative helps us appreciate the positive.

The first of my two case studies is Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah was barren, so she prayed for a miracle. When her prayers were answered she praised God and her mostly beautiful prayer is recorded in 1 Samuel 2. In the middle of her prayer, Hannah says this:

“The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” (1 Sam 2:6-7)

It sounds kind of poetic the way that Hannah sees the hand of God behind everything that goes on in the world. Afterall, God is God and surely nothing happens without his say-so. But stop for a second and take a closer look. Hannah is declaring that death and poverty come from God. In other words, this godly lady seems to believe that God is, at least sometimes, the author of evil.

God is not a killer

This is a classic problem of perspective. Hannah saw God from a distance. She related to him under the temporary, and now-obsolete death-dealing covenant of the law. That covenant linked human performance with both blessings and curses and so I guess it made some kind of sense for Hannah to speak of a sovereign God who brings death and sends poverty to his people – even if it isn’t true.

So why is this passage in the Bible if it’s misleading and inaccurate?

It’s in the Bible because it is a picture of what God might look like to someone who doesn’t know Jesus. Without Jesus, death and poverty are things to dread but accept as inevitable. Without Jesus they are a normal part of life. But we are not like Hannah. We live after the cross. We have Jesus. For us death is a disarmed enemy waiting to be defeated (1 Cor 15:26, 55). Death is sin’s wage, not God’s gift. It is the absence of something good. If you’re uncertain about God’s views on death, ask yourself this: when Jesus went to funerals was he more likely to (a) raise the dead, or (b) tell people that death is a gift from God?

It’s the same with poverty.

Poverty is a fact of life for many people, but I’m not going to go to Africa or South Auckland to tell people that their poverty is a gift from God. Many people in the western world have issues with the so-called prosperity gospel. Well I have a big problem with the poverty gospel that keeps us from rising up and taking the inheritance that is ours in Christ. The poverty gospel says it’s good to be poor, sick and lowly because these things keep us humble. What nonsense! True humility isn’t learned from living in the pig pen. True humility comes from a proper appreciation of the Father’s extravagant love and grace shown to undeserving us. I think even Hannah had some understanding of God’s grace in this regard, for right after she said poverty was a gift from God she said this:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. (1 Sam 2:8)

The poverty gospel is not good news

The devil wants you to think that poverty is a controversial subject, that we need a lot of balance when talking about these matters. But we don’t, we just need to read the Bible in light of the finished work of the cross (take 2 Corinthians 8:9 for starters). Poverty is a curse, not a gift. We should not accept it anymore than we accept sickness or suffering or death or disease.

If you’re one of those who thinks God gives us bad gifts to teach us good things, let me ask you this: Is there poverty in heaven? Is there death in heaven? Of course not! And if these things are not God’s will in heaven, why would we think they are his will here on earth?

God gives good gifts

We can’t blame Hannah for the things she said when she didn’t know Jesus. If Hannah had known Jesus she would’ve known that God is an extraordinary giver who gives extraordinary gifts. We know this is true because Jesus said so:

For God so loved the world that he gave his Son… (Jn 3:16)

His Son is just one of many priceless gifts that God has given us. He has also given us his Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), his kingdom (Lk 12:32), his grace (Eph 3:7), his righteousness (Rms 1:17), his justification (Rms 8:1), his authority (Mt 16:19), his wisdom (Jas 1:5), his rest (Mt 11:28), eternal life (Rms 6:23), indeed every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3). If you know Jesus you probably know that our heavenly Father is a good and generous God who loves to give and give and give:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rms 8:32)

We live after the cross, so we have no excuse for being confused about these things. God is good and everything he does is good and everything he gives is good. He never, ever gives us bad gifts and he is not the author of evil. He doesn’t act one way in heaven and another way on earth.

God doesn’t send earthquakes or hurricanes to kill people. He doesn’t make us sick to teach us stuff. He is not using terrorism to judge the West or conflict to judge the Middle East or poverty to judge the South. He already judged all of our sins at the cross.

Sin continues to have terrible consequences in this fallen world, but God’s response was to give us his Son. Jesus remains the perfect and complete remedy to poverty, injustice, corruption, greed, child abuse, human trafficking, disease and death. When the church realizes this and stops tolerating things that aren’t tolerated in heaven, the world will be radically changed.

In the second part of this series, we will look at another godly person whose distorted view of God led to one of the most misquoted scriptures in the Bible.

27 Comments on Does God Give Bad Gifts?

  1. Paul = On Fire!

  2. Susan Vivas // July 26, 2010 at 5:05 pm // Reply

    Amen!!!God is good ALL the time!! There is nothing bad about Him! Another GREAT post I was waiting on 😀 Thanks for posting. God bless you Paul!!

  3. great post….U r trully blessed….And your post inspire me….In uganda, there is scarcity of The Gospel of Grace……..

  4. I Love this…

  5. Thanks for posting this. I liiiiike!!! Be BLESSED!!!

  6. Watch that you’re not interpreting the Bible according to what your ears are itching to hear. You only have to read Revelations to understand that the time is coming when God will pour out disaster on the Earth. And He has throughout history too, if you read the Old Testament and verse in the New Testament like 2 Corinthians 7:9-11. Yes, God is a God of grace and mercy, but He is also a God of judgment, wrath and justice. He is a sovereign God, and that message needs to not be lost amongst what our ears are itching to hear.

    • I’m not sure what it was in my post that prompted you to think of end time judgment. Normally I limit comments and my responses to the topic under discussion, but to be brief, Christians need not fear the throne of judgment. 1 John 4:17 tells us we can look forward to that day “with confidence.” For the believer, God’s throne is not a throne of judgment but a throne of grace. We don’t need to fear it but we can approach it with boldness to receive grace and mercy in our time of need (Heb 4:16). Perhaps our time of need will be greatest on Judgment Day. If so, we can be confident that we will receive what God has promised – grace and mercy. I am currently working on a big series of posts to do with God’s wrath and judgment under the new covenant. I hope to start posting these in about 2 months, so stay tuned for more.

      2 Cor 7:9-11 has to do with repentance – again, not sure what that has to do with God’s good gifts unless you interpret “Godly sorrow” to imply that God hurts us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sin hurts us. We hurt us. Paul said he hurt the Corinthians in this passage. But God does not hurt us. It’s not his nature and it has never been his way. Go back a few verses and you will see Paul reassuring the Corinthians that God comforts the downcast.

      Yes God is sovereign, but He is not schizophrenic. He doesn’t give His kids good gifts one minute then bad gifts the next. I challenge you to find one scripture that shows God afflicting one of his kids with sickness or death or poverty. (If Job comes to mind, please check out part 2 of my study.)

    • You really have no understanding of the cross as I at one time. When Jesus said it was finished what did He mean? that is was partly finished or is there more judgment to pour out on mankind? “i remember your sins no more”.

  7. Connie Ashton Reed wrote to me on Facebook saying: “Dear Paul: Evil was created by God – see Isaiah 45:7 and Proverbs 16:4 (and there are other scriptures too), and in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, God tells us, “we speak of God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” God used the evil in men’s hearts (evil which He Himself created) to accomplish the crucifixion of Jesus – the “bestest” thing that ever happened for all mankind. God uses evil for good. In my limited understanding, I find that impossible to see when I look at the world around me and consider the circumstances of my own life, but God’s own words confirm this, and because God created evil, I also know that it’s part of His plan and purpose. Either God is sovereign or He’s not – if He were not in control, we would have no hope.”

    Dear Connie,

    You are combining two related issues; (i) does God create evil and (ii) does God redeem evil things for His eternally good purposes. The Bible teaches no and yes. You agree with me on the second point, so let me discuss the first with reference to Is 45:7:

    “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.”

    If this were the only verse in the Bible, I would have to agree with you. But it just doesn’t fit with what the Bible teaches elsewhere about the character of God and what Jesus revealed about the character of God. For example, have you considered Deut 32:4: “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” Or 1 Jn 1:5: “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

    Yes, God is perfectly sovereign, but evil arises from sin, and sin is the result of man’s independent choices. God could not give us freedom then deny us the right to choose the path of evil. To do the latter would negate the former. Evil is a consequence of sin and it happens only because God allows it. That’s what Isaiah is getting at. Through Isaiah, God is telling Cyrus that He is fully in control, that even disaster and darkness can only happen because He permits it. But it is incorrect to conclude from this one verse that God is the author of evil.

    We can take great comfort from scriptures such as Deut 32:4 and 1 Jn 1:5. God does no wrong. There is no shadow of darkness in him at all. He is a good God and everything He does is good and perfect. Can you imagine Jesus creating disaster? I hope not. Why would Jesus have a character that is in conflict with his Father? He doesn’t. He who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (Jn 14:9).

    • Roshan Easo // April 15, 2012 at 11:46 am // Reply

      Isaiah 47:6 may be a problem in translation. Or it is simply another point is that the New Covenant is far better than the fading glory of the Old Covenant. Maybe God knew that intimidating the Israelites to believe again that they are righteous was the best (or only) move at that time. ( I read the story of a Latino teacher during the 1980s who would inspire, challenge, woo, and sometimes even intimidate his students to become college-caliber students. It worked. And the students knew they were loved all the same!)

  8. My elderly grandfather is ~100 years old. For years he read the Bible and Christian books. He was a poor farmer who now has much family in America. He followed Christ most of his life. He even believed up until this week that he was not going to die, but rather that Jesus was going to come back and he planned to live with Him forever. Is that rightly dividing the word of truth? I think so! What hope! Jesus came to give eternal life. =) Now that’s faith!

    The problem is that he can’t read much anymore (poor eyesight) and while he can get up and come for a drink or meal or use the facilities by himself, he has finally become a bit bored and lonely. He also came down with the flu again. It’s amazing to me that he hadn’t given up until this week. Everything about that speaks of Christ’s work all of grandpa’s life.

    But he has begun to settle for coughing his last and passing away. I’m the one with him the most. Reading this blog has given a lot of Life-ammunition through the finished work of the cross to believe for an eternal life of grace. This is my attitude towards grandpa. I’m not gonna cause him to suffer in my attitude or my faith, as I continue to work out my faith and God’s unlimited grace daily forever. I’m going to continue to pray that he experiences the goodness of Jesus in the face of the unbelief that arises when we all get tired, especially those who Satan has made double-minded about the grace of God and eternal life. As far as the finished work of the cross is leading me, I am going to encourage grandpa and everyone else. Loneliness, hopelessness, hatred, unforgiveness, fear and Satan’s lies are not the will of God. Jesus Christ is THE will of God. I want Grandpa and everyone else to experience the fullness of life, as Jesus makes provision as we LOOK at HIM. If no one else looks at Him, I certainly enjoy doing so!

  9. Amen Paul, there’s no darkness concerning God (Rev 21:23-25, Jn 8:12, Jms 1:17, Jn 1:5, Jn 1:9 NASB), and His son which are one (Jn 10:30). If God agreed with darkness (also ignorance concerning Jesus), He would have never sent Jesus in the first place since He is the light of the world. He was in opposition toward it from the beginning (Gen 1:2-4). This is why Jn 1 starts very similar to Gen 1 (Jn 1:1-3). Take into account that Paul said we were once darkness but now as believers we are that same light (Eph 5:8, Col 1:12). This is why Jesus told the Pharisees they were blind cause they wouldn’t receive Jesus, the Light of the world. This is also why Jesus said they remain blind, because they claimed that by thier own strength (self effort) they could see (Jn 9:35-41). The Lord (LIGHT) was right in front of them and they couldn’t see Jesus as Messiah. The Pharisees (who knew the Law forward and backward) kept rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit because no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:6, 1 Cor 12:3). It seems the one who WAS blind could see the Light (will of God) much better, where as the self righteous Pharasis could not (Jn 9:31-38). Amen

  10. Revelation of Jesus, Light, or Enlightment concerning Jesus comes from God. Revelation is received as well and not worked for, its given as a gift (Mt 16:13-16, Eph 1:17-18, 3:2-5, 1 Cor 2:9-13). It is the Holy Spirit who teaches and sheds light on things so that we can comprehend the scriptures (Zech 4:6, Dan 10:5-11 a certain MAN, Lk 24:27, 44-45). He (the Holy Spirit) is also referred too as The Spirit Of Christ (Phil 1:19, 1 Pet 1:11). Its not Gods will to leave you in the dark he wants you in the know about Him (2 Peter 2:9, Acts 26:14-18) Amen.

  11. Paul, you said “Sin continues to have terrible consequences in this fallen world, but God’s response was to give us his Son. Jesus remains the perfect and complete remedy to poverty, injustice, corruption, greed, child abuse, human trafficking, disease and death” Could you explain what you mean by this statement concerning death. Since I don’t know of anyone yet that has not died a physical death since the cross, you need to explain, please.

  12. Michael Jenkins // December 29, 2013 at 6:00 am // Reply

    This was another great post, He has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness.

  13. One scripture that has always puzzled me and those I know is: New International Version: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Even though this scripture is in the Old Testament these are the words of God, spoken through the Prophet, we know that God does not change and is the same yesterday, today and forever. Can you give me some insight into this disturbing scripture in light of our Savior Jesus Christ.

    • Squawks 5000 // August 31, 2018 at 5:15 pm // Reply

      Here’s two notes.

      1) Darkness by definition is absence of light, so God “created” darkness by giving us the option to separate us from God. God wants us to choose him rather than create mindless robots.

      2) Disaster is likely in reference to judgment done. Even after the OT, there is one final judgment done after the Second Coming.

      The Bible is clear — God is holy, just, and loving. This verse does NOT teach that God causes people to do evil — God is too holy, too just, and too loving.

  14. Dear Paul, you said, “We should not accept it anymore than we accept sickness or suffering or death or disease.” My mother suffered intractable pain for months due to arthritis in her spine. In spite of many prayers for relief from pain and/or healing the condition deteriorated. I don’t believe God sends sickness, I agree with you on that, but my mother did nothing to give her arthritis, it wasn’t because of a choice she made. Yes, sickness is the result of a fallen world. But, when God didn’t answer the prayers, she/we had no option but to accept that was her life.

  15. Yes God gives good thing… But prosperity teaching handled with greed and listening has turned most Christians into something like the people of Isreal in the wilderness. There has to be balance, Paul said he learned how to be both when in need and in abundance. Yes God does withhold blessings at times to groom us or allow you to make a change in some areas where we need to change and adjust. If our spiritual growth and advancement is measured by level of material acquisition, then the early believers were all failures. Let’s always balance any counsel we intend to share with young Christians so as to allow thier faith to be strengthened by experience and personal dealings with the Lord.

  16. I don’t believe what you write about Hannah. God allows suffering and evil, and He is sovereign. Nothing happens without His approval. So indirectly He is the architect of both suffering and evil. There are so many scriptures that expressly state that God causes events and circumstances we think of as evil or bad. Poverty and suffering in general are tools in His hands to refine us and draw us closer to Him. So whether you say that suffering comes from God or that God allows it through His sovereign will, the end result is the same.

  17. If God only gives good gifts to His children, how do we explain the horrific deaths of people like Peter and Paul, and other Christian martyrs?

    • What’s to explain? They were murdered for their faith. God didn’t kill them.

      • Dan G Mbugua // December 22, 2021 at 2:23 am //

        But still God didn’t protect them from being beheaded! God is sovereign (not a popular term in the over-realized eschatology circles) and can choose whether or NOT ,how and when to deliver, prosper,heal etc. The famous chapter of faith (Hebrews 11) is divided into two sections, those who experienced deliverance and those who did NOT. But they are all victorious in the light of eternity. There is an aspect of the Kingdom/salvation which is NOW and another which is still in the FUTURE when we will have glorified bodies, new earth and new Jerusalem. Ignoring this will lead to grave error.

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