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.