God's primary way of ruling and acting on our planet is through people. When God wants something done in the world, God calls people to do it. When the poor are going to be fed, God doesn't rain down manna from heaven; God sends people. When the sick are going to be cared for, God sends people. When justice is going to be sought, God sends people to fight for it. When others are discouraged and in need of love, God sends people to offer encouragement and care. (Chapter 1).
To reconcile “God's goodness with the suffering we experience in our world” requires that we understand “three foundational ideas”, which Hamilton draws from the narrative of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-3:
- “God Places Humanity in Charge of Earth”;
- “To Be Human Is to Be Free”, including the observation, “the tree represents the freedom that God gives human beings to choose God's way or another way. God deemed the ability to choose to be an essential part of human existence”; and
- Humans have “A Predisposition to Stray from God's Path”, where he explains, for example:
I have to decide each day, often many times in a day, whether I will follow God's way or the path of the serpent. And when I choose the serpent's path inevitably some part of God's paradise in my life is lost.
Adam and Eve's story is our story.
But if we mean that everything happens according to God's plan, and that God wills everything that happens, this cannot be true. When we say that it is true, then I think we violate the third commandment (prohibiting the misuse of God's name) and misrepresent the nature and character of God. When non-Christians hear Christians say things like "everything happens for a reason" and "it must have been the will of God," they are left with an impression of God that is hardly loving and just, but instead a picture of God who wills evil and suffering in the world. (chapter 1)
Rather, what the Bible tells us is, “When we place our sorrows and suffering in God’s hands, we find God redeems the suffering and uses it for our good. … God takes the pain and the grief and the wounds of our past, and transforms them into objects of beauty.” (chapter 4)
Another suggestion which I found intriguing was his discussion of natural disasters, which he also ties back to the three foundations. After explaining that forces such as earthquakes and monsoons result from the same "processes [which] allow our planet to support life. When human begins get caught in these giant forces of nature, there is death and devastation, but the forces themselves are essential to life on our planet", he notes:
It is when these forces strike areas in which many live in poverty that they bring the greatest devastation. Did God bring such terrible devastation upon poor people? Or was it the distribution of wealth in these places that leads to terrible devastation?
[...]As human beings we are meant to hear the call of God to provide food and clothing and shelter for those in need. We wrap our arms around those who survive and help them put the pieces of their lives back together again.[...]Much of the suffering in our world is because God's people have yet to hear or answer God's call to go and to be God's hands and voice to help children in need.
The chapters are:
- Why Do the Innocent Suffer?
- Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered?
- Why Can't I See God's Will for My Life?
- Why God's Love Prevails
You can view the Google preview here, or Find in a Library.
Adam Hamilton also taught a 4-part sermon series of the same title, which is available here. You can watch the series trailer below:
More resources on Providence and God’s Will:
- Roger Olson, "Arminianism and Providence".
Books and articles:
- Robert Picirilli, “Toward a Non-Deterministic Theology of Divine Providence”, in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry; and
- Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? – while I haven’t read this one yet, it is highly recommended by Roger Olson (here, for example, where he calls it “the best guess at why these things [such as the Holocaust] happen in God’s world”).