A recent post at Desiring God Ministries caught my attention. The post by Marshall Segal dealt with how God causes pain. I layer that post over the recent shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas to ask the following questions. Did God bring this shooting about because members of First Baptist were in sin? Was this God’s effort to get people to repent and return to him? Was Devin Patrick Kelly serving the Lord when he went on a massacre? This post illustrates how Neo-Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse and why atheism can be healthier in many situations.
“No notice is taken of a little evil, but when it increases it strikes the eye.”
“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”
I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.
11 I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.
Amos 4:10-11 KJV
Let’s remember all the lives lost at First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The last sermon at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A week later many of the people you see in this video would be killed.
I have written a number of articles here at The Wondering Eagle about mass shootings, and also the problem of evil. Its a topic that I have struggled with considerably. Recently Desiring God had an article about how God wounds, and how pain is intentionally caused. The title of the article is called, “God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us.” I put it aside and wanted to write about it. Then the Sutherland Springs massacre happened in Texas. A gunman, Deven Patrick Kelly, in a domestic dispute who was discharged from the military for issues of violence it appears went on a shooting rampage inside a Baptist church. At least 26 souls were killed in the massacre. This took my breath away but I also have to say that we have had so many shootings that I feel numb. They are becoming almost as American as apple pie, which scares me. So I have been processing this for a few days and trying to wrap my mind around all this. Its hard for me to contemplate these kinds of topics, as they are very difficult and dark.
The article from Desiring God I find deeply disturbing. It’s message is that God causes pain and that God wounds. In light of the massacre inside a Baptist church in Texas I want to ask the question. Did God bring about the massacre at First Baptist Church? And then I want to spend some time thinking about the question that came to mind after I read this article. If God causes pain and wounds in light of events like Sutherland Springs, that only leads to the next question; is God the source of evil? Before I continue let me write about the author Marshall Segal. Marshall is the editor and writer at Desiring God. He is one of their most prolific writers on the website. He has authored “Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy In Singleness and Dating.” He is married to his wife and they live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also a graduate of Wake Forest University which in the spirit of John Piper, to have a degree from such a prestigious university and then to be working for John Piper is an example of a wasted life. Who knows maybe one day he can say, “Look Lord my Desiring God articles!” Perhaps I am being too harsh, so with that I will start to analyze the post below. My comments below are going to be in red.
Often the love we need most is the love we want least. The love feels so harsh, so blunt, so unpleasant in the moment that we often don’t even recognize it as love.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)
Sometimes the Lord’s love for us feels like the opposite of love, but that’s only because we can’t see everything he sees. Behind the real pain he allows is an even more real love for those for whom he sent his Son (John 3:16).
The world would never call any kind of pain “love.” The world simply does not have categories for God doing whatever necessary to draw us to himself — his strength, his righteousness, his help, his peace. But his love for us explodes the world’s small categories and far surpasses its weak expectations.
So this kind of love is a special kind of love? A love so amazing, a love so strong, so harsh and so blunt that it showed up in the form of Devin Patrick Kelley inside a Sutherland Springa church? If that is true then I would not call that “pain” love. But God will do whatever it takes to draw us close to him according to Marshall Segal. A child molestation or a 767 flying into a skyscraper. Or in this example a gunman going into a church on a Sunday. Yes it will be painful but God loves people and think of what can come out of it in the end.
How God Wounds
We see this kind of unexpected and painful love in Amos. God has done everything reasonable to awaken his people to their sin and to rescue them from their rebellion against him, but they simply will not relent.
He withheld food to make them hungry: “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6). God was willing to watch them hunger if that’s what it took for them to hunger for him, again.
He stopped the rain to make them thirsty: “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:7–8). God was willing to let them thirst if that’s what it took for them to thirst for righteousness.
He corrupted the fields to ruin their harvest: “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:9). God was willing to compromise his people’s livelihood if that’s what it took for them to look to him for all they needed.
Most devastating of all, he even killed their loved ones:One last time from Amos: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me. . . . I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:10–11). God was willing even to see them die if that’s what it took for them to truly live.
This is painful love in the end and it happens in many ways. According to Marshall Seagal were the attenders and members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in sin and rebelling? Has God done all that he could do and it was time to send in Devin Patrick Kelly? After all according to what Marshall is saying God withholds food to make people experience hunger. Does that explain some of the famines in Africa? He also withheld rain and people thirsted and toyed with their basic needs. God also corrupted the field and had the locusts devour the crops and fields. Is that what happened in the Midwest in the Great Depression? Is that why the Dust Bowl happened in places like Oklahoma and elsewhere? But most damning is that you had loved ones killed. Does God start out with a person in a house and does he move up to genocide and an annihilation of a Baptist Church in Texas? I am just asking questions in all of this. So all of that above is a sign of love, from a famine to an environmental catastrophe to killing to more?
He withheld food, “yet you did not return to me.” He withheld water, “yet you did not return to me.” He ruined the fields, “yet you did not return to me.” He even killed their loved ones, “yet you did not return to me.” God’s purpose was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice mainly as punishment, but as invitation. In every ounce of suffering, he calls to his people, Come back to me.
So every act of suffering is orchestrated by God? God’s purpose at First Baptist Church in the end is reconciliation and healing. You just have the gunman standing in the way but is the way to look at it is to think in the broader context? Was God calling the people of First Baptist Church back to them? Devan Patrick Kelly is God showing compassion to First Baptist Church in Texas?
We see this kind of love throughout the prophets. God is willing to withhold anything to bring his people home to himself. Again and again, the pain he allows is designed to lead us to comfort and hope and healing, not despair.
Is the pain allowed or is it orchestrated? Did God pull the strings and arrange for every act for people to come back? So all pain is designed for each person I imagine? Being gunned down in a Baptist church is God at work? Being decapitated by ISIL in the Middle East is God at work?
He allows us to suffer so that we would turn and receive compassion: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). The pain may feel like God’s fierce anger in the moment, but it actually serves to reveal his warm compassion toward us. Joel writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).
So that we would return and be healed: “The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22). The Lord does take away. The Lord does strike. The Lord will tear. All that he may heal. Hosea sings, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1)
So that we would return and be redeemed: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). When we return to the Lord, we don’t meet resistance or reluctance. This Father runs to receive his prodigal (Luke 15:20). We finally find redemption.
So that we would return and find rest: “Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15). When we suffer, enduring disappointment or rejection, wrestling with disease or disability, losing someone we loved, we may want rest more than anything — rest from the pain, from the questions, from the doubt, from the anxieties. Tragically, many of us run away from God to try and find rest, when the suffering is designed to lead us into real rest with him. God hangs the same banner over every trial: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).
So that we would return and rejoice: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11). Satan prowls like a lion, waiting to devour the vulnerable. And because he preys on the weak and vulnerable, he often focuses on those who are suffering. The devil wants your life to be all sorrow and no joy, but God means for you to find deeper, more durable joy in your sorrow and suffering (2 Corinthians 6:10). When we begin to see all that God does for us through adversity, we not only learn to tolerate our weaknesses and afflictions, we “boast all the more gladly” in them (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So that we would return and have God: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). In the end, the sweetest gift God gives us when he wounds us is that he gives us more of himself. When we return to God, we get God (1 Peter 3:18). He is not some unnamed supernatural postman delivering what we need, and then being forgotten behind his gifts. He is the first and greatest gift he gives to any of us. And he is worth whatever we must lose or suffer to have him.
For me as I read this section by Marshall Segal this all has some impressive proof texting. This is about a weaving of verses to support your narrative. This I see is nothing but picking and choosing and along the way boxing yourself in a corner, which is a problem in the Neo-Calvinist camp.
But If You Will Not Return
God pleads for his people to return — to come home — but the passage in Amos 4 ends ominously. The Lord himself warns Israel,
“Thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! (Amos 4:12–13)
Whether we return to God or not when we’re wounded, we will meet him one day. The suffering we experience now is designed to bring us to him as a precious son or daughter. But if we refuse, we will meet him as an enemy, and our suffering will be far worse forever. An eternity apart from him, and against him, will make years of pain and heartache look strangely light and momentary by comparison.
Don’t be afraid to feel the pain in suffering, and to grieve the pain, but let it lead you to God, not away from him. He is wounding you with love, and pleading with you to run to him.
How do you define meeting God? If I am not into Neo-Calvinism but Marshall is, am I an enemy of God? So all suffering is from God..all suffering? From cancer, to brain tumors, to strokes, to terrorist attacks, rapes, child molestation, to massacres are all from God to get people to return to him? So the suffering in Sutherland Springs is minor as compared to the damnation in hell. The family at First Baptist that lost 8 people just need to keep that in perspective. According to how Marshall closes out his post I guess we are just supposed submit and embrace the pain. I would guess that to ask questions and say, “why?” would be sinful and rebelling. Either way with how this piece ends at Desiring God and reflecting on this issue I think Marshall Segal is in the wrong religion. His beliefs on God I think would be more in line with Sunni Islam than historic Christianity. Marshall should be bowing toward Mecca. When Marshall was writing this he should have been practicing Ashura.
Is God the Source of Evil?
I read what Marshall Segal wrote and as I was going through the article I had one thought that kept coming up in my mind. That one thought is the following. Is God the source of evil? And after reading this article and seeing what Marshall says the conclusion I came to is that in Neo-Calvinism God is the source of evil. Quite simply he has to be! After all if God causes floods, famines, murders, and more then he is the author of evil. There is no way around this issue, as I have thought about. What this also leaves to ask is the following. Is God the author of sin also? Why would a God author evil and not author. Actually let me rephrase that is it really sin in the end if God is the source of evil. Take the Sutherland Springs massacre, in the end if I take Marshall Segal’s logic then Devin Patrick Kelly was going God’s will. Going in that Baptist Church with an AR-15 and shooting at those 50 people he was worshiping his creator. Devin Patrick Kelly was the one who showed faith in the Lord, especially since God causes pain and suffering. In the end if you are going to be into Neo-Calvinist theology then you would have to accept acts of evil as acts of faith. After all in the end the person committing the act of evil is just doing what God wants him to do in his sovereignty.
Marshall Segal Illustrates How Neo-Calvinism Makes the Problem of Evil Worse
I felt sick as I read Marshall Segals’ article. Like I said above I put it aside to write about but I had so many topics I was juggling. Then the First Baptist Church shootings happened and I pulled out this article and took what Marshall Segal said and laid it over the shootings in Texas. I felt sick as I considered the possibilities. And you know what this also illustrates? This shows how Neo-Calvinist theology redefines sin, and flips things around. What would be sin to a regular Christian is not. In the end Marshall Seagal illustrated a point that I frequently make at The Wondering Eagle and that claim is this point. Neo-Calvinism/Reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. I wrote about his is greater detail than I do here. You can read that in “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Make the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.” The other point as well is that in this frame of mind that Marshall states there is really no push back. No challenging and asking hard questions or disagreeing. Even in the book of Job, Job asked hard questions and said things that sometimes upset the Lord. But what Marshall is writing in this post I think is more in line with Suni Islam, than historic Christianity.
When Atheism can Reveal More Compassion and Love
This brings me to this final section of this post. If God is this much of a monster then in the end atheism would be a far healthier place and more compassionate, loving and kind. This faith system that Marshall Segal explains is devoid of any love and compassion. Its ultimately cruel in that it magnifies pain and suffering and makes the problem of evil worse. However, it also leaves me to ask this question. Why believe in God? Why believe in the God Marshal Segal believes in? Is there hope? Is there joy? Is there faith? Is there the promise of a loving, comforting God? No…I just do not see it. That leaves me to state that I think in this frame of mind atheism can actually be better than Christianity if his is the path one has to take. In atheism there is no God and no faith system that would teach people to do what Marshall is saying. There is no deity that is advocating pain and suffering to make people “better.” This is just something that I do not see. This post is a criticism of Neo-Calvinist faith system. If you read this and are from Texas, I am using the situation to explain a key, systematic flaw in Neo-Calvinist theology. My heart is with you guys in Texas and I hope you find healing and peace in the course of time. I don’t have answers on these kinds of situations. That said, know that I love you!