Common Grace: A Not So Common Matter -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 03:1 (Winter 1994)
Article: Common Grace: A Not So Common Matter
Author: John H. Armstrong


Common Grace: A Not So Common Matter

John H. Armstrong

Recently, in a rather exciting and interesting Sunday school class designed to allow nonbelievers to voice their questions and opinions, I listened with attention to various views expressed with considerable passion. The view which kept coming up again and again was the idea that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and thus how can we honestly speak of a God who is both good and powerful? We plainly see in the Christian Scriptures that God allows (ordains is the more accurate theological term) bad things which occur in this world. Why? And if man is sinful, in fact “totally depraved” as the Reformed confessions are wont to put it, then how can we account for human kindness and human advance in a world so radically flawed and fallen?

These are not new questions. They are as old as philosophy itself, at least in a certain sense. A recent answer, offered by best-selling author Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi, is quite straightforward. Kushner (who lost a son to fatal illness) reasons that God is good, thus He can not be all powerful, or He would no longer be truly good. Kushner’s view is not new. What is new is the way he packages the thesis in an anecdotal and winsome manner in Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

The question I address is quite different from Kushner’s. I ask, “Why do good things ever happen to bad people?” In stating my question this way I am not merely being clever for the sake of provocation, but rather following the thought of Jesus in Luke 13:1–5:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!

But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

It seems to me that the people who came to our Lord that day were asking exactly the questions the class participant was asking and that Harold Kushner poses in his now famous book. In the first example in our text the soldiers of King Herod had attacked some worshipers from Galilee and killed them while they were actually offering worship to God! In the second historical illustration Jesus cites an incident in which a tower had fallen upon eighteen people, apparently innocent people passing by...

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