Did God just make me to punish me? Why did he create me in the first place? To what end? Huge, massive questions arrive every day in the inbox from you, our friends who are listening. We get questions like this email from a podcast listener in New York City. Here’s his email, and it’s a very heavy one.
“Dear Pastor John, why did God create us? I grew up in the Bible Belt. In my twenties I moved to New York City. I’ve been here for over a decade and my beliefs have been challenged here. The past couple of years, life has been hard, not only for me but for some of my closest friends. Only a few times in my life have I been mad at God. This past month I was.
“I think I know why he created us — to serve and worship him and to love others. In NYC I’ve met all sorts of people who reject God. I’ve heard things such as ‘God enjoys seeing others suffer.’ ‘God isn’t real because people suffer.’ ‘God doesn’t answer prayers.’ ‘God doesn’t talk to us.’ ‘Look at the Bible: he allowed suffering, killing, polygamy.’ ‘He is selfish and wants you all to himself.’ On and on it goes.
“In the past, I felt that even though I didn’t understand why God allowed things, I still had faith to believe in him and would try to defend him. So why did he create us? And why should I marvel at him coming to save me? He should have, shouldn’t he have? He created me. Or if he wasn’t going to save me, why did he create me at all? I have repented of my thoughts, and I do believe in him, but my faith remains shaken by these questions. Can you help me, Pastor John?”
Well, I hope I can help. Sometimes it helps just to hear God respond to criticisms of God. That’s what we’re going to do in just a minute.
This, of course, is one of the biggest questions that can possibly be asked. Why are we created? Why did he make the universe? Why did God do this? Why is there humankind? Have mercy on me as I dare, in ten minutes, to answer questions that have caused thousands of books to be written.
Perhaps the clearest answer to why we were created, why this friend in New York was created, is Isaiah 43:6–7: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” That’s probably the simplest, most straightforward sentence in the Bible in answer to the question. Then he clarifies a few verses later in Isaiah 43:21: “. . . the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”
“If you can read any of the thousand languages where the Bible is translated, you can hear the voice of God infallibly.“
Here’s the way Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:9: “. . . that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We exist to reflect, to proclaim, to display the excellencies of our redeeming creator, God.
Ultimately, God brought the universe into being and human beings into being so that God’s glory — his greatness, beauty, and worth (that’s my effort to fill out that term glory a little bit) — might be on display in the objective realities of his work (like creation), and especially as that glory is magnified in the enjoyment that his people have in knowing him and reflecting him and praising him. That’s my long answer to the question “Why are we made?”
But there seems to be more standing in the way of our friend — let’s call him our New York friend. New York sounds like a hard place. There are no easy places to stand for all that God tells us, but he seems to be in a particularly hard place. What seems to stand in the way of him affirming this biblical reality is the sort of things people have said to him about God and his world and his word.
He mentions five things, so I’m going to give a brief biblical response to each one. That’s what I meant a minute ago when I said sometimes it helps just to hear God answer criticisms about God. I’m going to let God answer these five criticisms.
No Pleasure in a Sinner’s Death
First, people have said God enjoys seeing others suffer. The Bible has two responses.
First, no he doesn’t — not the way the critic means it. Ezekiel says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). Or Lamentations 3:32–33: “But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”
Here is the Bible’s second response to the statement that God enjoys seeing others suffer. When God finally judges the world, his judgment will be perfectly just, and he will not disapprove of his justice. Whatever joy there is in his final act, it will be owing not to the sadism of a monster but to the perfect justice of one who never wronged anyone and who gave his Son to die for sinners.
God Means It for Good
Second, they say, “God isn’t real because people suffer,” or, “Look at the Bible: he allows suffering, killing, polygamy.” Actually, he not only allows it, he governs it. He’s God.
“For God to welcome you into his fellowship to enjoy him forever is not selfish; it is love.”
He is never cornered into doing or allowing anything that his wisdom and justice and mercy do not govern. Instead of saying God isn’t real because he allowed suffering and sin, we ought to say what Genesis 50:20 says: “As for you [sinners], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” I believe that is the banner over all sin in this world. God is God, not in spite of permitting sin, but because he constantly is turning sin for his wise and just and merciful purposes for those who trust him.
He Gives Good Gifts
Third, he hears people in New York saying, “God doesn’t answer prayers.” Well, this is their word against the word of Jesus. You have to choose. Who are you going to believe?
Jesus says in Matthew 7:9–11, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” In other words, a child may not get exactly what he asks for, but he will get good things because he asks, because he prays. That’s what Jesus says. If a New Yorker says otherwise, you’ve got to decide whom to believe.
The God Who Speaks
Fourth, “God doesn’t talk to us.” Answer: Yes he does. He communicates himself in nature and in Scripture with immeasurable fullness. I’ll say it again: immeasurable fullness — way beyond what we deserve or need.
“Sometimes it helps just to hear God respond to criticisms of God.”
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20)
That’s his communication through nature. Here’s 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” If you can read any of the thousand languages where the Bible is translated, you can hear the voice of God infallibly. Whether you will acknowledge that he is speaking is another matter, but he is speaking.
The Apex of Love
Fifth, these New Yorkers say, “He’s selfish and wants you all to himself.” God’s answer: No on both counts.
First, it is not selfish for God to want you for himself because he is the greatest being that exists. To welcome you into his fellowship to enjoy him forever is not selfish; it is love. It is the apex of love. He himself is the greatest gift he can give to us, and he does not hold back. He paid the price of his Son to make it possible for people to be with him.
Second, he does not keep us for himself alone. In the world to come, we will be the most social of beings. He will give us to each other for everlasting mutual love and admiration. The biblical picture of Jesus that the Bible gives us is of him holding a great banquet with all his followers seated at a table in a great company, enjoying the food and enjoying each other. He comes, and he serves us with joy and power forever. You can see that in Luke 12:35–37.
I return to the question with this biblical answer for why we were created. Ultimately, God brought the universe into being and brought us into being so that God’s glory might be on display in the objective realities of his work, and especially as that glory is magnified in the enjoyment that his people have in knowing him and reflecting him and praising him, especially for his grace.