Sean McDowell | October 4, 2023

Why Would God Do That? Author Interview (NEW Book!)

Some of the toughest questions people ask today are moral questions related to the character of the biblical God. Does God endorse slavery? Is God vindictive? How can a loving God send someone to hell? My friend Matthew Tingblad, a speaker for the Josh McDowell Ministry global team, has a new book out called Why Did God Do That? It's an excellent introduction to these difficult questions. Check out our interview and consider getting a copy.

MCDOWELL: Several apologetic books have been written to address the goodness of God. Why is God’s goodness so vital to defend and what makes your book unique?

TINGBLAD: In our time, most objections that I hear against Christianity boil down to a challenge against the goodness of God. As apologists, I believe our response to this challenge is just as crucial as any other issue we address. If God is not good, Christianity flips upside down. Worship would be immoral. Heaven would be hell. To be honest, I can’t think of anything more harmful to a person’s faith than to lose the belief that God is truly good.

The way I see it, people struggle with God’s goodness in two ways—either because of pain and suffering in our world, or by how God is misunderstood in the Bible. Most books I see are written on the first of those challenges. But my book focuses on the latter by showing how God is good in the hard passages of Scripture which seem to say otherwise. I have seen a few other books cover the issue, but it’s surprisingly scarce, and most of them focus only on the Old Testament, or they are constantly on the defensive showing how God is “not all that bad,” rather than affirming how God is truly good.

MCDOWELL: What do you think is the most common mistake people make when they wrestle with the difficult passages of the Bible?

TINGBLAD: Several misunderstandings come to mind. But perhaps the biggest mistake of them all comes from a mentality that we get to decide who God is for us. When people are challenged with difficult passages of the Bible, we often hear, “I can’t imagine a God who would do that,” “That disgusts me,” “I don’t accept a God like that,” or “My idea of God is different.” All of these reactions, as easy as they are to sympathize with, assume that our preference for God determines whether we ought to believe and trust in him. But if we are addressing Bible difficulties, then we are working with the God of the Bible, and the God of the Bible does not swap out with our own created version of him. God created us; we do not create God.

To be clear, the last thing I want to do is leave people with, “That’s just how God is. Deal with it.” I truly believe we can and should make sense of God's goodness. But as Christians, we do not approach the topic in a healthy, reasonable way if we think God would let himself be shaped to our own liking.

MCDOWELL: We hear stories of judgment in the Bible when God destroys cities and people. How do these stories teach us about God's goodness?

TINGBLAD: Deep down, we all know that judgment is not a bad thing. Our world constantly demands proper judgment on evil. But when people look at stories of judgment in the Bible, we often feel that God’s judgment is too severe. I would argue that we typically think this way because we misunderstand what it means for God to be holy, which cripples our understanding of God’s judgment against sin. God’s holiness is a very good thing, but it puts us in a bad spot if we ignore his mercy.

Speaking of which most of these stories of God’s judgment include details about God’s mercy, patience, faithfulness, righteousness, and other attributes we naturally understand to be good. It's no surprise, then, that God does not take pleasure in judgment, as it says in Ezekiel 33:11. He desires that we would instead seek his mercy.

MCDOWELL: One of the hardest topics in the Bible is hell. What do you think is one of the biggest misunderstandings about that place?

TINGBLAD: Although I believe that the traditional view of hell (eternal conscious punishment) is the most faithful to Scripture, people misunderstand what it’s truly about. We often imagine a fiery underground torture chamber, like what we see in medieval paintings. But the part that makes hell hell, as I argue from Scripture in the book, is not what’s happening there, but where hell is located. The Bible repeatedly speaks of hell as being outside the city of God. Hell is banishment! It is so horrible, even being likened to fire, because of how it separates us from a good God. From this perspective, we find that hell is the ultimate end of what people chose here on Earth. It’s still a punishment, but it’s the kind of punishment where God gives people over to their self-destructive desires, similar to Romans 1:24. Again, God does not delight in judgment, but he will be righteous while honoring our decisions to be with or without him.

MCDOWELL: I expect some critics would say that you're forcing a positive spin on difficult stories and teachings of the Bible. How would you respond to this?

TINGBLAD: I have wrestled with this somewhat because I have seen the same mistake in the opposite direction. Sometimes an atheist or skeptic will spin out negative interpretations of even the most positive stories of God. So for the sake of Biblical faithfulness, I’m constantly using my best tools of theology from my seminary training at Talbot and working very hard to avoid misinterpreting Scripture.

Even still, all of us come to the table with our biases. However, the Bible tells us plainly, over and over again, that God is good. So when I try to defend God’s goodness, I am going with the natural outlook of the Bible, not against it. I’m giving the benefit of the doubt, trying to show that the Bible is consistent with itself when it gives the encouraging report that God is good. If any stretch is made, it is a stretch in a natural direction that is honest with Scripture as a whole. Plus, when we understand that God’s ways are higher than ours, as it says in Isaiah 55:9, we should be able to have an allowance for when some explanations still don’t make perfect sense. We don't know everything, but we can know enough to trust God where challenges remain.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell, TikTok, Instagram, and his blog: