See now that I myself am He!This was already brewing, and now recent events have forced the topic to the forefront of my mind. When a man has a heart attack, when a child miscarries, when a bridge falls with dozens of people on it, is God responsible?
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deut 32:39)
I think the only scriptural or intellectually honest answer is a qualified yes. You don’t have to believe God fatalistically determines our deaths (and everything else) to see that He is at least passively responsible for them.
Jesus said not even a sparrow falls without His Father’s notice, so surely the death of one made in His image is noticed. But if God knows that our death is at hand, surely He must make a choice – to permit it or not. God does not have to cause our deaths to be responsible for them.
If you watched my baby girl drown in the bathtub, you would not be the cause of her death. Your inaction, though, would make you partly responsible. The legal term would probably be criminal negligence: you didn’t do it, but you didn’t stop it.
In the same way, God becomes responsible for human death. He does not have to cause them; choosing not to act is choosing death. This doesn’t remove moral culpability from human agents when they actively cause deaths, but it does mean that God has a role to play.
Now, I’m not saying God is “criminal” or even wrong to allow death. 1) Everyone dies at some point. 2) We die because of sin. 3) We deserve to die long before we actually do. So it doesn’t make God “bad” to be responsible for our deaths; it just makes Him God.
Now some will say that God hates death. That’s right! In fact, He went to great lengths to conquer death. But the fact that He didn’t introduce death to humanity does not mean that, now that it’s here, He doesn’t control it.
For God to not be in any way responsible for death, at least one of two things would have to be true: Either God would have to not know a death was coming (and a lot of people today take this route), or God would have to be incapable of stopping it. But God knows the end from the beginning, and He can do all things, so God must choose not to act. And now we have very nearly restated the classic “problem of evil.”
God, for His own purposes and in His wisdom, chooses to permit death. Every sparrow that falls and every child that dies does so under the watchful eye of a wise and loving God who chooses to allow it. Personally, I feel better knowing the power of life and death is in His hands.
We know that God is loving and wise and good and just. We also know that He (in the person of Jesus) knows first hand what it means to watch someone you love die. He even knows what it is like to die. He has joined us in our pain. Who better to have the final say in the matter of life and death?
It does not protect God’s honor to suggest that He does not control death; it only makes Him out to be less than God.