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Why? A Perspective on the Asian Tsunami

A single event, not man made, that yields a six-figure casualty count must happen but once in a lifetime. The first response to any disaster must always be of compassion, of prayer, and of giving to ensure as much help gets to those who need it as soon as possible.

There is, of course, a secondary reaction. It is the asking of THE question:

'How can a good God allow such a thing to happen?'

It is asked by observers and victims alike. With such an unanswered, or badly answered question do people turn from their faith, shrink further into agnosticism, or strengthen their already atheistic point of view. It's a question that has been asked from the earliest age, and the topic on which many books have been written. It is a very natural question. But it is an arrogant question, and when asking this question the nature of sin is revealed. Therefore a correct treatment of this question should lead to an opportunity to testify your own faith, to share the gospel, and to strengthen the faith of others. I'll try and demonstrate this, but first a prelude:

Four days before that earthquake rocked the sea by Indonesia on December 26th, I published two images - 199 and 200. The first was on a subject of the perfectness of creation before the fall, and the second on a topic of judgment - which used the words 'great earthquake'. I published them together as I considered them an interesting contrast, and - prudishly perhaps - I did not want image 199 to be on the front page. As the enormity of the event unfolded and as the casualty figures continued to increase I became more and more uneasy with keeping image 200 on the front page. Hence image 201 - words of comfort from Jesus rather than of judgment from Revelation.

I mention this as the three images help tell a story - even through they contrast so greatly with each other, and they (along with some others) help illustrate what I will now try and demonstrate. Consider the following:

  • God is good and perfect:
    • 'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered. 'No one is good–except God alone.' Luke 18:19.
    • He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32:4.

  • All that God made was good: (see also 199)
    • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31.

  • Mankind is very far from being good and perfect - no-one is good, we are corrupt, unclean:
    • "God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one." Psalm 53:2-3.
    • "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us away." Isaiah 64:6.
    • For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10.

  • The earth is defiled and cursed because of us:
    • The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Isaiah 24:5.
    • Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Genesis 3:17. (See also 193.)

  • We all die because of our sins, and we will all come before God to be judged (see also 200):
    • For the wages of sin is death... Romans 6:23.
    • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Anything good and perfect cannot accept imperfection, else it would no longer be good and perfect. So how does God, who is good and perfect, deal with imperfection? I only see two real options - utterly destroy that which is imperfect, or first see if what is imperfect can be made perfect. The fact that we are here means it is not the former, hence the latter must be in progress.

This then leads to one treatment for THE question: It is an arrogant question as we are imperfect, and who are we to question the goodness of God? God could have had nothing to do with us and have utterly destroyed us. But we are here. Therefore it is for us to be grateful and give thanks to Gods great mercy that we are still alive.

Now I find this approach a little cold, and it certainly does not console nor extend compassion or comfort to one who is suffering. But it does correct a basic framework of understanding for the intellectual observer: in the same way that planets go around the sun and not the earth, the concept of what is good revolves around God, not man. This then, is what I mean when the nature of sin is revealed in the asking of this question - it presumes man is greater than God, that God should serve man. Ultimately we are not qualified to even ask the question because we do not and cannot understand what goodness really is. So we should concern ourselves less with the qualities of God, and instead concern ourselves more with the state of our own relationship with Him.

Here is the Biblical support for this approach. (Note that the book of Job has a lot to say about suffering!):

  • 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.” Luke 13:2-5.

  • Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Job 38:1-2.

  • He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11. (See 95.)

  • "Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'? Isaiah 45:9.

  • The LORD said to Job: "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!"
    Then Job answered the LORD : "I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer- twice, but I will say no more."
    Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you."
    Job 40:1-14.

  • Then Job replied to the LORD : "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:1-6.

There is another treatment for THE question that I think is more compassionate and it relates to the imperfect being made perfect. As God has not chosen to utterly destroy us, he is seeking to make perfection out of imperfection. Consider this - Christianity speaks of God becoming a man to suffer and to die for the benefit of mankind. (See also 137.)

  • "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows..." Isaiah 53:4.

  • "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer..." Isaiah 53:10.

  • "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." Isaiah 53:5. (See 5.)

  • "For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:12.

  • "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again." Luke 24:7

  • From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Matthew 16:21.

  • "He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the scriptures concerning himself." Luke 24:25-27.

So here is the second treatment to THE question - ask this: Why then did God allow his own Son to suffer and die?

  • "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17. (See 128.)

This approach then has two consequences. First it leads to our own personal reunion with God - and our imperfectness being made perfect through Jesus.

  • "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Romans 10:9.

  • "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23. (See 175.)

  • "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2.

  • For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:9.

  • "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,.." Romans 5:1.

Second it leads to the understanding that God is with us in our suffering. Here then is comfort:

  • I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." Lamentations 3:19-24.

  • My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119:50.

  • Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. Psalm 57:1.

  • I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18.

  • Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live. Psalm 119:143-144.

  • Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared. Proverbs 3:25-26.

  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. (See 201).

Finally I do not presume myself to be qualified to comfort someone who is suffering, because I don't consider myself someone who has suffered anything significant. That makes me an intellectual observer with much to learn. However regarding the events in Asia; this I can do - I can pray, I can give, and - in publishing this page - make my own attempt at turning THE question on its head. As stated at the start I've presented a little of my own faith, I've shared the gospel, and I hope that I have strengthened your own faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John Bell
January 1st 2005
Irvine, California, USA.

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