September 28, 2017 – John Stonestreet With so much devastation in the news, it’s hard not to ask God, “Why?” Here’s some help for responding to questions about natural disasters and God.
Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, a massive earthquake in Mexico. The string of natural disasters in the last few weeks has left many wondering: Where is God in the midst of all this suffering, loss of life, and destruction?
It’s a question nearly as old as time. As the Greek philosopher, Epicurus asked, Is God able to stop suffering but not willing? Then He isn’t all-good. Is He willing, but not able? Then He isn’t all-powerful. In both cases, He’s not really God.
And Voltaire, the French philosopher, famously argued in a poem that the All Saints Day Earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 made believing in an all-good, all-powerful God untenable.
Thankfully, many Christians have tackled this tough question. In fact, Colson Center Senior Fellow, J. Warner Wallace offers a few of his thoughts in an upcoming column.
First, Wallace points out that “natural disasters” aren’t always entirely, well, natural. Human freedom and planning leads to homes and cities being built in places susceptible to earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions. Sometimes corners are cut on building materials or construction in order to save money. These choices can put people in harm’s way when nature turns dangerous.
And second, calamity often reveals the very best of human character, as opportunities abound to love those in need. In the early centuries of Christianity, pagan hearts were softened toward the Gospel when Christians ran toward great plagues and disasters, rather than away. In the same way Christians today provide the bulk of relief in the wake of the recent hurricanes. These disasters are terrible, but the displays of neighborly love are beautiful.
And finally, our visceral reaction to the tragedy and suffering caused by natural disasters, far from disproving an all-powerful, all-loving God, is actually strong evidence for His existence. C. S. Lewis admitted in “Mere Christianity” that as an atheist, he thought the injustice in the world was an airtight argument against Christianity. But then he wondered: “How had I gotten this idea of just and unjust?”
His argument depended on evil and suffering being objectively bad, not just inconvenient. But if we’re merely subatomic particles, then no arrangement of those particles can be morally better or worse than any other. Our hearts cry out that this world is not the way it’s supposed to be. And atheism can only reply, “Sure it is.”
But we know better. The world is broken. It’s not functioning according to God’s original design, and Christianity places the blame on humanity’s rebellion against the Creator.
But the Christian message doesn’t end there. God assures us that He’s with us in the hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires. In Jesus Christ, He entered the world’s brokenness and joined our suffering, crying out with a very human heart as He Himself tasted death on our behalf: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The question that Jesus asked here points to the only answer to Epicurus’ question, because Jesus is the only God Who is all-good, all-loving, and knows what it means to feel the brunt of evil and suffering.
As Edward Shillito wrote in his poem, “Jesus of the Scars:”
The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.
Remember that the Suffering Savior is now the enthroned King. Suffering and death do not have the last word. Sin is a defeated foe. All will be made new again.
And so, in light of that Truth, or better yet because of the One who is Truth, we can give our best answer to the question of suffering by following the example of our Savior, and His Church throughout history, by running toward the disasters with love, with help, with grace, and with the Gospel.
In the midst of disaster, destruction, and suffering, believers have the example of Jesus Christ. He identifies with our suffering, and we can trust Him never to leave us or forsake us.