Why does God permit tragedy?
Last week someone forwarded me a video of a pastor named Rob Bell who was interviewed by CSNBC concerning the Japan earthquake.
The interviewer opened by asking this question:
Which is true: God is all powerful and does not care about the people of Japan, or he does care about the people of Japan but He is not all powerful and not able to help?
If we examine the question, the interviewer was really proposing that when we look at tragedy (like the earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan) we see two reasons not to worship God. Either he is too weak to worship or he is just an uncompassionate ogre in the sky who doesn’t deserve my worship.
The Pastor’s answer was this: “When we shed a tear God sheds a tear.” When asked a second time he replied: “it’s a paradox.”
When I heard this interview I was both angry and sad becauset he had given the world no reason to worship God in the midst of tragedy. Soft answers like this come often, not just from Rob Bell, but from many Christian pastors I have heard interviewed, including those at the Christchurch Memorial service.
How do we give Biblical answers to tragedy so that people are led to worship God instead of rejecting him?
In such times of tragedy God has given us wonderful answers found in places like Psalm 33. In this Psalm of worship David gives us six different commands to worship. He says, sing joyfully, praise, make music, sing, play and shout for joy in worship to God. Then he tells us why we should worship like this.
One reason David gives to worship is God’s word and His work:
“For the word of the Lord is upright and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”
Notice, David puts God’s words and his work together and says they are upright and done in faithfulness. So all God’s words and works are right and are in faithfulness to his people.
God’s words and works bring about justice and righteousness, and fill the world with His steadfast love
David then gives us a wonderful result of God’s words and works: they bring about justice, righteousness and fill the world with his steadfast love.
What does that mean? It means that God has a purpose in everything He does to show the world these three things:
- His righteousness so they understand they are sinful;
- His justice so they believe sin has eternal consequences; and
- His love displayed on the cross so they might know He has provided free forgiveness of their sins.
That brings us back to the original question that so few evangelicals really want to answer.
Are earthquakes the work of God, or is He just up in heaven crying for us when Mother Nature wills another quake?
The Bible is very clear. No earthquakes or other natural disasters are attributed to Mother Nature or Satan, but many are attributed to God:
“he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him.” Luke 8:25
“He sends forth his commands to the earth…he gives snow like wool…..He scatters frost like ashes…He hurls down ice like crumbs….he makes the wind blow and the waters flow.” Psalm 147: 15-18;
“He shakes the earth out of its place and its pillars tremble.” Job 9:6
“He looks on the earth and it trembles…he touches the mountains and they smoke.” Psalm 104:32.
God is sovereign over nature. He permits tragedy for a purpose. Earthquakes and other natural disasters happen because God cursed the world in response to sin. Romans 8 tells us the world was subjected to this futility in hope and in accordance with God’s plan to save sinners. This means that although God permits suffering, we know He has purpose in it, for righteousness, justice, and to show the world his love.
Let me illustrate through an example:
Several years ago there was a newspaper story about a tragic traffic accident. An auntie was driving with her two nieces when she was hit by a drunk driver. The girls’ father, a paramedic, was minutes behind and stopped to help. When he opened the door the youngest daughter fell into his arms, and the other died on the way to the hospital.
If this man came to you for answers how would you move his heart to ever worship God? There are two choices with which we are faced:
- The first is the easy road of saying God is not involved and this happened by chance, but He is up in heaven crying for you. What this answer really means is that tragedy is random and meaningless.
- The second answer is to believe the Bible. God is never the author of evil, but He is sovereign over all things including tragedy. If He permitted tragedy to touch your life then there is purpose in it, and we have a promise that He will bring forth righteousness, justice, and love from it. So practically the Christian is able to hate the evil behind tragedy and the hurt involved in tragedy, while pointing hurting people to hope in the purposes of a Sovereign God.
I realize this is not a complete answer for such a question but it is a biblically honest answer that points people towards a God who is worthy of their worship.