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The issue of comprehending death and suffering in terms of a loving God has once again hit the media airwaves.
Death, of course, is nothing new on this planet, and anyone old enough to understand the nature of life recognizes this.
The issue of comprehending death and suffering in terms of a loving God has once again hit the media airwaves in response to last month’s devastating tsunami that hit countries surrounding the Indian Ocean—indeed, it was a horrifying “death wave.”
With a death toll expected to exceed 170,000,1 including thousands of children, people are once again trying to come to grips with the harsh realities of life and death and the existence of a God who cares.
Recently on CNN television, former US presidents George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton were interviewed by TV host Larry King about the tsunami tragedy on his "Larry King Live" program.
Presidents Bush and Clinton were asked questions concerning their “faith” and how we should understand what happened in Asia in terms of the existence of a loving God. Statements such as “life isn’t easy” were made—and both presidents said that such tragedies strengthened their “faith” (though what this “faith” entails was not defined). But, sadly, there was no real answer for the millions of viewers.
These men, who at one time held the most powerful office in the world, did not use the Bible and its first book outlining origins to present their answer—indeed, they were “lost without Genesis” to be able to explain the meaning of death and suffering.
AiG’s cartoonist, Dan Lietha, is renowned for coming up with serious cartoon strips that can depict complex issues at a glance. Dan’s latest illustration, which he titled “Tsinami” (pictorially, and in a play on words, it reminds people in a serious way of the ultimate cause of the tsunami) truly is a picture of a thousand words, tells people the truth from Genesis concerning the origin of sin and the consequence of death.
Without taking anything at all away from the anguishing grief resulting from this latest terrible catastrophe, I believe that what happened, in an ultimate sense, really happens on a daily basis … and it’s as a consequence of an event that occurred on the saddest day in the history of the universe: when the first man Adam rebelled against the Creator thus bringing sin and death into a once perfect world.
Death is now a “normal” part of this “abnormal” world. Consider these statistics:
When a major tragedy captures global attention, there is usually much discussion in the media concerning how such things can be understood in terms of a loving God. Often, certain Christian leaders are asked for their response. Meanwhile, humanists will often claim that there can’t be a loving God because of such a horrible calamity.
But, consider the following from a “big picture” perspective:
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “
it is appointed unto men to die once but after this comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
The reason for death (as Dan’s illustration depicts) is that all humans have committed high treason against our Creator because we sinned in Adam. The Bible makes it clear in Romans 5 that what Adam did, we did, because we are his descendants—we have inherited his nature. And we all rebel against God's law, even as Adam did.
Because we have rebelled against our Creator (our sin), we forfeited our right to live. However, the loving Creator God, who is infinite in knowledge, wisdom and power, knowing what would happen, had worked out a plan of salvation for mankind even before Adam sinned. (At the same time, we don’t wish to infer that God was reacting or responding to a contingency outside of His decree. God did not decree anything because he saw it as future. Rather by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, did from all eternity, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.)
God provided a plan of salvation so that the penalty for sin could be paid (with a perfect Man—God becoming man, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ) by suffering death and bearing the guilt of our sin (dying on the Cross) and conquering death (by His Resurrection), so that the free gift of salvation would be available. “
By grace you are saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The point is: we deserve death. In fact, we deserve much more than that—we deserve to suffer in hell forever. However, our Creator is such a loving God (knowing that we would sin) that He planned to step into history to pay for our sin and provide a way for us to be able to be reconciled to God and to live forever with Him.
The Bible clearly explains why we die. Every death should be a reminder that we are sinners in need of receiving the free gift of salvation that our Creator, Jesus Christ, has paid for.
The Bible also explains why there are catastrophes. Romans 8:19-23 tells us “the whole creation groans” because of sin.
Colossians 1:15-17 makes it clear that Jesus Christ holds everything together by the power of His Word. We only exist now because of God’s sustaining power. Originally, before sin, God held everything together perfectly. There couldn’t have been any catastrophes, or death or suffering (i.e., there couldn’t have been millions of years of death before Adam sinned as incorrectly interpreted by many people concerning the fossil record). However, because of sin and the curse (Genesis 3:14-19) God has obviously withdrawn some of that sustaining power so that nothing in the universe is held together perfectly anymore. Everything is groaning under the curse.
Actually, we live in a world where we experience a taste of what life is like without God. When we sinned in Adam, we in essence said we wanted life without God. If God gave us what we really “asked for,” we wouldn’t exist. But God had to judge sin. He judged it by bringing death (which the Bible describes as an “enemy”) into the world, and now God no longer sustains everything in a perfect way.
Tragedies like the tsunami should remind everyone that ultimately we are the cause of such tragedies because we're sinners. At the same time, we should be reminded that God is a loving God in that He has provided a gift of salvation because “
it is not His will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Also, because there is a loving God to whom we are accountable, we need to be obedient to His Word, and His Word clearly instructs us to have compassion on people and to help in any way we are able, sharing their burden (Psalm 72:13, Proverbs 14:21 and 28:27, Matthew 25:34-38, Galatians 6:2 and James 2:15-17). After all, humans (collectively, through our sin in Adam) are responsible ultimately for the tragedy, and thus we need to be involved in dealing with the consequences.
The more difficult aspect to understand, however, concerns the death of seemingly “innocent” children and also the terrible grief suffered by a person who lost a child (or a spouse, etc.).
First, no one is truly “innocent”—“
all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and thus all are condemned to death, from the point of conception.
Second, even though the loss of any person is, of course, very sad indeed, and we all grieve, our anger nonetheless should be directed at sin, not at the Creator God who created a perfect world without death at the beginning. (He created everything “
very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Third, although some say it’s not “right” or it’s “unfair” that young children should die in such a tragedy, only the Christian who believes in an infinite God (and thus accepts that God is the absolute authority) can even define such terms as “right” and “wrong” … or “good” and “bad” … or what’s “fair” and “unfair.” Those who do not accept this absolute authority have no basis to make moral judgments concerning fair, right/wrong or good/bad. Jesus answered an inquirer, “
Why are you asking me about what is good? There is only One who is good [namely, God]” (Matthew 19:17).
Fourth, some say that if God is all-powerful, He should have stopped this calamity. Even though God could have (and no doubt has done so at times probably without us even realizing His protection for us), we have to remember that we no longer live in a perfect world. Until the final Consummation, people will continue to die. Calamitous events will still occur. And as things continue to run down in this world, perhaps they will be even more catastrophic in the future. As an infinitely powerful Creator, God must have morally good reasons for allowing things to continue at the present time. We can't always see those reasons. As He says, “
My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
Fifth, some ask about a young child (or even an adult) who didn't hear the gospel and thus had no opportunity to receive the free gift of salvation. First of all, the Bible makes it clear that the knowledge of God is written on our hearts and revealed in the creation around us and that therefore all are without excuse, if they do not seek Him (Romans 1:18-20). The Bible also states that if we seek God, we will find Him, when we search with all our heart (Jeremiah 29:13). God knows the heart of every individual and what they did with the truth they did have in their conscience and in creation.
Concerning young children (including babies or even children still in the womb), we don't have all the answers. We are finite beings. But as Abraham said, “
Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25). Christians can rest, however, even though we can grieve terribly, in the knowledge that our infinite, loving Creator God who paid for our salvation will do right. There will be no injustice.
For those who aren’t Christians, why should death be such an issue any way? From an atheistic perspective, when a person dies, that is the end of that person’s existence. They won’t even know they existed—they won’t know anything of life and the pleasures or sufferings of this world. Not only this, but if the universe eventually runs down, and all life ceases (as evolutionists propose), no one will know that anyone existed—no matter what famous contribution they made to humanity. And such people usually support the abortion death of about 3,500 human beings every day in the US alone. Why does this human death have no meaning to them and yet they might complain about human death from a tsunami? What an inconsistent position and hopeless situation.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is crucial to even begin to deal with death and suffering, because the origin of death itself is outlined in the first chapters of this book. One is certainly “lost without Genesis” to explain life and death.
Also, for those who do not believe the Bible is God’s Word and thus reject that they are sinners in need of salvation, they are truly “lost without Genesis”—they have rejected the free gift of salvation and will be forever separated from God in a place called Hell. And remember, a loving God is not responsible for people going to Hell. All have sinned and thus in that sense all of us have sentenced ourselves to Hell. Our loving God, though, stepped into history to provide a free gift to save us from Hell.
The Bible is the only true history book that gives us the true meaning of all aspects of reality.
Even though Christians don’t have all the answers (we can’t be expected to, for we are finite beings), only Christianity explains the origin of death and provides the true understanding of the meaning of life. Only Christianity provides a sure hope of eternal life with our Creator. The Bible is the only true history book that gives us the true meaning of all aspects of reality. Only the Bible gives us the “big picture” of history that enables us to understand this seemingly contradictory world of life and death and to trust our loving God amidst the suffering and anguish of the present existence.
Yes, the December 26th tsunami was a terrible “death wave.” But the most horrifying “death wave” occurred about 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden, and it has been wreaking havoc across the earth ever since. Praise God He will one day end the “death wave” when death itself will be cast into the lake of fire.
One last final point to ponder. Many people will ignorantly continue to consider the event of the tsunami and ask “Why?” Asking the “Why” question dictates our response to events and our reaction to the Creator. Those who ignorantly ask, “Why does a loving God allow this to happen?” shake their feeble human fist at an all powerful and righteous Creator and continue to walk toward an eternal judgment.
There is, however, a “Why?” question that is worth asking … one that brings an appropriate response. Why does a truly holy and all-powerful God extend His saving grace to someone as undeserving as me? This question provokes a response of a lifetime of humble and eternally rewarding worship of a great and mercifully loving God.
Editor's note: Our friends at Gospel Literature Services (GLS), in cooperation with mission agencies ABWE and BMM, are involved in the tsunami relief effort. For information, including how to make a donation, go to www.glsonline.org. AiG will be supplying copies of its witnessing booklet Why Is There Death & Suffering? to GLS and will participate with GLS in other ways in their relief efforts.