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Why does God allow suffering?
[Editor’s note: As this web article is being posted, a team of AiG staff and volunteers is engaged in relief work in Ocean Springs, Mississippi (near Biloxi) USA, a town on the Gulf Coast that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina earlier this month. Ken Ham, today’s columnist, was to have held a regional AiG seminar in Ocean Springs a few days after the hurricane struck the area; we are awaiting word from the church, First Baptist of Ocean Springs, as to when the church facility will be fully repaired and then our full conference can be rescheduled.
For the moment, this Sunday morning, AiG lecturer Dr. Tommy Mitchell will speak at First Baptist Church, and his topic will be a highly relevant one: why a loving God allows tragedies such as what has befallen Ocean Springs (such a topic can lend itself to being very evangelistic). Dr. Mitchell, as a medical doctor, will also be assisting area residents with medical needs, while others in the AiG team will be distributing much-needed supplies (e.g., several hundred toiletry packs, about 3,000 backpacks/school supplies for students who start school on Monday, etc.), passing out gospel literature, engaging in demolition work, etc. AiG supporters have contributed over $50,000 in donations for this outreach to Ocean Springs!]
As what happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. and after the massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed thousands just after Christmas, people have been responding to the deadly Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast of America with the question: “Why does God allow this?” With the huge Hurricane Rita now barreling toward the Texas coast, the question is being brought up again.
In an article written by Nancy Gibbs for the online service of Time magazine (with references to the biblical account of Noah’s Flood, God’s rainbow promise and Jesus’ calming the wind and water), the writer searched for answers to the age-old question as to how to reconcile death and suffering with the loving God of the Bible.
In reference to Noah’s Flood, she stated: “The story holds the promise of the rainbow, but that does not ward off the painful search for meaning every time man’s negotiations with the land and sea and air appear to have collapsed, as they have so often in the past year or so.”
She added that “The cataclysm of Katrina has been blamed on everything from SUV drivers to coastal developers to the Army Corps of Engineers …”
Then she moved on to quote “answers” from the religious community:
Then there is the response of those convinced they know God’s Politics and are just as intent on seeing the guilt assigned. An ultraconservative Israeli rabbi declared that Katrina was retribution for U.S. support of the Israeli pullout from Gaza. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam called Katrina judgment for the Iraq war. The Christian Civic Group of Maine noted that the hurricane struck just as New Orleans was planning a huge gay-rights festival. A Kuwaiti official said, “The Terrorist Katrina is One of the Soldiers of Allah.” There was, in other words, broad agreement in some far-reaching quarters that Katrina represented God’s punishment, just no consensus on the sin [emphasis mine].
The author added that catastrophes like this result in “a revival of the familiar question, Why God Lets This Stuff Happen.”
“The survivors often say God saved them-how many baby girls will be named Katrina?-but if he chose to save the living, did he choose to kill the lost? It is an occasion for atheists to remind believers of the flaws in the case for a benevolent God [emphasis mine], and even the most mainstream pastors acknowledge that at times like this they are pressed for answers about how a loving God lets hateful things happen. ‘Of course, this makes us doubt God’s existence,” declared the Archbishop of Canterbury after the Asian tsunami, before calling his country to deeper prayer. The search for answers is part of the natural journey of faith; it is a mystery beyond our understanding, or a part of a larger plan, or the price we pay for free will, or God’s tap on the shoulder, calling us to attention and mercy … [An evangelist] called Katrina “perhaps the worst tragedy America has known since the Civil War.” But he added, “It may be the greatest opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in this generation.”
I must admit that I often get frustrated at the church when its leaders are not seen to be giving real answers. Nancy Gibbs noted that mainstream pastors acknowledge they are pressed for answers about this issue. And then there’s the above quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury [considered the leader of the Church of England] admitting that such tragedies make us “doubt God’s existence.”
Now, I believe the major reason most of the church cannot (or does not) have logical answers to give the world is most have either given up or ignored the foundational importance of the history in Genesis chapters 1-11.
Because most Christian leaders have rejected the geology, biology, anthropology and astronomy of Genesis 1-11, accepting instead the secular beliefs concerning the past (evolution and/or millions of years), they have actually disconnected the Bible’s history from the real world.
For most Christian leaders (and consequently most Christians in general), the Bible is relegated to a book just about morals, relationships and spiritual matters. Thus most Christians try to respond to such a Katrina tragedy with comments about showing love, kindness, etc., even if we can’t understand why a loving God would allow such a terrible thing. (And, by the way, Christians should respond with acts of love and kindness as the Bible instructs-but they also need to understand the real answers to such an issue. See how AiG supporters are helping people in flood-ravaged southern Mississippi. You can also track the team as they go down to Mississippi this week.)
We have already written many articles on this website showing how the history in Genesis 1-11 is foundational to all Christian doctrine-to the rest of the Bible. This history is an account of the origin of all major aspects of life and the universe-the origin of the earth, plants, sun, moon, stars, animals, man, marriage, death, languages, nations and so on.
The Bible gives us an account of the major events of history concerning the past to enable us to understand the present.
Thus the Bible’s history connects to death, fossils, the dirt, plants, animals-to everything. It is not just a book of moral and spiritual matters, but a book of history that connects to every aspect of reality and explains what we observe in this present world.
Ultimately, because of man’s sin, the whole creation is groaning in judgment by this act of high treason committed against the God of creation (Romans 8). We have written previous articles that detail this (see 9/11 and the Real “Enemy”; News to Note, January 3, 2009; “Lost” without Genesis; Why us? The problem of evil).
Even though there are many conservative, Bible-upholding church leaders who believe the Genesis history, many of them don’t have answers because they too have been “evolutionized.”
Only those who take Genesis 1-11 as literal history can give logical, reasoned answers to what seems to be a terrible dilemma for Christians. Christian leaders will not be able to even begin to give answers until they accept Genesis 1-11 as real history (and real science) and begin reconnecting it to the real world. If they don’t, they will continue to talk only about such things as love and kindness-which is how a Christian should act-but they won’t have answers to the “Why?” questions until they accept God’s account of “how” things really happened in the first place to cause what we see now.
Even though there are many conservative, Bible-upholding church leaders who believe the Genesis history, many of them don’t have answers because they too have been “evolutionized.” Most don’t know how to answer questions about fossils, dinosaurs, and so on. This means they don’t really know how to connect the Bible to the real world. So while they may mention something about sin, if they don’t really deal with the issue the way they need to in order for the world to understand the true Christian Worldview, then an opportunity is lost.
Obviously, the author of this Time commentary herself is crying out for answers. But I really don’t believe she would understand the real answer unless she changed her thinking about the Bible.
Sadly, most people (even most in the church) have become so secularized in their thinking, that when they look at the world through secular/evolutionary “glasses” and try to understand Christians talking about a God of love, well, it just doesn’t make sense to them.
For instance, Nancy Gibbs stated:
With the deepest sympathy for those who are suffering, you still have to wonder why this debate erupts so violently every time the winds howl and hurl water out of their way; God whispers as well as shouts, and mystery comes in all sizes. On any given day in between, an innocent child somewhere is struck by lightning or disease or drowns in the soft frozen river or starves in the drought-wracked desert. Do we only wonder why God lets people die en masse but are content not to ask so long as they die quietly, one at a time? [emphasis mine] Or wonder how we are called to help only when the need is so pressing it squeezes us out of our very chairs?
Here is an important point to consider: until you understand original sin, that the account of history in Genesis is true, you won’t understand why children die as she mentioned (no one is “innocent,” as all have sinned, declares Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:12). And another point is this: what she is really acknowledging (though she didn’t say it) is that the question is not why did all these people die in this catastrophe, but why does everyone ultimately die?! That is the real question-and the answer is because we are all sinners!
I must admit, it’s hard to understand how non-Christians can be so illogical when bemoaning the death of a child and claiming that this is irreconcilable with a loving God. Ultimately the issue is a spiritual one and helps explain the lack of logic. Think about it-from a secular/naturalistic perspective, everyone will die, and then will not even know they were ever alive-so what’s the point anyway? Life is just meaningless-so why not get it over with early?
The only reason people see the death of children and such catastrophes as problems is they have a “God consciousness” as Paul tells us in Romans 1. And as I’ve said in the article “Why Us?” [linked to above], a non-Christian has to presuppose a Christian worldview to even talk about good, bad, right, wrong and so on. Without a basis in an absolute authority, one cannot ultimately insist on any absolute concerning goodness or evil.
Non-Christians can’t connect a loving God to tragedies like Hurricane Katrina because they have no understanding of Genesis 1-11 and how those chapters connect to reality. They have been so secularized in their thinking that they are looking at the issue from the wrong foundation.
Most Christians can’t connect a loving God to tragedies like Katrina because they either don’t believe Genesis 1-11 is real history (and thus don’t have a connection to the present to explain this present world) or they don’t know how to connect Genesis 1-11 to the present even if they believe it because they have become so secularized and evolutionized in their thinking. In most instances, they can’t even recognize this has happened.
Nancy Gibbs really summed up the issue (without realizing it) when she says:
There was, in other words, broad agreement in some far-reaching quarters that Katrina represented God’s punishment, just no consensus on the sin [emphasis mine].
She’s right. People need a “consensus on the sin.” The answer is the “original sin”-we are all sinners (in Adam). We are not “innocent” as she says-we are sinners. As Pastor D. James Kennedy of Florida recently said on a national USA television broadcast about the book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People: “They don’t! There aren’t any ‘good’ people!”
Until we are prepared to acknowledge we are all sinners (for we sinned in Adam) and not even deserving of the life we have, we will not understand tragedy issues. Until we are prepared to acknowledge that we (not God) are responsible for the mess of this world, we will not understand natural disasters. Until we understand that our loving God stepped into history to save us from the mess we caused, we will not understand who He is and what He has done for us in providing a means of salvation so we can live forever with Him.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.