Why does a teenager go into a school with an assault rifle and begin murdering students? Why are thousands of people killed, injured, and displaced from their homes because of yet another hurricane? Why are another hundred civilians killed in a terrorist bombing that barely makes the back page of the paper?
We usually give political answers to the “why” question. Gun regulations aren’t strict enough. Global warming is making natural disasters more frequent. The Middle East is irredeemably chaotic.
But when it comes down to it, we want to know where God is amid all of this evil and destruction. Why does He let these things happen?
I usually feel the need to justify the goodness and power of God in the face of suffering in the world. It’s a big task for Christians to have to reconcile God’s character with human freedom to do evil and with the planet’s brokenness.
God crowned us in His image. He gave us freedom, which means the freedom to choose evil. God allows disaster because He lets us be what He made us to be—free. Adam and Eve were free to choose the fruit in the Garden. Judas was free to betray Jesus. People today are also free to disobey God and commit atrocities.
But what about hurricanes and floods? Cancer and AIDS? We can’t explain those by human freedom. Is God causing landslides and forest fires, or is He just allowing them to occur? Ever since Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden of Eden, another power has been at work in the world. Satan’s influence in creation brings destruction and corruption of God’s work.
Which brings up Job’s story. Here’s a man whose life is enveloped in calamity all because God decides to test Job’s faithfulness by letting Satan bring tragedy upon him. There isn’t any real reason for this test other than God proving to Satan that Job’s faith isn’t dependent on his earthly blessings. “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand’” (Job 1:12, ESV). God allows Satan to bring natural disaster and tragedy upon Job.
In spite of the death of his family and the loss of his home and property, Job ends up affirming God’s sovereignty in the midst of affliction. Job’s friends and wife tempt him throughout the story to curse God. Job easily could have been filled with righteous resentment toward God. And in the end, Job doesn’t really get an explanation for his suffering. God doesn’t say, “Job, I’ve allowed these terrible things to happen to you because…” He simply decides to praise God and stand in awe of His ways. Job knows what we hear in 1 Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known,” (1 Cor. 13:12).
When a random natural disaster takes away a home, it’s easy to become bitter. Since God is good and in ultimate control of things, resentment seems like a reasonable response when we don’t have an answer to our “why” question. But the root of these problems goes back to our corporate disobedience of God’s commands. Adam and Eve gave up their stewardship of the world to Satan when they listened to him in the garden instead of following God’s Word.
Yet, the psalmist still says, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works” (Psa. 104:31, ESV). In the end, Satan’s rule is only temporary.
Do we trust God enough to go on without knowing why? Can we trust that He is the God of Life, not the God of Destruction? Can we join Him in seeing that creation is good underneath the horrors of tragedy?
While God is permitting afflictions, He is simultaneously allowing us to affirm life. We wait with hope and with prayer for the renewal of the earth. God wants us to go on loving creation, to hold onto His goodness in spite of the wickedness and suffering that surrounds us. Perhaps instead of searching for an explanation, although there may be one, He wants us to respond with our hearts turned toward Him, a response that declares His loving commitment to us and to the world.
I don’t want to seem like this brushes aside human pain. Unbelievably terrible things occur in life. They happen right here in our day-to-day lives. A childhood neighbor of mine committed suicide just weeks before his son graduated from high school. I don’t know what that was supposed to mean or why God let it happen. But I do know that He covered that family with His providence and with the love of Christian neighbors for years to come.
As God provides for us in tragedy, He prepares a new life for His creation. Through suffering, He leads us to resurrection. We don’t know exactly where or when, but bad things are bound to happen in this fallen world. What is certain is God’s renewal of the world and of our hearts. Maybe tragedy is what God uses to show us how deeply invested He is in salvation.
Featured Image by Ben White