People ask, “Why is there so much suffering in the world?” Big question. Here is Part One…
7 Wisdom is too high for fools [those who refuse to accept truth]; in the assembly at the gate they must not open their mouths.
Who causes natural disasters? On November 1, 1755, an earthquake hit the town of Lisbon, Portugal. It was All Saints Day and many people were in church. All the churches in the city were destroyed as well as much of the city. 10% of the population lost their lives. God was blamed; the sin of the city (slave trade) was blamed; fatalism (what will be, will be) was blamed. So, which one was it? Kirsten Sanders did a pretty good job of answering that question in her article,
Disasters Are Not God’s Punishments.
But They Can Judge Us.
Both 18th-century earthquakes and 21st-century pandemics upend optimism and fatalism.
Her answer? The judgment was not God’s punishment, but the opportunity for evaluation of our present circumstances. “In this second sense of judgment-for-revelation, natural disasters can reveal things as they really are. Real lives are lost. Survivors experience real suffering. These aren’t drills. But they also don’t prove God’s weakness, absence, or callousness. Instead, they prove the quality—or lack thereof—of people’s stewardship.” Poor building structure, lack of emergency planning, and other failures were revealed.
The biggest revelation was the folly of the Enlightenment, which was that nature and the world would only get better in light of human reason. “A tidy, positive view of the world prevailed during the Enlightenment. Philosophers in the 18th century argued that the universe was ordered according to a consistent set of rules. By observing nature and using one’s reason, they said, God’s ways could be deduced. God could thus be known through the orderly world.”
In his 1710 book Theodicy, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz argued that the world that
God created was good enough to excuse the occurrence of occasional evils;
indeed, this world we have is the “best of all possible worlds.”
This disaster blew that argument out of the water. Moreover, the preachers of the day blamed the sins of the city, comparing the disaster to Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem with this line of thinking is that unbelievers then blamed God for the disaster. They might believe that God is great, but they would never believe that God is good. Voltaire, a French historian and philosopher, rejected the optimism of the day,
As with optimism, fatalism can’t satisfy the outrage and grief we feel
when we see calamity strike the obviously innocent. Would pessimism suffice?
Such an approach to the Lisbon earthquake is where Voltaire landed. He wrote his famous
“Poem on the Lisbon Disaster” and articulated the famous three-pronged dilemma that has occupied theologians ever since: If God is good, and God is powerful, then how did this hellish thing happen?
What we forget is that we are created in God’s image with the ability to choose to follow and fellowship with Him or to walk away into darkness. When mankind sinned and death entered the world, death entered nature, too, the Great Flood being a classic example. Natural disasters occur, not because of God’s judgment, but because of the consequence of death in our world. God does not promise to save us from disaster and death, but to walk with us through them to His home. We must remember that He is all about a relationship with us. It’s what the cross was all about.
Let’s be careful to not blame God for that for which He is not responsible.
Abba, I know it grieves Your heart when Your children hurt. It grieves You even more when they blame You. May we all learn that we live with the consequences of sin. One day soon, we will be beyond pain and suffering and in the light of Your Presence. In the meantime, may we enjoy and depend upon our fellowship with You. Amen.