It was with morbid fascination we watched aircraft plough into NY’s Twin Towers. An outrageous act – how could anyone justify it in the name of god? It was appalling – 3000 dead – and it changed our world. 9/11 has new meaning – terrorism, aircraft security, air marshals, the war on terror. There are lingering fears about high-rise buildings.
Where was God?
Boxing Day 2004 – 237,000 dead or missing, in the aftermath of the Tsunami. Other disasters seem to pale into insignificance with those sort of numbers. 237,000 dead. That means in family terms 1-2 million immediately affected by lost loved ones. 5 million people displaced. How many people would be affected by your death – immediate family, extended family, family you don’t talk to very often, friends, colleagues, neighbours, workers in shops and stores you visit, school friends… how big a list. 237,000 dead – if you know 100 people that’s over 23 million affected in some measure by those deaths. 200 family and friends? Almost 50 million affected long term. And apart from human suffering – a $50 billion clean-up bill, 10-20 years to fix the disaster – psychological trauma, lost businesses and livelihoods, lost networks.
And in-between 2001 and now or 2004 and now – count the disasters. Just this year… earthquake and tsunami in Japan, earthquake in …, mudslide in … floods and cyclones in Queensland, NSW and Victoria,
Letter to the Editor
This bloke wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald in 2004, in the aftermath of the Tsunami.
As the scale of the tsunami tragedy unfolds I wonder just how all the religious people among us are going to explain it to themselves and to people like me. When I hear that 300 Sri Lankans were swept away to their deaths while praying in church I think I can be excused for being somewhat cynical about God’s benevolence. Yet the natural reaction of the faithful after an “act of God” is to flock back to church to praise Him.”
Clearly he is not alone in his thoughts or opinions – and I would say in response… fair question!
Is God proved dead?
Humanists and atheists tell us God’s not around. These events – these disasters are simply “Mother Nature” at her worst, or maybe part of the effects of global warming. It’s an opportunity to show how powerful we are, to make the world a better place. The environmentalists blame humans for it. Some Muslims have called it Allah’s act of vengeance – a judgement against man for ignoring the true and only god. Some Christians have done the same – they just mean a different God. Hindu’s call it the world’s Karma – it was meant to be. Buddhists say something similar. Truth is most religions have nothing to say – certainly no meaningful answers. And neither do the atheists or the environmentalists – the reasons they give are pathetic excuses by a world that simply doesn’t know why. In fact – they are the very opposite of the truth.
Is God proven dead by the disaster? Where is God?
It’s a reasonable question – God’s existence, goodness and power? Each fresh disaster brings heated debate! People are afraid – the sheer scale of these disasters is overwhelming. It is devastation on a grand scale, in some case amongst some of the poorest nations on earth. In a country like Australia, the resources we can bring to bear on a disaster are astronomical. The $50 billion clean-up for the Boxing Day Tsunami – in Australia we would basically say “so what”! Yes – it’s a little painful – we’ve just seen the introduction of the disaster recovery levy – we all get to pay a little extra in tax. But – we have that capacity. We can find 50,000,000 dollars. And if it was more, or happened more than once – we could do it again. But in a 3rd world country, or simply a poorer country – the numbers are basically incomprehensible.
And it shows the weakness of religion and atheism – both of which offer meaningless sayings and platitudes, or are simply reduced to helpless silence.
It’s shocking because there’s no sense to the destruction. Terrorism has a rhyme and reason and someone to blame. Natural disasters wreak havoc and destruction with no logic in who lives and dies. Christian, Muslim, child, adult, poor, rich, innocent and guilty – dead! No one to blame except maybe poor old “Mother Nature”.
If God exists, what’s he doing?
If he’s in charge why would he do such a cruel, undiscriminating thing? Isn’t he a God of love? And if he’s not in charge of nature, then what good is he? Does he look on helpless, sad but unable to intervene? Is he simply weak? Is he a tyrant punishing whoever he feels like punishing? Does he simply not care?
‘god’ Is Dead
Actually disasters do prove that god is dead!
Disasters should wipe away any pretence that the god the world believes in exists at all. The real God of the universe has been forgotten and in his place there is a vague, general religious feeling. We have domesticated and trivialised the true God. We have diluted his character and purpose with false religions, and even with false Christianity. We have turned Jesus’ life, death and resurrection into a sideshow – a child in a manger, a movie star – but mostly just an expletive – a common, foul mouthed, swear word.
And we think we‘re invincible.
In our country, we are well off. We are generally safe. War is relatively unknown to us in Australia. We take great offense when our soldiers travel overseas to fight and worse to die. It’s quite easy for us to think we’re the masters of the world. To us natural disasters are unique, strange – a natural disaster is almost an insult. The world is not meant to be like this; God is kind, God is safe and inactive. Disaster should only occur far away and not too big, where we do not have to explain or respond and so that our short attention span can allow us to forget what the world is really like. And even when it happens here in Australia, to us – well it’s an opportunity to band together, to demonstrate to the world what it means to be an Australian – and we should be proud as a country that we can and do help each other out – mateship is alive. But we do that rather than face the truth that disasters should bring us face-to-face with.
If you want reality – look to the Bible – and to experience. The theme of the Bible is that we are out step with the world because we are out of step with God. The Bible never considers the world to be safe and secure. From the Biblical flood (Noah and the Ark) onward – the whole assumption of Biblical faith is that we live in a fractured, dangerous world. We will frequently experience drought, flood, famine, earthquake, disease and pestilence. The normal relationship between man and nature is one of exploitation and pain.
The god of the world has no answers.
The God of the universe does.
Misunderstanding and Forgetting
My grandmothers both died a few years ago.
I read a story a few years back about four-year-old girl who died by choking on a pebble.
A few months ago a policeman was killed in the line of duty.
Just the other day another Australian soldier was killed in Afghanistan.
Every day we are reminded that death stalks us. But here’s the thing – why are the deaths of 237,000 people worse than the death of my grandmother, or a little girl, or a cop, or a soldier? Does the death of one person mean nothing but the death of thousands suddenly become proof that God does not exist?
The world is mistaken in thinking that a Tsunami, a flood, a cyclone or some other ‘natural’ disaster is the worst disaster to befall mankind. And mistaken too in thinking that the deaths of so many at once disproves the existence God. That argument is simply about scale – so many dying at once – God must not exist – it shocks us!
As shocking, and maybe terrifying as it is that so many can die at once – it’s really the death of individuals that matters.
And truth is – we forget so easily. We have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to disaster. How many “innocents” have died from AIDS and HIV, smallpox, plague – from starvation and famine, drought, earthquakes, crime and murder? It is not the scale we should question – it’s the very existence of death, disease, crime, pain, sin, hunger, thirst, sadness, poverty – that these exist at all – that is where our questions should be directed.
- In WWI more that 250,000 Australian men died.
- In WWII 20 million Russians – we always think of the Jews murdered – and frankly we should never forget such atrocities – but we mostly do forget the 20 million Russians. We remember Hitler… we forget Stalin!
- Saddam Hussein murdered something like 20 million.
- Pol Pot, Stalin, Idi Amin, Gaddaffi – Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South America, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya – you want disaster on a grand scale? Pick a war.
- The great flu epidemic of 1919 – 40 million people.
- The Japanese earthquake in 1923 – 140,000!
- Earthquake in China – 242,000.
- 3 million have died in the Congo wars over the last decade.
- 20 million people right now are on the verge of starvation in the Horn of Africa.
- And let’s be honest – I haven’t touched the surface in recalling the disasters that we have seen in the last 100 years, let alone the rest of history.
We ask the question but we don’t remember the disasters. Where is God?
Responding To Disaster
We Christians should probably be accused of failing to answer – many of us blindly accept God’s plan, or misunderstand it – and our answers are often less than helpful. Sometimes we raise as many questions as the world does, because we fail to answer from God’s Word. In all these disasters…
- Was God passing judgement on those people for their sins?
- Were they evil?
- Did they incur God’s wrath?
- Were they being judged for being Muslim or Hindu or for not being very good Christians – or for something else. Were they being judged for being – atheist or agnostic?
There are four things we need to understand if we are to make sense of our world.
The Sovereignty of God
Is God sovereign over all things? Is he good? Is he all-powerful? Is he a God of love? The answer is yes – yes – yes and yes! We’re not going to be able to see it clearly from the world – only from Jesus on the cross. It’s God who acted in the person of Jesus to defeat our enemies. Our world cannot explain sin let alone get rid of it. But we can. Sin is rejection of God and ignoring God and it kills us – because God is good he refuses to live with us as sinners. Yet he offeres us life in his presence for all e
As the Bible tells us
– when we were still God’s enemies, Jesus destroyed sin’s hold and the power of death by dying to pay the price and rising again.
Is God powerful? Well
… God through Jesus dealt with the two enemies we have no power over. He destroyed the hold that sin had over us and he destroyed the anguish and certainty of death. Yes God is powerful.
1 Corinthians 1:24 “… Christ [is] the power of God and the wi
sdom of God.”
Jesus is the power, the wisdom, the love and the goodness of God in action.
Psalm 25:7-9 “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD. Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.”
The connection between sin and judgement?
Some Christians say that disasters are God’s judgements against sin. And it’s tempting I suppose to try to see that sort of sense behind it – but they are tragically mistaken. There are numerous instances of the link between specific sins and judgement under the Old Testament covenant – that was the agreement between God and Israel. But Jesus says this is no longer the case.
Luke 13:1-9 “Now there were some … who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Were any of the victims of any of the disasters being judged by God for their sin or unbelief?
Yes and no!
Yes in that they have perished and have faced the judgment seat of God.
But no also – the disasters are not sent by God to destroy those who are “more evil”. We need to be very clear. Jesus is asked about some Jews killed at the Jewish altar as they were making sacrifices for their sins – so good, upright, faithful or at least religious Jewish folk. Their blood mingled with the sacrifices, contaminating the sacrifices and making them worthless. Were they worse sinners than everyone else, being judged by God? Absolutely not! Nor were the 18 who died when a tower fell on them. Specific sin and judgment are not linked directly. If you go and sin right now God will not strike you down because of that specific sin.
But – and this is the chilling part, the part the world fails to notice…
Luke 13:5 “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Zephaniah 1:14-18 “The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. Listen! … That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,… I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”
The day of God’s judgment is very real. In each disaster did the people die because of some terrible sin?
Did they die and face judgment for the way they lived and how they responded to Jesus?
Sin and judgment are directly linked. If you don’t want to face the judgment of God and perish then repent of the sinful life. However your life is taken from you – a massive “natural” disaster, terrorist attack, a car accident unnoticed by the media, dying alone and senile in a hospital bed – whether the world reels in horror at your death or simply doesn’t notice – if you die unrepentant of your sins then you lose.
God has said clearly that His wrath against sin will consume all who do not belong to Jesus. We must not water down judgement – nor minimise the day of judgement that is coming. We can take God at his word – in the great disasters it is not the scale of the disaster that is at issue, but the death of many individual – and in each disaster every-one who has died has been judged.
Revelation 20:12-13 “… I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. … each person was judged according to what he had done.”
But we also know – as sure as judgment is for all people – Jesus offers hope in the face of disaster. Disaster is meant to be a warning to those left – not that more will come or that life is fragile but that God takes life when he chooses – and he chooses who will survive. He demands our response – turn back to God, repent of our sins and live. Jesus tells a parable…
Luke 13:6-9 “Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ”‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Every day, every month, every year that we don’t die is a day, a month or a year more in which to produce fruit for God – that is to turn back from our sins and receive life at God’s hands. If we bear the fruit of repentance – if our lives are shown to be faithful in Jesus then we will not be cut but will live. We will receive all that Jesus offers – life, safety, hope, peace and freedom.
How to explain it to non-Christians?
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
In helping others see the truth we have to recognize that the vast majority of the human race will think we are fools – hopeless, blind children. You can hear it in their words… “…the natural reaction of the faithful after an “act of God” is to flock back to church to praise Him.”
When you stand up for Jesus people will think you’re a moron. When you stand up for Jesus in the face of a disaster – they will think much worse. But some will believe.
John 1:10-13 “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
The fact is they killed Jesus when he told the truth. Yet a few believed – and 2000 years on – a few still believe. Do you want to know how to explain it to non-Christians?
Tell them the truth and pray for them. We are not responsible for how people believe.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
God makes them grow.
What we must do however is live the task of faith. In Paul’s words…
Acts 20:24 “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
We who already believe must tell people the truth – that Jesus died and was raised again so that even in the face of a massive disaster we might have hope for all eternity.
And pray for them, faithfully day after day – that God by His Spirit would move them to see the truth clearly and repent of their sins.
Some will believe.