Is God to Blame for Human Suffering?
An inexplicably devastating natural disaster has struck our world. At 2:46pm on Friday, March 11, 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake struck under the Pacific Ocean near Northeastern Japan. Scientists are now reporting that this quake packed so much power that it was enough to shorten Earth’s day by 1.8 microseconds. It also added an extra 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) into the planet’s wobble. GPS data has also revealed that parts of Japan were moved by as much as 13 feet as the quake shifted the underlying fault plates.
Those who have been following the media coverage of the aftermath have witnessed the heart-wrenching images and stories from the victims. Incomprehensible videos have emerged showing us the fury of nature. And, as the events are replayed on our television and computer screens, it seemed everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The largest earthquake in Japan’s history was followed by one of the nation’s worst tsunamis. And then, the sudden loss of electrical power to strategic areas of the country led one of the largest nuclear meltdowns in recent memory.
The lessons that this, and other natural disasters, seem to teach us is often the same: Human life is utterly fragile and tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
Needless to say, the broken people of Japan have been through much over the last several days. The death toll continues to climb and some experts are now predicting that in the final analysis, those who have perished will reach into the “tens of thousands.” Families have been ripped apart by unbelievable loss. Entire cities are gone forever. Fears of radiation exposure haunt the nation. Hundreds of thousands are wandering the streets in their homelessness. Fear of the future and an uncertainty of the present hold the Japanese people tightly within their grip. For millions, life will never be the same.
At times like these, it is natural to look up to the heavens and wonder: Where is God in this tragedy? And how could a loving God allow the deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children?
As often happens, some within the Body of Christ are now beginning to speculate whether the Japanese disaster is somehow related to God’s displeasure with humanity or with the Japanese people, in particular.
This week, I received a forwarded email claiming that one of Japan’s recent stances on Israel, which was considered unfavorable, could have led to the calamity.
Later in the week, I saw footage of TV entertainer, Glenn Beck, who had recently stated that the disaster in Japan could have been the act of an angry God. His solution: To have humanity follow the Ten Commandments.
It should be pointed out that throughout all of recorded history, mankind has often viewed natural disasters as judgment from the gods. History demonstrates that early civilizations perceived that it was their religious duty to placate the various gods which controlled the food harvests, the seasonal cycles, and nature in general. Much of ancient religious activity appears to be consumed with soothing the gods and keeping their explosive wrath at bay.
Even the early Israelites fell prey to this concept. Instead of obeying God and focusing on His law and precepts, many of them sacrificed to other gods to gain favor in the natural world. Some Israelites resorted to sacrificing their own children to the ancient pagan god, Molech, in an effort to avoid his demonic wrath. Suffice it to say, major natural disasters in the ancient world were viewed as the divine anger of the gods.
Given mankind’s historic propensity to view God as the source of all natural disasters, it should be no surprise that the question has arisen again. In fact, the horrific events that have transpired in Japan have, in some ways, called God’s character and motives into question in the minds of many.
So, is God to blame for the disaster in Japan? Or to state the question more directly, did God’s anger towards mankind’s sin lead to an act of Divine wrath in Japan?
We should first put to bed any discussion that would limit God’s ability. The Bible portrays Him as the omnipotent God of all nature. (Col. 1:16-17) He is in complete and total control. We can also ignore any question as to whether God has ever used natural disasters to judge mankind in the past. The scriptures clearly explain that He has. (Deut. 11:17; James 5:17; Num. 16:30-34) The Bible even predicts that God will use natural disasters to judge mankind in the future. (Romans 2:5,6; Rev. 6)
However, the question at hand is much deeper than determining whether or not God controls nature or has used it for His divine purposes in the past. Instead, our goal is to discern if God, in His wrath, is using his power over nature to selectively destroy humanity as a result of their sin in our modern era.
To get a satisfactory answer on a topic of this weight, we do well to turn to the scriptures themselves.
Our first stop should be with the words of Christ Himself. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he confronted this very topic.
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” (Luke 13:1-5 NLT)
Jesus explains in the simplest terms possible that death, even when it comes in tragic form, is not the result of excessive sin. Instead, death is inevitable and unstoppable. It comes to all. (Heb 9:27) According to Jesus, the question is not, “Why does death come?” Instead, the question is, “Am I myself ready to die and stand before God?” In classic fashion, Jesus tells his listeners to take their eyes off of the sins of others and, to instead, consider their own.
Given this scripture, is it plausible that those who seek to blame the untimely deaths caused by natural disasters upon God’s anger upon one nation’s sins misguided? Could it be that speculation over such matters is completely unwarranted, and even deceptive? Are such speculative conversations truly the best use of the Church’s time and energy? Especially given the Church’s dismal collective evangelism efforts?
Furthermore, is it really even Biblical to think that God issues forth his divine judgments upon the regenerate along with the unregenerate?
As stated, the scriptures are clear that God has a history of punishing the wicked in the Bible. In Genesis 6, He declared that mankind’s wickedness and sinfulness had provoked Him to destroy every living thing upon the face of earth with a raging flood. But the Bible carefully points out that not a drop of rain fell to the ground until “righteous” Noah and his family, were safely within the ark of safety.
This is an important concept as it openly displays God’s will and character. His refusal to pour out His wrath upon His own children is consistently woven throughout the scripture.
It appears again in Genesis 19. Here the Bible tells of God’s wrath being poured out on the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet, the raining fire and brimstone would not begin until Lot and his family had fled to safety. In the story, the angels of God commissioned with bringing destruction on the cities urge Lot to flee for the mountains. Lot begs the angels to allow him and his family to flee to a nearby city instead. The angel’s response is remarkable: “I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” (Genesis 19:21b-22 NKJV)
Friend, is there any biblical evidence to support the theological concept that God unleashes His furious wrath and judgment upon both the wicked and the righteous simultaneously? If so, where is this evidence?
Furthermore, if those who claim that the disaster in Japan was provoked by God’s furious anger at a selective people’s sin, which nation is safe? Have not all nations sinned? Have not all people groups sinned?
The Bible tells us that none who reject Christ are safe. Instead, it is full of prophecies that portend the destruction of the earth and its unregenerate inhabitants in the Book of Revelation.
The apostle Paul warned his readers of this coming judgment when he said:
But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will judge everyone according to what they have done. (Romans 2:5,6 NLT)
Note the future tense of this phrase. The day of God’s anger is coming. It is a future event. It is not here yet. The Bible warns that one day, God’s righteous wrath and fury will fall upon all those who have rejected His Son, Jesus Christ.
So if that day of wrath is reserved for the future, what about today? Is God angry at the world today? Is His wrath full to the brim?
Once again, the Bible is crystal clear on this point too. When Jesus Christ took on the punishment for mankind’s sin at the cross, He bore all of God’s judgment and wrath towards sin. The wrath that had been reserved for the ungodly was instead poured out upon Christ. All of mankind’s sins, past, present, and future, were laid upon Christ at the cross. The Bible tells us that God was satisfied with the offering of His Son in our stead. All people, regardless of their current spiritual state, now have the opportunity to be at peace with God. How? God has sought to reconcile all men through the death of His dear Son.
Again, the Apostle Paul says:
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:19 NKJV)
Friends, this is the glorious good news of the Kingdom that true followers of Christ are called to share around the world. According to the Bible, God is not angry with his creation. Instead, He is full of mercy and forgiveness towards those who do not know Him. While those who reject His loving offer of salvation no doubt hurt Him, He remains patient and kind towards them – even causing good things for them – longing for them to turn to Him as their Savior and Lord. Why? Because the Bible says that ALL of His wrath was poured out upon Jesus Christ at the cross. God’s wrath was poured upon Jesus as He suffered on our behalf. God is totally satisfied with Jesus’ sacrifice. This is the day of salvation and the age of total grace.
And while the Bible warns of a day that is coming in which God’s judgment will come upon those who have rejected Him, that day is not here yet. And regarding that day, Paul tells us that a saving faith in Jesus will deliver us from this “wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:10 NKJV)
Some believe that God is now residing in heaven in a perpetual state of anger. But the Bible assures us that God is now actively engaged in loving on the world through His Church. His goal is mankind’s repentance. And the Bible tells us that “it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance.” (Rom. 2:4) God knows men’s hearts and he has chosen to lovingly call the world to repent through his earthly Body, which is made up of true followers of Christ. The Bible says that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.” (Acts 17:30,31 NKJV)
Sadly, today many Christians do not lovingly reach out to those who do not know God. Instead, they detest them. They look down on them. They segregate themselves away from them. They argue and debate them. At the root of the problem is a sick body of modern believers that have become so detached from solid biblical teaching, and so enraptured with earthly politics, speculation, and superstition, that they have become completely irrelevant and spiritually impotent to a broken and dying world.
Today, there are Christians who would prefer to spend their time with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other attempting to solve the riddles of the age instead of obeying God’s call to evangelize their neighbor.
Today, there are Christians who would rather hear the latest speculations on how the disaster in Japan fits into Bible prophecy than in hearing how they can help a child buried under the rubble of stones from a massive earthquake.
Faith without works is dead. And dead faith is what produces declining numbers in America’s churches. Take one look around and you will see that dead faith on display in this nation.
God’s Word to the Hurting Japanese People
The message of Christianity to the broken in Japan tonight is simple.
To the Japanese mother whose heart is aching so deeply at the death of her child tonight, know this: God did not kill your child. He loved your child, and He loves you and He gave His very own son for you that you could have eternal life with Him.
To the middle-aged Japanese man who is desperately wandering the streets tonight searching for his beloved and precious wife who will never be found, know this: God did not take your wife. He laid down His life for you and your wife and is desperately searching for you tonight. I pray that you will find Him.
To the young Japanese child who is newly orphaned, completely scared, dirty, and entirely alone tonight, know this: God did not take your parents from you. But if you will let Him, he will become a Father to you because He is known as the “Father to the fatherless.”
This is the gospel.
Any concept, theology, or idea which is not rooted in love, mercy, compassion, grace, and meekness is not of God.
So, does the Bible give us any good reason as to why natural disasters like the one that struck Japan occur during the age of grace?
The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:20-22 NKJV)
The Bible tells us that the earth is groaning and laboring in pain in anticipation for its redemption. There will be more natural disasters coming. The Bible tells us that these will be a sign of Christ’s return which will herald the beginning of God’s wrath upon the earth. That day is coming. It is not here yet.
So since that day has not yet arrived, let us work while we still can, for night is coming when no man can work. (John 9:4)
For now, we are charged and commissioned with sharing the gospel with the lost, with the hurting, and with the broken.
Christian, what are you doing to help?