Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When Disaster Strikes

Earthquake. Hurricane. Mudslide. Tsunami. Tornado. Flood. Blizzard. Fire. Disease. Car Accident. Cancer. Murder. War. Stillborn. Death. Pain. Blood. Loss. Pain. Destruction. Devistation. Death. Pain. Blood. Loss. Devistation. Death.

What is happening in our world? What is God's purpose and plan in such disasters?

There is a problem with pain. The problem is always coupled with the question, "If God is a God of love why does He let bad things happen?" There are three options to believe when tragedy occurs:

1- God is not loving so He sends pain to either punish or torture us.
2- God is loving but not all-powerful so He cannot stop bad things from happening.
3- God is loving so He causes and uses bad things to make us more loveable.

Whenever you talk about God there must always be a remembrance of who He is. He is not like us. We cannot fully understand nor explain Him. Whatever we think of Him He is more. All definitions of God cannot help but minimize Him. It is part of His nature to be unexplainable.

As humans we want to explain everything. We want answers. We want to feel good, live comfortably, own nice things and never die. The reality is this: pain is everywhere. Pain is confusing. Humans raise their fits toward heaven and ask, "Why are You doing this to me?" People, who in one moment deny that God exists, will in the next moment after pain say, "God is not loving if He lets this happen." The answer to such criticism is not simple. It is not popular.

The popular answer is, "God is love. God did not cause the tragedy but He can use it for good."

There is a problem with that answer for a couple reasons. First, who then did cause the pain? Certainly not the human upon whom the pain was inflicted. They did not ask for it. They did not directly cause it. So, did Satan cause the pain? He could have, but not without God's permission. God is ultimate, not Satan. (see article 1 below) Could it be God? We are afraid to belive or ask, "Did God cause this pain?" We want to think that God could not cause the pain if He were truly loving.

Therefore, when people say that God is love they assume that love means not causing pain. Yet humans have an odd idea of love in the first place. We somehow picture love as fluffy, sappy, comfortable and self-centered. Truly, though, that mindset is quite unloving. Love is sacrifice, not self-seeking. Love is hard, not comfortable. Love is patient, not demanding. Love is mercy, not carefree. Love punishes. Love protects. Love inflicts pain to bring the better good.

For example: say a bear is near your child in a forest. You quietly warn him of the danger that is approaching. Your child sees the bear and does not obey your warning. Instead he begins to walk toward the danger. The bear starts to run toward your child. What LOVING parent would not throw the child to safety? Even if your child would be hurt by the throw, it would cause him less pain than if the bear attacked. The bear attacks you and your child is safe.

God is the same. He sees a danger in the way we are headed. Sin is chasing us. Sometimes we are chasing it. He must throw us for our own good. Even if we get hurt. Even if there is pain. Our choice to rebel against God (sin) seperated us from our perfect relationship with God. There is now a barrier. We are unlovable in our present state of sinfulness. We are imperfect! Imperfect people cannot love a perfect God in their imperfectness! God used and uses pain to make us more lovable. God uses pain to make us more like Himself. Still there was no pain great enough for humans to carry that would fix the gap in our relationship with God.

Therefore, to show the full extent of His love, God took the brunt of ultimate pain upon Himself in Jesus' death on the cross. John, a man that physically walked with Jesus, saw the miracles, spent time with the Son of God and was present when Jesus was executed explained it this way, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 4:9-10) Love is not us loving God. Love is not even God loving us. Love is God sending His Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

God is Love in the full measure of the word. He IS. He IS anything that is good. HE IS LOVE. God is not just "loving". GOD IS LOVE. None of us can claim to "be" anything in that sense. God IS love so His actions can be regarded as loving. His loving actions flow from the very Source of Love. Hince, it is impossible to BE love and not produce pain on those whom You love- in order to make them love You. No one can truly fathom that kind of Love.

Furthermore, God would be unloving if He did not first love Himself and second cause us to love Him. If God loved anything above Himself He would be guilty of idolatry and would no longer be God. If He loved us more than He loves Himself He would be human-centered and have no basis for telling us to be God-centered. God's greatest love and pleasure is Jesus (i.e. Himself) Jesus spoke of this often. In John 15 He said, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." It may seem strange to think that God loves Himself but it is also the greatest source of human comfort.

God's love for Himself is what allows us to believe in Him and go to heaven when we die. God is self-centered in this sense, for He desires that we love Him because He is worthy. And that is not wrong for God! God's greatest demonstration of love to us is His sacrifice that made it possible for us to love Him. If we belive in Him, Jesus' death for us and Jesus' resurrection from the dead we will be saved from hell. The pain experienced on earth cannot begin to compare to the eternal torment of being seperated from God forever. Those that reject God completely by stating "a loving God would not cause pain" will one day be subject to the wrath of God's judgement in hell for their disbelief of God's Son.

All pain is a flag that waves to us, "Believe in Me (God). I love you! Love Me." Pain draws us to His side for belief. He comforts, explains and reassures that the pain was not in vain. There is hope! There is a purpose! Still we groan, we wait, we long for the day when pain will be gone. Pain does not exist in the presence of God. All who believe in Jesus' death on the cross will one day be free from pain. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Revelation 21:4-5) Praise God!

" 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:18-25

God causes pain in many forms to awaken our hearts to His reality. God causes pain to make us aware of our need for His comfort. God causes pain to keep us from the ultimate pain in hell. God causes pain. He can. He will. He does. He is God. Those who believe in the pain of Jesus on the cross can be freed from eternal pain. (John 3:16-21) Those who believe in Jesus see temporary pain on earth as apart of becoming more like Jesus. (Philippians 3) Although we groan, we wait patiently for the promise of heaven. (Romans 8)

Therefore, for a Christian, pain is not to be avoided. Pain is to be embraced. "But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Romans 8:17

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
James 1:2-5

Do you see what James said? If you want wisdom you must have trials. Trials usually involve some sort of pain. Paul said that if we want to share in God's glory we must share in His suffering. Pain produces Christ-likeness. Not only does it make us more like Christ, it destoys the fear of pain and the ultimate pain- death.

"Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:14-15

Pain goes hand in hand with death. BUT, Jesus' death freed those who believe from the slavery to fear of death (and pain!). We died in Christ, were raised in Christ and now live in Him. We are as good as dead to sin. We are alive in Christ! That means we will only go through the process of death to come out on the other side more alive than ever. Therefore, what is there to worry about a little pain? There is no fear of pain or death for the one who throws all his weight on the power of the cross. We are alive as alive can get!!!

Dealing with pain is not easy, even if you are a follower of Jesus. Yet, this is not an excuse to wallow in misery or self-pity when confronted with the problem of pain. Call to God. Cry out to Him. Throw your burdens at His feet. And leave them there. Learn from pain. Remember God's promises in each trial. Use each painful situation to produce strength for the next one. Do not forget to see God's hand and acknowledge His presence. Encourage and support others through their painful times. Bless. Comfort. Mourn. Rejoice!

Please read "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis. For a taste, see the following quotes:

"His (God's) idea of goodness differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. The Divine 'goodness' differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white or black but as a perfect circle from a child's first attempt to draw a wheel." Chapter 3, page 30

"By the goodness of God we mean nowdays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we man be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves,' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don't, and since I have reason to belive, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when knidness (in the sense given above) is seperated from the other elementsof Love , it involves a certain fundemental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense." chapter 3, page 31- 33

"Love, in its own nature, demands the perfectiong of the beloved; that the mere 'kindness' which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal." Chapter 3, page 38-39

"The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word 'love', and look on things as if man were the centere of them. Man is not the centere. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. [...] To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us more lovable." Chapter 3, page 40-41

(Those are my favorites from Chapter 3!)

Please also read:
Hebrews 12
Romans 5
Psalm 103
Tsunami, Sovereignty and Mercy by John Piper
The Problem of Evil- Resources by Desiring God Ministries

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