Thursday, March 9, 2017

Natural Evil and Suffering

This was a private letter written to a friend with little/no background in the Bible a little over a year ago.


Hey [Friend],

[Brief personal greeting]...

From the amount of time it took me to respond, you probably thought I forgot when in reality I’ve been thinking about my response almost daily and have even worked on a number of drafts.

At the end of the day, I don’t think there will be a satisfactory answer from a theist to a non-theist on the problem of natural evils in the world. If I didn’t believe in God, I don’t think the following response would hold much weight. So in me sharing this, I hope to simply offer my humble and limited perspective on a heavy issue that Christians themselves can often disagree on. I think there is a level of mystery here as to why God allows bad things to happen in the natural world.

To start, I believe, based on the Bibles teaching, that God is the greatest good in the universe and that knowing him is the very best thing that can happen in our lives. Everything else, including temporary physical health, wealth and prosperity is secondary to knowing the God of the Bible, revealed in Jesus. Orthodox Christian belief teaches that when sin (sin is best defined as broken relationships. A broken relationship with God will lead to broken relationships with people) entered into the world it caused death. Humanities first sin was the desire to be God and have ultimate knowledge apart from him. This caused the breakdown in which you noted and understood between humans: lying, cheating, stealing, murder, etc. When humanity freely chose to break relationship with God by ‘doing there own thing’ (aka sinning), it separated them from the source of all life, God. Humanity, separated from the source of life is destined to die a physical and spiritual death. This forms the basis of Christian belief.

The paragraph above explains a Christians understanding of how death originally entered into the perfect world God created and why people do bad things to other people. The harder question to tackle is how a human’s decision to break relationship with God (by desiring to be God) caused a rift in the natural world. Christians believe that prior to the moment humans chose to sin, tornados earthquakes, disease and every other natural disaster we can think of didn’t exist. If they did happen to exist, they wouldn’t have caused human death. After humans sinned, they did. I’ve never fully understood how people sinning could cause a rift in the natural world- I even asked my professor about this in Bible College and he didn’t give me a definitive answer (if I remember correctly). I’ve taken comfort in the fact that even the Bible itself asks these questions. In the chapters of Job (pronounced Jobe), Job asks God the ‘why’ question.  Paraphrased “Why did you allow all these terrible things to occur to me, my family to be killed, my health+wealth to be taken away?” God responds in the final chapters of that section with “where were you when I created the universe…,” before going into a monologue asking Job rhetorical questions. God asks Job if Job understands his total plans for the universe and for humanity from the beginning to end. Job responds with a “no” essentially and the end of this story concludes with God restoring (and doubling) Job’s health+wealth+prosperity.

So back to the conversation on natural evil. I believe that God has given every human a free will. We can freely choose to obey or disobey what he has asked us to do. I still disobey what he asks of me on a daily basis, but His grace carries me still. In Romans chapter 8 verse 20, it says that “For the creation [everything] was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from bondage to decay…” The “one who subjected it,” is God and his desire is for his creation to know him and to choose him. If God is the ultimate good and knowing him is the very best thing that could ever happen to us, him allowing terrible things to occur in this world could be a grace. I’ve heard a Christian philosopher say (paraphrased), “How can God get the attention of free creatures with free wills to freely chose him?” From my own experience and the experience of others, death can be one of those things that makes us think about how we are living today. “What is life all about, why am I here,” and other similar questions that aren’t often asked when skies are blue. The great thinker C.S. Lewis said in his book ‘The Problem of Pain’ “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I believe God can use and allow horrific natural and moral tragedies to bring free creatures into freely choosing him, the greatest good for our lives. The Bible says that, “God is love and no darkness [evil] exists in him (1 John 1:5).” Because God is love, he would never force anyone to chose him against their will. But him knowing that he is the greatest good for humanity will allow things that we consider terrible, to get our attention and to turn our focus on him, the author of life.

Recently I was diagnosed with a pea sized cyst in my brain [3/9/17 Note: Upon removal, it was later discovered that this “cyst” was a cancerous tumor]. It’s still in there and I’m still going through the process of healing from the initial surgery to reduce all the pressure this thing caused. We don’t fully know how it got there, but it is most likely parasite related from something I ate in another country. Based on my understanding of the Bible, I believe that God could have ‘sent’ this to me, like he sent the plagues to the Egyptians that enslaved the Hebrew people; or he allowed it to happen when I ate something undercooked. Personally I cringe when people say things like “those Haitians worshipped the devil, that’s why god sent them an earthquake.” I think that’s ignorant. They don’t actually know that God sent anything. Maybe we just live in a world fractured by sin and that country happened to be over a fault line when plates shifted? I do know that after this horrible event (and others like it) many people freely turned to the God of the Bible. The Bible says that “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.” For those in relationship with the Creator of the Universe, we have hope that he will bring good out of dark situations. What Christians do know, is that God loves the broken world literally to death, as we see when Christ died on the Cross. Jesus being God entered into a broken world with moral/natural evil and experienced all these pains like we do today. The Christians greatest hope is based on Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death, which I believe there is good historical evidence for, and that one day Christ will return and completely renew this broken world (This is found in Revelation chapter 21). My prayer is that through my life or death, God would use me as a messenger for the hope that is only found in him, the greatest good for the world.

At this point, I’ve written you a small essay and I apologize for its length. There was more I would like to talk about such as real faith and what Jesus did for the world, but I will save that for another day. I’m thankful to know your family and want you to know if you ever have questions about Christianity, I would do my best to honestly answer them.

All the best,