On December 26, 2004 an earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a massive tsunami that hit eleven countries.  When it was all over more than 225,000 people were dead.

On August 29, 2005 hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.  The storm caused massive flooding.  When it was all over more than 1,800 lives were lost.

 In April 2005 my next door neighbor didn’t see his 2 year old girl in the driveway and tragically backed over her.

 

These events tug at our emotions and in the aftermath many questions are asked:

 

* How do we move on?

* How can we make things better?

* Where was God?

 

That last question is what I’m going to focus on.

Where was God?  If he loves us why would He allow this to happen? 

 

Charles Templeton, the former evangelist turned atheist wrote:

“A loving God” could not possibly be the author of the horrors we have been describing – horrors that continue every day, have continued since time began, and will continue as long as life exists.  It is an inconceivable tale of suffering and death, and because the tale is fact – is, in truth, the history of the world – it is obvious that there cannot be a loving God.[1]

 

We can summarize Templeton’s statement in the following steps:

 

1.  God is all-loving and all-powerful

2.  God’s creations suffer

3.  A loving God would not allow them to suffer

4.  Therefore, God does not exist.

 

Or, as some others argue:

 

1.  God is all-loving and all-powerful and controls the world

2.  Tragedies happen in the world that cause death

3.  Anyone that has all power and doesn’t stop these deaths is a murderer

4.  Therefore, God is a murderer.

 

Let’s look at the second scenario first.  We believe that point 1 is true – God is all-loving, powerful and in control of the world.  We know that point 2 is true – there is tragic death.  What about points 3 and 4?  To answer those we need to talk about murder.  Murder is wrong.  We would all agree with that, I hope.  Have you ever thought about why murder is wrong?  I think if you ask most people they would say it is wrong because, well, it is murder.  It’s just wrong.  Unfortunately, that is a circular argument.  It’s using itself to try to prove itself.  We need a better answer than that.

 

When someone murders another he is taking someone else’s life.  It’s wrong because he is unjustly taking something that doesn’t belong to him.  It’s that simple.

 

In most Christian churches suicide is also believed to be wrong.  Why?  Because it is also a case of someone taking something that doesn’t belong to him.

 

In Luke 20 we are told the story of when Jesus was asked if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar.  Jesus asked his questioners to show Him a coin and asked them whose image was on it.  They replied “Caesar’s” and Jesus told them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God those things that belong to God.  So, what belongs to God? - Those things that have His image on them.  Genesis tells us that we are all made in His image.  His image is on us.  Every human life belongs to Him.  That’s why murder is wrong.  The murderer is taking something that belongs to God, but is God a murderer?  No, He’s not taking anything that doesn’t belong to Him.  Only He can create life and only He is permitted to take it. 

 

It’s like if we had built a sandcastle on the beach.  If we tore it down no one would think there was any wrong done but if someone else kicked down our sandcastle we would object.  So points 3 and 4 turn out to be false.  God is not taking something that doesn’t belong to Him.  God is not a murderer.

 

Now, let’s go back to the first scenario.  I think we all agree on points 1 and 2.  God is all-loving and all-powerful and God’s creations often do suffer.  Is point 3 (A loving God would not allow them to suffer) a true statement?  I’m going to suggest that it isn’t.

 

I often compare God’s relationship with mankind to the parent-child relationship that we all experience.  There are times as parents that we have to allow our children to risk some pain in order that they learn.  When children are first learning to walk or ride a bike we know that at some point they’re going to fall but we allow it to happen.  This doesn’t mean we don’t love them.  We could hold their hand every moment but they would never learn anything.  Once they learn to walk or ride a bike, though, a whole new world opens up to them. 

 

Of course, comparing learning to walk or ride a bike to the suffering and death that happens in the world is a big leap but we can see that if it is at all plausible that after the suffering and death there is a good that overwhelms the bad (i.e. a greater good) then point 3 is a false statement.  A loving God can allow death and suffering to take place in this world.  If fact, we probably wouldn’t even have a meaning for joy if suffering didn’t exist.  It’s like defining wet without dry.  Do you think a fish knows what it means to be wet?  No.  Without knowing that there is a dry the fish has no standard to know what wet is.  Being wet is all they’ve been exposed to.  They don’t know that there is anything different.  You would never see a fish rubbing on skin lotion because it thinks its skin is getting dry and scaly!  We can’t really know joy if we don’t know suffering.

 

So God can allow it and still be all loving but for what purpose?  To answer that we have to understand what our purpose for being created is.

 

In Ephesians 3:14-19 we read that we are to know God’s love and be filled with Him:

 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.  [I pray] that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. [I pray that] you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth [of God’s love], and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

In 1 John 3:1-2 we read that we are His children and that He loves us:

 

Look at how great a love Or at what sort of love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is.

 

So, our purpose is to know Him to love Him and be loved by Him – to be in a loving relationship with Him as a parent is to a child.

 

The love part of that relationship is the key to why evil and suffering is allowed to exist.  A loving relationship requires freedom to choose to be involved in the loving relationship or not.  John Wesley, an 18th century Christian leader said, “if man were not free, he could not be accountable either for his thoughts, word, or actions. If he were not free, he would not be capable either of reward or punishment; he would be incapable either of virtue or vice, of being either morally good or bad.[2]

 

So, for God to be a loving, moral God He must give us the choice to be with Him or to be away from Him.  He also must give us a clear understanding of the consequences of our choice. 

 

We all experience or witness joy and suffering.  I believe this is so that we can clearly understand what the choice is that we are making.  Heaven is to be with Him.  Hell is simply to be separated from Him.  Joy is a taste of Heaven (being with Him).  Suffering is a taste of Hell (separating ourselves from Him). 

 

When the earth and humans did not exist, God had three choices:

1.  He could create nothing.

2.  He could create a world with no choice.  A world of virtual robots, absent of love.

3.  He could create this world – the one with the possibility of love.

 

 

References

 

1.  Farewell to God:  My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith, Charles Templeton, (McClelland & Stewart, 1996) pg. 201-202

2.  “On Predestination”, John Wesley, Sermon 58