This past week I was watching MSNBC and every night on this news program people were discussing why God would allow the tsunami. There were Christians discussing this and atheists.
One Christian lady on the program felt that it was God’s wrath being poured out upon the victims of the tsunami. Indeed many Muslims feel that it was God’s wrath being poured out upon them as well. It was reported in the news that Indonesian Moslems were told by their religious leaders that this tsunami was the result of their sin.
They are estimating over 150,000 people were killed in the tsunami. So is this an act of God’s judgment? Atheists say this is proof that there is no God. They say no loving God would allow this. As I reflected on the different views being presented on the tsunami, I was led to John 9. This is where Jesus encountered the blind man.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (New International Version)
Certainly I am not going to infer this morning that the people of Asia hit by the tsunami were without sin, but maybe the reason God allowed the tsunami was so that His work may be displayed in their lives.
One question people ask is that if God is sovereign and all powerful, then why does he allow people to be born with deformities or suffer through great natural disasters. I believe that what happened in the Garden of Eden answers this question.
When God created the heavens and the earth, everything was perfect. God placed man over his creation on earth. God, however, gave man a choice. Why did God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden? It seems that things would have been so much better if God had not done that. God knew, however, if He was to truly be worshipped and loved, then man had to have a choice—a choice to follow Him or reject Him. So God tested Adam and Eve with the tree and as we know they failed the test.
The result of their failure was that sin came into the world. That sin not only affected mankind, but also rippled down to affect all of creation as well. This why there is violence in the animal kingdom.
This is why pollens will stir up your allergies. Or why rats and other vermin spread disease in the world. This was not God’s original intent in His creation. Consider what is said in Genesis 1:25:
25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
It was all good! Even the cockroaches were good when God first created them. When Adam and Eve, however, ate of the fruit, sin came into the world and all of creation was thrown into chaos—not only the animal kingdom, but the earth itself, even the tectonic plates.
There would have been no earthquakes if man had not eaten the fruit of the garden, but again the result of sin coming into the world at the Garden of Eden was that the whole earth was thrown into chaos.
The earthquake that caused the great tsunami in Asia is the result of the first sin in the Garden of Eden. The man being born blind in John 9 is a result of what happened in the Garden of Eden. This is why there are natural disasters, disease, and suffering in the world. Some might ask wouldn’t we better off if God just eliminated suffering in this world?
In Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Faith, he interviews Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College on the subject of God and suffering. This is what he has to say :
“We know that moral character gets formed through hardship, through overcoming obstacles, through enduring despite difficulties. Courage, for example, would be impossible in a world without pain. The apostle Paul testified to this refining quality of suffering when he wrote that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’"
If there were no suffering in the world, we probably would not see a need to turn to God. Many of us admire people like Mother Teresa, but there would have been no Mother Teresa were it not for the suffering in Calcutta. It was because of the suffering of those in Calcutta that Mother Teresa was inspired to have such compassion for those in need. Without suffering in the world there would be no compassion.
There are those who say there is no God because of the suffering inflicted upon so many innocent people. A great tidal wave brought death and destruction upon many people. But what about the tidal wave of love and generosity that is coming out of this? Is this not evidence of the love of God?
I think again of what Jesus said in John 9:3 concerning the blind man: “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
As I reflect on this I see several points worth noting about God and suffering:
1. God understands humans suffering, because He experienced it through Jesus Christ.
9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (NIV)
17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (NIV)
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. (NIV)
Because of the fact that Christ lived among us and because of the suffering He endured. He can both sympathize with us and empathize with us. This makes our God unlike the God of Islam or Buddhism. The Islamic God is a harsh deity that simply doles out judgment on the earth. The Buddhist God is an impersonal force that simply does not care about the suffering people experience in the world. Our God, however, has lived through world. Our God became a man to live and suffer with us.
Philippians 2:8 (New International Version)
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death–
even death on a cross!
Our God understands suffering and has embraced it.
2. God desires to be glorified in our suffering.
3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
New International Version (NIV)
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
You mean good can actually come out of our suffering? You mean good may actually come of this tsunami?
I think of the story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. In the 1950s Jim Elliot was at Wheaton College when he felt the call to become a missionary to Auca Indians, a stone-age tribe living in Ecuador. In January of 1956, Elliot and four companions landed their plane on a beach of the Curaray River in eastern Ecuador. They had several friendly contacts with the Auca Indian tribe that earlier killed several Shell Oil company employees.
Two days later, however, Jim Elliot and four other men fell victim to the spears of the Auca Indians. How could God be glorified in the violent death of someone who wanted to do something good is His name? Of course it was Jim Elliot once said:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The widow of Jim Elliot, Elisabeth Elliot, later went to the very tribe who killed her husband. She lived among them and shared the gospel with them and ended up winning much of the tribe to Christ. Among those converts were those who had killed her husband. Certainly God was glorified in that tragedy! Likewise, I think that God will be glorified out of this tsunami.
I think that God can use this tragedy to win many Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Indians, and Thai to Christ. God used the blindness of the man mentioned in John 9 to draw that man to Christ. Because of the man’s blindness God was able to demonstrate His power and healing in his life.
We as Christians need to remember that we have hope when we face suffering.
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
This is the same hope that many throughout Asia need to hear and embrace as we minister to those who are suffering.
3. God can bring healing to our suffering.
3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (NIV)
This man was physically healed, but more importantly he would become spiritually healed. In John 9 the Pharisees question the man who had been healed by Jesus. In the end, they threw him out of the temple.
35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
I pray that God would not only feed the people affected by the hurricane.
I pray that He would not only provide them with new homes and income, but that He would also bring spiritual healing to their lives and draw them to Jesus Christ. This is what God did for the blind man out of his suffering and this is what I believe He can do for the tsunami victims and everyone who suffers.
Maybe you haven’t been in a tsunami, but you have experienced great suffering in your life. The good news is that though you may have experienced suffering, God Himself understands your suffering because of the suffering He endured.
Corrie Ten Boom who was sent to a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews wrote: "There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still." This quote is quite powerful when you realize that she lost her sister at the Ravensbruck Concentration camp.
God can be glorified in our suffering when we trust in Him and allow Him to be Lord of our lives. God desires to bring healing to the people affected by the tsunami—physical, emotional, and most importantly, spiritual through Jesus Christ. God desires to bring healing to all of us as well in the depth of our suffering. Truly, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.