A couple weeks ago Ronnie and I were discussing people’s reactions to the recent tragedies in Japan. Funny thing how major world catastrophes always cause people to ask, “Why?” and look to God expecting a response they like, say something they want to hear.
We asked each other how we respond to people’s inquiries, what the Scriptural response is. And the basic idea with all great questions of theodicy, of why “bad” things happen to “good” or “innocent” people is relatively easy to answer: none of us is good. None of us is innocent. In a very general sense, sin exists in this world because we’re sinful. But that wasn’t the issue here. Because what about these things that are out of our hands? What about natural disasters? What about a 9.0 earthquake that hits, causes a tsunami, triggers a nuclear reactor leak, and devastates an entire civilization?
I defaulted back to Job on that one. Job demands answers from God and God’s basic response is, “What is it to you? Do you run this world or do I? Were you there at creation when I designed everything? Can you take down the greatest beast in the sea? Then what makes you think you can call me out?” It’s kind of a cop-out answer on my part, more of a, “We’ll never know why things happen the way they happen.”
Along with that, I’ve noticed many Christians default back to Romans 8:28, saying we’ll never know why things happen, but we just have to trust God when he says it all works out for the best.
Then I came across Isaiah 24 in my quiet time the other day and I was blown away. God’s answer, thousands of years before all these hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis, is very clear:
“The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)
Wow. Not only do “bad” things happen to us because of our sin, but the earth itself is affected. Isaiah goes on: “Destruction falls like rain from the heavens; the foundations of the earth shake. The earth has broken up. It has utterly collapsed; it is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunk. It trembles like a tent in a storm. It falls and will not rise again, for the guilt of its rebellion is very heavy.” (18-20)
Sin affects everything.
I feel the need to clarify what I’m saying, lest someone accuse me of blaming Japan for the earthquake. A county not far from Lubbock has had a dozen minor earthquakes recently. But this isn’t some proportional thing, like Japan’s sins were so great they earned themselves a 9.0 and Snyder was just kinda’ bad so they got a 3.8 earthquake. It’s not a sin/punishment ratio. This, all of this, is on us. All of us.
It’s crushing enough to realize how our sinful natures affect our own lives and those of our loved ones, but to think that the collective sinful nature of all humanity is so destructive we are literally tearing our world apart–that’s…I don’t know a strong enough word. Overwhelming conviction is all that comes to mind.
But here’s the good news, perhaps the only good thing that all of this really brings to light: that this is not how God designed the world. This isn’t Eden. But someday God is going to create a new earth. We know that, because the Bible says so. Because Isaiah 65 and 66 say so. Revelation 21 says so. 2 Peter 3 says so. And this is our hope, this is the thing we have to cling to. When we’re brought down to our knees with sorrow for the suffering of this world and the conviction of knowing that we and we alone are responsible for that suffering, we can rest in this hope:
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13)