by Alan Morrison
(Director, Diakrisis International)
A question in the minds of many at the present time is this: Why has God let this Tsunami disaster happen? The answer to this is not really very complicated for a believer to comprehend – a believer who has the Big Picture. However, for an unbeliever to accept the answer is understandably rather more complicated.
Providentially, there is a starting point for an explanation about the reality of God and His universe when any disaster happens. Far from proving the non-existence of God, such tragedies demonstrate the primary importance and necessity of faith. Without faith, tragedies make us stuck in the disaster. Without faith, we see only the disaster and not the cosmic background to that disaster.
Allow me to elaborate. I do not believe in a Darwinian universe. I believe in a God of creation. And the world which God created was one in which it was possible for there to be a Fall. It was possible for the first human beings to sin. He created it like that. He could have created it so that such things were not possible, but He didn’t. You may not like that, but that’s the way it is. As far as I am concerned, because He is essentially a good God, there must be a good reason for everything that He does.
In the Bible, the idea of “perfect” is when something has been completed, finished, accomplished. That is what lies behind the Hebrew and Greek words predominantly used in Scripture. For example, in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect”, the Hebrew word used is tamim, which Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon states as meaning “complete, whole, entire, sound”. Similarly, the Greek word teleios is defined in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as “Completion, perfection, final step, supreme stage, crown, goal, maturity, result, conclusion, end, cessation. Adverbially the meaning is ‘finally, fully, totally, unceasingly’.” Vines Expository Dictionary defines it as “signifies having reached its end (telos), finished, complete, perfect. It is used (I) of persons, (a) primarily of physical development, then, with ethical import, fully grown, mature”. This is why the word teteleiomenon (from teleioo) is used to refer to believers in heaven as “just men made perfect” (Heb.12:23). The idea is of completion. Consequently, when the Lord Jesus cried out “It is finished!” on the Cross, that is the English translation of just one Greek word, “tetelestai”, (from teleo). His work had been perfected, accomplished, finished, brought to its end. Perfection in Scripture means accomplished, matured, finished, having come to its proper conclusion.
The universe was certainly created “very good” but it was not the finished product. It had not yet reached its highest state of perfection – of maturity, of completion. It had not yet reached its proper conclusion. For that state will be one in which there can no longer be any possibility of a fall, and that state is reserved for the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet.3:13). Then we will be able to say that the universe is truly perfect, completed, matured.
Thus, the Lord was not taken by surprise when things went wrong. It was His choice to create a world in which such things could happen. He chose to create a world which would involve the long dark way of sin and death in order to achieve something very different, in order to teach many lessons along the way, if we will receive them. If you stick with me here and read through this little piece to the end you will see why.
We have to understand that there is a development in this universe which will ultimately issue in a sinless, perfect world. But it is not an overnight job. The world was originally created “very good”, but it was not created in the highest state of perfection. If it had been created in the highest state of perfection there would have been no place for sin or death.
Even many believers fail to realise that the original creation of the universe was never designed to be the finished product in God’s handiwork. As the Scriptures clearly show, the ultimate purpose in the creative mind of God has always been a completely reconstituted universe in which suffering and evil no longer has any place (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Acts of the Apostles 3:20-21; Gospel of Matthew 19:28; Peter’s Second Letter 3:13; Book of Revelation 21:1-5). The universe as it is currently constituted – with all its upheavals and cataclysms – is but a vast stepping stone on the pathway to a New Heavens and a New Earth which will be effected by the Lord after He has come again to judge the world.
In this way, we can see that everything that happens within the universe is – in some sense, in the inscrutable will of God – making a contribution to that ultimate purpose. Understanding this fact will bring a completely new perspective to suffering and evil in this present world, which must be seen as provisional, transient and under the controlling hand of God.
In the meantime, “the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Letter to the Romans 8:22). One can almost hear the tectonic plates grinding together when one reads that verse [see http://geology.er.usgs.gov/eastern/plates.html ]. What is really significant is that the universe is pictured here by the apostle as likened to the gestation period of a foetus. Being born is never a pleasant business. Much pain and a modicum of gore characterise birth. (I speak from experience as a hands-on husband present and active at the births of all my children. In the case of our last child, I was actually the midwife as it happened rather quickly in the night in the middle of nowhere!). Birthing a new life is not at all pleasant, until it has successfully been birthed – as both the neonate and the mother will report. And as this universe moves towards the time when it will finally be perfected after the return of Christ, there is much pain and suffering to be experienced on every level along the way. They are birth pains – not for nine months but for a vast, undisclosed period of time.
It seems extraordinary that so many tomes have been written on the “Theodicy” – the apparent conundrum of the existence of evil in a world created by a good God. There is really nothing terribly complicated or philosophically obtuse about the existence of evil in the universe. Rational, created beings, when left to their own devices in a state of freewill, have a capacity to doubt their creatureship and God’s creatorship. Evil always begins with a denial of the Creator by the created, who then raise themselves up to divine status. It has always been that way and it always will be – until God brings this present age to a stunningly dramatic close.
All the evil, pain and suffering in this universe is the bi-product of the original breaking of God’s law. Having turned against their Creator in the first place, it is as if the Lord had said: “Okay then. Since you have chosen Satan as your father in place of Me, you will now discover the significance of your actions. He can be your god (cf. 2 Cor.4:4) and when your world has inevitably become a chaotic madhouse and I have to intervene in judgement you will eventually realise the foolishness of your actions”.
Ultimately, this is all leading up to the learning of an indispensable lesson. I have written a much longer article on this whole subject, which I urge you to read [“Tested by Fire”, on the Diakrisis website]. Here is a quote from the closing paragraph of that article:
“The great cosmic lesson of time and history is this: the purging of pride from the creature. Fallen angels and human beings combined have raised themselves up above the jurisdiction of their Creator God, and the rest of human history has been designed to show the foolishness of that pride and the overwhelming truth that without God, the creature is both helpless and hopeless. This is the great universal work of Divinely ordained discipline. It is the ultimate purpose of the whole span of history in this universe, with its sin, suffering and healing salvation. When the great Day of the Lord comes, and the entire universe is transformed into what it might have been in the first creation, the voice of the Lord will thunder out through every nook and cranny of the cosmos, reminding every rational creature of that irrefutable reality: “Without Me you can do nothing!” (Gospel of John 15:5).
This is really what all suffering and hardship is about. To drive us to come to God and discover the truth about our Saviour Christ and that without Him we are helpless – not just in this life but for all time. The whole of the life of the cosmos is like an immense, unfolding flower which is struggling to reveal itself and teach us its lessons, if we will only watch and listen.
The presence of death in this world, even on a huge scale, teaches us about the degradation of sin, the awful consequences of the breaking of the law of God and the need for salvation. It is this breaking of God’s law which originally brought death into the world. And die we will. Make no mistake about it. For that is the only thing of which we can truly be certain in this life.
The manner or timing of our death is not really important. A few of us will die in our sleep without a struggle, whereas the vast majority will die in a horrible manner – through accident or disease. The important thing is whether or not we are prepared for our deaths; and the only way to prepare for our deaths is to become a disciple of Christ, who is God incarnate, for that is the way to everlasting life.
Many people have so emphatically put their feet under the table of this present world that they are almost entirely ignorant of the fact that this mortal life is but a brief, preparatory prelude to the eternal life which is to come. They are stuck in a myopic view of life and only see their present messy existences and the grief which comes their way. By all means grieve but do not become overwhelmed by that or any other thing. Keep an eye on the Big Picture. Know where all this is heading. It is all knowable. It is all comprehensible, if we are open to receive what God has revealed to us. This is why I say that far from proving the non-existence of God, such tragedies demonstrate the primary importance and necessity of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Letter to the Hebrews 11:1). Faith makes things substantial which do not yet have a wholly present reality. Thus, if we have faith in the eventual recreation of this universe (which is plainly revealed to us in the Bible), even though we may be sitting on a dung heap which reeks of the stench of death, we will still be able to realise that all that we see around us is merely a brief staging post on the way to the future as the universe – in birth-pains as a result of the Fall of man – groans, heaves and stumbles from one cataclysm to the next. (In fact, the Bible shows that they will increase in intensity and occurrence as the time of the end draws closer).
Yes, it is truly awful when cataclysms happen. My heart goes out with many tears to those who are the victims – usually those who are already poor and struggling to scratch an existence. Please realise that nothing written above is meant to diminish anyone’s personal tragic experience. As human beings and above all as Christians we must do all that we can to help those who suffer and are in need. But when the dust has settled and the grieving lessened, we must come to terms with the Big Picture which arcs all the way from the Fall to the Final Trumpet, passing through the earth-shattering events of the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is these events which alone provide the substance for our faith.
Without Him, we can do nothing; neither can we understand anything. Above all, without faith in Him and in all that He is going to do when He returns, we will fail to see the Big Picture which is so necessary if we want to focus our minds on the things which are presently unseen and hoped for.
May God give us the strength to achieve this.
© Alan Morrison, Diakrisis International, 2005