The Asian tsunami, Cyclone Katrina, London bombings, Bali (again) and the Pakistan earthquake are a lot of disasters and death to pack into 12 months. One might be tempted to ask: Has God deserted our world? Even believers struggle with an adequate answer to this question, especially when disaster or tragedy strikes them personally. And if He has our best interest at heart, why, then, does He allow such events to occur?
First note, God didn't create evil. He created grapes—humankind made them into alcohol. God created a little babe, which evil turned into Hitler. We need to realise that we ourselves are the cause of much of the suffering and disasters in the world:
- We are destitute because we spend more than we earn.
- We are sick because we eat unhealthful foods and live unhealthy lives.
- We experience cancer because we poison the atmosphere, dump toxic waste into the ocean, and sunbake for hours half-naked.
All religions accept there are forces of good and forces of evil, which are in conflict. Christians take the Bible's view, which explains that there are two opposing forces, namely those of evil, represented by Satan, and those of good, led by God. This conflict the Bible describes as a war that began in heaven, resulting in Satan being cast out to earth (Revelation 12:7, 9).
The Bible makes two points clear about this:
First, God desires good for humankind: “I have ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). This was ultimately demonstrated through the life and death of Jesus on earth, He healed the sick and gave His life to provide salvation to sinners (see John 3:16).
Second, Satan is intent upon creating evil and harming humankind. This is made plain in the book of Job where Satan actually points to God as the cause of evil, causing Job's wife to ask, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
What kind of God—one with the power to end evil yet doesn't—would ask us to love Him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) yet still heap tragedy and death upon us? And, if He is so powerful and compassionate, why then does He allow the enemy to prosper? God knew this question would arise. The answer is in the story of Job, a historical person, recorded in the Bible.
Job's story is a microcosm of what all humankind experiences. The book of Job shows that other intelligent life exists in the universe besides the enemy, Satan, “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?'” (Job 1:6).
These angels had not all rebelled against God, just Satan. It is before them that Satan asks God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9), insinuating that Job served not from love or reverence but from selfish motives. After all, he goes on, “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (verse10). Then Satan throws down the gauntlet, challenging God, destroy “everything he has, and he will surely curse you” (1:11), which he repeats in 2:5. God allowed Satan to “trouble” Job, but not kill him (1:12; 2:6).
Job remained faithful, despite the natural and human disasters that befell him. The question is, having proved Job's faithfulness, why didn't God there and then obliterate Satan in front of the angels?
If He had, it would have created two more problems. First, the original accusations would have gained legitimacy and, second, the angels along with other created beings would have then served God from self-preservation.
It's clear that the issue of what God can, should and does do goes beyond our earth. God stood accused before the universe and He will prove the adversary wrong in a manner that will satisfy the entire universe, not just humanity. The Bible suggests earth is a spectacle or theatre to other created beings in the universe. For the good of both humankind and the universe, God must let evil run its course, then all creation will see the results of rebellion contrasted with the goodness of God.
A parent, knowing the ultimate good it will do, will, of necessity, subject a sick child to some very unpleasant treatment. Poor Job didn't understand the cosmic issues that revolved around him. We are fortunate in that we have at least this much insight.
Is God aware of the difficulties we face here on earth? Indeed, He is. In fact, Jesus assures us that God notes the fate of even an insignificant sparrow (Matthew 10:29). But His awareness goes beyond a mere knowledge; He feels for us when we hurt.
When Jesus saw people suffer, the Bible says He wept (John 11:33, 35). But beyond that, God promised to be with those who suffer. When disaster strikes, He says, “Do not fear, for I am with you ... for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). In our deepest moments of despair, He is not far away. When Mary, Jesus' mother, wept at the tomb thinking He had gone forever, He was, in fact, standing just behind her, out of sight (John 20:15, 16). He was there when she turned toward Him.
What can we can take from the disasters and suffering that befall us, individually and as a society? The world's evils provide indisputable evidence that Satan is evil and we should place blame where it belongs. God has revealed enough in His Word to help us understand this, as well as His loving and long-suffering character. And it is He who is ultimately in control.