Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last week, you’ve seen the unprecedented destruction happening in Houston and the surrounding areas due to hurricane Harvey. Thousands and thousands of people have lost their homes in the blink of an eye and many of those people have needed rescuing from local authorities or volunteers. Families have missing loved ones. Some have even died from this. While we rejoice that the death toll isn’t any larger, we must still mourn with those who have literally lost everything they own and have worked so hard to accumulate. We won’t know until it’s all over, but Houston has likely experienced billions of dollars in damages. Harvey is a particularly cruel storm it seems. It hit the coastal cities once, stalled out on top of them, and then went back to the gulf to try again. It is currently planning its second attempt reap disaster on SE TX and Louisiana.
If you haven’t already, there’s a good chance you will hear someone either on the news or in your town make a comment to the effect of, “How can God allow something like this to happen?” If we teased that out a little bit, what they mean is, “How can an all powerful and good God allow evil to happen?” They might be willing to accept the existence of a divine being who is either all powerful or good, but not both. This is one of the age-old arguments against the existence of the Christian God. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you need to be prepared to answer this totally legitimate question.
Philosophers wax eloquent on this issue in exhaustive ways. I’m not going to survey all the ways we could approach this question, I’m just going to give one way. First of all, when people ask the question “Why doesn’t God stop all kinds of evil?” they are either genuinely confused, or more likely, they are stating a belief that God can’t exist while evil remains. Doing so reveals a massive assumption that God should work and operate in ways that make sense to human understanding. Let me skip to the chase here: it is incredibly arrogant of us to demand God give an account of why He didn’t do what we thought He should have. If you read the last few chapters of Job, God addresses this very issue. In short, he answers Job’s question of “Why did you let all this tragedy happen to me?!” by humbling Job by giving him a peek into the vast complexities of creating and maintaining the universe. Job has no response, so he simply apologizes for presuming that God should operate on his terms. Every individual is welcome to disbelieve God if they so desire, but they must, for the sake of honest argument, allow God to exist and operate on His own terms.
So now, if we are letting God explain Himself and not demanding He operate on our terms, we can let the story of the Bible answer our questions. The atheist may believe in evolution instead of Creationism, but they still have to listen to the story. When God created the universe, the earth, and all that fills it, He created everything good. When God created the premiere beings on earth – humans – He created them good also (as well as creating them in His image). To allow them to exercise their place in this world as being subject to God’s authority, God placed a forbidden tree where they lived and commanded they not eat from it. You know the story; they did eat from it and the result was a cursed decaying process on all humans and all the earth called death. What they did in disobeying God was called sin. Sin had now cursed all humans and the planet. God removed Himself from close communion with people. People became murders and thieves. The ground would only yield food if worked extremely hard. Romans 3:23 expresses what the human condition was by saying, “the wages of sin is death.”
God was faced with a problem. He could easily get rid of sin and evil, but to do so He would have to get rid of all the people. If the penalty for sin is death, then someone still has to die — but who’s death could possibly atone for all sin AND allow virtually everyone to live? The answer? God. Only God’s death could accomplish so much. So 2,000 years ago we saw that happen. Jesus, the Son of God, took the form of a man and was executed for the sins of mankind (the best news is that He came back to life 3 days later). Jesus went back to be with God the Father, but He promised to return to collect His followers and set events in motion that would result in the restoration of all things — including both people and the earth. In the meantime, He left His followers with strict instructions: Go all over the earth and tell everyone about the story of Jesus who came to solve the problem of sin and evil. If they will believe in Jesus and repent (reject) their sin, they can enjoy deliverance from eternal death.
Do you see it yet? We cry for justice and for God to stop evil, but we don’t understand what we ask. God has a plan that is far more in our best interest. Instead of killing all of us (which would be just) He killed His own Son instead so that we could live. 2 Peter 3:9 captures what is actually the mercy of a God who waits to return to crush evil: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” So why does God not stop all the evil in the world? Because He is being patient with us. He is giving the world every chance to repent and believe in Jesus. Oh, and Christians, God has given us the responsibility to take that message of the Gospel around the world so that they can have an opportunity to trust in Jesus.
So as we watch the rest of this natural disaster unfold and the many like it to follow, we must remember that “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:21-22). We must also remember that just because evil remains, it doesn’t mean God is absent or fake. It simply means that we are still living in the last days as God patiently allows us more and more time to believe in Jesus for salvation from sin. Keep this in mind though, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).
Please pray for the victims of hurricane Harvey.