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Notes on message brought by John MacDiarmid at PCF on 24 January 2010.
As I write this, it is about two weeks since a devastating earthquake hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The results have been misery beyond our imaginings, such as we never wanted to see.
We would not be human if we did not ask ourselves the question – “why”? And, while we are doing it, the whole question of human suffering comes into focus. Why suffering? Why pain? Why death?
And in our attempts to make sense of everything, and to see the universe in the context of a God who loves us and cares for us, the humanists and the atheists have their questions too. Their logic goes something like this:
- You say that there is a God
- You say that God is good
- You say that God is all powerful
- But terrible things happen
- Therefore either
- God is not all-powerful
- Or God is not good
- Or there is no God
In the midst of all these questions, uncertainties and doubts we have these instructions from the Scriptures:
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3 v 15)
And the fact is that there are answers in God’s word. We do not have to be in a fog of uncertainty and doubt about the love of God in the face of suffering. True, we do not have the complete picture – we will not until we are with the Lord – but God has given us enough information to enable us to face reality with honesty and faith.
So we will deal with this by asking ourselves three questions:
- 1. Why do terrible things happen?
- 2. What is the answer?
- 3. What should our response be?
1. Why do Terrible things Happen?
In the story of Creation in the opening chapters of Genesis we see God looking at his finished work of creation and recording the verdict that it was “very good”. In other words, no conflict, no distress, no pain and no disasters. Given the “heaven on earth” portrayed by Genesis we may ask the simple question: “What went wrong?”
And the answer is very simple: sin. God told Adam that when he sinned death would come into the world. Pain, suffering, conflict and natural disasters were all born on that day as the consequences of sin unravelled on the earth. Genesis 3 shows the consequences of sin for man, woman and the earth and a terrible passage in Revelation 6 shows the ongoing effects of sin in a world that continues to reject God.
Why Haiti? We truly cannot say – but as Jesus points out in Luke 13 v 1-5 – those who are the victims of disaster are no more guilty than those of us who are spared it, and ultimately we will all face God’s judgement.
In the light of our sin, and God’s dealing with it, surely the question that should occupy us is: why does this not happen more often? We are wonderfully protected against the worst consequences of sin by God’s mercy.
2. What is the solution?
“God is Love”
This is surely the most sublime thing ever said about God. When the world was in rebellion against God He could have chosen to subject us to his unconditional wrath by consuming us with no hope of salvation. But the Bible records that He took full responsibility for sin by dealing with it at the cross, so that, for whoever believes, the consequences of sin are visited on Jesus, our representative.
We live now in days when God’s judgment is still poured out on the earth (Romans 1 “the wrath of God is being poured out…”) and God is holding back his final judgement to enable as many as possible to be saved. So final judgement is suspended…but is inevitable. (Isaiah 24) In the meantime the offer of salvation rings out across the earth.
God has taken full responsibility for the consequences of sin and calls on humanity to turn to him and be saved.
3. What should our response be?
Firstly, as believers, we are called upon to be instruments of his love and compassion. That means we do well to give to those in need and to pray for them, and, if we can, to go and to be of assistance.
Secondly, we need to recognise the root problem: the main problem on the face of the earth is the problem of sin, and can only be dealt with by the gospel.
Thirdly, we need to be prepared with answers: the problem of suffering points us to the problem of sin and the offer of salvation that is held out to all. How dare we blame God for the suffering that exists in a world that is in rebellion against him!
Finally, we need to make ourselves available to God to bring the message of reconciliation to the world in which time is running out:
“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. “ (2 Corinthians 5)