Sunday, 17 January 2010

On Shaky Ground

The recent earthquake in Haiti was a terrible disaster which caused a lot of damage, and regrettably some of the recent comment about it on BBC Radio 4 has been rather similar.
It all Started on Wednesday's Today programme when John Humphries decided to interview a notable Anglican Archbishop about the tragedy. I was at work with the radio playing quietly in the background when Humphries threw the Archbishop the 'old chestnut' question; If there really is an all-powerful and loving God, why did he allow such death and destruction to happen? I pricked up my ears at this, turned up the volume and waited for the Archbishop to answer.
He didn't.
He waffled, manoeuvred and came out with such rarified theological vagueness that I had no idea what he was talking about.
"I'm sorry, Archbishop," Humphries said, "But I don't think I understood that, and you didn't answer the question. How could a loving God permit such a tragedy?"
Again he evaded the issue, and as the interview ended I was left shaking my head and thinking, 'If I was a non-believer, I'd walk away from that thinking that he didn't answer because he had no answer; that in the face of such suffering faith comes up empty and those who profess it are left with nothing to say.
That was bad enough, but in true 'unbiased' BBC fashion two days later Humphries replayed a clip of the Archbishop's flounderings and then wheeled out a humanist.
"Simple logic," he declared dismissively. "If God really existed, and was all-powerful and all-loving then there is no way he would have allowed this to happen. No earthly father who loved his children would build a home for them knowing it was dangerous; knowing the roof might fall in and crush them, knowing they were likely to suffer injury or death. No earthly parent would do that."
Ah, there it is. The mistake these people so often make is that they insist on building their tower of logic on a false foundation using only the bricks that happen to come in their favourite colour. And the Archbishop didn't help, because although the Bible offers clear and authoritative answers to these questions he didn't seem to know what they were. So the poor listeners were left to sift through the mess left by an expert who didn't know his subject and a fool who delicately left out the one thing that would otherwise have blown his argument to shreds.
No wonder our nation is in such spiritual darkness.
The flaw in the humanist's argument is this: God did not build a dangerous house for his children. In Genesis 1:31 we clearly see that after creating the heavens and the earth, the sea, the dry land, mankind and all of the animal kingdom, 'God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.' So when God created the world, it was perfect. The earth was a paradise, and life was a paradise. That's the way God always intended the human experience to be.
The reason the world is in the mess that it is today is because man broke it. After Adam and Eve rejected God in Genesis chapter 3 and chose to do their own thing (the Bible calls this 'sin'), God says in Genesis 3:17 "Cursed is the ground because of you..."
God begins to run down the consequences of their choice, but he does it with tears in his eyes. He's not saying 'You insignificant worms, since you've dared to disobey me I will now smite you with all these punishments'. Rather he cries, 'Children, don't you realise what you've done? Don't you know what you've brought upon yourselves?'
The Bible is very clear on this. Natural disasters, planetary distress, sickness, disease and death, accidents, misery, pain, injustice, hatred and every example of man's inhumanity to man is an inevitable outworking of man's original decision to turn his back on God.
John Humphries was asking the wrong question. If you really want to know what happened in Haiti then don't blame God. Blame the shopworker dipping into the till. Blame the feral youth assaulting the pensioner in the dark alley. Blame the businessman cheating on his wife. Blame the politician who misleads the people. Blame the persuasive speakers who use national prime-time radio to lead us ever further into spiritual darkness. Blame all who have ever lied, cheated, lusted, cursed, hated or hurt. Blame every one of us. Blame yourself.
Instead of admitting this, though, we rail at God. We shake our fists and accuse Him, we hurl our indignation into His face when all God has ever done is weep for this fallen world and the pain that fills it; pain that is a direct result of the fall of man.
But hang on, if God originally built the house safe and good but now it's dangerous, would a loving God leave His children there to suffer the consequences? Wouldn't an all-powerful God be able to step in somehow and fix it?
God did. He did the only thing that could be done to address such a grave problem. He intervened personally in the form of Jesus Christ to deal with the root cause - mankind's sin. The whole point of Christ's birth, life and death was not to start a religion but to rescue mankind from a mess that they could never fix by themselves. Just as the problem flows from a decision, God approaches every member of mankind individually (sensible if you think about it, since suffering is individual) and invites them to be a part of the answer. Yes it will take time, but when God's plan comes to fruition it will have been worth the wait. The book of Revelation tells us that on that day "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away". On that day, Isaiah tells us, "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the cub lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." Romans 8 tells us that right now "the whole creation groans and suffers together" but when that day comes "the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God's children".
Free-thinkers like our logical friend run screaming from such an answer, but if we apply the logic they're so fond of we see that in reality there is only one other option. Since the problem is sin, God must either save us from our sin or remove our ability to sin. He could do the latter by taking away our free will, by not having given us the capacity to think and choose in the first place. This would prevent us from bringing evil upon ourselves but only by reducing us from glorious creatures of judgement, intellect and appreciation made in the very image of God to little clockwork automatons mindlessly shuffling along our predestined courses in a perfect but nightmarish world.
When I was a boy I had a model railway which was very realistic. The trains ran through forests and fields beside a river that actually flowed, and they were always on time. Lights burned in the houses when darkness fell and even the windmill turned, but the people on those trains were nothing but ornaments. They never got on or off because they loved someone, cherished a great work of art, dreamed great dreams or wanted a day at the seaside. I, the omnipotent railway god, sat at my controls and everything moved at my design, but for all that activity there was no life. I don't think any self-respecting humanist would prefer such a solution. And quite frankly, neither would God.
So, having sorted that mess out, let's get to the real question that all the contributors on Radio 4 should have been asking. How should we respond to something as terrible as the earthquake in Haiti? Quite simply, our response should be the same as God's - compassion should move us to intervene and do all that we can to help. I've already visited the DEC website ( I pray you'll find it in your heart to do the same.

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