I know there are many such types; I see them often. It was a meme, an anti-Christian meme. Sitting prominent center was a little church with its large steeple ablaze from a lightning strike. Text on the image said something to the effect of: “Either your God is mad at you or you’re worshiping the wrong one. (Or maybe there isn’t one at all).”
It could be true that God was angry at the Church. It could be true that the people were worshiping the wrong God. It could be true that God doesn’t even exist. However, the meme was quite misleading. Why? Well, just because bad things happen to God believers doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist.
The West and The We
It seems that the average person in the secular west is quite enamored with the “here and now” often taking the form of a big, fat barbaric focus on “me.” Yes, the “me” factor: “my personal peace, my pleasure and my happiness.” Society screams it is good to follow my heart, follow my dreams, follow my desires and follow my pleasures. Follow your sexual desires, feelings and passions. Follow your truth. Follow your inner voice. Whatever you do, be happy.
Self-happiness is our king. Naturally, we thus think it must be God’s king too. God, in our society, plays second fiddle, if he plays at all. His main responsibility is to be some sort of cosmic butler who’s there to make us all happy. Thus, we are strangely surprised by unhappiness, devastation and uncomfortableness. Why isn’t God capitulating to our demands of happiness?
This is why so many aspire for enormous estates, elegant automobiles and expensive vacations. This is why bars are full, sexual immorality is rampant, recreational drugs are legalized, vulgarity is common and abortion is promoted. The physical high brought the sexual revolution and mass recreational drug abuse. People want the “freedom to do what they want with their bodies.” Through it all, we want to feel good about ourselves and project to others that we are nice, tolerant and smiley people. So, of course we promote the LGBTQ lifestyle, socialism, radical feminism, abortion, social “justice” and identity politics.
But, then reality looks us in the face. Pain is pain, and pain is heavy. We all see death, but what’s after death seems so fuzzy. Many drown out this pain, evil and death by the previous vices. But bad things continue to happen. So the most unsurprising question is raised, why couldn’t God have just created a world that lacked all the painful stuff, suffering and death in the first place? Doesn’t the Scriptures promote joy, happiness and contentment? Well, it’s strange that you ask, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about next.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
We must first start at creation, in the beginning when God created our fine universe. He created fine-tuned life to be housed by a fine-tuned world that itself was housed in a fine-tuned universe. The Judo-Christian worldview teaches God created everything good. The debate over what “good” means in this context is beyond the topic of this article. For us, however, it is fair to say that everything that was created was created in a way that worked as it was supposed to work and functioned in a way that it was designed to function.
Not only was this all beautiful, but it was endowed with organization, constants and regularity. Let’s call this uniformity of nature with a line you have probably heard before, natural laws. We could never really learn, study and understand the world in a more systematic way without natural laws. Not only do natural laws make scientific progress possible, it also allows us to expect and count on certain things happening. Gravity allows our feet to be planted firmly on earth instead of planted firmly in midair, or should I say randomly floating and bumping into stuff.
Now, gravity is a good thing, unless I accidentally walk off a cliff and fall to the rocky bottom. Same with water: water makes life possible, it helps plants grow and it helps stabilize the world’s temperature. However, drowning in water is not a good thing. Lightning helps nitrogen fixation for plant health, but being struck by lightning is not good. We all know, however, that gravity, water and lightning are not in themselves good or evil. No natural law in itself is morally good or evil; rather, they were put into place so complex life on earth like us can exist. When they are used in the wrong way or we are in the wrong location, negative consequences are reaped.
I think it is fair to say that at the beginning of creation we did not have any natural enemies, nor did we have disease, pain and suffering. Human death, decay and disease were unheard of, possibly stayed off by the Tree of Life. It was a world where branches didn’t fall and kill people. I’m sure there were no cliffs to trip off of in the garden. A raging ocean wouldn’t have been near for humans to drown in. Lightning, storms, tornadoes and fires were not there to kill.
The Bad That Happened
Then, something bad happened. Superficially it really doesn’t sound bad, nonetheless it was bad. A rebel, one of God’s most powerful personal creations named the Devil, tantalized the first people with temptation. With a simple sly suggestion, the Devil caused devastation. We all know that for every action there are consequences. Suffering, pain and death were introduced into the human bloodline, rippling on to the first human’ progeny. Mere survival became relentless. Natural obstacles arose in their way for food protection. Tilling the soil was backbreaking. Land clearing meant thorn wounds. Birth meant extreme pain and life meant death. No longer having access to the fruit of the tree of life, humanity was faced with a natural evil, the natural evil of death.
Sin is less than God’s original design and intent. Sin brought death and can be traced back to rejecting God’s instructions. All humans inherited the same bent to do bad or the propensity to be bad. Thus, all have to deal with suffering and death can be traced back to rejecting God’s instructions.
God Turns Bad Situations into Good
Just as the Devil turns good situations into bad, God turns bad situations into good. Even though pain, suffering and death are really not God’s problem but ours, God took the problem face on. God became the solution, the ultimate solution was Jesus’ pain, suffering and ultimate death for our regeneration. He calls us to repent from sin to Jesus; die to the world and live to God. Ante-Nicene Titian puts it this way:
“Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it. Live to God, and by apprehending Him lay aside your old nature. We were not created to die, but we die by our own fault. Our free-will has destroyed us; we who were free have become slaves; we have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God; we ourselves have manifested wickedness; but we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” Tatian (A.D.160) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.2 pg.69-70
But in the meantime, what about death? Why would God allow it? It comes down to save us from our mortal immorality. Without death, we would be eternally stuck in a hell of a sin-nature with a constant propensity to sin. Ante-Nicene Irenaeus maybe puts it best:
“Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.” Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 457
Ante-Nicene Methodius concures:
“And, therefore, God invented death for our sakes, that He might destroy sin, lest rising up in us immortals, as I said, it should be immortal. When the apostle says, “for I know that in me – that is, in my flesh – dwells no good thing,”by which words he means to indicate that sin dwells in us, from the transgression, through lust; out of which, like young shoots, the imaginations of pleasure rise around us.” Methodius (A.D. 311) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.6 pg. 372
While death is not the original “good,” God allows it to free us from the grip of our sin, the death grip of immortal immorality. Without physician death, we would be forever trapped within a physical body that was prone to eternal sin, and that would be literally Hell on Earth.
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