‘Why did God let it happen?’ ‘How could a loving God allow such a thing to happen to them?’ ‘If there is a God who created the world, why is there so much suffering?’
Tragic events make headlines that generate an audience for television or newspapers. But many people are also moved by tragedies to question or deny that there is a God.
You may have found yourself asking similar questions. Did you find a satisfactory answer to your question?
Not a New Question
There is a saying that there is nothing new under the sun. We certainly find that to be the case with these questions. Similar questions were asked 2000 years ago when Jesus was teaching the Jews:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
So the answer was that the people caught up in the disasters of the day were not any different to those not affected, or in other words, the event was not a specific judgement on the victims. Note the second part of Jesus’ answer. There was a warning for his audience that they should ‘repent’, otherwise they would also perish.
When would they die?
The record does not go on to say that there was either a mass ‘repentance’ or sudden death of those listening. So what did Jesus mean when he said they would die? When would they die? Reading on in the same chapter, we find that Jesus was teaching the people about the Kingdom of God – they had to look to their ways before God, or they would find themselves excluded from the kingdom. Surely what he was referring to is this – exclusion from the kingdom of God would mean a final, total cessation of life.
Why did the tragedies happen?
Jesus did not answer this question, as we have already noted, but we do find pointers to the answer elsewhere in the Bible. Before considering these pointers, here are some descriptions of God’s character:
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Whatever we might imagine to be the character of God, we must be careful not to diminish it to our human experience. Rather we must try to understand Him by His description. The Psalmist tells us that God’s character is without fault. Why then are there tragedies?
Exiled – Why?
The Old Testament portion of the Bible tells us of God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. In this history, we find that they were exiled as a nation to Babylon (part of modern day Iraq). The prophet Daniel, was among the captives and towards the end of the period in exile, he prayed to God – part of the prayer is quoted here:
Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.
Note how Daniel confirms that God is right. Yet God brought the evil on them. Daniel confesses that it was because Israel had not obeyed God that they had been exiled. Note how even Daniel, who is clearly described as man of faith and favoured by God, is included in His judgement at that time. Daniel also makes it clear, in his prayer, that God had warned the nation that this would happen if they did not heed God’s law (if you have the opportunity, read Deuteronomy 28). In the law, God clearly wanted His people to enjoy the blessings that would come from following the law. The warnings came after. Like you and me, they had a choice to make.
Has God forgotten about us?
God made promises but they have not been realised. Many look around our world and suggest that the amount of suffering we see demonstrates that God has forgotten about us and His promises – or worse, He does not exist. We are warned that this would happen:
…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
2 Peter 3:3-4
After the warning, the affirmation comes that God has not forgotten – His promise of a world free of evil and tragedy will come true.
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.
2 Peter 3:9
What are you Doing?
So we return to the point that Jesus was making – unless we ‘repent’ – commit ourselves to God’s righteous ways – we will also be removed from His eternal purpose. The evil and tragedy is a consequence of our collective disobedience to God – it is a warning that we should turn to God.
(All quotations are from the English Standard Version of the Bible)