Sulawesi made Tim long for a new earth
‘When you can’t trust the very ground you’re standing on, it’s terrifying.’
Can we find any objective rationalisation for the natural evil that afflicts our world?
I was recently in Sulawesi province in Indonesia, soon after a massive tsunami and earthquake struck. Working with local World Vision staff and volunteers in an intensive search to find children missing in villages in the wake of the disaster, I reflected on the indiscriminate nature of natural catastrophes that claim lives irrespective of age, gender, innocence or religious belief.
When you can’t trust the very ground you’re standing on, it’s terrifying.
Natural evil does not separate the righteous from the wicked or the poor from the rich. It is impersonal.
In Sulawesi, terrified people watched as constant tremors caused their land to sink and slide. The ground had liquefied and swallowed people like quicksand. You could see the panic and fear in the faces of parents who didn’t know if their children had survived.
When you can’t trust the very ground you’re standing on it’s terrifying. What can you have faith in?
The suddenness of the Indonesian deaths reminded us again of the sometimes uncomfortable truth that, in the end, we are all equally fragile.
The magnitude of suffering will have forced many to ask an eternal and fundamental theological question: Where is God in all this?
Bushfires, earthquakes, tsunamis and cancers are natural evils that plague us for reasons we don’t and perhaps can’t understand.
We live, as Thoreau put it, “lives of quiet desperation’’ unless we can sense something beyond sight and human understanding.
We may be consoled that Scripture’s final word on evil … is triumph.
The issue isn’t why God does not intervene to save everyone in the face of natural evil, but why we humans seem to care so little about each other.
Clearly the earth is in agony. Destructive earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis regularly take place in the poorest communities, but Westerners generally show little interest in them. Undeserved pain, disease, and death are daily facts of life for hundreds of millions of people on the planet because the world has certain imperfections built into the natural order.
C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, makes a profound statement: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
We yearn for the promised new heaven and new earth where suffering and evil are things of the past and creation is renewed. We may be consoled that Scripture’s final word on evil – both moral and natural – is triumph.
That may be one of life’s deepest and most beautiful mysteries. It is all about human experience and of making some sense of the chaos.