Theodicy:the Justification of God and the Problem of Evil in Light of the Destruction of Japan by the Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011” Luke 13:1-5

Posted on March 12, 2011. Filed under: News of the Day, Theological Issues |

Redeemer Church, Genesis Sunday School Class

Sunday, 03-13-2011

Bryan E. Walker

______________________________________________________________________

Read Luke 13:1-5

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Introduction: I was taught in seminary that having sermon series’ was a good idea and that we should stay closely to the texts and not allow current events to drive our preaching. In the supposed effort to keep preaching relevant we should not forget that the Scripture is relevant in every age, it will never be irrelevant. That being said, I am convinced that there are times when current events are so huge that we must deal with them in a sermon or Bible study. We must bring God’s truth to bear on current events. Folks, this past Friday the country of Japan was dealt a blow that was, if not mortal to that nation, is at least a serious blow that will forever change Japan and even the world. Therefore, today I cannot help but depart from our studies in Genesis to look at God and natural disasters, or, “Theodicy: the Justification of God and the Problem of Evil in Light of the Destruction of Japan by the Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11, 2011.”

Let me begin by reading you some dates and locations and you tell me what happened: Sept. 8, 1900, Galveston; April 18, 1906, San Francisco; Oct 29th, 1929, New York City; Dec.7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor; Nov.22, 1963, Dallas; August 17, 1969, Biloxi, Miss; April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City; 9-11-01, New York/DC/PA; August 29, 2005, New Orleans;  Nov.5, 2009, Fort Hood, TX. These dates and events are burned into the American soul because of the size and scope of the tragedies or disasters they represent. On that list are natural disasters, acts of war, financial disasters, terrorism, and crimes.

You have your own very personal dates of pain and trauma. It may be the anniversary of the death of a parent, spouse or child; perhaps it is an event of great shame or when a crime was committed against you, or maybe you simply witnessed a tragedy and it is seared into your memory. Perhaps it is the date you were divorced or some other personal tragedy.

Bad things happen, horrible things, shameful and painful things. Evil lashes out at you and it costs you something, it scares you and scars you. You are never the same.

The questions are inevitable: Why? Why me? Why now? Where is God? How can I cope with this? Will the pain ever stop? How can we go one? What is to be done? Is God really good? How can a good God allow this evil to happen?

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan is one of the top 5 worst earthquakes and top 2 tsunamis in recorded history. The island of Japan, the main island, has been moved 8’ to the east. There are large portions of the coast that have sunk below sea level and the sea has reclaimed it. Add to the natural part of the disaster the nuclear disaster that has followed- and we do not yet know how severe that is but it cannot be a good thing. Casualty totals are already over 1,000 and many thousands are just plain missing. The death toll could be several thousand, but tens of thousands have lost everything. The Japanese economy will take a devastating hit. The cost of damage will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. On a personal note two of my friends from college ROTC are half Japanese and they have requested prayer because they have family in the stricken areas and they cannot contact them.

What are we to make of this disaster? How can we understand it? What are we to do? How does our faith relate to something this massive and evil? Though the Christian is still going to have some unanswered questions about evil, pain and suffering in this life, we do have a framework to understand these issues from God’s Word that will help us to see that God remains just and good, sovereign and merciful even in the midst of disasters like this. Our task is to worship God in the midst of our pain, trust him in the presence of evil, and proclaim the hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ while we warn the world of the wrath to come and minister to the hurting as much as we can. Worship, trust, preaching repentance, and ministry to others must be our motto in the face of this and any other tragedy or disaster.

I. Why Do Disasters Happen?

Any time a disaster occurs, whether personal, nationwide, or somewhere else in the world, the inevitable human question of “Why?” arises. To me, the very fact that we can ask this question reveals that we are created and not evolved, that we are created in the image of God and not descendents of the apes. This question shows us that there is a God, an omnipotent Creator who is just and holy and has a purpose for his universe and for man.

When we ask “Why?” we are challenging the rightness of the event. We look at an earthquake and instinctively feel and believe that it is not right, it is not the way it ought to be. We acknowledge that the world is not the way it Should be. Our response to disasters like tsunamis points us back to Gen.1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion…” The savage ferocity of a natural disaster is testimony of man’s original command given by God in the tranquility of Paradise and of Man’s subsequent fall, leading to impotence in the face of nature gone wild and our life in exile from Paradise. We have a creation mandate to rule the world and subdue it, but, due to our fallenness, we are unable. Our asking the question “why?” subtly points us to the fact of there being a right and wrong that is objective, outside of us, bigger than us. This objective right and wrong leads us to the Lord of Creation, God himself. We have a primal memory of Paradise and an awareness of God that causes us to look upon the world as it is and realize it is not as it once was, nor as it should be.

How did the world get in this kind of shape if God is all powerful and all good? Why would a good God allow this huge disaster? The technical, philosophical term for this question is theodicy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy the question of why and how evil exists in God’s universe if he is both all good and all powerful. Many atheistic philosophers have used this question to reinforce their atheism by reasoning that a good God would not allow evil if he was all powerful. The presence of evil for the unbeliever confirms that God is either not good or not powerful enough to stop the evil, therefore God does not exist. Since the definition of God includes his goodness and omnipotence, there cannot be a God if evil is present.

For the Christian theologian, philosopher and average believer, this is clearly faulty reasoning and we should not fear the atheist’s false theories. The Scriptures teach that God allowed Lucifer to rebel and allowed man to be tempted and fall into sin. While God is not the author of sin or evil, he allows evil and sin to exist temporarily in order to accomplish his great work of Redemption and thus maximize His own glory. We know that God has created all that is, including the Devil, Col.1:16 16 For by  him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. The single largest assumption that leads us astray in this area is the idea that the universe exists for man; that man’s welfare and pleasure is the highest good in a man-centered universe. The universe is created by God for God to display his glory and to please himself as Creator. Folks, we live in a theocentric universe and should therefore look for the meaning of natural disasters and other evils in how they may fall into God’s plans, not in how they frustrate our plans.

In Genesis 3 we have the story of man’s fall into sin. As part of God’s judgment upon man he says,

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

What we see here is that the ground is cursed, and by that I believe we can take it as the entire natural world. Thorns and thistles case pain and choke out life giving food plants. Man will survive through sweaty, hard labor now, the easy life in the Garden of Paradise is ended. At the end of the chapter man is exiled from the Garden.

Paul writes in Rom. 8 19 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

This passage shows us that creation was adversely affected by the Fall of Man and is waiting eagerly to be changed back into what God wants. God’s plan of redemption in Christ does not stop with the hearts of repentant, believing sinners, it will ultimately change the natural universe, set it free, into a new heaven and a new earth.

Isaiah 65-

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy  the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain
or bear children for calamity, 
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

What all of this means is that earthquakes are a result of man’s fall into sin which affected the entire world. Natural disasters, plagues, etc. are the results of man’s sin being worked out in nature. They are impersonal and non-specific in that they afflict the just and the unjust alike. But they are absolutely under the sovereign authority of God and do not occur without the divine permission within his eternal plan. I absolutely do not believe in any random accidental event in God’s universe. Nothing escapes God’s notice or happens outside of his decreed and ordained plan and will.

Isaiah 45:7

7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

This verse indicates that God is sovereign over the good things and the calamities as well. And in Isaiah 46-

8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

God declares the end from the beginning. Everything that has happened or will ever happen has been declared by God, ordained by God.

But does that then make God the author of evil? No, because of James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

What does it mean then? God created the universe, the angels and man perfect but gave the angels and man a choice. Lucifer chose to rebel and then subsequently tempted Eve who fell and gave to her husband and he fell. All had as free of a choice as was possible for a created being underneath the authority of a sovereign God. The choices of Lucifer and Adam have brought about a condition wherein the world has natural disasters, the purposes of which fall into God’s plan that will ultimately lead to Redemption for the elect and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, all for God’s glory.

II. Is The Earthquake and Tsunami God’s Wrath Upon Japan?

            Japan is a pretty godless place. http://www.christianpost.com/news/more-people-claim-christian-faith-in-japan-1549/ Only about 2% of the Japanese are Christian. But can we say that this disaster is God’s judgment upon them?

What we see in the Bible when God judges a city is pretty much total destruction upon a specific people for a particular purpose. On Sunday nights a few years ago I was preaching a series in Exodus and we had been looking at the plagues for several weeks when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In Exodus we see that the Hebrews were somewhat protected from the worst effects of the plagues. We see that the plagues had a specific purpose, to judge pharaoh, Egypt and their false gods and to redeem Israel from bondage.

Several months ago in our Genesis studies we saw there was the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham pleaded with God to spare the cities if enough righteous men were found. There were no righteous men found, Lot and his family were led out by the angels and fire from heaven rained down. In Gen.6 only Noah and his family were found in God’s grace and the rest of the world was drowned in judgment. In Joshua we see God exercising judgment upon the Canaanites through the Israelite army and some supernatural events.

Would God be justified in judging Japan? New Orleans? America? Yes, and he would be justified in judging Fort Worth just as severely! Folks, while it may be possible to estimate fairly accurately the sinfulness of some cities as being above or below our own, do not fool yourself, we all continue to breath because of God’s forbearance, mercy, love, and grace. If any city or town or person in America got exactly what they deserved, we would all be destroyed slowly and agonizingly! We are all sinners and we all live in a sinful land.

That being said, I would rather not live in a city or a country known for its sinfulness. In the old days of Fort Worth wasn’t there a part of town not far from here known as hell’s half acre? But how sinful were the small towns along the coast that got blown away, washed out to sea in Japan? See, we are not able to play that game of deciding who deserves which punishment. We just don’t know and have to leave that up to God.

I believe that we could take any bad thing that happens to us and rightfully say it is God’s judgment upon us for our sins. But I also believe that we can truthfully say these things show us his mercy and grace because they are not as bad as they could be and when we deal with these events in faith God opens a whole new perspective for us. This is where our opening passage from Luke 13 comes in.

III. What Should Our Response Be To Disaster?

            Job 1:13-22; 2:9-10; Worship and humble acceptance.

            Luke 13:1-5 Repentance.

            2Chron.7:12-22 humilty, prayer, seeking, turning.

            Gen.19:17 Escape for your life, flee the city of destruction.

            Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

            Rom.12:17-21

IV. Be Prepared

            1. Our time is coming. Two of the  biggest earthquake zones in America are on the west coast (the infamous San Andreas Fault) and the New Madrid fault http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Madrid_Seismic_Zone If we were to have a magnitude 8 or higher earthquake it would be devastating. Japan has been building earthquake resistant buildings and we have not. We have seen what Cat. 5 hurricanes can do, earthquakes can be just as bad or worse. One of the largest dangers in the Atlantic is a volcano in the Canary Islands that is unstable and could collapse, sending a mega-tsunami that could wipe the entire Atlantic seaboard.

http://www.rense.com/general56/tsu.htm

2. We ought to be prepared spiritually. Approaching disasters and tragedies with a calm, Roman stoicism is not a godly thing. We need to approach disasters in Faith, actively trusting in God to deliver us and to use us to minister to others in His name. Disasters are emotionally devastating, even for Christians, but when we are committed to worshiping the Lord in the midst of suffering, proclaiming the gospel and helping others, then perhaps God’s purposes for the disaster will be shown.

            3. And we ought to be prepared physically for disaster to strike. As a practical matter I believe that Christians should be prepared for disasters ranging from a flat tire to a tsunami. Are you prepared?

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