Will these tragedies never end?

No, awful tragedies on our planet will not end until God has pronounced judgment on every god that holds us in its grip and we are free at last. It’s nothing new, he’s done it before, when he freed Israel from Egypt. Ten tragic plagues later, the grip Egypt held over Israel was broken, but the purpose of the plagues wasn’t to punish the Egyptians, it was “to bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt,” Exodus 12:12. It was their gods he was aiming at, not the people.

There may be some element of punishment on us in the tragedies that occur, to wake us up to our helplessness in ruling this planet without his guidance, but God’s main purpose in the awful things happening is to “destroy all dominion, authority and power” on this planet and “put all his enemies under his feet,” 1 Corinthians 15:24-25.

Are we the enemies he’s talking about? No. We’ve acted like his enemies and been stupidly arrogant in our resistance to him, but it’s never been his plan to destroy us. He sent Jesus to rescue us, not punish us. And is it our “dominion, authority and power” he’s destroying? No, because he’s the one who puts people in power and gives them authority (Romans 13:1-2). Our leaders may do a horrible job of ruling, but they’re not God’s enemies.

God’s enemies are those crafty hidden powers that conceal the truth about him. He made that clear in the book of Genesis, when he actually created a crafty creature to reveal what these hidden powers are up to. He warned Israel too, before they entered Canaan, about the gods they would encounter that would endlessly try to draw the Israelites away from him. It’s these hidden powers that deceive us that are God’s enemies.

So how do all these tragedies going on in our world right now release us from their grip? Well, every tragedy that happens is revealing a god we’ve been taken in by. When a tragic shooting occurs it shatters the god that makes us think we’re all knowing. Everyone asks, “Why?” Why would someone do such a horrible thing? And no one can figure it out. It’s beyond us. And when floods, fires and hurricanes take a terrible toll on human lives they shatter the gods that make us think we’re in control. We’ve been made to think we’re indestructible, so who needs God, but in fact we are very fragile.

Tragedies, therefore, are shattering the gods that make us think we are secure in our own strength and ability. And God will keep shattering these gods until we are free of them all at last.

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Is it an “Act of God” when bad things happen, or an act of man?

In The Shack, the movie, Wisdom asks the man who lost his daughter to a serial killer, who was to blame for the girl’s death. Did the blame stop at the door of the deranged killer, or did it go back to the killer’s parents who messed up his childhood, or to the killer’s grandparents who messed up his parents’ lives? Or did this awful thread of insanity and evil in the family DNA get started many generations before that, going all the way back inevitably to Adam and the wrong decision he made that set all humanity on the wrong course?

But surely that means it was ultimately God’s fault, because he was the one who created Adam, and it was he who created a good looking tree offering humans the knowledge of good and evil, and he who created a crafty serpent to tempt Adam and Eve into eating the fruit off it, which let evil out of its cage, leading to all the horrors we experience today. It was God, therefore, who got this mess started, so everything bad that happens to us should be called an ‘Act of God’, right?

It was also an Act of God, though, that created another tree that Adam could have chosen to eat off instead, and that tree would have enabled Adam to tap into God’s power to resist evil. Adam had a choice, therefore, as to which tree he would eat off. And he chose the wrong tree. It was an ‘act of man’, therefore, that set the ball rolling of bad things happening, not an Act of God.

From the very start, then, we’ve got an Act of God providing the solution to all evil – in the potent healing power of the tree of life – but an act of man rejecting it, allowing evil to spread. And that scene now repeats itself every day in our day too, as people either accept God’s solution to evil or reject it. God’s solution is still eating off the tree of life, which today is more than a tree it’s the actual life of Christ made available to us so we can resist evil like he did. And it was God who provided that. He was the one who sent Christ to solve our problem with evil. It was an Act of God, therefore, that started the ball rolling of stopping bad things happening, and reversing what the acts of man have caused.

So rather than blaming God for bad things happening, he is our only hope of bad things not happening – the bad things that we, not he, got started.

What must we learn from horrible things that happen to us?

God allowed horrible things to happen to Job. He lost his children and his livelihood to invaders and disasters, and he was covered in sores from head to toe. And it all came from God too. It was initiated by Satan but allowed by God.

So why would God allow such a horrible thing to happen? It was to face Job with the biggest problem we humans have got. Which is? We think we can save ourselves. We think it’s within our ability to control our destiny, and it’s even within our power to beat death. That was Satan’s sales pitch with Adam and Eve, that they wouldn’t die. They could beat death. They could save themselves.

And God allowed disaster to sink this point home to Job – and to anyone else wondering why a loving God allows so many awful things to happen – because in Job 40:14 God says to Job, “I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” God was quite willing to admit that Job had the power to save himself if Job could prove it. And God’s allowed us to prove it too. He’s given us the freedom to go it alone without him, to prove that nothing is beyond our power and control.

And give us our due, we’ve survived centuries of turmoil, pandemics and disasters – but the troubles never stop coming. Just as we recover from one disaster we get hit with another. But “no matter,” we reply, “we’ll make it through,” we can save ourselves.

It was the same with Job. Terrible tragedy strikes but Job makes it through. He gets hit again, reducing him to a pitiful state, but it’s only in chapter 40 that he’s softened up enough to listen to WHY God is allowing these horrible things to happen. And that’s when God tells him. It’s to show who holds the power to save. Does Job, for instance, “have an arm like God’s” (40:9) that could “crush the wicked where they stand,” and “bury them all in the dust together”?

In other words, does Job have the power to save the world? No, he doesn’t – and nor do we. Never in all our history have we been able to crush and bury all the evil that threatens to destroy our world either. Kill one lunatic off and another takes his place. And one day some idiot could go nuclear and destroy us all.

So at what point did Job accept that it’s GOD who holds the power to save? When he realized he didn’t have the power to save himself.

Why does God allow accidents, disasters and terrorist attacks?

Why does God allow horrible things to happen to us, when Christ “died for the ungodly,” Romans 5:6, to save us? The answer is in why Christ died for us (same verse); it’s because “we were still powerless.”

Humans are powerless? That’s not what we want to hear. It’s the last thing we want to hear, because we think we’re invincible. There’s no challenge we can’t meet with human initiative and human spirit. Horrible disasters, and terrible terrorist attacks? We’ll pull through. We’ll rebuild. We’ll survive.

But God made it plain to us, right from the time he created humans, that we are powerless. Adam and Eve, for instance, didn’t have it in them to avoid the fruit that would kill them. But when they died, just as God said they would, did their death shake the world to its senses that God really meant death, and maybe it ought to take God seriously? No, it didn’t. People just carried on as though death wouldn’t happen to them, much like people rush off to war thinking they’re somehow immune to being killed, or that death really isn’t all that bad if it’s for a right cause.

We’ve clearly got a problem, then. Not only are we blind to the horror of death and the choices we make that cause it, we have also conclusively proved after years of dismal human history that we have no idea how to avoid accidents, prevent natural disasters or stop people killing each other. We even believe we can do what we like to our bodies and minds and there won’t be consequences.

And why is that? Because we fall for the same lie over and over again that the serpent told to Adam and Eve, that we are gods (Genesis 3:5), that we’re above the laws of the universe, and way above having to listen to what God has to say, and so we carry on doing what humans have always done; we live, we die, sometimes horribly or wastefully, and we are utterly powerless in reversing the process that has ruled humanity since our history began.

So what does God do to wake us up to that reality? Well, to start with, he gets the point across that it took Christ’s death to stop us annihilating ourselves all together. He also subjects us to a world we cannot cure (Romans 8:20). Again and again, then, things happen to us that we cannot prevent, including automatic penalties God designed for those who resist him (Romans 1:24-32). And then he waits patiently for all this to sink in, so we see the folly of our ways and repent.

What kind of God would allow THAT to happen?

You’ve been waxing eloquent to a person about God’s goodness, but then, next morning, he turns on his TV and out blasts the latest news of a massive earthquake stirring a gigantic tsunami that thunders across a populated area destroying everything in its wake. His jaw drops at the scale of destruction, and he’s on the phone to you yelling, “What kind of God would allow THAT to happen?”

“You told me,” he continues, “that God is in control of everything that happens on this planet, and he’s a God of love, mercy, compassion and kindness. You also told me of the amazing things God has done in your life and how blessed you are, and how God forgives, holds none of our sins against us, and takes no pleasure in punishing us. So why is he punishing people so horribly?”

“And what was the point,” he shouts, “of God creating tectonic plates in the first place, when it was obvious, surely, that they pose an enormous danger to human life and property? And why put the lives of children, good people and Christians at risk too? And why, if humans in the earthquake zone needed a wake up call, didn’t God send prophets to warn them as to what was about to happen and why, so they could repent and God would reverse the threat, just like he did in Nineveh? And why would God allow disasters, accidents and terrorist attacks to happen at all when they’re only going to create negative reactions toward him and even cause people to curse him for what’s happened, like I’m tempted to do? And since you’re always going on about the Christian message being good news, I’d like to know where you find good news in all this awful stuff happening.”

And as he’s yelling you think of 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the HOPE that you have.” But what reason can you possibly give for hope in a terrible disaster, accident or terrorist attack that wipes out Christians and non-Christians alike, and shows no mercy to the good and innocent?

Peter’s answer in verse 15? “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,” and stick like glue to verse 22, that Christ “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him,” and somehow, miraculously and unexplainably, that is the key; that’s when hope, despite what’s happening in the world, comes. And all you can do is offer that to the person and let God take it from there.

Candles, flowers and vigils

When horrible things happen to people, like being killed in a shooting or a terrorist attack or a tragic accident, people stream to the spot where the deaths occurred to light candles, drop off flowers, and quietly sorrow together. Some huddle in groups to pray, sing together, or simply just cry, and sometimes the vigils last for several days and nights. And no matter how risky it might be after a terrorist attack to gather in a large group at the site of the tragedy, there is no stopping people doing it.

I remember when the 9/11 attacks occurred that my immediate instinct was to be with people. I needed to talk about what happened and why. I needed to hear what other people were saying. I needed to be with people as bewildered and shocked as I was. I needed that, and so did a lot of other people, it seems, because the coffee shop I sat in was packed. Some sat quietly saying nothing, others had to let their emotions run free, but both groups needed the comfort of other people near them, just as I did.

Perhaps the terrorists themselves have noticed this phenomenon, that when they pull off a shocking attack with great success, people come out into the open to be together. There’s fear, yes, and the natural instinct to run to safety and hide during an attack, but soon after the attack is over people come out of hiding to feel the comfort of other people, to show they deeply care for those who suffered and died, and to prove to the terrorists that all they’ve done is draw the world closer together and released more love.

So take a good, hard look terrorists, because what you’ve done is shown us what’s really tucked away inside us when the chips are down – and it’s very encouraging. It’s deeply heartening to discover that, faced with terror or tragedy, we humans naturally band together, we grow in strength from being with each other, we feel compassion, we want to help, and we won’t rest until justice is done on behalf of the victims.

What must a terrorist be thinking, then, when he sees vigils springing up worldwide, and people coming out into the open to light candles, drop off flowers, and be together – in nations that weren’t even directly affected by the attack too? Will it dawn on him that humanity is a family, and threats only bring us closer? And what if we decide as a family to go to our heavenly Father for help, taking into account that terrorists are already causing many people to pray?…