The marvel of God: turning disaster into joy

Human history started off as very good but soon turned into very bad. Actually, it was a disaster, because sin got a foothold on this planet, producing a rot in the human mind we could not reverse.

But God not only cured the rot he transformed it into our salvation, too. Try doing that with a mouldy banana or a rusted piece of metal, where the rot and rust are so bad it’s impossible to salvage anything. But God takes the unsalvageable and turns it into salvation, by taking upon himself (as the human Jesus) the suffering and death we brought on ourselves and transforming them into joy. That’s the marvel of God, but how does it work? How can sin be turned into joy?

As a grandparent, I got a little glimpse of how this works when our 5 year old granddaughter broke one of our dishes. It was beyond repair and she was devastated. She fell on the floor, crying her eyes out. I didn’t yell at her or get angry, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Instead, I got down on the floor with her, hugged her tightly and said, “Cheer up, all is forgiven!” It had a magical effect on her. She stopped crying, looked up and said, “OK,” and off she went, happy and free. From an unsalvageable dish to joy. What a marvellous transformation it was.

How did it happen? By the same process Jesus transformed our unsalvageable mess into joy. In the same way that he absorbed both the pain and penalty of our sin into himself, I too absorbed the cost of the dish and my granddaughter’s pain. And what was her reaction? Instant relief, peace of mind and joy. I imagine she could hardly believe her luck. Here she was sitting in a pile of broken dish parts being hugged – and at no cost whatsoever to her, either. She was forgiven, loved and free to go.

Which is exactly what God does with us. We bring all this suffering and death on ourselves but God comes as Jesus and doesn’t hold any of it against us, nor does he expect us to pay for what we’ve done. He absorbs it all himself.

How can you not want to hug a God like that? But that’s exactly what he’s after, a hug. A hug of relief, peace of mind and joy when we realize God knew our pain, shared every bit of it himself, and absorbed the cost of all our broken dishes in himself, leaving us forgiven, fully loved and free to go – and free in the knowledge he’s that kind of God, too.

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Suffering and death: the magical doorway to salvation

So, why do we have devastating natural disasters? Because, Paul writes in Romans 8:20-21, God subjected the entire creation to “futility” and “bondage to decay.” For now life on this planet is a brute. But why would a loving God do that to us – leave us stranded in a mess of suffering and death?

Because that’s the life we chose from the beginning. God told Adam and Eve not to take the way of death but they took it anyway, and so do we, because we don’t trust God any more than they did. So God lets us experience the futility of our choice, including having to live as fragile humans on a volatile planet. If we’d trusted God instead, would we have been touched at all by suffering and death and natural disasters?

For now, though, we’re stuck with them, but as Paul explains, suffering, death and disaster are not our lot in life forever. “Deliverance” is coming, he writes in verse 21. One day, Paul writes, God will lift us into the freedom of his family for ever. That’s his ultimate plan of salvation, but to get us there it takes suffering and death first.

And not just our suffering and death either, because God also suffered and died. He came here as a human being to live the consequences of our choice, but with one remarkable difference. His suffering and death became the doorway to our salvation. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and once made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,” Hebrews 5:8-9.

God took upon himself the futile life of suffering and death we’d chosen and transformed it into our salvation. Suffering and death now became the doorway to his ultimate plan for us – so instead of suffering and death being our lot in life forever, they became our escape, our deliverance, the doorway to our salvation. That’s the brilliance and love of God. He transforms the suffering and death we deserved into the very means of our salvation. What other god does that?

Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, salvation from our suffering and death is guaranteed. We have to wait a bit first, though. This futile world, including natural disasters, has to continue a while longer yet to convince us stupid humans that not trusting God was the dumbest thing we could have done.

There comes a point, though, when God says “that’s enough,” and he puts an end to this agony forever. At which point he clanks open the doorway to his amazing world, and the life he’s always had in mind for us begins.