As I was surfing the web this week, I found a number of comments out there on a number of sites along the lines of:
I wonder what Christchurch did to anger God to deserve this???
My first reaction in most cases was to shrug it off as a very insensitive remark, particularly since the authors of those comments are often overseas, and making many kinds of assumptions about the morality or immorality of Canterbury residents.
However, on further reflection, the comment does raise a couple of valid questions. Why did God send this earthquake? If we consider the lack of fatalities, why did God not spare the lives of those in Haiti, Samoa etc?
I’m not a theologian nor a philosopher, but here are my own thoughts as a Christian on this matter. In other words, Why do Bad Things happen to Good People?
I think the assumption underlying these kinds of questions is that calamity and disaster are a sign of God’s judgement for sin, while blessing and prosperity are a sign of God’s reward for righteousness. I’m aware of a number of Christian preachers who appear to hold this idea (mostly ones I’ve seen on TV), but I don’t personally agree with it.
Reading the book of Job in the Old Testament, this issue has been grappled with by people of faith since the days of the Patriarchs. For those who haven’t read it, here’s a brief summary: Job was a righteous man, yet God allowed major disaster and bereavement to fall upon him. The bulk of the book is a dialogue between Job and his friends trying to convince Job he must have committed some grave sin, and his need to repent. Job protests his innocence, and questions God, appealing to God’s justice. (Read God’s answer to Job here).
The message I read in this book is that we don’t know or understand God’s plans or reasons, but the reality is that sometimes disaster does happen to “good” people, and it is not necessarily punishment for sin.
Another passage I found helpful in this is Luke 13:1-5. Jesus challenges his listeners that victims of recent disasters were no more sinful than everyone else. Romans 3 tells us that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s ideal. What grace we receive is a free gift, neither earned nor deserved.
We live in an imperfect world, a creation that groans awaiting redemption. Tectonic plates are unstable, and produce earthquakes and volcanoes. The atmosphere is unstable, and can produce hurricanes and other extreme weather. The humans that are on the receiving end of these things are no more or less sinful than the rest of humanity.
I do believe in miracles. Many of the close escapes last weekend have been described as miraculous. I don’t know if there was divine intervention in those cases, but if so then it does not mean that those receiving the miracle are any more righteous than anyone else. Miracles are gifts of God’s grace.
The God I believe in isn’t an old man with a white beard sitting above the clouds, handing out rewards and punishment.
The God I believe in never promised that Bad Stuff wouldn’t happen, or that I would always have blessing and prosperity if I follow his rules and regulations.
The God I do believe in does promise to always walk through the hard times with us. He promises to provide comfort and strength. He helps us find courage and compassion in times of disaster.
The God I do believe in challenges me about how I respond to hard times. Do I spend time whinging and complaining, or by showing thankfulness, and practical love for those around me? I don’t think a Christian response to disaster is to pronounce judgement, but rather to share the grace and love of God to those who are suffering.
John Key said this week “At the worst of times you see the very best of New Zealand”. I like to think this would also be true of Christians.
How do you respond to suffering around you? Are you tempted to think that in some way they’ve deserved it, or brought it upon themselves? Or do you recognise the blessings we’ve received are so we can bless others, and demonstrate love and compassion?