Greg is internationally known for his work on what theologians call “the problem of evil,” which was the subject of this week’s sermon. People had been calling Greg all week asking “Did God cause the tsunami in Asia? If not, why did God allow it?” Such questions assume that God is directly responsible for natural disasters; Greg argues that this assumption is not biblical.
Greg is internationally known for his work on what theologians call “the problem of evil,” which was the subject of this week’s sermon. The occasion for this was the largest natural disaster in recent history: the tsunami that hit Asia. Earlier in the week, Greg took a call from a reporter asking what Greg’s position was on this event. Did God cause this? If not, why did God allow it? In response to questions like this, a false assumption should be pointed out. We live in a culture where the term “Act of God” has a negative connotation (closely associated with “Wrath of God”). Legal documents and insurance companies concerned about accounting for natural disasters often refer to such disasters as “Acts of God.” Beneath all of this lies the assumption that God is directly responsible for natural disasters, so the final explanation for why a particular disaster happened is to be found in why God would punish whomever the victims happen to be.
Greg argues that this assumption is not biblical. Here’s why: human beings, in fact, are the ones who are supposed to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26). The character of our dominion should be in the image of our Creator—merciful just as God is merciful (reinforced in the Gospels Luke 6:36; Matt 6:9-10). Prior to the fall (when God handed things over to us), nature was free of violence. Human dominion was likewise free of violence (see Gen. 1:29-31). God’s desire is that creation return to that state of merciful non-violent existence (Is. 11:6-7). Why then do we have so much violence? Not only humans hurting one another but creation itself having such a bloody legacy of its own? In a word: sin. The fall into our current state of violence began with the angels even before the human fall we read about in Gen. 3. Just as God delegated responsibility to humans to have dominion over the earth, God also gave responsibilities and authority to angels. When the angelic fall and the human fall occurred, the corruption of our world (indeed, our cosmos) became inevitable. Satan, who was the most powerful of the angels—with the greatest amount of responsibility—represents this best (indeed, the Bible recognizes him as “the god of this age” 2 Cor. 4:4, “the power of the air” Eph. 2:2, “the ruler of this world” John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; I Jn 5:19 etc.). Greg alluded to how even the basic structures of our world have been affected. If death was not apart of the original plan, if things were not intended to wind down toward disintegration, then perhaps even the second law of thermodynamics (basically that order tends toward disorder) is a result of the fall rather than an divinely inspired order of creation itself.
The New Testament is especially clear on this point: creation itself groans for the restoration of the children of God to their proper place so that creation itself will be set free from bondage, decay and violence (many examples support this, but Greg used: Rom. 8:19-23; Mark 4:39; Luke 13:4-16). A peaceful and merciful existence will be the result. This is exactly what heaven promises to be (The lion lies down with the lamb, every tear is wiped from our eyes, etc.). Is this not what our hearts long for?
Greg wrapped things up by looking at various early Christian writings that illustrated this belief. For the first 300+ years of Christian faith, the assumption was just the opposite of what it is today: violence, evil, even sickness and so called “natural” disasters or “Acts of God” were understood as the result of the corruption of creation not the Creator. In other words, we humans (and the angels) whom God entrusted with the creation have fouled it up. An apt image might be that a mother gives her son a new toy for Christmas, which he promptly throws down the stairs and it breaks on the concrete floor of the basement. Now the child brings the broken toy to his mother and asks why it is broken. Rather than simply take the reigns back out of our hands, God has seen fit to transform us into people worthy of the honor of ruling mercifully over the earth. Our job is to cooperate with God in that transformation. It does no one any good to blame God for what we and other creatures (namely the angels) have broken.
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