Coping with Problems and Tragedy
By: Jim Virkler
Humans propose diverse rationale for believing or not believing in the the existence and actions of an omnipotent Creator. One of the most common reasons is personal belief that God, loving, powerful, and all-knowing, would not or should not permit evil to exist in this created sphere. This includes natural evil such as the three recent hurricanes generated in the South Atlantic which have devastated Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Moral evil is on a different causal plane. Degenerate, depraved, deviant, and debauched seem inadequate terms to describe the actions of a mass killer who murdered 59 souls and injured hundreds at the Las Vegas country music festival. ISIS killers reinforce their hate for divergent ideologies with senseless brutality. There are myriad examples. Moral evil has been a feature of human experience since Adam’s original sin.
Moral evil may be easier to explain than natural evil. It is caused by sinful actions of conscious human beings. Our response to both outcomes of “evil” is often similar. It is tempting to ask, “Why does God permit these events to happen, regardless of the cause?” The outcomes of moral evil relate to freedom of choice with which God created humanity. Man may accept or reject the tenets of natural law—the intuitive moral perception of right and wrong. Worse, he may deliberately disobey the Creator’s explicit commands.
The outcomes of natural evil result from a different sort of freedom. Tragic meteorological or geological events are examples of natural evil inflicting hardship and loss of human life. Such events cannot be blamed on moral failures of any human or group of humans. Our physical system functions according to laws of nature—scientific principles under which our universe operates. For instance, the Second Law of Thermodynamics controls the flow of heat energy driving events during prime hurricane and tornado generating seasons. Planet Earth is “free” to manifest the sometimes violent results of energy flow in the production of its destructive hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards. The results of this freedom are sometimes unpleasant and destructive. More often the outcomes of energy flow and energy conversion are highly beneficial in distributing water resources and heat energy. One example: Remnants of the latest 2017 Atlantic hurricane, Nate, quickly moved up the east coast to deliver beneficial rainfall to the dry northeast after striking the Gulf Coast.
The Creator of all things is fully capable of installing “stop signs” to prevent moral and natural evil. He originated the created order with its current conditions. He designed a “very good” world but it was not “perfect” according to some human standards of perfection. Many define perfection to include no pain, no inconvenience, and no concerns—perhaps a work-free set of conditions. Scripture does not indicate the Garden of Eden was a work-free zone.
Our planet’s early Eden Garden residents were instructed to “work it and take care of it.” After the Fall they were expelled from the unique Garden location and thrust into the hazards of Planet Earth in the outside world. The Fall resulted in a “sea change” in human nature, but not in different manifestations of the Law of Decay. Scripture does not instruct us as to the length of their Garden sojourn prior to the Fall. We imagine that events of the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden may have occurred quickly. Scripture is not explicit concerning time frames.
What motivates our questions about Law of Decay events? Many of these events are actually beneficial to life on Earth. For example, we could not exist without consumption of fuels to supply energy, including the benefits of consumption and digestion of our food and heat energy flows which drive beneficial weather events. Virtually every human activity is dependent on the Second Law. We “…live and move and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28) who “made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). Some events, however, cause human grief and pain in varying degrees. Second Law events could be placed on a spectrum of expected events—the beautiful and beneficial events at one end of the spectrum, the painful and destructive events at the opposite end, with many other events of varying impact distributed along the spectrum.
Human problem-solving and work-related events have been established by God as strengthening and beneficial. Harsh and difficult events serve an even greater strengthening role. The Apostle Paul frequently referenced hardships, including physical hardships, as factors in personal strengthening. He writes, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (Acts 12:10). Tragic or fatal events call our attention to God’s wisdom or “God’s higher purpose.” No mortal is able to discover or understand the depth of “God’s higher purpose” with respect to tragic events. Some individuals use this human inability to “discover” as an excuse to reject the wisdom or even the existence of the Creator.
Some of the deepest theological concepts related to human reaction to tragedy in our sphere of existence and how we deal with it are cited by Job, the ancient Old Testament figure. From a human standpoint we cannot explain Job’s statement after his unspeakable family and personal loss: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). At the conclusion of the Book of Job, both Elihu and God comment on the omnipotent, omniscient God of Creation in chapters 35-41. Finally, Job exclaims, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:2-6.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.