In the wake of incredible loss and disaster, we struggle to understand how a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing can also be considered good and loving. Pastor and teacher Erwin Lutzer tackles this tough subject head-on in his book, “Where Was God?”
“Where Was God?” offers real answers as well as comfort and hope to those who struggle with these challenges to their faith.
Q: How do we respond to questions of God’s judgment that often arise after a natural disaster?
Dr. Lutzer: In a sense all death is the judgment of God because the soul that sins, it will die. All of death is really a judgment of God. What happens in natural disasters happens every day throughout the world. Tens of thousands of people die – often times in very drastic situations. The reason that we hear about natural disasters is because so many people die all at the same time. It is an intense occasion of what really is happening all the time.
But are they judgments of God? Yes in the sense that all death is the judgment of God, and in the sense that the earth is cursed. But what we need to understand about these judgments is that the righteous die along with the wicked.
Some people who knew Christ as Savior died in Haiti and in Katrina. We must be very clear that natural disasters do not distinguish between the righteous and those who do not know God.
Secondly, it’s not possible for us—we’re in no position—to look at one area of the world and say the reason it gets a natural disaster is because it is more wicked than some other area. For example, we’re not able to say that New Orleans is a more evil city than Las Vegas. That’s not within our ability to determine. It’s not for us to judge one area from another.
Q: What can Christians say to neighbors and friends who question whether God can be merciful and loving and allow disasters to happen?
Dr. Lutzer: One of the greatest challenges we have as Christians is to somehow continue to believe God and to trust Him in the midst of horrendous devastation. When you see children being separated from their fathers and mothers, when you see lives being torn and hundreds of people dead, it is very natural to ask the question, “Where is God?”
What we need to realize is that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have to point people to the fact that God has intervened in our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the love of God most clearly.
It was Martin Luther who said, “When you look around and wonder whether God cares, you must always hurry to the cross and you must see Him there.”
The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Some times we reverse that. The values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that earthquakes do not increase death. Everybody is going to die someday. It’s the way they die that causes us so much grief.
When we hear about a natural disaster we should grieve with those who grieve. And we should ask what we can do to alleviate their suffering.
Finally, I think this is the best illustration. All of Job’s 10 children died in a natural disaster. There was a wind storm that blew down the house. Job was confronted with the fact that because of a natural disaster, there are 10 fresh graves on the hilltop. So now what is he going to do?
His wife says to curse God and die. But Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job shows us it is possible to worship God even without explanations, even when we don’t know all the reasons. Those who worship God under those conditions are especially blessed.
Q: Do you have any concluding words?
Dr. Lutzer: I would say to all who read my book and all who hear of natural disasters, we need a firm place to stand. Some day the ground underneath us will shake, either literally or metaphorically. The question is, “Will we be on solid ground? Will you build your house on the sand or on the rock?”
At the end of day, whether we die in a natural disaster or by other causes, what is most important is that we are based on the rock of Jesus, because He is the one who is able to take us through life and death and whatever storms we may encounter. And then we get to meet Him on the other side.