By any measure, the last several months have been momentous for North Americans. We have seen hurricanes in Texas and then in Florida (not to mention the Caribbean Islands.) We have seen a series of earthquakes around Mexico City. In one incident, a church collapsed, killing a family that had come to baptize their infant child. Recently, a man tried to murder a police officer in Edmonton and then tried to run over pedestrians on the street. By God’s grace, no life was taken. And then, we are now told of the killing of 58 people in Las Vegas, Nevada, along with the wounding of more than 500. By any measure, these are momentous times.
I am often asked how a God of love can allow such things to happen. I usually respond in two ways. First, haven’t you been paying attention? While we mourn the deaths of those murdered in Las Vegas, might we just lift our eyes and see the suffering of the world? Right now, among the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, there is the development of a humanitarian crisis. Last August, in three days, 2,000-3,000 people were murdered. Only God knows the death toll. We also know that over 500,000 people have been displaced.
But of course, that doesn’t yet deal with the death toll of the war in Iraq and in Syria, the human catastrophe in Yemen, the ethnic violence that has displaced close to 2,000,000 in South Sudan and the ongoing war and instability in Afghanistan. The only reason many of us are so shocked is that we have simply refused to lift up our eyes and see the vast evil that fills the earth. With a worldview that believes things are getting better, we are left bedevilled. Having believed in a world where people are basically good and not sinful, we are always left shocked when the horrors of this world actually find their way into our own backyard. The world didn’t pay attention when jihadists, armed groups, and criminal networks uprooted over 4,000,000 people from their homes in the last two years in the Lake Chad basin in Africa. Why not? Are the people’s lives who live there any less valuable than our lives in North America? Please understand: We only believe in a benevolent world when we close our eyes and don’t pay attention to what is actually happening. If we become realists, we will be astonished that it wasn’t so much worse here than it might have been.
My second response to those who struggle during a time of crisis has to do with the matter of the love of God. The testimony of scripture is that God is simultaneously loving and righteous. God has so determined that there would be forewarnings of both heaven and hell. When unspeakable suffering happens, we are reminded of eternal, unspeakable sufferings that lay ahead if we will not repent. When grace and mercy and love occur, we are reminded of the eternity of grace that God holds before the human race.
Consider Jesus’ example of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam, recorded in Luke 13. He was being asked if those 18, upon whom that tower unexpectedly fell, were worse sinners than the rest, who were spared such a horrible fate. His response should be remembered. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The tragedies in the world remind us of what lies ahead. The fact that the tragedies are not so much worse than they might have been remind us of a merciful and loving God who is holding back the winds of eternal judgment. After all, His love indicates that He will grant us a season of grace.