When the cyclone in Myanmar began, 260 villagers in Hluasa sought refuge in the sturdiest building they could find: the local school. Soon, however, 120-mile-per-hour winds and 12 feet of water tore through the building, ripping the roof off, collapsing the walls, drowning everyone who sought shelter, and leaving only a pile of bricks in its wake. All told, half of the village’s 1,900 residents died.
And that is only a sliver of the destruction nature spewed out in May. The final death toll resulting from Cyclone Nargis’s landfall on May 2 could approach 130,000. In China, after a magnitude 7.9 earthquake a mere 10 days later, nearly 70,000 died. The suffering, however, is beyond calculation.
The images coming from those events are nauseating: “A half-clothed baby’s body entangled in brush. Rows of lifeless children lying on the muddy ground, the face of one of them blue. Survivors crouching close together in mud under tarps” (abc News, May 14).
Where was God?
Whenever a catastrophic natural disaster strikes, among our tumult of emotions and thoughts, we tend to put God on trial. The idea, clung to by so many, of an all-loving, all-merciful Deity who smiles down on humanity seems shattered by the violence of the calamity. And as the world looks on, helpless before images of children dying in misery, many turn to their religious leaders for answers.
All too often, they receive only shocked silence. In 2006, during a visit to Auschwitz where roughly 2 million Jews were killed by Nazi atrocities, Pope Benedict xvi epitomized that condition, saying: “In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this? … Where was God in those days? Why was He silent? How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?”
The pope offered no answers; rather, he said that humans could not “peer into God’s mysterious plan.” He issued a cry for the Almighty to rouse Himself, asking, “Do not forget mankind, your creature!”
That sort of response denies hope to those who need it most.
After the December 2004 Asian tsunami, the archbishop of Canterbury wrote, “Every single random, accidental death is something that should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers. … The question: ‘How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?’ is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t—indeed, it would be wrong if it weren’t” (Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 2, 2005). The religious elite of the world offer no real explanation—and no hope—to those who suffer.
But there is no excuse for that.
Though most are not yet willing to accept it, the Bible certainly offers God’s perspective on why we suffer.
Even more, it reveals what we can do to help eliminate suffering forever!
Whose World Is This?
Contrast the reality of disasters and personal suffering you see all around the globe with this prophecy coinciding with the return of Jesus Christ: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Also consider this scripture depicting the world when God the Father comes down to new Jerusalem: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
If that is our loving Father’s perspective on suffering—that when He comes to Earth, He will forever banish those things that make us unhappy—then we should realize that God’s world isn’t here yet. Jesus Christ has not returned, causing sorrow and sighing to flee away.
So whose world is it now?
Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). We need to understand how the devil gained control of mankind—and why God allows it to this day. It has everything to do with God’s purpose for you—your incredible human potential.
Ezekiel 28 describes a magnificent archangel, “full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty” (verse 12). Isaiah 14:13 tells us this being called Lucifer tried to exalt his own throne—a position of authority over the Earth—above God’s throne. God cast Lucifer, now called Satan (meaning “adversary”), back down to Earth.
Most read the story of Adam and Eve’s encounter with the adversary as though it were an interesting fiction, never realizing how it has shaped every aspect of man’s civilization.
Consider the opportunity Adam and Eve had. Adam could have followed God’s instructions, choosing the tree of life, representing God’s way of life. He would have lived his life led by God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32). Our first parents would have forged a relationship with God, learning to think like God, learning to live the way of give. God would have removed Satan from his position of power on the Earth and given that authority to Adam. God wanted to fulfill His purpose in them.
But Adam and Eve were not prepared to embrace God’s way of life. Instead, they chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—Satan’s way of life. That rebellion is the origin of all human suffering.
A World Cut Off
In order to carry out His purpose for mankind, God had to seal off the tree of life. This was not a quick-tempered outburst; it was thoughtful, reflective, and the only way God could preserve our incredible human potential.
In his final book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong explained what God, in essence, told Adam when he made this decision: “Go, therefore, Adam, and all your progeny that shall form the world, produce your own fund of knowledge. Decide for yourself what is good and what is evil. Produce your own educational systems and means of disseminating knowledge, as your god Satan shall mislead you. Form your own concepts of what is god, your own religions, your own governments, your own lifestyles and forms of society and civilization. In all this Satan will deceive your world with his attitude of self-centeredness—with vanity, lust and greed, jealousy and envy, competition and strife and violence and wars, rebellion against me and my law of love.
“After the world of your descendants has written the lesson in 6,000 years of human suffering, anguish, frustration, defeat and death—after the world that shall spring from you shall have been brought to confess the utter hopelessness of the way of life you have chosen—I will supernaturally intervene” (emphasis mine).
Every aspect of our society has been affected by Adam and Eve choosing the wrong tree! Now, all of mankind is under the influence of the father of lies and murder (John 8:44), Satan the devil. In 1982, Mr. Armstrong gave a sermon titled “Aversion Therapy,” referring to this time—where God has, for the most part, kept His hands off the affairs of this world. He said, “I am getting so sick of sin that I want to be at the place where I can’t sin anymore. I hope you do too.” This is the state God wants the entire world to reach—a state where we are ready to live His way of life!
Instead, all of mankind remains at present under the malicious influence of the devil (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Mankind continues to choose the wrong tree and reap the same results with every new generation. Swayed by Satan, without God in our life, each of us is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7-8). We are carnal. We naturally hate God’s law.
In order to restore to us the exalted human potential that our first parents turned their backs on, God seeks to convert the heart of every carnal person in the world—to help us recognize the error in going the wrong way, and to instill in us a deep love for God’s way of life. “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”
(2 Peter 3:9). That is a tremendous ambition, given the mountainous obstacle that each heart presents. God is not doing this on a mass scale today, but His overarching plan, once fulfilled, does include everyone willing to come to repentance.
Because of the fatally wrong choice at the beginning of human history, mankind is writing a 6,000-year lesson in human suffering right now. That is why God allows mankind to experience so many evils under Satan’s rule: so we will come to see the fruits of living contrary to God’s law.
Even today, human suffering must be viewed from God’s perspective—remembering that God Himself is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Human death means nothing to God except a temporary sleep (1 Corinthians 15:51-55) because He is able to resurrect humans from the grave!
Repentance Toward God
Jesus Christ Himself was asked why 18 people were killed, seemingly at random, when a tower fell in Siloam. Were they evil? Was God exacting vengeance on them? Christ answered, “[T]hink ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5).
Jesus Christ knew that these men weren’t killed for their unrighteousness. Ecclesiastes 9:11 tells us that time and chance happen to all in this world.
But still: Could those 18 have been protected from the tower in Siloam?
Jesus’s answer was yes. And He said the key for such protection is repentance!
No one can impute wickedness on the people who die in an accident or natural disaster. Their deaths offer no proof of their being any more sinful than those who survived—or anyone else in the world. Romans 3:23 explains that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” But those disasters should serve as a warning to us that we risk the same fate—unless we repent of our sins. God protects those who repent and turn to Him in obedience.
And—though many would reject this truth—the Bible reveals that God also does allow suffering to turn us to Him.
Whenever God begins working with someone, He begins by humbling that individual. As it says in Proverbs 15:33, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.” God wants to give each of us phenomenal honor—but the humility, rooted in a deep respect for the Creator, must come first.
“Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). God wants us to repent so we can live!
Not only does God allow these disasters, we should expect them to increase as we approach the time of Christ’s return. In Matthew 24:7, Jesus Christ told us the end time would bring an increase in wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. Even more ominous, in verse 8, He calls this “the beginning of sorrows.” The real destruction lies yet ahead: “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (verse 21)—a stark contrast to the time free of suffering that God promises to bring.
Today, however, instead of seeing the amazing blessings God will offer to all of mankind, people see only the mess that Satan has orchestrated—and blame God for it.
Yet as we see disasters like those in Myanmar and China increase—indeed, see human suffering increase—we can be filled with a tremendous hope. How? By realizing that these are signs of the imminence of Jesus Christ’s return!
When that day finally comes, this 6,000-year-long aversion therapy will be over, and everyone on Earth will have seen the futility of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Mankind will be completely fed up with this sin-sick world! People will never want to turn to it again. More than simply being sick of doing the wrong, most will be ready to do what’s right, to live the way of peace, joy and happiness that God offered Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago. Satan the devil will be removed, and Jesus Christ—who did qualify to replace Satan as ruler of all the Earth—will rule over the greatest period of prosperity that has ever been.
When the time does come for all mankind to have the Holy Spirit poured upon them, God wants the conditions to be perfect so they will have the best chance of success possible in fulfilling their incredible human potential—far greater than they would have today! Then, with Satan banished, everyone will realize how much they need God. After a lifetime in societies run by evil men, most will be ready to turn to God. Mankind as a whole will be ready to learn about not just a religion, but a way of life. Those today who overcome Satan, society and themselves, and who follow Christ, will be ready to help Him teach it at that time.
This plan offers tremendous hope to everyone! After all, who hasn’t wondered about the ultimate fate of a loved one who has died? These people, resurrected to physical life, will have a choice to make: to follow God’s way of life or to continue to live a lifestyle that everyone on Earth has seen fail abysmally—a style of life that caused the suffering for which so many blame God. People of every religion, every type of sinner, every type of person who has ever lived will be given the chance to learn God’s way of life; they will gain the knowledge of their own potential—including friends and relatives of yours who died not yet having received a chance at the abundant life only God can offer.
God the Father wants to fulfill His purposein us. And when He finally does come down to Earth—when the incredible potential that every human has is fulfilled—everyone will understand why the Apostle Paul was inspired to write: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).