The mind staggers. “Decomposing corpses are everywhere,” said a South African relief worker. “It is as if bodies were scattered from the sky.”
Over 18½ miles under the sea, the earth rocked, shoving an ocean onto a continent. Mammoth waves swallowed beaches, engulfed villages. More than 225,000 lives were snuffed out. Millions were left without food. The grotesqueness of the Asian tsunami tragedy left the world in shock.
That aid worker drearily watched the unidentified dead being bulldozed into mass graves in a hasty effort to ward off disease. “In almost 15 years of relief work, I have never experienced this extent of utter desperation and hopelessness,” he said (Star, South Africa, January 3).
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.
One woman who lost her child in the Indian fishing village of Valainkani wailed, “Oh God! Why have you taken my son away?” (Manila Times, Dec. 30, 2004). The horror of losing a child is unimaginable to most; now, more than ever, this woman needs hope.
Staring into the faceless brutality of the worst such disaster in anyone’s memory, even religious leaders have found themselves bereft of answers. It’s an unenviable task, really: explaining why God would allow such an incalculable level of suffering. Perhaps no one has ever really wanted to answer this question. Undoubtedly, many fear they cannot.
In the Wall Street Journal, from theologian David Hart we read: “When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering—when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children’s—no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms—knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against ‘fate,’ and that must do so until the end of days” (Dec. 31, 2004).
Eloquent—but laced with the same desperation and hopelessness of that aid worker.
Paul Stenhouse, a Catholic priest, wrote, “Christianity does not teach that God causes natural disasters; nor does it teach that God causes them in order to punish the wickedness of the victims” (Australian, January 4). This man is sure that God didn’t cause the tsunami. But the question remains: Why would He allow it? Certainly an all-powerful God could have stopped it before it happened. Why didn’t He? Could He possibly be that callous to such an incalculable level of human suffering? The natural mind struggles for an explanation. Some blame God, accuse God—even give up on the idea that there is a God.
The regrettable reality is, most people do not accept the God who reveals Himself in the Holy Bible! They are worshiping a god of their own creation.
God’s Word does explain—in explicit detail—why such things happen. Their causes are spelled out from the first book of the Bible to the last.
The ministers who are saying that it couldn’t be God’s will to cause something so destructive as that tsunami do not know God!
Thereismeaning. There is a lesson, a profound lesson, wrapped within the loss of life and breadth of desolation—one that each of us must consider deeply. We need to be able to recognize the hand of our Creator. We must comprehend what God is doing. Yes, it is achingly difficult. But platitudes cannot assuage grief, and ignorance does not change truth.
The truth—contained within the deadly waves of the tsunami—is filled with living hope!
Origin of Human Suffering
The point must be made from the beginning that this is not God’s world.
If it’s the God of the Bible we are putting on trial, let us look at the biblical narrative to frame the terms of the debate.
It is true that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). What is that love? It is God’s giving way of life, manifested, for example, in God giving His only begotten Son to the world (John 3:16). That love is defined by and expressed in God’s commandments: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments …” (1 John 5:3).
At the beginning of human existence, God created Adam and Eve at the very pinnacle of the material world. They were cast in His very likeness: Unlike the animals, human beings look like their Maker. God intended that they care for and rule benevolently over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26-31). He endowed them with intellectual and creative powers, enabling them to grow into God’s own image, or character. Earth was the training ground so that these two, and the family of man that would spring from them, could eventually fulfill their fullest potential as eternal children of God.
True character must be developed through right decisions, so God made Adam and Eve free moral agents. He then gave them a choice. On one hand, they could have followed God’s instructions and chosen the tree of life, which represents God’s Holy Spirit and the path to eternal life. Had they done so, they would have continued to live under His protection; they would have developed a relationship with God, learning to think like Him and live His way of give.
Instead, the first two people trusted in themselves, succumbed to the temptations of Satan the devil, and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:16-19 show that because of this decision, God removed His protection and guidance, and pronounced upon them certain curses; then He banished them from the Garden and cut off their access to the tree of life (verses 22-24).
To comprehend the tsunami, we must grasp the implications of this fateful moment in human history.
It was not a quick-tempered outburst: God, to preserve the exalted potential of man, had to seal off the tree of life. To bring the first two humans into His eternal Family while they were making choices contrary to His commandments—opposing His love—would have produced eternal division and misery. So instead, God took the occasion to teach Adam and Eve, and all those who would follow them, an enormous lesson.
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 ours).
Yes—every aspect of our society has been affected because Adam and Eve defied their Creator! This fatal choice at the beginning of human history made necessary the writing of that lesson in human suffering—the 6,000-year period of which mankind is now nearing the end.
All of mankind remains at present under the malicious influence of the devil (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). 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. He is not doing this on a mass scale today, but His overarching plan, once fulfilled, does include everyone willing to come to repentance.
A Call to Repentance
True repentance bridges the gap between an individual and God. Thus the very first step toward real and everlasting happiness is a genuine, deep, complete repentance. To recognize our own helplessness, unhappiness and inadequacy apart from God is the most fundamental lesson any of us could learn.
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.
The curses God imposed upon Adam and his seed were intended to teach this lesson. The suffering that saturates this present world, cut off from God, is intended to teach this lesson.
When God was working with the carnal nation of ancient Israel, here is how He did it: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19; you may find it helpful to read verses 15-20).
This goes beyond just the natural consequences for obeying or disobeying God’s laws. God said He would bless for obedience and curse for disobedience. When the Israelites obeyed, He prospered them; when they rebelled, He would send a plague, or turn the weather against them, or remove His protection and allow them to go into captivity. Essentially God was teaching them a proper fear of Him.
God has as much control over natural phenomena today as He did then. In His omnipotence He could have stopped that tsunami; after all, Jesus Christ stilled a storm with just a few words (Mark 4:39). Whether the earthquake was caused by a random tectonic shift, or the devil himself, God could have prevented it—but didn’t. There is a reason.
Note this! When something like the recent tsunami disaster occurs, we shouldallgrow ingodly fear. God’s desire is that the whole world would learn to fear Him in the face of such catastrophe.
The God of Judgment
Neil Brown, dean of the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Cathedral, criticized one minister for saying that the disaster was part of God’s warning that judgment was coming. Brown told his congregation, “It is not a Catholic belief, and it’s a rather horrible belief when you begin to think about it.”
Does this man know the God of the Bible? The God who blesses for obedience—and punishes for disobedience?
A Christian priest in Sri Lanka asked, “How do you explain to a people that God loves you, that God cares for you? It’s difficult.” Truly—to the woman who lost her son, or to people who saw thousands of corpses strewn on a beach, the cliché that “God loves you” would be difficult to swallow.
But can we recognize the love in God’s correction? And shouldn’t we ask the more piercing question: Is it possible that we don’t love God? Might that be the problem?
Something is flawed with the notion that no matter how much evil is perpetrated, no matter what we do, God is obligated to shower only blessings upon us. Ponder these profound words of the Prophet Malachi: “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17).
Do we know this God? Do we really have the proper fear of God? Are we willing to accept this plain truth from the Bible? Consider it.
One can only imagine how horrifying the sight must have been: stories-high water rushing toward you, death almost certain; entire villages being swept aside, smashing the hopes and ambitions of the residents who lived there; knowing that you and everyone you loved were probably about to die.
And only Noah and his family survived. By the hand of God, every inhabitant of the Earth was wiped out, sparing only eight people.
Yes, if the Bible is your authority, God has wiped the planet clean with water before in a cataclysm exponentially more destructive than the recent Asian disaster.
Repeatedly Scripture describes God’s judgment on the nations and on His own people. Read the account of the Flood in Genesis 6-8, and of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Read God’s judgment against Egypt in Exodus 12:29-30, and against Israel in Amos 4:10. Read the prophecies of the plagues God will rain down upon this world in the time just ahead, spelled out in Revelation 16.
Should we be so shocked when we see such calamities today? To say that God would never cause such suffering—that it could not be His will—is to admit frankly that we don’t know God.
God on Death
To understand how correction through calamity can actually be an expression of love, one must have God’s perspective on human life. 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!
One of the greatest, most hope-filled truths in Scripture is that of the resurrection of the dead. Hebrews 6:1-2 list the resurrection as being one of the foundational doctrines of your Bible. Scripture actually refers to three separate resurrections, each serving a unique purpose (this truth is explained in our free reprint article “The Three Resurrections”). In God’s immense wisdom and mercy, every individual who ever lived will be given one genuine chance to choose eternal life or eternal death. The vast majority in this Satan-gripped world have not yet been given that choice, and are not yet judged (Hebrews 9:27).
Those who died in the tsunami will be raised again! God has promised it! That is a message of hope. Those who grieve for their loved ones need to understand this. Those now dead will be resurrected in a future utopian world, ruled by God—one far kinder than the world fraught with nightmares that we now inhabit. At that time they will receive, for the first time, the opportunity to understand God’s precious truth and apply it in their lives.
God’s perspective is very different from ours. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). It is not cruelty that leads Him to correct—even to allow some to die. It is rather His lightning-bolt message to those still living—the Creator’s call to repentance.
“Ye Shall Likewise Perish”
In Luke 13, Jesus Christ speaks to this subject. Some of those following Him told Him of some wicked Galileans who were killed by Pilate in an especially gruesome manner. Jesus answered the question as to whether they deserved their fate: “Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).
Christ followed up with an example that expanded the discussion. Eighteen people had been crushed by the collapse of a tower—an accidental and tragic death. They too bore no particular guilt above anyone else around them who was spared. But again Jesus followed up with the barbed statement: “[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” (verses 4-5).
No one can impute wickedness on the people who died in the tsunami. 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.”
Christ was saying that the disasters that befall others should serve as a warning to us—that we will be subject to the same fate unless we repent of our sins! God provides protection only for those who turn to Him in repentance and obedience (see the Commentary on page 37).
Referring to Christ’s warning to the Jews, the Trumpet’s editor in chief, Gerald Flurry, wrote: “God told them they must repent or the whole jewish nation would die in the same violent way! That is precisely what happened to the Jewish nation in a.d. 70! Only God’s loyal remnant escaped to Pella. They are the only ones who heeded Christ’s warning!” (June 1995).
But, Mr. Flurry explained, “We must not forget that what happened to the Jewish nation is only a type of what is to happen to Israel—mainly the American and British peoples in this end time.” This critical truth is explained in vivid detail within our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
Mr. Flurry continued, “Jewish historian Josephus recorded that there were many catastrophes which were rapidly intensifying before the Jewish nation was destroyed in a.d. 70. Disasters were very common. Today, we see the same scenario in end-time Israel. Horrifying events are becoming common for us today. It is all leading to the total destruction of our nations unless we repent! These disasters are the strongest kind of warning from God. …
“Why all these disasters? They are a warning from God to repent! The disasters will keep coming until we repent. That is our only hope.”
Yes—the disasters will keep coming. We can count on that.
The Beginning of Sorrows
Notice what Christ prophesied in the Olivet prophecy for our day now: “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7-8). The disasters occurring now are only the beginning of sorrows! God is going to bring them upon the whole world.
Ezekiel 5 contains a prophecy revealing that one third of the people of biblical Israel (the United States and the British peoples today) are going to die with “fire” and “pestilence” (verses 2, 12). Pestilence in the original Hebrew means destruction or death. For the U.S., that means 100 million people will die!
Then, Ezekiel prophesies, will come foreign attack—in which another third of the population will “fall by the sword” (verse 12). That means another 100 million in the U.S.
Only one tenth will survive the national captivity that follows. This is destruction on an unprecedented scale. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).
Why would God allow that suffering? What is God’s ultimate purpose in all this? “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!
Thus, God is determined to allow suffering to increase until mankind accepts that there is no hope in man! Regrettably, mankind will sink to unprecedented depths before people will admit that they are wrong!
The truth is, if God were to pull up now and cut His losses—to accept only those few on Earth who had genuinely repented and whole-heartedly accepted His rule in their lives, He would have a family of perhaps only thousands.
But by allowing the full 6,000 years of human existence in Satan’s world to play themselves out—to in fact cause events to climax in unprecedented catastrophe—God is creating conditions whereby many hundreds of millions—even multiple billions of human beings made in the likeness of their heavenly Father—will recognize the futility of the ways that seemed right to them but led only to death, and embrace the God-ordained way of love, of joy and peace—the way that leads to life.
God is a God of love. To comprehend the love of God, we must realize that what we have now is not real life—it is merely a short-lived chemical existence. God wants to give us real life—eternal life! That is why He will allow so much destruction and suffering to come upon this world: so as many as possible will repent, and He can then reward them with eternal life.
“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-36).
Even in the face of these catastrophes—even as we see these types of natural disasters increase, and see human suffering increase—we can be filled with a vibrant hope. Why?
Because knowing that we are in the last days tells us that Jesus Christ is about to return! When He does, this 6,000-year-long lesson in human suffering will be over, and everyone on Earth will have seen the futility of following after the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. People 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 banished, and Jesus Christ will rule over the greatest time of prosperity that has ever been.
Finally, with God’s benevolent government in place, the hope of the resurrection will become reality, and everyone who has ever lived—including our loved ones, the victims of the tsunami—will be raised into a world where the right choice has been made, where, as the Prophet Isaiah said, the knowledge of the Eternal covers the Earth as the waters cover the sea.
To learn more, request our free booklet Repentance Toward God.