Hasn’t it been a strange summer—filled with so much tragic news and weather? Here in Oregon, we have had record-setting heat and drought (not to mention the fires and smoke). In other places across our country, people have suffered from excessive rainfall and severe flooding. It’s almost beyond belief that people drowned in their basements in New York City, due to flash floods. We are deeply divided over whether climate change actually exists—and if so, whether it is a natural or human-caused phenomenon.
Around the globe, social and political unrest continues. Here in Portland, reports of riots and shootings frequent the headlines in our evening news. And at this very moment, hundreds are trapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It may not make the headlines, but religious persecution continues to rage in many places around the world. There are almost daily reports in India of Christians enduring beatings and abuse at the hands of militant Hindus. China’s leaders are pursuing genocide of an entire Uyghur culture.
While all this is going on, we are facing the resurgence of a more contagious variant of Covid19. Our nation (and sadly churches) are divided over whether to vaccinate and wear masks or not—and whether the government has the right to mandate such things.
Enough bad news!
I believe the essential question, whether spoken or unspoken, is this: Where is God in all this chaos and injustice? Where is God in all the apparent natural disasters like excessive flooding or drought or extreme wildfires? Where is God in the global political chaos? Where is God in Afghanistan today?
First, we must consider two foundational questions: Does God exist? If so, what is God like?
If God does not exist (and I believe the evidence for His existence is insurmountable) then Carl Sagan was correct: “The cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.” In other words, we are products of chance—with a few years to live any way we choose—because there is no judgment to fear or reward to anticipate. We are here today, gone tomorrow and will be soon forgotten.
But if God exists, then the Taliban and ISIS will someday face judgment, as will Hitler and every person everywhere who rejects God.
Now the question most closely related to God’s apparent absence or silence in the midst of the calamities and chaos today is, “What is God like?” Is He kind or severe? Is He present or absent in the events all around us?
I described six false perspectives or caricatures of God in my book, God in His Own Image: Loving God for who He is… not who we want Him to be.” By the way, if I was to change the subtitle it would read “not who we imagine Him to be.” We can’t “want” God to be anything less than He has revealed Himself to be. But we may choose to “imagine” God one way or another. To do so is like a child imagining that a stuffed toy, perhaps “Puff the dragon,” is alive. Trying to imagine what God is like is more than a childish game; it is deadly fatal. In fact, it is idolatry. God is who He is! Like it or not.
To ask (and we all sometimes do) “Where is God in the chaos and suffering?” suggests doubt about God’s goodness or His power. Is He all powerful but not good? Or is God truly good, but lacking the power to do anything about the injustice and suffering in the world?
One of the caricatures of God in the book portrays Him as an absent Landlord. He created the universe—sort of wound up the cosmic clock—and walked away to let everything go its own way. This so-called god is not personally involved in the events on earth. Wars happen without his involvement. Natural disasters are just that: Nature doing what comes naturally.
The debate between intellectuals and the average citizen is whether the climate changes naturally, or is it caused by human involvement. Or is it some mixture of both?
The problem with that debate, in my opinion, is that something is missing in the discussion. To put it more clearly, Someone is missing. You could say the same about every political and social raging on the nightly news every evening.
We can debate the causes of global warming. We can pass blame for the lightning march of the Taliban across Afghanistan or claim that a lab in China is responsible for the current pandemic. We pontificate. We judge and condemn or justify.
Sadly, even among professing Christians I seldom hear God mentioned in these debates.
I wonder…does that make us practical atheists? We say there is a God out there somewhere, but we act or talk as if He isn’t involved in the daily grind of things.
Dare I suggest, even mildly, that the repetitive hurricanes and earthquakes that have devastated Haiti or the torrential rains on the Gulf Coast or Nashville are part of God’s plan? God’s work? God forbid that anybody considers God’s part in the travesty in Afghanistan! Was God surprised by any of these events? Or is He even aware? Has He simply checked out for awhile—taken a leave of absence or a sabbatical from world events?
If that sounds almost borderline blasphemy, I respond by referring to Scripture. Clearly and frequently, God takes credit or responsibility for sending drought, pestilence, floods, earthquakes and even invading armies to accomplish His will and—if you can accept it—to humble His people and to glorify Himself. Sound absurd? If so, it is probably because we have imagined a smaller, lesser God than the one we discover in the pages between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21.
In those pages I meet a God who is patient and kind and merciful, but also severe, holy and just. He is not an absent landlord. The world is His and all it contains. He still rules. Absolutely rules. He has raised up kings like Nebuchadnezzar and has established empires like Babylon. Or like Caesar and Rome or David and Israel. Each nation has played their part (His part) in human history. If God could raise up the Medes and Persians to wipe out Babylon and to appoint Cyrus as king of Persia (even calling Cyrus “My servant”) to decree that the Jews could return to their homeland, can God not also raise up the Taliban? Are they, and their god Allah, more powerful than YAHWEH, Israel’s God? Our God?
God responded to Israel’s passion for idolatry by sending (just as He had warned) drought, plagues, invasions of foreign armies and eventually exile. God has also warned any nation that He can and will use natural disasters—or in this case supernatural disasters—to humble them. God radically altered the climate and created a rainstorm that inundated the world and destroyed every living soul except the family of righteous Noah. His ultimate purpose was to preserve the line of the promised seed of the Redeemer, spoken of in Genesis 3:15.
I am not claiming to be a prophet by saying the existing climate changes and political chaos in the world are a direct result of God’s judgment. But I am suggesting that possibility. Perhaps, even probability. At the very least, let’s be sure to include God in the debate. God not only declared responsibility for droughts and famines and other disasters in the Bible, He has also warned of greater future climate change in the book of Revelation. Unimaginable violent storms and severe plagues will result in unbelievable loss of human life.
You may ask why God would have permitted a window of freedom in Afghanistan and then suddenly slam the door shut with the return of the Taliban. I don’t have the answer, but I offer a possibility to consider—even a prayer request. Perhaps God will use the injustices and terror under the rule of the Taliban to display His glory by drawing thousands of Afghans to Himself, when they see the stark contrast between the compassion and grace of Jesus with the harsh, impersonal Allah of the Quran under Sharia Law. This is what has been happening in Iran after decades of Sharia Law. The underground church in Iran is growing rapidly in spite of persecution.
So why would God, since He remains sovereign, cause the apparent climate changes including drought and severe flooding and other natural disasters? Perhaps He is warning us of greater impending judgments if we do not repent. Certainly, we deserve discipline. Are we any more righteous than those who perished in the flood? Are we any more righteous than the people of Israel at the time of the Assyrian or Babylonian invasions and exile?
I think not.
So where is God in all this global chaos? One thing is certain, He hasn’t walked away. He hasn’t died. He hasn’t misplaced our file. He hasn’t surrendered His sovereignty. This remains His world. Let us pray that His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Let us trust Him to do what is right and just.
In Genesis 18:25, Abraham put it like this: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The answer is yes. Every time.
I add this excerpt from This Present Crisis James Russell Lowell’s poem, This Present Crisis (composed prior to the Civil War):
Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne-
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch, above his own.