Earthquakes & Cancers: God & Evil

 

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Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. This is Paul Kattupalli. This week I spent a lot of time contemplating the problem of evil.  A massive earthquake hit Mexico this week. Already over 242 people were killed. As I speak, the rescue workers have gathered around a school which was completely destroyed by the earthquake. They are pleading with people to keep silence because they want to hear the cries of children trapped under the rubble. A rescue team is removing debris to rescue a little girl.

Earthquakes unleash unpredictable horror on their victims. With a hurricane at least we get a warning about their location, speed and direction giving us some time to plan and escape. With earthquakes you don’t get any alerts and warnings. The rescue team is dragging the dead bodies out of the rubble: Housewives preparing meals, children attending school, teenagers playing football, seniors relaxing in the nursing home, people shopping in the grocery stores: all buried instantaneously and lost their lives.

Then we have hurricanes wrecking the landscape. One by one they are ravaging the land leaving millions of people in devastation, grief and loss. They are like natural weapons of mass destruction inflicting untold horrors like the one we saw in Florida. Eight people died in a nursing home after they were left without power. After the power cuts, a family started a generator which released carbon monoxide and killed the whole family of suffocation. A man was on a ladder trying to put storm protection over windows. Then a powerful wind came, blew him off the ladder and killed him. Hurricane Irma was the most powerful hurricane recorded in the open Atlantic Ocean in the Satellite Age.  This morning I watched the funeral of Nabeel Qureshi, a great man of God. Around a year ago, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, after a year long battle with this malignancy he passed away this weekend. I remember meeting Nabeel two years ago in a conference. He was full of passion for Christ and his gospel. I watched his funeral with a grieving heart. My own parents are struggling with cancer.

When evil strikes us, either in the form of natural disasters or diseases or death, we think about our mortality, eternity and God. How can a loving God allow so much suffering in this world? Our pleasant lives get disturbed by pain and suffering.

Elie Wiesel was a Nobel Prize winner and a survivor of the Holocaust. He was in a concentration camp and along with few others, one day he was forced to watch the hanging of two Jewish men and one Jewish boy. It was painful to watch this little boy struggling for half an hour on the gallows. They were moaning in their hearts, ‘if he is going to die, let him die quickly’.

As the boy was struggling on the gallows, some one behind Wiesel cried out, ‘Where is God? Where is he? Wiesel also groaned, ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ Then he heard a voice within him saying, ‘He is hanging there on the gallows’.

People ask, ‘Where is God during the Holocaust?’

Where is God on September 11?

Where is God today?

God is there where He has always been. There is no change in his position. Sun is always there. Our view of sun changes because we are moving, not the sun. Recently we had a solar eclipse across the United States. Sun was eclipsed by moon, but Sun was there right in the center of our planetary system. In the same way, God can be eclipsed by evil, whether natural or human, but there is no change in God’s position or His nature.

During solar eclipse, people wore special glasses. Why? looking at the sun with our naked eyes will permanently damage our eyesight. Looking at God with our own opinions will permanently damage our worldview. We must look at God through Christ. We must look at God through the cross of Christ and the communion.

Philip II was a great king of Spain. His life was between 1527 and 1598. His empire spanned the whole world. During the Spanish Golden Age, he was ruling vast territories on every continent. The expression, ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’ was coined his time. In literature, arts and music the Spanish culture was flourishing. He loved Madrid. He built a majestic palace El Escorial for his residence. He built a great church beside his palace. Sadly, this most powerful king also suffered from asthma, skin ulcers, gout and cancer. During the bouts of suffering, this king would spend hours in prayer on his knees. His bedroom was next to the church. A small window was carved into his bedroom that looked out into the church. When he was troubled by pain, he would open his window,  he would lie in his bed, he would look into the church through the window, he would contemplate the cross of Christ, he would watch the communion being said, he would think about God and eternity.

King Philip’s approach to the problem of evil is exemplary for all Christians. We all need that small window in our lives through which we should look at the cross and contemplate the thoughts of God and eternity.

The cross of Christ is at the center of Christian theodicy. Theodicy is a fancy word for discussions about God and evil. Famous German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined that word. Christianity answers all questions of evil through the cross.  On the cross, the most innocent person ever lived given a most unfair trial and given most painful punishment. What is more evil than that? Let me give you eight things we can learn from the cross when we face evil.

Problem of the Cross: The root of evil is sin, transgression of the laws of God. Even natural evil is rooted in moral evil. It started with the Original Sin of Adam. Original Sin is not just eating the apple, it is about humanity declaring its independence from God. It’s humanity paving its own path, its own destiny apart from the path and destiny established by God. You remember French Revolution, its leaders declared the existence of God does not matter, humanity should carve its own path, its own destiny in spite of, despite of God and His word. That’s what Adam and Eve did. In its most primitive form, they set the French Revolution in the Garden of Eden. It’s divorce from God. Since the Fall, humanity’s distance from God is only widening. Some people say, ‘You Christians blame everything on the Fall’. In fact, we are not blaming everything on the fall.

When God was punishing Sodom and Gomorrah, He did not blame Adam and Eve. He blamed their own sins, their own abominations. People who go to hell cannot blame Adam, they have to blame themselves.

On the cross, Jesus was paying for all sins, starting from the sins of Adam and Eve. He died not just for the sins of Adam, but also your sins and my sins. The question of sin must be dealt with before God could deal with the existence of evil. I heard on the news about a man who went and killed his ex-wife during the hurricane. He thought, ‘everyone is busy due to hurricane, this is the best time to kill her’. You see, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.

In the fourteenth century, Black Death came and devastated Europe. More than 200 million people were killed. It emptied half of Europe. After the plague, instead of repenting their sins, people returned to their old sinful lifestyles. In his essay, ‘God’s Hand was Unstrung’, Matteo Villani lamented, after all the destruction of Black Death, after all the disfigurement of the land, after all the scarring it left, people still did not repent of their sins. When evil manifests around us in different forms, we should see the problem of sin and repent of our sins.

Pain of the cross: Secondly, pain of the cross. We have English word excruciating pain. We use it to describe the worst pain we ever had, 10 or above on a scale of 10. Excruciating literally means ‘out of the cross’. On the cross, God experienced the most extreme pain. No one can go to God and say, ‘God, you have no idea how painful this is; you have no idea how frightening this experience is, you have no idea how distressful my situation is’. In the person of Christ, God experienced pain, stress and distress it their harshest form. At the cross, we find a God who understands the pain of evil. 

Purpose of the Cross: thirdly, the purpose of the cross. On the cross, we see the perfect manifestation of evil: the most innocent of all human beings suffering the most brutal form of evil. Yet through that evil, God was fulfilling His purposes: preparing the way of salvation for you and me.  What was the purpose behind a hurricane? We don’t know, yet it has a purpose. We should not become restless in our pursuit of understanding the purposes. In a town in Oregon,  Christopher Harper-Mercer shot and killed 10 people, and then killed himself. What motivated this mass shooter? Officers went to his home and interviewed his mother. During the interview, she said, ‘I think I need my son back. I need to understand, really why he did this. I’m guessing’. Many times we don’t understand the evil.

Augustine said,  “The difficult task we face is how to learn how not to know the reason for evil”. We don’t have answers for every questions, but God answered our fundamental questions. G.K. Chesterton said, “For the Christian, Joy is the central feature of life and sorrow is peripheral, because in the gospel the fundamental questions of life are answered and it is the peripheral ones that are relatively unanswered. For the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, because only the peripheral questions have answers and the central ones remain unanswered”.

Patience of the Cross: Fourthly, the patience of the cross.  Ravi Zacharias said, ‘Jesus did not conquer death in spite of pain and suffering, He conquered through it’. Jesus conquered evil through the cross with patience. God was silent when His Son was hanging on the cross. God was silent but not absent. When Jesus and his disciples were sailing in a small boat across the Sea of Galilee, there was a storm. The disciples became anxious and stressful. Jesus was sleeping during the storm; they thought he would not care; sometimes we feel like that: God is silent and sleeping. When we go through evil and suffering, God may be silent but He is not absent. When Paul was traveling to Rome, his ship was engulfed by a hurricane. His life was endangered. But with patience, Paul relied on God in the midst of the hurricane. 

Many people in our society get depressed, some even contemplate suicide when they face evil. At the cross, we learn patience that is essential to survive suffering and evil. When you experience evil, don’t force yourself into conclusions. Don’t lose your confidence, have patience.

Prayer of the Cross : Fifthly, the prayer of the cross. As he went through the crucifixion – before, during, and after – Jesus was constantly praying to the Father. As the cross was imminent, we find Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. His agony was so intense that his sweat was falling to the ground as drops of blood. In such distress, Jesus prayed to the father, ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done’

Hanging on the cross, we find Jesus praying,  ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing’: Jesus was praying for the forgiveness of people who were crucifying him. At the cross, we learn the value of prayer when we go through suffering and evil. When you go through evil, take time to pray. Take time to intercede. That is how you gain strength.

Philanthropy of the Cross : Then, the philanthropy of the cross. When Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston, people were perishing in every direction. Sgt.Steve Perez could have stayed home. But he wanted to help people. He drove into an underpass and drowned. This Christian police officer wanted to save people and he did not even care for his own life. 

‘Are you crazy? When we are going through evil, shouldn’t we be concerned about ourselves? When we are in pain, shouldn’t we just mind our own business without worrying about others?’ No, at the cross we learn philanthropy.

While going through the pain of the cross, Jesus was still thinking about others. He thought of his mother and gave her responsibility to John; he thought about the thief on the cross beside him. At the cross we learn caring for others when we go through suffering and evil. When plagues hit Roman Empire, physicians like Galen fled instead of helping the victims. It was Christians who went into the plagues and helped the victims.

During these hurricanes and earthquakes, many Christians are going around in flood waters to help other people in need. They are going around praying for people in suffering. That is really commendable. That is what our Lord taught us at the cross. When you face evil, think how you can help others.

Promise of the Cross: Then, the promise of the cross. Jesus gave a promise to the dying thief: today you will be in paradise. Today you will be in heaven with me. That dying thief, with a past full of atrocities and sins, with a present filled with stench of blood and sweat, will step into heaven for an eternity of joy. That is what grace is all about. It gives us what we do not deserve. Atheists mock heaven as the pie in the sky; but heaven is a real place; God’s answer to evil can not be completed without heaven.

When a baby dying with cancer we only see the pain; but when the baby dies and go to heaven, there is Jesus hugging that baby. When a baby dying with cancer, we see the suffering the child going through, we see the tears of her parents, we smell the nauseating chemotherapy, we feel the heat of radiation: but if you see Jesus waiting in heaven to receive that baby, our perspective of evil will change. When a little child dies in the earthquake, it sounds so horrible, but that child just entered into heaven. The promise of heaven on the cross is an essential part of God’s answer to evil.

The philosophers of this world from Kant to Hegel to Nietzsche to Schopenhauer, they left us with pessimism when faced with evil. At the cross, Jesus gave us hope; at the cross, Jesus gave us a future; so,  at the cross, we can be optimistic about a bright and wonderful future. In Jeremiah 29:11, we read, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Note those words: Expected end: Life is full of unexpected interruptions, but in Christ, we have an expected end. That is where hope comes from: We have an expected end. When you face evil, you don’t have to get depressed, you can rejoice because you are going to heaven.
Peace of the Cross: Finally the peace of the cross. We read in John 19:28, ‘Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished’. In Greek, it says, ‘panta tetelestai’, ‘panta tetelestai’ means all things had been accomplished’. Jesus accomplished all things on the cross for our salvation. He died shouting ‘It is finished’. The demands of a holy God are met, the penalty of sin has been paid, the fellowship between God and man is restored, peace between God and man has been established. It is finished. That is the remedy for moral evil. God also has a remedy for natural evil. He will destroy the current universe and will replace it with a new universe. Under the silence of the cross, we can find peace. Our sin has been paid. We can have peace with God, we can also have peace about our circumstances because God promised a Day when all evil will be removed: both moral and natural. So, in the midst of all evil, you can have peace because God already told us about his plans. At the first coming of Christ, God provided a solution to moral evil. At his second coming, God will remove natural evil.

Conclusion: Atheists should  recognize that fact: Evil can be real only if God exists. Without objective moral values, you can not differentiate between good and evil. Objective moral values can only come from a person with objective moral values, who is God. The presence of evil does not rule out the existence of God, it affirms the existence of God, it establishes the existence of God.

Peter Abelard was a French philosopher, theologian and logician. He went through lot of suffering in his life. He titled his autobiography the Historia Calamitatum (The Story of My Troubles). Calling himself ‘a philosopher of God’ he extensively studied the problem of evil. Finally he said, of all religions, Christianity has the most logical explanation for the problem of evil.

Naturalism cannot say there is evil. Sixty million years ago an asteroid hit Mexico and all dinosaurs were gone, that’s nature. If earthquakes hit us adequately, all human beings will be gone, that’s nature. If cancerous mutations hit us badly, all human beings will be gone, that’s nature. In naturalism, everything is natural. Nothing is evil. In Hinduism, it is all your karma. Little children trapped under the rubble after the earthquake, because that’s their karma. They probably paying for the sins of their past lives. That’s blaming the victim. Only Christianity establishes evil in all its horror and provides a perfect solution to evil in the cross and resurrection of Christ.

The cross of Christ is central to Christian theodicy. We have seen that under eight dimensions.

The problem of the cross

The pain of the cross

The purpose of the cross

The patience of the cross

The prayer of the cross

The philanthropy of the cross

The promise of the cross

The peace of the cross.

 

Whatever evil you are facing in your life today, I pray that you will be comforted by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and God will give you strength, hope and peace in all your troubles.

PRAYER: ‘Lord Jesus, we pray for the people who are going through suffering today. Whatever evil they are experiencing, we pray you comfort them and strengthen them with your hope and peace. We pray that you give them healing. In your loving name we ask. Amen’ 

 

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