|Taking Every Thought Captive|
The Tsunami and The Problem of Evil
By Massimo Lorenzini
Why death & suffering?
As Christians, we believe in a good God who is all-powerful and all-loving. Yet, we cannot escape the reality of evil and suffering in the world. Many people reject belief in God because they can’t imagine a world in which God and evil both exist. It is a good thing to take evil seriously and to find it abhorrent. It would be far more disconcerting to talk with a person who finds no problem with the existence of evil (though a consistent atheist would have to say so).
Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis provides a helpful analysis of the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The following comes from Wieland:
Compared to seeing a plane plunge into a skyscraper, the first amateur video shots showing a surge of brown water overpowering the blue of a resort pool didn’t seem to rate high on the scale of horror.
But as the images kept pouring in and the estimated death toll kept rising, into the six figures even, it became apparent that the Asian tsunami disaster makes 9/11 seem tame by comparison.
Of course, 9/11 was triggered by the deliberate actions of people, whereas the tsunami disaster is in quite a different category. No human action, nor any failure to act, caused this Indian Ocean catastrophe.
The killer waves were set off by a massive undersea earthquake, apparently the result of slippage of tectonic plates after years of pent-up strain. Some coastlines are estimated to have moved as much as 20 meters (65 ft.). An earthquake of magnitude 9, like this one, sounds “almost twice as bad” as a more common one of magnitude 5; but the Richter scale is an logarithmic one. That means a “9” is really 10,000 times as violent as a “5”. [In fact, this refers only to the wave amplitude. The energy involved is actually a million times greater.] The giant quake shook the world with the force of millions of Hiroshima-size atomic bombs. Sensitive instruments were said to have picked up an effect on the earth’s rotation; the globe was described as “ringing like a bell” afterwards.
The Tsunami and the Great Flood
The superquake that set off the Asian tsunami disaster is believed to have resulted from the sudden slippage of two tectonic plates in the earth’s crust. The most prominent theory today concerning the mechanism of the Genesis Flood is that of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics (CPT). Its chief proponent is leading creationary scientist Dr. John Baumgardner. Dr. Baumgardner, who recently retired after years of service at Los Alamos National Laboratories, is also a world-renowned expert on plate tectonics. He rejects the millions of years normally associated with plate tectonics and its corollary, “continental drift”, and points to ample scientific evidence to support the view that the movements of continents, for instance, had to have happened relatively quickly.
Watching the results of a relatively minor slippage of two plates against each other, it’s not hard to imagine some of the forces which would have been unleashed at the time of Noah’s Flood—CPT has the entire ocean floor recycled in a matter of weeks. No wonder the Bible has a special Hebrew word (mabbul, different from the ordinary word for “flood”) which it reserves exclusively for the Flood. This cataclysmic flood in the days of Noah that destroyed the earth is responsible for vast amounts of sedimentary and fossil-bearing layers. Incidentally, Korean naval architects showed that the Ark could have withstood waves 4–5 times taller than this tsunami (only about 20 feet or 6 meters high).
Natural Evil and Human Evil
Philosophers refer to the problem of “natural evil”—people suffering and dying from things that have no apparent link to “human evil”—or even human carelessness. So much seemingly senseless sorrow and loss, regardless of the cause, inevitably raises the same sorts of questions about God, death and suffering as 9/11 did. Namely, regardless of whether people or “natural disaster” are the cause, if God is all-powerful and loving, why does He allow it?
Where was God during the Tsunami? Right where He’s always been…on his throne in complete control of His universe. God upholds the universe by the Word of His power and without His upholding it, the universe would disintegrate into oblivion.
Again Wieland provides some interesting insights when he writes, “When I let go of a compressed spring and watch it bounce in seeming randomness as it releases its stored energy, it is not something that ‘just happens’ without the involvement of God.”
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will (Matt 10:29).
“Similarly, as the tectonic plates off Sumatra slipped past one another and released their huge amount of pent-up power, this (and the titanic consequences for so many) was not something that just ‘happened,’ independent of God.”
“But that does not mean that it was a ‘supernatural’ or miraculous event. The sparrow falling can be described in terms of ‘natural’ laws like gravity, but God is ‘in it’ totally, completely. (As has been said before, ‘natural law’ describes God’s ‘normative’ way of operating within this universe. Miracles refer to his non-normative operation.)”
Though it is biblical, to say God is in complete control over all things that come to pass raises disturbing questions. Wieland again observes, “The immense unfairness of it all, for one thing. Poor villagers, already facing enormous handicaps in their ordinary lives, battered emotionally and physically beyond belief. Young children, brutally torn out of their mother’s arms and suffocated by water. But before raging at the unfairness of it all, and at God, we would do well to “zoom out” and look at the bigger picture.”
Death is all around us:
Wieland sums up the problem saying, “So the question becomes much bigger; not just “why 9/11” or “why the tsunami tragedy”—it becomes one of “why is there any death and suffering at all?” And it has to be faced squarely by Christians, since we claim to have the answers to the true meaning of life, the universe and everything.”
The only way we can give a good answer, the true answer, is by taking the Bible seriously, namely its account of creation and the entrance of sin.
The Problem of Evil
Let’s examine what has come to be known as “the problem of evil.”
The 18th century Scottish philosopher and skeptic David Hume summarized the problem of evil by saying: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
What he is arguing for is that the Christian understanding of God is not logical, it is incoherent, and therefore cannot be true because its premises are inconsistent with each other, given the evil in the world. The existence of evil is incompatible with the idea of a good and omnipotent God.
We can summarize the problem of evil this way:
The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantiga calls this “the only argument against God that deserves to be taken seriously.” The reason is because it is a serious charge of incoherence and it is a genuine stumbling block to many people to believe in the God of the Bible.
The Unbeliever and the Problem of Evil
For the unbeliever to reject belief in God and Christianity in particular, he must be in a position to assert the reality of evil in the world. Because if evil doesn’t exist then there’s no problem of evil.
What is evil? Evil is not a thing. As darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence or perversion of good. So you cannot have evil without good. So the unbeliever must define good and give an account for the existence of good. What is the standard for measuring good? (so that evil can thus be defined or identified.)
Is it whatever evokes public approval? Well then we could never call a riot that results in complete mayhem, destruction, and murder as being evil since it had the approval of a large crowd. We could also never call the holocaust evil.
So it’s not our approval that makes something good, but rather something that is inherently good can often evoke our approval.
What if we say something is good (or evil) if it possesses instrumental or consequential goodness (or evil)? For example, a thing is good if it achieves a certain end, like the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
Well, how would you measure happiness and how would you know if it resulted in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? Our finite minds cannot compute all of the possible consequences of a given action or trait
Even more devastating to this line of reasoning is the observation that good may be taken to be whatever promotes general happiness only if it is an established fact that generalized happiness is itself “good.” In other words, who says it’s good to aim for general happiness? Radical environmentalists would likely think man’s search for happiness is the main problem in the world.
One cannot have purely instrumental view of goodness that doesn’t have any basis in intrinsic goodness. In other words, there must be a sense of “oughtness” to something being a good goal to shoot for.
So, philosophically speaking, the problem of evil turns out to be a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful—which is precisely what the unbeliever is unable to do.
The Risk of Freedom
Someone might say, “But why did God allow for the possibility of evil?” Apparently He understood the risks and felt they were worth taking anyway.
An analogy might help. Raising children is risky. We want them to turn out good, but we know there’s a chance they could end up being criminals or junkies or whatever. So what do we do? Having no children is an option. Keeping them locked in our homes is another. But why do we avoid these extremes? Because something in us affirms the value of having children and letting them be their own individual to make their own choices in life should be respected. It’s a risk we take because we desire love and joy and the alternatives are unthinkable and cruel.
So in allowing for human freedom God allowed for the possibility of evil. But the fact that God created humans to be free moral agents doesn’t make Him responsible for the evil acts of men and the entrance of sin in general. God created the fact of freedom; we perform the acts of freedom. He made evil possible; humans made evil actual. Evil came about through the abuse of our moral freedom.
Though the unbeliever is unable to give an account for the evil in the world, the problem of evil can be resolved by the believer.
The Problem of Evil Resolved
God is never unjust or unrighteous. Gen 18:25 – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Was the crucifixion of Christ an evil act? Yes! Did God have a morally sufficient reason for it? Definitely!
We instinctively want to ask “Why?” when bad things happen. Unbelievers do too. But God doesn’t always provide us with explanations this side of eternity.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut 29:29).
We might not be able to understand God’s wise and mysterious ways even if He told us.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:9).
The Bible simply calls us to trust that God is good and has a morally sufficient reason for the evil in the world.
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
The unbeliever finds this intolerable for his pride, feelings, or rationality. He refuses to trust God. He wants to be in a position to examine and assess the reason for the evil for himself. In other words, he wants to be God. He wants God to answer to him. He wants to trade places with God.
The problem of evil comes down to the question of whether a person should have faith in God and His Word or rather place faith in his own fallen, human thinking and values. It finally becomes a question of ultimate authority within a person’s life. A person’s struggle with evil is really a fight against his own creatureliness. And this is the continuation of the way evil entered the world in the first place—Adam and eve refused to have faith in God’s Word simply on His say-so.
The problem is unchanged today. Will we trust the goodness of God and recognize His rightful authority over us? Or, will we fall for Satan’s deceptive challenge of God’s goodness and truthfulness?
So unbelievers who refuse to trust God because they feel they cannot resolve the problem of evil are actually part of the problem themselves.
 The information about the tsunami comes from Carl Wieland, “Waves of Sadness” online at http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2004/1230tsunami.asp.