By Joe Kovacs
Photo by pixabay
We've all seen horrific events making headlines across America and the world this summer.
Deadly wildfires rage through California, the American West, and even Athens, Greece.
A duckboat goes down in a sudden storm in Missouri, killing 17 people, nine of whom were members of a single family.
A Wisconsin man gets licked by his own dog, and ends up needing his hands and legs amputated from a subsequent bacterial infection.
These are just a few of the stories that have received widespread coverage, and they can make anyone's heart feel tremendous sadness and empathy for the victims, even from a long distance away. Unfortunately, disasters happen every day, and they often compete with politics to dominate the daily news cycle.
They can also prompt people to ask questions such as: "Why do tragedies strike?" or "Why would a loving God allow such pain, misery and death?"
These are excellent questions, and while our hearts go out to anyone who is suffering as a result of some personal or national disaster, the answer from the Bible may surprise you.
Why a surprise? Because many people are under the mistaken impression that God is all about "love, love, love" and would never cause any harm to any single person or any group of people. After all, "God is love," says the apostle John twice. (1 John 4:8,16)
And, yes, there are countless verses in the Bible to demonstrate the magnitude of God's love for people, especially those who are obedient to Him. Here are just two of them:
"For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him" (Psalm 103:11 NIV)
"But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands." (Deuteronomy 5:10 NLT)
So God is someone who does love and care for His creation. But the Bible is a very big book (or a collection of books), and it has a lot more to say than just God is love.
God is a God of what many would call "bad news."
He is a God of instruction, judgment and punishment, and is seen countless times in the pages of Holy Scripture bringing all sorts of mayhem on people. Sometimes it's bad news on a personal level, and sometimes it's bad news on a national level. There was even a very famous time when He brought about a catastrophic punishment on every living thing on land, with the exception of eight people in the days of Noah.
"And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark." (Genesis 7:23 KJV)
And what was the reason behind God's near extermination of the human race? Scripture breaks out the W-word, wickedness, to describe the situation.
"And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5 KJV)
A verse like this sheds quite a bit of light on how God operates.
It shows that our Creator has the ability to read our thoughts at all times. He sees clearly into our own minds as if He's in there, monitoring our thoughts on a continuous basis. He knows when our thoughts are in line with His teachings, and he knows when they're opposed to His laws. That's when He uses words like wickedness, evil, iniquity, rebellion, etc., to describe our refusal to follow the way that leads to eternal life.
In both the Old Testament and the New, God instructs us over and over again to keep His commands. Remember, commands are not suggestions. They're mandates.
"So obey the commands of the LORD your God by walking in his ways and fearing him." (Deuteronomy 8:6 NLT)
"If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17 CSB)
"Take to heart all the words of warning I have given you today. Pass them on as a command to your children so they will obey every word of these instructions. These instructions are not empty words -- they are your life! (Deuteronomy 32:47 NLT)
God has not given us His instructions just so we can ignore them. People need to remember the end game, what God is actually doing with us during our time of temporary existence. He is training us to become like Him, to be members of His own family, the literal children of God.
"For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26 NLT)
We need to remember the higher purpose our our existence. God did not create us just to enjoy a few years of our hearts beating and our lungs breathing in fresh air. We're learning to become members of the divine family, the children of God.
Now, back to disasters. We all need to realize the Bible is not just about "good news" (which is what the word "gospel" literally means). It's about bad news as well.
Scripture says countless times in a variety of ways that God does make bad things such as disasters happen:
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38 NIV)
When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? (Amos 3:6 NIV)
If you abandon the LORD and worship foreign gods, He will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after He has been good to you. (Joshua 24:20 HCSB)
Jesus Himself was asked about two specific calamities, and why they occurred.
At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And he responded to them, "Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well."
"Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed -- do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well." (Luke 13:1-5 CSB)
Jesus is basically telling His followers that they're asking the wrong question. Bad things do not exclusively happen to people who are exceedingly sinful. Bad things happen to everyone, and the ultimate bad thing -- eternal death -- will plague every single person who does not get with the divine program and obey God's instructions. It's that simple. Unless we repent, we will all perish for eternity.
Having said this, there are many people who love God with all their heart and are seeking life in the coming kingdom of God, and yet they have plenty of bad news and suffering in their own lives. Why does God allow this? We'll take a look at that in the next installment, so stay tuned ...
Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.
Joe Kovacs is the author of the new book Shocked by the Bible 2, as well as his previous books Shocked by the Bible and The Divine Secret, all on sale in bookstores and Amazon.com. Learn more at www.shockedbythebible.com