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Monday, January 17, 2011

Our Sense of Senslessness

The vast sufferings of humanity provide a strong argument for the existence of God.  Yes, I did say “for the existence of God,” not “against” His existence.  How so?

The thing that needs to be explained is our sense of moral outrage at suffering.  When a baby dies of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, his parents cry out, “What did we do to deserve this?”  When the mother of two young children is killed in an automobile accident, we ask, “Why now, when her family needs her so much?”  When floods leave hundreds dead and thousands homeless in Central America or Madagascar, we shake our heads in bewilderment.  It seems so unjust.

If we were only intelligent animals, we would not feel this way.  We might feel sorrow at the passing of a loved one.  (Dogs miss, and apparently mourn, their dead owners.)  We might even be angry, but sorrow and anger are not the same thing as moral outrage.  Moral outrage depends on a particular view of the world.  It has no place in a world governed by chance and survival of the fittest.  Gazelles do not lie awake at night pondering why a particular member of their herd was killed by a lion.

Whenever we call something a senseless tragedy, we imply that somehow life ought to make sense.  We are suggesting that there is a rational order to the universe.  If there is no such order, then no aspect of our lives has any meaning.  Falling in love, enjoying a beautiful sunset, building houses for the homeless and shoving an old lady out into the traffic are all equally senseless.

Many voices do insist that we are only animals and that the only meaning our lives can have is the meaning we ourselves give to them.  The problem is that the people who most loudly proclaim the absurdity of life are often the very ones most disturbed by the senselessness of suffering.  If they were being true to their theory, they should just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, well.  The lion got another one.  Maybe I should join a different herd to save my own skin.”  No matter what our lips may say, the idea of ultimate rationality seems to be hard-wired into our psyches.  From where did it come?

The Bible says that our sense of moral order comes from God.  Even people who have never read God’s written word nevertheless “do by nature the things of the Law. . . in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15).  Irrationality entered the world through sin because sin is an irrational rebellion against God.  Sin is the direct cause of senseless work place murders by disgruntled employees.  It is also a more remote cause of natural disasters and disease because sin has taken away our ability to obey God’s command to rule wisely over the earth and its creatures (Genesis 1:26).  When Adam sinned, God cursed the very ground so that it would not easily yield its fruit to his labors.

Still we may wonder why God does not do something about the mess we have made of His world.  The Bible’s answer is that He has and He will.  God sent His Son Jesus into the world to undo the damage caused by sin.  By His death, He paid the just penalty of sin.  By His resurrection, He gives eternal life to believing sinners.  When He returns visibly to Earth again, He will reverse God’s curse on the natural world.  The Bible says,
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-21).

Finally, we may ask, “If God is going to end all suffering in the future, why doesn’t He do it now?  Why has He waited for so many years?”  Again, the Bible has an answer.  The day that Jesus comes to renew and redeem will also be the day He comes to judge.  God is waiting until human sin is fully ripe for judgment; He is also waiting to give men and women an opportunity to repent and receive Christ.  The Bible says, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Friend, are you outraged by the vast sufferings of humanity?  When you face God, He will say, “Your very outrage is a testimony to My righteous Law.  Why, then did you not repent of your sins?”  If you are not yet ready to answer that question, perhaps you should not be too anxious for God to set things right in the world.

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