The Hardest Question
“WHY?” It is tragic to see how much anguish and pain can be packed into that simple word. People often ask that question after disaster or tragedy strikes: A hurricane sweeps through a region, leaving death and destruction in its wake. An earthquake reduces a city to rubble. A terrorist attack changes a quiet, routine day into a nightmare of fear and violence. Or an accident injures or takes the life of a loved one.
All too often, the victims include the most innocent and defenseless among us. Recent times have brought more than their share of such disasters, causing many to cry out to God, “Why?” Consider some examples:
▪ “Why did you do this to us, God? What did we do to upset you?” Reuters news agency reported that an elderly woman in India asked those questions after a tsunami devastated her village.
▪ “Where was God? And if God has ultimate control, why did God let this happen?” These questions were raised by a newspaper in Texas, U.S.A., after a gunman opened fire in a church, wounding and killing a number of worshippers.
▪ “Why did God allow her to die?” A woman asked this question after cancer took her friend’s life, leaving the deceased’s husband to care for their five children.
These people are not alone in thinking that God is somehow behind their troubles. Regarding natural disasters, for example, nearly half the respondents in a recent Internet poll felt that disasters such as hurricanes come from God. Why do so many feel that way?
Instead of offering satisfying answers, religious leaders often contribute to the confusion. Let us focus on just three of their common responses.
First, many religious leaders preach that God sends disasters in order to punish wayward humans. For instance, in the United States, after New Orleans, Louisiana, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, some ministers claimed that God had punished the city. They pointed to the prevalence of corruption, gambling, and immorality. Some even cited the Bible as evidence, noting occasions when God destroyed the wicked by flood or by fire. Such claims, however, misrepresent the Bible.—See the box “Acts of God?”
Second, some clergymen assert that God has his reasons for bringing about the calamities that befall mankind but that these reasons are beyond our comprehension. Many people find such a notion unsatisfying. They wonder, ‘Could a loving God really carry out such evil and then refuse to enlighten those who hunger for comfort and who pleadingly ask, “Why?”’ Indeed, the Bible says: “God is love.”—1 John 4:8.
Third, other religious leaders feel that perhaps God is not all powerful and is not loving. Once again, such an explanation raises serious questions. Is the One who “created all things”—including the unfathomably vast universe—incapable of preventing suffering on this one planet? (Revelation 4:11) How could the One who gave us the capacity to love, whose Word describes him as the very embodiment of love, be unmoved by human suffering?—Genesis 1:27; 1 John 4:8.
Of course, the three points just mentioned are only some of the ways in which humans try to explain why God allows suffering—a question that has puzzled thinking people for centuries. In the next article, we will consider what the Bible teaches on this important and timely subject. As you will see, the Bible’s sound, logical explanation clears away the confusion. Moreover, the Bible offers much comfort to all who have suffered tragedies in life.
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Acts of God?
Does the Bible teach that God is behind the natural disasters we see today? Not at all! God’s judgments as described in the Bible are quite different from natural disasters. For one thing, God is selective; he reads the hearts of individuals and destroys only those he deems wicked. (Genesis 18:23-32) Furthermore, God sends warnings first, thereby giving the righteous opportunity to escape.
Natural disasters, on the other hand, strike with little or no warning, and they kill and maim indiscriminately. To some extent, mankind has made such disasters worse by damaging the natural environment and by building in areas prone to earthquakes, floods, and extreme weather.
SENA VIDANAGAMA/AFP/Getty Images
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Religious leaders have offered a confusing variety of answers