This story is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time: a Canadian family is on a world tour so their three children with retinitis pigmentosa can build their “visual memories” before they lose their eyesight. So far, they have seen elephants, zebras, and giraffes in Namibia before moving on to Zambia, Tanzania, Turkey, Mongolia, and Indonesia.
“There are beautiful places everywhere in the world, so it doesn’t really matter where we go,” their mother explains.
When good things happen to good people, we tend to credit the good people with little thought for the God from whom “every good gift and every perfect gift” comes (James 1:17). However, when bad things happen to good people, we tend to blame God even though he “cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
If Christians must account for evil in a world we claim was made by a loving Creator, skeptics must account for good in a world they claim was produced by chaotic chance.
I cannot help them with their problem, but I can offer three thoughts for ours.
One: Some suffering is the cost of living in a fallen world
God allows some suffering as a result of living in a fallen world (Romans 8:22). The law of gravity affects sinners and saints, atheists and missionaries alike.
If a chess master allows a novice to take back a move, the game can continue; if she allows a novice to take back every move, there can be no game. If God intervened every time the law of gravity was about to harm someone, there could be no law of gravity. He would likewise be forced to suspend all speech lest some words harm some people and even all brain activity lest some thoughts turn to sin.
In addition, God sometimes allows natural disasters and diseases to show us our finitude and need for his providence and provision. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” led him to transforming reliance on his Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). God wants to redeem our “thorns” in the same way.
Two: God permits the consequences of misused freedom
A health care expert says the sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases in the US is “out of control.” The CDC warns that people who smoke cigarettes are fifteen to thirty times more likely to die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke. These are examples of the passive judgment of God whereby he responds to our sins by allowing us to experience their results.
A parent would never allow her three-year-old to experience the consequences of choosing to walk into a busy street, but she might allow her twelve-year-old to experience the consequences of refusing to do his homework.
In the same way, God sometimes judges sin by allowing its consequences. He said of his sinful people, “I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ” (Ezekiel 11:21). Paul reported that the Lord responded similarly to “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18) when he “gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v. 24), to “dishonorable passions” (v. 26), and to a “debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28). He does this to bring sinners to repentance, confession, and reconciliation with himself (1 John 1:9; Proverbs 28:13).
However, such consequences often affect the innocent as well as the guilty. With congenital syphilis, infected moms pass the disease on to their babies, potentially leading to deafness, blindness, or even death for the child. Second-hand smoke causes nearly thirty-four thousand premature deaths from heart disease each year in the US among adults who do not smoke.
Three: God brings judgment against unrepentant sinners
If the consequences of our misused freedom do not bring us to repentance, God sometimes turns from passive to active judgment.
His warning to Judah is his warning for us as well: “I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord Gᴏᴅ” (Ezekiel 15:8). His character does not change (Malachi 3:6). What he has judged in the past, he must judge in the present.
However, as with his passive judgment, God’s active judgment affects “the land,” including the faithful left in it. When God punished Judah with exile to Babylon, Daniel was exiled as well. Jesus warned that when Jerusalem fell, “women who are pregnant” and “those who are nursing infants” would suffer along with everyone else (Luke 21:23).
The spiritual life is a mountain
Here’s my point: faithful Christ followers must work with urgency for moral and spiritual awakening not only for the sake of unrepentant sinners facing judgment but for our sake as well.
Transformational encounters with God empower our faith in the face of disease and disaster. And they lead sinners to repentance before natural consequences or divine punishments for their sins affect us, our children, and our grandchildren.
Jesus called us to “walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you” (John 12:35). Either we walk in the light of Christ or we are overtaken by the dark. You and I are moving forward with Jesus or we are moving away from him. The spiritual life is not a level road but a mountain: we are either climbing up or we are sliding down.
And as we go, so goes the nation we are called to serve as “the” salt and light (Matthew 5:13–16).
We founded Denison Forum in 2009 to be a catalyst for moral and spiritual awakening. I am more convinced today than ever that the need for such a transforming movement of God’s Spirit is urgent and that the time is short.
For the sake of our culture as it slides further and further into immorality, and for the sake of our own families and communities, you and I must humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Then, and only then, will he “heal our land.”