October 17, 2022

God Over Tragedy

associate pastor

associate pastor

Ken Rathburn


For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing

with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18)

In the mid afternoon of Wednesday, September 28, 2022, hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s gulf coast. Rated a high category 4 storm, Ian brought winds in excess of 150 miles per hour, some of it swirling and causing tornadoes as well. In less than a day, neighborhoods throughout southwest Florida had been destroyed by winds and flooding while causeways and bridges had been reduced to rubble. In the end, Ian had taken the lives of 100+ souls and caused an estimated $65 billion in damage, with portions of my parents’ home included.

Whenever broad-scale devastation like this occurs, questions immediately leap to mind, especially for the Christian. Where is God in all this? Did he cause the storm? Why didn’t he stop the storm? These are good, fair questions that capture what philosophers and theologians call the Problem of Evil. Tragedy and disaster bring us face to face with this problem and its two equally unsatisfying, even horrifying, possible explanations: Either (1) God is all-powerful but also an uncaring or uninterested monster, or (2) God is deeply loving and caring but unable to intervene and rescue. Notice we cannot solve the problem here by saying what people often say in such situations—things like, “God wishes this hadn’t happened” or “God wasn’t involved in this disaster.” Well-meaning as such statements are intended to be, they do not absolve God of responsibility. In fact, they simply beg the same questions: If God wished for something different, then why did he let this happen? If God really cared, wouldn’t he get involved? Instead of platitudes, we need an answer with teeth—an answer we can cling to when the storms of life rage … because they always do. Therefore, we must address the vexing Problem of Evil by viewing it through the truth of God’s Word.

The Bible tells us we live in a world that has both fallen into sin and is cursed because of it (Genesis 3:14-19). While it is still an orderly shadow of its original goodness, it is now crumbling in chaos. As the Apostle Paul says, the whole creation groans as it is in bondage to corruption (Romans 8:21-22). This damage touches every inch of the fabric of our world, manifested in tragedies of every sort—natural disasters, accidents, decay, disease and ultimately death. The curse of the fall has far-reaching implications. Just as there are spiritual consequences to sin for every human heart, there are physical consequences for the whole world.

At the same time, the Bible teaches that God is categorically different from us. God is one, which means he is completely unified within himself—without parts, contradiction, division or confusion (Deuteronomy 6:4). Also, God knows and even ordains all that will happen, which means he is in complete control and nothing thwarts his plan (Isaiah 46:9-10) or happens outside his providential say-so (Isaiah 45:5-7). God is both all-powerful and all-knowing (Hebrews 4:13). He is holy and uncompromising in his justice and righteousness (Psalm 71:19). And of course, God does not change, which means he is perfect yesterday, today and forever (Malachi 3:6). At the same time, God loves and cares for his world and the humans that bear his image (1 John 4:8, Romans 5:10). His love for his people is steadfast, and he is merciful and gracious toward them (Psalm 86:15). From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is consistent and clear: God is infinitely powerful and also infinitely loving. Both are true of him.

From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is consistent and clear: God is infinitely powerful and also infinitely loving. Both are true of him.

Putting this together, we might feel more confused than ever. God can do anything, God loves us, yet meanwhile this world goes on under the curse and he does not intervene. But that, friends, would be quite wrong. God has in fact miraculously intervened and he is not far from each of us (Acts 17:27). In the person of Jesus Christ, God entered into our midst to bring light and life to a world filled with darkness and death. The sacrificial death of Jesus for sin and the glorious resurrection of Jesus to new life is our promise of a reordered and restored creation to come. This means that Christianity’s answer to tragedy and suffering is neither distant nor philosophical. It is actual personal and historical. God’s infinite power and infinite love for humanity has come to us in the God-human himself, Jesus Christ our Lord. As Martin Luther said, “When you look around and wonder whether God cares, you must always hurry to the cross and you must see Him there.”

When tragedy strikes, then what are we to do? Many things. We should grieve with and comfort those who have suffered pain and loss because Christians are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We should be reminded that life is but a mist in the air that can and often is taken in an instant (James 4:14). We must recognize the material things and the suffering of this world are both fleeting and temporal as it is only the next, restored creation that will truly last (Revelation 21:4). We should not pretend that these tragedies are actually good things—they are terrible and seemingly unbearable—but they are not meaningless. No, we must pray that God somehow uses it for his glory and for our good as he promises to do (Romans 8:28). And in the end we must run to safety at the cross. There we can worship our God who has powerfully and lovingly intervened in this world, saying in the words of Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Trusting in the Lord along with you,

Pastor Ken