I was looking at the statistics in terms of death and people who are homeless as a result of the cyclone that hit Burma a while ago. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is in southeast Asia, bordered by India, China and Thailand. Deaths now are estimated at over 100,000 and over 2 million homeless.
I was considering these statistics in light of a quote I read by Bart Ehrman. He’s the Chair of the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He said that “The problem of suffering is ultimately the reason I lost my faith.”
I was thinking about that because God certainly could have, in an Ehrman world, created a context that had absolutely no suffering. But had He done so it would also have been a world without freedom. We must ever be mindful of the fact that while our Creator made natural and moral evil possible by granting us freedom, it was humanity, it was men and women, that actualized that evil. In other words, we can’t put this at the Master’s feet. We have to realize that the fingers point back at us. It might be popular today to refer to the cyclone devastation as unthinkable, but the history of humanity graphically demonstrates that there is virtually no limit to the possibilities of disease and disaster and death. The cyclone reminds us that this world is groaning in travail, but the Gospel equally reminds us that creation will yet be liberated.
Paul puts it this way: “One day creation itself will be liberated itself from its bondage to decay.” This liberation begins with the conquest of the cross but it will be completed at Christ’s Second Coming. As Christ’s conquest assures our bodily resurrection we must ever remember that His conquest also ensures the resurrection of this cosmos. Those in the cyclone who die in Christ will experience the new heaven and the new earth as both a physical place in creation as well as a personal experience and existence with the Creator. “The dwelling of God is with men,” said John, “and He will live with them. They will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain, for the old order of things” – cyclones and hurricanes and earthquakes – “will have passed away.” And then God Himself said “I am making everything new.”
It is my prayer that these images of devastation that we see on television and on the web will arouse us from lethargy and engage us to give water and food to those in need and then to use the testimony of our love and the testimony of our lives as an ultimate witness which will lead us to give them the bread and the water of life so that they truly, as Jesus put it, will never hunger and thirst again.
The worst thing that can happen is not to die young. The worst thing that can happen is to live a long, robust life and then to forever be separated from the love and grace of the One who knit us together in our mother’s wombs. Ultimately, when we see things like this cyclone – things that we simply cannot cope with – we can have hope in the midst of the devastation because we believe that like the resurrected body God will resurrect this universe. That’s the hope of the believer and I would say that without that there is no hope. Christianity does not give us a peaceful way to come to terms with death and suffering. It gives us something far greater – a way to overcome it through the power of resurrection. That is a hope that you and I as Christians are called to communicate to a searching world. This becomes just one more opportunity to be a witness in the midst of tragedy, to point people beyond the suffering to the hope, to the words of Job who said “Though He slay me, yet will I hope, or yet will I trust in Him.” God has given us evidence that He is trustworthy and that we can look forward to a bright tomorrow. Paradise lost will one day, indeed, become Paradise restored.