Where is God When Bad Things Happen? – Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2011
We have come to this very key question in this whole discussion: In light of all of these natural disasters, can we trust God personally?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. My guest is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. He has been my friend since school and I love his books. And he has written a key book called, Where Was God? talking about Answers to Tough Question about God and Natural Disasters. The question is this, if you look at the world and you see injustice, if you see tsunamis, if you see tornadoes, if you see these natural disasters, if you see terrorist attacks that take the life of the innocent and you say, God is in control of this world, and the Bible says that He is, is God to blame? Is God all loving but not all-powerful; or all-powerful and not all loving? These are the key questions that he answers in this book.

And we are coming to this very key question in this whole discussion about, in light of all of these natural disasters, can we trust God personally? When we realize that God could have let Hitler die in his mother’s arms but he didn’t; if Jesus could have just said the word, just like He did in the Sea of Galilee, and the tsunami would have disappeared, 200,000 people wouldn’t have died, but He didn’t. Can we, Erwin, trust the God of the Bible?

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Well, John, the way in which you have set that up made this as difficult as possible to answer, but I am going to attempt it. On one level we have to remember, what are our options? If we don’t trust God, do we collapse into atheism? I hope not, because atheism is not only illogical, it doesn’t satisfy the human mind, and can’t. But, furthermore, it does not have an answer. I remember a Jewish friend of mine who was an atheist and he admitted that the fact that Hitler would never be judged and brought to account before God troubled him. If you are an atheist, all you can do is to live with all of the injustices. There is no possibility of finding a redemptive purpose in what is happening in this cruel, heartless world. But thank God we don’t have to go in that direction. And there are other logical problems with atheism.

Now we come to the God of the Bible, the God who created all things, the God who has the various attributes, some of which you listed when you asked me the question, “Can we trust Him?” If you simply look at the world, you would never conclude that God loved the world. If you look at nature, you mentioned the natural disasters, we can think of terrorist attacks, which have happened in this world and continue to happen. I mean, if you just look at that, you look around and you say, “Of course God doesn’t care and love the world.”

So where do we turn? We have to turn to His revelation in the Word, in the Bible. And when we come to the Bible what we discover is that, first of all, it is a realistic book. It doesn’t gloss over these problems as many other religions do; it is very realistic. It deals with the issues of sin and pain and death and tragedy. On the other hand, it also presents to us a man by the name of Jesus who had the qualifications to be a savior. And when Jesus comes, He reveals the Father and shows us a different side to God.

That says that yes, on the one hand there is great severity; and God is a severe and wrathful God. But on the other side, He is also merciful, slow to anger and able to forgive and to protect. And so, at the end of the day, what we do is we come and we are confronted with a purpose and a plan of Jesus. And when we know Him personally we can hang in even though we have to confess that many of our question are not answered.

Ankerberg: Yes, personally for myself, for when… you know that I struggled with who was Jesus. I mean, I fought that and I looked at the evidence from every angle. And it finally started to dawn on me that He was claiming to be God in human flesh. And the statements that He made, I put myself in the bodies of those disciples standing there listening to what Jesus said, and I thought to myself, “Man, what would I have decided if I had heard Him say that?” He was claiming to be deity in human flesh.

And once you come to the conclusion like they did,… after the resurrection, they saw him murdered, and then they saw Him alive after He was put into the grave, that changed their mind. And then you start to listen to what Jesus has to say. And I can remember saying, “I don’t know all these other questions, but I have to admit Jesus lived; there is historical evidence for Him, for His claims. And there is no other explanation that fits who He was except He is God.” And I then had to admit I was a sinner that He had come to die for. And I put myself into a relationship with Him. And God answered. God did something experientially off of that evidence in my life.

Now, I had that relationship, but I have got to admit that when we were going to seminary together, one of the biggest questions that almost kept me away from the faith was this thing of the problem of evil. How could a good God, and good loving God, who loved us infinitely, and had the power to say the word and this stuff would disappear, why didn’t He? Part of the answer was that He gave man free choice and man took that opportunity; and in order for that opportunity to be a full opportunity God allowed the consequences to come. And sin came into the world and it also cursed our environment. That is part of these things and there are lessons that we learn. But it all goes back to Jesus. He is the crux of all of these things that we are talking about.

Lutzer: John, let me speak for a moment to the people who are watching today and they are doubters. They say, “I doubt.” You know, in my book I tell a very interesting parable that I was able to use from someone else.

In it he says that there is a young soldier who is part of a resistance movement. One night a stranger comes into his tent and they become good friends. And the stranger says to him, “Young man, there are going to be times when it appears that I am not on the side of the resistance, but I want you to know that I am on your side. But there are going to be times when it is going to seem as if I belong to the other side. Just trust me.”

Well, the next day, indeed, this stranger that came into the tent is fighting for the resistance. And the young man says to his friends, “See, the stranger is on our side.” But a few days later the stranger is actually in the uniform of the enemy, fighting against the resistance. And so the friends of the young man say, “Well, what about your stranger? He is not on our side.” Sometimes the young man makes a request to the stranger and he gets an answer, sometimes he doesn’t. When he doesn’t, he says that, “He knows best.” And so all of the friends of the young man ridicule him and say, “Why do you trust the stranger?”

Alright, now it comes right down to the pay dirt here. Whether or not he continues to trust the stranger is really determined on the kind of relationship that they had where this young man’s trust was absolutely unerring, even though he could not explain the behavior of his friend.

You know, that is the way it is with God. I can’t explain why God does not stop the tsunami. I mean, we can see the big picture in Scripture and we have covered that in previous programs. But if you ask the specific question why this child dies, why this one doesn’t, we can’t speak on behalf of God. There is too much mystery.

But why do we keep on believing? The answer is this: that we have come to know Jesus Christ; we have come to know that He has forgiven our sins, that all of the historical evidence for Him is reliable. He had given us forgiveness of sins, He has changed our desires, the desires of our heart, and we trust Him even when we don’t have all the answers. Like I often say, birds sing, not because they understand, but because they have a song. And there are times when we do not live by explanations. We do live by promises, the promises of God. And within a context we can see that those promises are totally valid.

We are not believing some vain idea that is bizarre. We have good reason to believe what we do. But we do not have all of our questions answered just now.

Ankerberg: I love the quote that you pulled out from Origen, okay? He said, “The apostle Paul didn’t say that God’s judgments were just hard to search out, but that they could not be searched out at all; he did not say that God’s ways were hard to find out, but they were impossible to find out.” And then you hooked that up to Martin Luther who said, “When you come up against this God who is mysterious to us and His ways are not our ways, you turn to the God that you know, not the one you don’t know.” And you are talking at that point about Jesus Christ. Talk a little bit more about that because it flows into what we are talking about right now.

Lutzer: Well, the amazing thing is that Jesus made the claims that He did, as you mentioned. And He affirmed His deity and that He said that, “He who has seen me has seen the father.” So here we are in the presence of Jesus. Remember, to the people who are listening today, who are watching us, they need to keep in mind that if Jesus doesn’t have the answers, there are none. It is like the disciples said, “To whom do we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There are no other options out there. I discovered when I studied world religions that other religions have gurus and prophets, but none have a savior. They say live this way, live that way, here is an eight-fold path or here is this path. What they don’t have is somebody who is actually able to forgive us, cleanse us and then bring us into the presence of God and declare us as righteous as God Himself is. Only Jesus has the credentials to do that.

Ankerberg: Alright, Erwin, let me come to you with this. In answering the question, can we trust God when we witness natural disasters all over the world that are taking place, why doesn’t our Heavenly Father care for us as an earthly father would, who would immediately respond if we were in trouble?

Lutzer: Well, the answer to that question is this: believe it or not that our Heavenly Father loves us even more than our earthly father. Somebody watching today says, how can that possible be, because my earthly father would keep me from cancer, from disaster, from accidents, from natural disasters? The answer is that our Heavenly Father has an entirely different agenda. He is after something that is much more important than your earthly father is.

A preacher of a different century, by the name of Spurgeon, said, “Oh, blessed acts of sorrow that cuts a pathway to my God by chopping down the tall trees of human comfort.” God is after something else. He is after our faith, which the Bible says is precious to Him. In fact, it says it is more precious than gold that perishes.

Yes, tonight we are asking you to believe something that is very difficult to believe, namely that God loves the world, as we see in Jesus Christ. But at the same time it is a belief that is based on good evidence. But at the end of the day it has to be a belief of one’s heart. And sometimes we doubt.

You know, I tell the story of John the Baptist. And, of course, he was a great preacher with Jesus Christ. And John gets thrown into prison and he begins to doubt whether Jesus is the Messiah; because, after all, Jesus, if he is the Messiah, has the power to get him out of prison and to set him free. And so there is John, and he begins to doubt. And so he sends some of his disciples to Jesus and they ask, “Are you the one that should come or should we look for another?” Behind that question was this, “We thought that you were the Messiah; but are you or are you not?”

Jesus turns and says John the Baptist was a great man. By the way, John the Baptist, Jesus said, was a great man. At that point when John was in prison doubting Jesus said that he was a great man. And then he goes and says, “Tell John that all of these things are happening, the miracles are taking place.” And then He adds this phrase, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” I like to paraphrase it, “Blessed is the person who is not upset with the way in which I run my business; blessed is the person who does not stop believing because I don’t heal someone or because I am not getting someone out of prison, or because a natural disaster strikes. Blessed is the person who lets me be God and who is willing to accept whatever I do.”

And that is what it comes down to. There are times that we do doubt, but at the end of the day we keep coming back to Jesus. And stop to think of it: at the cross of Jesus, which is really the focal point of all of God’s activity, how did Jesus die? Jesus died at the hands of wicked and cruel men. It was not a natural disaster as such, but it was the kind of disaster and tragedy that we would see on the news with a terrorist attack where wicked people ganged up on Jesus, did not give Him a fair trial, had Him crucified. So in Jesus, God participated in the evil and the tragedy and the horrendous pain of this world. But, in the process of participating in our world, that is where redemption took place.

So I say to people today, whatever doubts you may have, that is fine as long as they are honest doubts. But come to Jesus with your doubts, because it is there that God’s purposes and plan and love are clearly seen.

Ankerberg: Yes. I told you that when I had my problems and doubting about this problem of evil and it being overwhelming; and how could God allow such suffering and all of these children to die, and He could do something but He doesn’t, that verse “where sin abounds grace does much more abound.” And it is wrapped up in what we see at the cross. We do not understand, we do not have an explanation for every point; it is too far beyond us. We would have to be God to understand those points. But in Jesus Christ dying on the cross and taking the sins of the world and wondering why a perfect man would do that for us, okay, the love of God is shown. The motivation for us trusting God comes when we see what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Lutzer: And if someone is watching today and does not believe that, John, they are in despair; because what they are saying is that the evils of this world are irredeemable; there is no possible good that could come out of them. We are saying, when you look at the Bible it is a realistic book, but it is also a book of hope. This creation is going to be recreated; and there is hope for human beings.

Ankerberg: Switch hats. What do you say to friends when we see these natural disasters and people say, “What kind of a God would allow that to happen?” What do we say?

Lutzer: First of all what I would say is let’s lament, let’s weep, because this world is full of pain. And blessed is the person who can watch something like a tsunami and cry. And let’s do all that we possibly can to help this broken world. The second thing that I say to people across the fence, so to speak, in other words, we are not having big philosophical discussions, is we ought to pause right here and give thanks to God that we are still living. Because the real question isn’t so much, “Why is it that all of these people have died,” the bigger question is, “How come we are still alive? Why were we spared when the wages of sin is death?” So you begin to give thanks to God.

The other thing that is very important is to help them to understand that they must go to solid ground. I talked to somebody who was in an earthquake, and he said he ran out of the house. What he was looking for is some place that wasn’t shaking.

Now, if we have a moment, I would like to explain this. In the book of Hebrews 12 it talks about a number of earthquakes. First of all, it says that when God gave the law, God thundered from Sinai and the mountain shook. But there was another earthquake when Jesus died on the cross; the earth shook and the rocks broke in two. But there is another convulsion that is coming, the book of Hebrews says, and that is when God will speak from heaven, when there is going to be the greatest catastrophe that has ever happened on planet earth. And that is why it is so important for us to be ready. Remember we learned in a previous broadcast that these natural disasters are previews of a coming disaster. The key is to be ready.

Ankerberg: Yes, I remember you talking about that man that actually was in that earthquake. And he says that “it only lasted for 10 seconds but it felt like eternity. And I ran outside of my house and I was looking for that peace of solid ground and I couldn’t find it.” And people today, Erwin, let’s wrap this up, people today look at the world and they realize they are in jeopardy. We are not safe from disasters. We are not safe from death. And it may not be safe to die. How can we get to safe ground in terms of eternity as well as this life?

Lutzer: You know, there is the story that comes to us when America had lots of prairie. I am told that sometimes what the farmers would do is they would burn patches of grass as far as they could see. They would burn and burn when the wind was favorable, because they knew that prairie fires would come. And when those prairie fires came they would burn up the houses unless the house was standing on ground that had already been burned, on grass that had already been burned.

Now here is the good news, God is an awesome God. We certainly learned that in this series. He is a terrifying God. The Bible says that He is a consuming fire. The question is, how can we be protected from His final day of wrath? And the answer is, we come to Jesus Christ who endured God’s wrath at the cross; and by doing that, then we are standing where the fire has already been. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” the Bible says. So the best thing that we can do is to flee to Christ and to know that in Him we are sheltered from the final judgment of God.

Ankerberg: We have friends that watch this program all the time. And I know from their letters and some of their comments that these people, they love God, and they know about Jesus; but they have not entered into that safe ground, they have not invited Christ to be their Savior. For those that say today, “I would like to actually have that relationship with Christ,” would you say a prayer that they might say with you and you could lead them into that relationship with Christ?

Lutzer: Alright. My friend, this is the kind of prayer that you can pray. Make these words your own. “Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I am the recipient of the judgment of God against sin. But today I come to Christ. I receive Him as my sin-bearer. I put all of my trust in Him and what He did for me at the cross and in his resurrection. May I know that I am now received by You on the basis of His worthy work. Thank you, in Jesus name. Amen.”

Ankerberg: Erwin, thank you for writing this book. It is a great book, lots of things that we haven’t even discussed are in this book. It is amazing how God has led Erwin to write it. Thank you, Erwin, for taking the time to come and be with us and explain these things that we have talked about. We appreciate it very much.

Lutzer: Thank you, John.

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