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U.K. skeptic tweets tough question

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A young malnourished baby boy from Haiti named Nelson, sitting outside a home with a pot before he was rescued by Love a Child and Feed My Starving Children (Credit: Feed My Starving Children via Flickr)

I sometimes forget how global and yet personal social media can be.  Last week I tweeted the statement, “God shows us how much we need him, dealing with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must.”  A man in Great Britain responded: “Ahhh I see, so he must deal harshly with this little one . . .?”  He attached a picture of a starving child.  I wanted to respond, but knew I would need more than 140 characters.  So here is what I would say to the skeptic in England.

Is God dealing harshly with us?  Does it seem to you that our world is more broken and chaotic than ever before?  Sunday morning we got news of a second Ebola patient in Dallas, the first person actually infected in the U.S.  More than 4,000 have now died from this epidemic.

Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria are collapsing before our eyes.  Libya and Yemen are imploding.  Civil war in Lebanon threatens to reignite.  Ukraine is facing Russian aggression.  Israel is dealing with the rise of terrorism all around her borders.  Nigeria faces an Islamic insurgency.  Last week was the worst for the stock market in two years.

Are Ebola and the other crises in our world God’s judgment on us?  Yes and no.

Let’s begin with the “no” part.  As I stated in a recent Cultural Commentary, when God causes calamity in Scripture as part of his judgment on sin, he always warns the sinners first.  Moses warned Pharaoh repeatedly before the various plagues that ravaged his land.  Daniel warned the king of Babylon before his kingdom fell.  Jonah warned Nineveh before judgment came.  I am not aware of any prophetic warnings against West Africa before the Ebola crisis, or of revelation preceding the other geopolitical issues of our day.

Now to the “yes” part.  God created us to love him and each other (Matthew 22:37, 39), but love requires a choice.  So he gave us free will; when we misuse this freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours.  Much of our suffering is the result of misused freedom, such as we see in jihadist Islam, Russian aggression, and capitalistic greed.

When humanity fell into sin, creation fell as well (Romans 8:22).  Before the Fall, there were no starving children in the Garden of Eden, no Ebola or AIDS or tsunamis or tornadoes.  Now much of our suffering results from the fact that our world is broken.

Because he is omnipotent, God could intervene and prevent these consequences.  In a sense, they are his judgment on sin.  But if he intervenes, he would have to violate our freedom.  If I’m on a low-fat diet but order pizza, God can transform it into celery.  But I am not truly free if God prevents the results of my freedom.

We can say that God should prevent starving children in Africa, many of whom are suffering as the result of corruption, greed, and violence in their land.  But once he begins to intervene, where does he stop?  I want him to keep someone from killing my family, but I also want him to keep someone from slandering or stealing from them.  I want him to prevent any pain in their lives, in fact.  If God intervenes for my family, he should for yours.  And we’re back where we started—we can have freedom or we can have his protection from the results of misused freedom, but we cannot have both.

Where is life hard for you today?  Know that God redeems all he allows, and that he is working through your pain for his glory and your good.  He wants to deal gently with you, but will deal harshly if he must.  Choose wisely.