Tuesday, January 04, 2005

You will have trouble

It has been both sad and sobering to watch the dreadful news of the Indian Ocean tsunami playing out. The hippest of the hip on a Thai beach or the poorest of the poor on the Indian coast met a suddenly similar watery death, and the numbers keep mounting on the death odometer at a clip of tens of thousands a day.

What has been a little crazy to me is the apparent discovery of the problem of evil by so many in the secular press. "How could this happen?" they ask. "What does this say about a good God?"

Granted that this is an immense catastrophe bearing with it unfathomable misery, but is this the first such event some have managed to notice? Where have they blithely been through previous earthquakes and floods and massacres of similar scale? Just as one would think that insecurity was first invented in New York on 9/11, or values were first discovered in the November elections, to read the pundits, it seems that tragedy first appeared on December 26.

But there has always been untold misery and massive loss of life. Life itself has never been safe and never can be made so.

Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble." Granted, in John 16:33 he was speaking to his disciples more of the tribulation or persecution kind of trouble. But his words have a wider meaning that is so true: In This World as compared to The Age to Come, we're going to have trouble. Get used to it. We're not going to be spared it or somehow get beyond it. Trouble is the normal state, not safety, not ease, not invincibility. Trouble. Tragedy. Hardship.

But Jesus didn't leave it there. He didn't set out to leave a quaking mass of pessimists. Jesus continued, "But take heart! I have overcome the world." There is the inbreaking of the Age to Come," even during This Age. Jesus has come. The end has begun. Deadly waves and dead bodies won't be forever. Some day all of this writhing in agony will be behind us. Some day tsunamis will be no more.

The great theologian George Eldon Ladd always gives me hope. In The Gospel of the Kingdom, Ladd writes:

Throughout the course of This Age, two forces are at work: the power of Evil, and the Kingdom of God. The world is the scene of a conflict. The forces of the Evil One are assaulting the people of God; but the Gospel of the Kingdom is assaulting the kingdom of Satan. This conflict will last to the end of The Age. Final victory will be achieved only by the return of Christ. There is no room for an unqualified optimism.... There is, however, no room for an unrelieved pessimism.... We are not rosy optimists, expecting the Gospel to conquer the world and establish the Kingdom of God. Neither are we despairing pessimists who feel that our task is hopeless in the face of the evil of This Age. We are realists, Biblical realists, who recognize the terrible power of evil and yet who go forth in a mission of worldwide evangelization to win victories for God's Kingdom until Christ returns in glory to accomplish the last and greatest victory....

[Jesus said] "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." This is the Good News of the Kingdom. Christ has wrested authority from Satan. The Kingdom of God has attacked the kingdom of Satan; This evil Age has been assaulted by The Age to Come in the person of Christ. All authority is now His. He will not display this authority in its final glorious victory until He comes again; but the authority is now His. Satan is defeated and bound; death is conquered; sin is broken. All authority is His.... [pp. 137-140]

I can live with that.

Yes, tsunamis will wreak enormous mayhem and death. We live still in This Age, deadly and evil as it is. Death and destruction still do their dirty work. But Jesus Christ has broken into This Age and has brought with him The Age to Come. We taste it now and sorely long for its fulfillment. We want an end to agony and incident. Well, that day is coming! And as it draws nearer, even with tsunamis remaining, we already have Jesus.

And for this weary soul, that is more than enough--that and the promise that Jesus has already overcome the world.

(For a far more eloquent commentary on this matter, read what British theologian N. T. Wright has written in The Independent. Thanks to fellow blogger Scott Collins-Jones for the lead.)


Blogger geoffrobinson said...

While it may not be the most sensitive thing to say right now but people are asking the wrong questions. Look at Luke 13:1-5.

A better question is why God always anything good to happen to rank sinners like myself.

2:26 PM, January 05, 2005  

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