Disease & Disaster

Why are there illnesses, natural disasters, dangerous animals?


I appreciate having this question asked.  Many people wonder why a God of love would allow his children to suffer illness or loss.  I believe the answer may be found in the scriptures, and I appreciate the opportunity to search for it and present it on my web site.

First, we need to understand God (as best we can).  In my opinion the misunderstanding of God and His love is the source of much religious division and error today.  Many religious groups seem to consider only this one characteristic of God when considering His nature and relationship with mankind.  But is God only love?  What does the Bible say about the nature of God?  To answer the question above I'd like for us to investigate the nature of God through the scriptures and see if we can come to a better understanding of the trials we suffer.

It's true that God is love.  His word abounds with scripture dealing with His love.  We read in 1 John 4:8 that God is love, and the man who loveth not knoweth not God.  We read in Romans 8:38,39 that we cannot be separated from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Notice the qualifier Paul places on God's love and the inability to be separated from it--this love is found in Christ Jesus only.  We'll deal with this in greater detail when we address the question "Who is a Christian?")  The food we eat, rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons are all markers of God's goodness and love. (Acts 14:17)  So undoubtedly love is a defining characteristic of God.

Another characteristic of God is wisdom.  Not only is God wise, his "foolishness" is wiser than men's "wisdom". (1 Corinthians 1:25)  Isaiah records for us that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-11)  When a man searches for a path on his own, where does it lead?  Solomon tells us in Proverbs 14:12 that there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.  So man's wisdom is extremely limited.  He is incapable of fully understanding the wisdom of God (since the height of our wisdom fails to go beyond the "foolishness" of God).  When a man attempts to seek a way to God on his own, he cannot do so.  The way that appears right to a man leads to death!  The only way a man can one day live with God is to forsake the ways of men (which lead to death) and follow the path God has given us to follow.  This is why I emphasize in all of our studies the importance of determining with certainty the origin of the beliefs and practices we hold dear.  Just because the religious rites we observe are uplifting and appealing to our emotions does not mean God is pleased with them.  Consider Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-15), Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1,2) and king Saul (1 Samuel 13:8-14).  Each of these men tried to worship God in a manner pleasing to them, but God demonstrates His displeasure with each.

God is faithful to His word.  He will fulfill His promises.  Peter tells us that God is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  But His long-suffering should not cause us to believe He has forgotten His promises.  He will keep them, on this we can rest assured.  Time to God is not as time is to man (2 Peter 3:8).  A thousand years to us is as a day is to Him.  So it may seem that God is delaying the coming of Jesus, but He has already appointed the day Jesus will come and nobody but God knows when it is (Matthew 24:36-42).  Matthew records for us the faithfulness of God to His word in Matthew 24:35 (heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.)

Let's begin to consider the answer to our question.  Why do men suffer illness?  Is it God's fault should I be stricken with a terminal disease?  Many people blame God when their physical health fails, and make promises to be faithful to Him should He restore their health.  Are we justified in doing this?  Let's turn to Genesis 3:1-19.  Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden.  We see the serpent and his lies in verses 1-5.  Eve shows her awareness of God's instructions in verses 2 and 3.  But she believes the serpent's lies and disobeys God's command.  Adam does the same.  In verse 7 we see the change in them as a result of sin--they knew they were naked and tried to hide their nakedness.  God declares punishment for their sin in verses 16-19.  Notice verse 19.  What would they suffer as a result of their sin?  Death!  Because they disobeyed the word of God they would eventually return to the ground from which they came.  God didn't say how it would happen, only that it would happen eventually.  Because of our sin we will die.  God tells us that it is appointed for all of us to die once (Hebrews 9:27).  It's not God's fault we are afflicted with illness.  Our illness is a sign to us of our impending death (whether from our current illness, or from some other in the future), and our impending death is due to sin.  When Adam and Eve sinned their physical death began.  Since all have sinned (Romans 3:23), all will die.  One will die of cancer, another of heart disease, yet another as a result of accident.  How we will die is unknown.  We are not justified in blaming God for our illnesses.  He is true to His word, and His word states we will die because of sin.

Is it possible for good to come from illness?  Not only is it possible, I believe it's expected!  Consider Paul's writing in Romans 5:1-5.  Paul tells us that we rejoice in hope, but also in tribulation, knowing that patience comes from tribulation, and experience from patience, and hope from experience.  As we suffer the tribulations of life, we should look at each as a pathway to hope.  How can something good (like hope) come from bitterness?  It can't.  So to blame God for our physical trials cannot be justified.  We must have the attitude that from these trials I will develop patience, from which will come experience and hope.

I would like to address together the second and third parts of our question.  Why do we see natural disasters occur, and why are dangerous, even vicious animals a part of our world?  I believe the answer lies in a characteristic of God other than love--wisdom.  God designed the earth in such a way that life will be supported.  What is needed to support life?  All living creatures need food, a source of oxygen, etc.  For human beings, how do we obtain these necessities?  The natural processes designed by God allow plants to grow, rain to fall, life to continue.  The storms we see develop are a part of the natural world designed by God.  Because of the need for air, protection from celestial dangers (radiation, meteorites, etc.) our earth has an atmosphere.  As the sun's energy heats the earth, the potential for violent storms develops.  The storm is a result of natural processes needed to sustain life (heat, oxygen, etc.).  God designed the earth with a hot molten core.  Occasionally some of this energy is released to the surface of the earth as lava from volcanoes.  God also designed the earth's crust as huge plates.  From time to time these plates shift and earthquakes result.  The physical laws designed by God occasionally result in natural disasters and loss of human life.  But as we studied before, death is not a result of God's injustice of lack of love.  Death is a result of our sin.  Within our world God has designed processes to maintain balances necessary to sustain life.  As we learn more about biology and natural ecosystems we develop an even greater appreciation for checks and balances within nature.  The animals which occasionally are harmful to man are put there for a reason--to maintain balance within nature.  The weapons given a snake allow the snake to keep the rat population under control (for example).  If the snake is threatened by man, it will respond as necessary to preserve its life.  However, without the snake the rats multiply in an uncontrolled fashion with potentially disastrous consequences for man.

I hope this study has helped to answer some of the questions many people have about God and His love for man.  We need to consider the entire nature of God as revealed for us in His word.  To look at love as God's only characteristic will certainly result in confusion and dismay.  To consider the wise, just, patient, truthful, omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (in all places) nature of God allows us to understand our place and our duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  There is much about God we will never understand.  But we must not allow our lack of understanding to lead us to blame God for the tribulations we face in life.  Job tells us our days will be short and full of trouble (Job 14:1).  Each of us has the opportunity to develop patience, experience, and hope from the trials we face.


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