The mission of the Associates for Biblical Research is primarily geared toward the defense of the reliability, authority and inerrancy of God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. A deeply tragic natural disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti is a time of serious reflection for all who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a time of thoughtful prayer, action to help those in need, and a time to think rightly about the condition of the world.
The staff, board and volunteers of ABR are praying for the people in Haiti, and for those who are called by God to go to Haiti to help those in need. We support efforts by ministries and individuals who are providing both physical needs and, most importantly, the desperate need for the Haitian people to hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only answer in a world devastated by the oppressive and tyrannical effects of sin.
Those Who Can Help
The mission and by-laws of ABR preclude us from directly raising funds for aid in Haiti. However, we would like to encourage our supporters and web visitors to consider helping through ministries with whom we are familiar. Currently, we are gathering a small list of ministries we believe will most effectively assist the people of Haiti in this devastating catastrophe.
One such organization is LifeChurch of Allentown, PA. In 1997, the ministry of Senior Pastor Randy Landis and his wife Maribel led to my own personal conversion and acceptance of the Lord Jesus as Savior and God. I am indepted to them for their faithfulness to God and ministry to those in need. Because of their obedience and sacrifical service to the Lord, my life has been transformed and I have been delivered from certain destruction and eternal death. Without Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I am worthy only of God's judgment and eternal damnation.
LifeChurch has been in Gospel ministry in the Lehigh Valley, PA region since 1990. LifeChurch runs an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, where 11 children are cared for. Pastor Randy and his team have departed for Haiti and have arrived there to tend to the needs of these vulnerable and needy orphans. A second LifeChurch team has departed and is currently trying to enter the country. We ask that you humbly beseech God to sovereignly open the doors for them to provide physical and spiritual needs for the orphans, and others who cross their paths.
We support the efforts of LifeChurch, and if you would like to help them in their outreach in Haiti, please visit their website at: http://www.lifechurchlv.org/portal.html
See a video of Pastor Landis on MSNBC. (requires Adobe Flash Player):
A tragedy such as the earthquake should not only cause followers of Jesus to be deeply moved to pray and provide the physical and spiritual needs for the people in Haiti, it should also admonish us to think Biblically about this disaster. Fallible, autonomous human wisdom does not, indeed, cannot give hope to those in need. The Word of God contains the answers and the solution to the terrible state of the world. We should soberly reflect on the following teachings found in God's infallible Word:
1. The Big Picture
The general, "big-picture" reason why earthquakes happen, an event sometimes referred to as "natural evil", can ultimately be traced to man's rebellion against a Just and Holy God. The most succinct teaching on natural evil can be found in Romans 8:19-23. The Apostle writes:
19 For the eager expectation of the creation eagerly awaits the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but on account of the one who subjected it in hope 21 because the creation itself also will be liberated from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers together until now; 23a and not only this, but ourselves also, 23b who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.1 (My translation).
Note that the whole creation groans and suffers. Not only man, but the animal kingdom as well. There is something intensely wrong with the world as it currently exists. As a divine act of judgment, God subjected the universe to futility. Let us not "blame" God here. Let us blame ourselves. God acted rightly and justly (as He always does), in judging our rebellion. But also note: the creation was subjected to futility in hope. The hope of which Paul speaks is the hope of redemption in Jesus Christ. A great deliverance from the bondage of corruption will occur at the end of the age. The new heavens and new earth will be free of death, disease, and yes, earthquakes that maim and destroy.
The condition we find in the created order is traced directly to Adam's rebellion against God. Effectively, Adam (and the whole human race), declared that it could live without reference to our Creator. In Adam, we shook our fist in God's face and declared our arrogant autonomy. The utter foolishness that a created being can live without its Creator speaks for itself.2
2. Non-Christian philosophy is futile
Non-Christian, evolutionary teaching will tell us that death and destruction are normative. In fact, death is seen as a creative process. Death is the creative force that drives life. Survival of the fittest includes man, since man is just a fortunate, accidental by-product of random chance. Man is no better than an amoeba. The world made itself, and catastophes such as earthquakes are part of the natural order of things. Therefore, death is completely normal, and if evolutionists would be completely consistent, they would not be bothered by earthquakes. But of course, they are intensely bothered by the Haitian earthquake, demonstrating that their philosophy is grossly in error. The evolutionist is borrowing from the Christian worldview and wrongly importing it into his philosophical framework. We here at ABR are also intensely bothered by the earthquake, and rightly so. Non-Christian philosophy cannot rationally account for their reaction to this catastrophe.
As an atheist prior to his conversion, C.S. Lewis' biggest gripe against the idea of God was that the universe seemed so unjust to him. Lewis, along with many other atheists, reacted violently against the state of affairs in the universe. Indeed, he was making a moral judgment about the condition of the world around him. But if God did not exist, and Lewis was just another collection of random particles in the long chain of mindless cause and effect,
...why did I...find myself in such violent reaction against it?3
If Naturalism/evolution were indeed true, then the condition of the world would be perfectly normal. Lewis would simply be one minute link in a long chain of causes and effects, and therefore he should accept the universe as it is. In fact, it would be the only choice possible.
G.K. Chesterton's anecdote is a blistering indictment on evolution:
A cosmos one day being rebuked by a pessimist replied, 'How can you who revile me consent to speak by my machinery? Permit me to reduce you to nothingness and then we will discuss the matter.' Moral. You should not look a gift universe in the mouth.4
The evolutionary fairy tale cannot be substantiated. Moral actions by those who reject God are inconsistent with their unbelieving philosophy. The moral image bearing imprint it so strong, it compels humans in general to help those in need. The Triune God of Scripture is the author of morality and conscience.
3. Why do Non-Christians rush to help those in need?
Non-Christians cannot philosophically justify their benevolent response to the people suffering because of the earthquake in Haiti. However, they do, in fact, respond with kindness, concern, and help. Christians are often confused by non-Christian benevolence. Why do those who are in spiritual darkness do good deeds? The spiritual and psychological individual consitutution of any particular person can be difficult to evaluate. But, there are truths about all humans found in Scripture that explain this.
First, man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-7; 5:1-3; 9:6; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; James 3:9; Luke 3:38). He is not a product of evolution, but rather is an image bearer who is descended from Adam (Genesis 3:20: Luke 3:38; Acts 17:26), who was created directly and supernaturally by God on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:26-7). As an image-bearer, man has moral responsibility, reflecting the moral nature of God Himself. The non-Christian response to the earthquake in Haiti flows from the moral character man has been given as an image bearer. The non-Christian also responds as an image bearer, because imbedded in his very being is the knowledge of God and his righteous requirements. (Romans 1:18-28,32). All men know that God requires us to help our neighbor in need. However, non-Christians will always attribute the requirement to help neighbors to some other erroneous source other than God.
As a result of sin and the Fall, the image of God has been grossly distorted, but not eradicated. Man, though fallen and hostile to God, remains an image bearer. Unsaved, fallen man is in a desperate spiritual condition. A few Scriptural references are pertinent. Many more could be cited:
Ephesians 4:18: "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (NIV)
Romans 8:7: "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (NIV)
Romans 1:21: "Because, although they have known God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless hearts were darkened." (my translation).
Romans 1:28: "and since they did not consider it worthwhile to retain God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a worthless mind, to do what is improper." (my translation).
Although man is in this darkened condition, in this life, God continues to strive with man, restraining the evil principle within him from acting out to its full measure. The ability of man to "do good" only persists because of God's non-saving, "common grace" towards man. The very Creator and Lord that non-Christians slap in the face by vociferously denying His existence is the One who mercifully equips them with the ability and desire to help people who are in need.
The doctrine of common grace was first exposited extensively by John Calvin, and is excellently defined by Cornelius Van Til as follows:
Common grace is an attitude of favor of God toward men as men, as creatures made by him in his own image. Common grace is the giving of good gifts to men though they have sinned against him, that they might repent and mend their evil ways. Common grace provides for the doing of relatively good deeds by sinful men who are kept from working out to its full fruition the principle of total depravity within them. Common grace is thus a means by which God accomplished through men his purpose in displaying his glory in the created world, in history before judgment day.
For it is not till after the consummation of history that men are left wholly to themselves. Till then the Spirit of God continues to strive with men that they might forsake their evil ways. Till then God in this common grace, in this long-suffering forebearance, gives men rain and sunshine and all the good things of life that they might repent. The primary attitude of God to men as men is one of goodness. And even then God prevents the principle of sin from coming to its full fruition. He restrains the wrath of man.5
It is immensely important for the Christian to remember that "acts of goodness" by non-Christians never have the glory of God in view. When a non-Christian helps his neighbor, in one sense, he is doing "good", but in another sense is not doing good in its full measure and depth. Because God is to be glorified in all that man does, and because God is the source of all goodness, man falls far short of 'doing good' when he attempts to 'do good' without reference to He who is omnigood. This is best described by the Westminster Confession of Faith 16.7:
Although the works done by unregenerate men may in themselves be things which God commands and things which are useful to themselves and others, yet—because they do not come from a heart purified by faith, are not done in a right manner according to the Word, and are not done for the right purpose, which is to glorify God—they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God or make one suitable to receive his grace. Yet, neglecting them is even more sinful and displeasing to God. (MESV)
With this in mind, we should not denigrate their attempts to help those in need. We ought to properly understand their deeds for what they actually are, as God tells us what they are. No doubt the non-Christian would strongly bristle at this assertion. However, we cannot ignore the teachings of Scripture. Now, this is important for us to understand, but not necessarily say to a non-Christian. This reflects the true state of affairs theologically. Care and wisdom must be exercised by those in Christ when we engage in a discussion with our non-Christian friends and colleagues.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we must understand what true goodness really consists of. And we must be challenged ourselves to have the glory of God in view in everything that we do. "So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." (II Corinthians 10:31). When we help those in Haiti, do we do it for our own glory and our own hidden and selfish desire to feel important, or do we do it for the glory of God because he commands us to help those in need who have been created in His image?
4. Christians must exercise great caution in interpreting this event in detail
Christians fall into a dangerous temptation by trying to provide detailed explanations why catastrophes like the Haiti earthquake occur. Speculation as to the exact reasons that God sovereignly permitted this event is unwise and presumptous. We do not know God's ultimate purposes in these tragedies. We cannot know the mind of God, except from Biblical Revelation. And Biblical Revelation does not tell us exactly why the Haiti earthquake occurred.
Scripture connects the sins of man to God's judgment. Examples from the Bible are many. For example, we can confidently say why Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed (Genesis 18-19), or why Annanias and Sapphira suddenly dropped dead (Acts 5). But, we can confidently say why because God has told us why in the pages of Scripture. God has not revealed to us the specific reasons why this earthquake happened.
It is our responsibility to pray, act with compassion towards the Haitian people and instruct the church on Biblical teaching generally about the state of the world. We should take Jesus' words very seriously when he commented on the sudden collapse of the Tower of Siloam and 18 people were killed in Luke 13:4-5:
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. (NKJV).
We ought not be like Job's friends, who wrongly tried to explain his suffering and ascribed it to some moral failure on his part. It was hurtful and insulting to Job, and God strongly rebuked them for it. The terrible error of attempting to explain the specific purposes of the omnipotent, Almighty God are foolish. David Garner writes:
Lazy-boy analysis exposes a superficial view of God. Is the Creator God, the Almighty One who superintends all things, reduced to our futile speculations about why He acts and why He allows certain catastrophes? Do evangelicals, or anyone else for that matter, have the right or ability to draw specific lines of conclusion about the mind and purposes of God in His providential activities?
We dare not do so. And such action by the Church raises its own set of piercing questions. Who do we think we are? Who do we really think God is? 5b
5. Jesus is the ONLY solution
The central Biblical truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only solution to the problem of evil. God has not stood back in the heavens in aloof indifference but has acted in history in the person of the God-man, Christ Jesus, to deal with evil, and will return in judgment to complete the full eradication of evil on the Last Day. God, in the great mystery of the incarnation, took on human flesh, and lived as a man amongst his very own creation in a fallen world.
According to theologian Wayne Grudem, Jesus suffered in several profound ways:
1. Jesus endured being tempted by all sorts of evils during his life, including intense opposition and hatred from the Pharisees, his temptation in the wilderness, and rejection by many of his own people, including his own family.
2. Jesus suffered the physical horrors of flogging and crucifixion. (Mark 15:24)
3. Jesus endured the pain of the psychological guilt associated with untold trillions of human sins (Isaiah 53:6; Galatians 3:13). Whenever we meet a person who is afflicted with guilt due to their sin, it is often very painful to see how they torture themselves psychologically. Now, let us imagine that experience being magnified several trillion-fold in the psychological experience of Jesus.
4. Jesus bore the pain of abandonment by his disciples, and most significantly, complete and absolute abandonment by God the Father (Matthew 27:46). There was no one with him as he took on the guilt of trillions of human sins. He was utterly and completely alone.
5. Jesus received the full fury of the wrath of a just and holy God against sin. "Jesus became the object of the intense hatred of sin and vengeance against sin which God had patiently stored up since the beginning of the world."7 Of all his sufferings, this appears to be the most horrific of all. Pondering coming face to face with the wrath of an infinite and holy God for just a few moments is positively bone-chilling. Jesus suffered this unimaginable horror for hours on end.
Jesus' identification with human suffering can be examined from many angles, but I would like to expand upon two points here. First, Jesus not only suffered as humans do in varying ways, but he suffered more horribly than any human has ever suffered in the history of all mankind. I am not referring to being flogged and crucified, though only a small minority of people in the history of the world have ever suffered worse than that. Jesus' greatest suffering was in enduring the sum of all the guilt, all the abandonment, and all of God's furious wrath upon his own person, as a perfect substitute for humanity.
Second, C.S. Lewis pointed out an important point about suffering in the world. That is, people do not suffer 'collectively' in their being. A horror like the Holocaust, for example, is not literally experienced in anyone's being as a collective event, rather each individual suffers within that context. Now, an individual indeed suffers immensely, and suffers from the misery that is around him, but that affliction is only experienced in the being of one person at a time. (There is solidarity in this experience as well, but, solidarity does not equate to a person suffering in any real collective sense.) And that experience of suffering indeed has finite limits within the character and nature of any particular human being.
When we see another person suffer, we can experience empathy (which is genuinely painful), but we do not literally experience the same level of anguish as that other individual. So, the objection that God cannot exist because of 'all the suffering in the world' is misleading. Collectively, there is a great amount of suffering, but no one person ever experiences that collective suffering. Collective suffering is not a real experience. The suffering only occurs in each person, one at a time, and is therefore experienced only finitely and in a limited sense. Summarizing, Lewis writes: "There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it."6
This point is important because Jesus suffered in a way totally unique in the history of the world. Not only did he suffer from flogging and crucifixion, but he suffered on behalf of literally billions of human beings, experiencing the collective guilt and the fury of God's wrath that would have been visited upon every single person whom Jesus was dying for. Jesus suffered the collective agony of humanity that no human being can even begin to comprehend. If, for a moment, we could just imagine the greatest sufferer from all human history (whoever he or she may be), and measure the sufferings of that person in comparison to the sufferings of Jesus Christ, we would find the difference infinitely staggering. Jesus is the quintessential sufferer, par excellence. For all the horrible suffering that is going on in Haiti, Jesus suffered infinitely more, and promises to one day alleviate the suffering of all those who put their trust in Him for eternal life. God has 'put his money where his mouth is'.
Lastly, it should be reiterated that God is above reproach and was under no obligation to 'come down and suffer'. Human beings would still be guilty in their sins and would be rightly condemned by God, and their appeals to their sufferings (or any other appeal for that matter) would not relieve them of their guilt. However, by His own sovereign and good will, God chose to take on human flesh and participate in the sufferings of man. And, His unique suffering was more horrific, more dreadful, and more severe than anything any human has ever suffered or could ever come close to suffering.
George Eldon Ladd rightly explains how evil can only be removed by the triune God:
Evil is not merely absence of the good, nor is it a stage in man's upward development; it is a terrible enemy of human well-being and will never be outgrown or abandoned until God has mightily intervened to purge evil from the earth.8
Although the ultimate origin of evil escapes us, the ultimate answer lies in the sovereignty and justice of the triune God of the Bible. We can rest in that truth. Justification by faith in Jesus Christ rescues humans from the ravaging effects of evil, such as the Haitian earthquake. Upon entrance into the glorious state, Christians are fully released from this age of evil, and are guaranteed participation in the eschatological eradication of all unrighteousness in the new heavens and the new earth.
Henri Blocher eloquently expresses how God has defeated evil:
Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He traps the deceiver in his own wiles...God's answer is evil turned back upon itself, conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice.9
While we pray for the Haitian people and tend to their immense needs, ministers of the Gospel must share Jesus Christ with them so they will know eternal life. We want them to become our brothers and sisters, so they too will long for that Day when Jesus returns and completes His annihilation of all evil. It will be a glorious Day, indeed.
Come Lord Jesus, and come quickly...
A more detailed discussion and interaction with objections to God's existence in the midst of tragedy can be found in this excellent pamphlet in PDF: Where Was God on September 11th?, by John Blanchard. It is an excellent theological and apologetic piece that you can print off and give to non-Christians who are sincerely seeking answers. (Blanchard_September_11.pdf)
Further in depth articles:
"Lost" Without Genesis by Ken Ham
Why Does God's Creation Include Death and Suffering? by Tommy Mitchell
To Whom Shall We Go? by Dr. David Garner
The Doctrine of God and the Philosophical Problem of Evil by Henry B. Smith Jr.
The Moral Argument for the God of the Bible by Henry B. Smith Jr.
The Glorious Groan of the Gospel by Dr. Scott Oliphint
1. For a detailed exposition of Romans 8:19-23, see my PDF article: Cosmic and Universal Death from Adam's Fall: An Exegesis of Romans 8:19-23a.
2. For a detailed exposition of how all humanity participated in Adam's rebellion against God's direct and clear divine command with respect to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, see: John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1977).
3. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: Harper Collins, 1940), 3.
4. Masie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), 48.
5. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith: Fourth Edition, ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 188, 191. For an excellent exegetical exposition of the doctrine of common grace, see: John Murray, The Collected Writings of John Murray: Volume II (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth of Trust, 1977), 96. Murray cites the following Scriptures to support the doctrine of common grace: Gen. 3:22-23; 4:15; 6:3; 20:6; II Kings 19:27-8; I Peter 3:20; Romans 2:4; 13:3-4; Acts 14:16-17; 17:30; Psalm 65:5-13; 104; 136:25; 145:9,15-16; Matthew 5:44-45; I Peter 2:14; I Timothy 2:1-2.
5b. To Whom Shall We Go? David Garner,2009. Westminster Theological Seminary.
6. Lewis, 116.
7. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 575.
8. George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 333.
9. Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994), 132-3.
Henry B. Smith Jr. currently serves as the Director of Development for the Associates for Biblical Research. In 1992, he graduated with a B.A. in Economics from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. With a 13 year business background, he also earned an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in apologetics from Trinity Seminary in Indiana in 2005. He is currently enrolled in the M.A.R. program at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.