|God of the Drought|
|Written by Keith Ferdinando|
Since January 2009 over 10 million Kenyan people have been caught in the middle of a severe drought. Many have died from starvation and thousands more face the same threat. With so much suffering as a result of a natural disaster, The African Connection asked Aim International’s Theological Education Consultant, Keith Ferdinando, if God is such a loving God, why does He allow the drought?
Kenya is where the Mission’s work began in 1895. Today, some 114 years on, we have a strong base here with a rich diversity of ministries. While being grateful to God for His faithfulness, we must, however, look to the work that is yet to be done.
It’s the perennial question: why does a good God allow suffering? Of course, much suffering can be attributed to human wickedness. War with all the misery it entails, is what happens when humanity proclaims itself independent of its Creator and goes its own way. The same is true of all the evils brought about by petty human greed, hatred and lust—they happen because ‘I did it my way’. But what about so-called natural disasters, like droughts, volcanoes and earthquakes, not to mention disease and epidemics? In humility, we need first to confess that there is a depth of mystery about such events, that we do not understand. This is especially so when we find ourselves wrestling with the distribution of suffering: why this person rather than that, why here rather than there, and why now? Like Job, whose sufferings were caused in part by natural calamities, sometimes we can only be silent and trust the One who is sovereign over all: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). It is in the darkness of pain that the reality, or otherwise, of the Christian’s faith is truly put to the test.
But some things we can say. The Bible teaches us to recognise the profound interconnectedness of all reality, one result being that the fall of men and women has had a deeply negative impact on every aspect of creation. When God made the heavens and the earth, they were ‘very good’ in every part (Gen 1:31), but in Romans Paul speaks of the creation’s present ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:19-23).
It is a bondage brought about by human rebellion, and visible in tsunamis, pestilence and all the rest. In other words, all affliction, whether caused by human will or natural disaster, exists because of the universally corrosive effects of human sin throughout creation. All suffering of every kind is ‘the effluent of the fall, the result of a fallen world. 1
Hearing during suffering
But natural disasters also serve to remind us of our mortality. It is sure that all must die: the only variables are when and how that will happen for each of us. Numbering ‘our days aright’, facing up to the brevity and uncertainty of our lives, lies close to the heart of true wisdom (Ps 90:12).
The sudden catastrophes of which we hear, and which sometimes come very close, are meant to awaken us to the realisation that sooner or later, by one means or another, each of us must also die – after which comes judgement. So Jesus himself used catastrophe as warning: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:4-5). To be sure, God ‘shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.2 Nevertheless there is paradox. The same pains that can summon the deaf to repentance and life, may also confirm the unrepentant in their hardness of heart and condemnation. John’s Apocalypse warns us of the danger: “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent” (Rev 9:20; and also 16:9-11). Suffering, however caused and experienced, may be redemptive, but all depends on how we respond to it.
1 D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 48.