Today's weather has been simply amazing! One of best Labor Days I can remember in a long time, at least as far as the weather goes. And yet, I've been lucky. Down here in Austin, we're in the middle of a severe drought, and we've reached an inevitable point: wildfires. The last time I checked, more than 25,000 acres of land has burned, over 400 houses destroyed, and several lives lost. My friends, their families, and everyone I know has so far survived unhurt. But 70,000 people have been evacuated and are still not allowed to return to their homes this evening.
We know God can place flames around a bush and not burn it, or lead people by a pillar of fire, or even, in Elijah's case, burn a wet offering. Clearly, God has power over fire. And yet, fire still ravages our land and our homes. Why??
I used to take a rather Deist approach to these type of questions. The Deists were nominal Christians who believed that God created the world and set things in motion, then stopped interfering. In line with these theories, I figured God didn't care to stop our little crises here and there. He rather wanted us to take action to prevent things (sensing a bit of that legalistic, action-based Grace? you'd be correct!). But how do we take actions against natural disasters like hurricanes and fires? How do I stop things I don't even know are coming? Bad things happen in this world, and it can often feel like God does nothing to stop them and therefore doesn't care about us.
Well, here's a little theory I've worked out. I cannot take sole credit for it; it's a mish-mash of an analogy from Nicki Gumble's Alpha course and a passage from William Young's The Shack. I begin with Nicki's analogy: think of the world as a child's soccer game. Without rules or referees, the game becomes crazy! Kids are getting hurt because no one's calling fouls, there's no way to tell one team from the other, and no way to keep score. But, if we choose to follow the rules (i.e. God's will in our lives), the game becomes relatively simple and all goes well. However, in real life, not everyone follows the rules (i.e. God's will). So while some of us are trying to play the game and do things correctly, others are just running around lost, confused, and sometimes even being mean or malicious. So, bad things happen because we live in a fallen world where not everyone, or everything, works according to the way God plans.
Now, why doesn't God get involved? Why doesn't he interfere to make things work the way he planned? Here, I jump to my passage from The Shack. In the beginning, God gave mankind free will, along with a cushy place to live and walk with Him as the crown of His creation. But mankind chose to try and go it alone. We opted to try to live life on our own terms, and in doing so, brought down the rest of creation with us. Now, God in all His glory, has every right and ability and power to interfere in every situation in our world and force things to go His way. But, as The Shack so eloquently points out, if God took away one man's free will, where does the interference stop? He'd have to stop everyone who ever wanted to hurt anyone from hurting anyone else-- from murder to theft to screaming at your parents. No one would have free will, all the way back to the time of Adam. (I strongly suggest you read The Shack if you haven't, especially if my summary doesn't convince you!)
In short, bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. These are the consequences (note: not punishment, but rather the effects) of a world that chose to live by different rules than the ones its creator laid out for it. God is here, He is present and active in our lives. But He chooses to let us see for ourselves the mess we have and will continue to make of things, so that we can realize our desperate need for Him. Plus, He's got a plan and one day all things will be made new, so have hope.