As we come to the end of this mini-series on the world of Genesis and natural disasters, we ask the question (again):

So why do natural disasters occur on earth?

Well, the most interesting and sensible answer I have heard to this question was given on a television programme ‘Tsunami – Where was God?’ in December 2005, a year after the South East Asia disaster.

In the programme, interviewer Mark Dowd – having finished his travels around India, Sumatra, Sri Lanka and Thailand – journeys to Vatican City to a conference of Jesuit physicists that are meeting to discuss climate change. Curious to know if the Christian physicists can reconcile a world of natural disasters with the idea of a loving God, he is surprised to discover that none of the physicists share his dilemma. Instead, they explain the necessity of tectonic movement in the world as part of the process by which human life is enabled to occur and develop  – natural disasters creating terra-firma to live on and a correct balance of gases in the world. In response, the Jesuit physicists were unanimous and resolute that without earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, the world we inhabit today would be totally unsuitable for human existence.

So what does this mean for Christians and Christianity?

Well firstly, we might conclude that the evidence is stacked against any idea that Adam and Eve inhabited a world without danger – the fact that the devil and temptation lay within it should confirm it was no idyll. Now, while the pair may not have expeienced an earthquake first-hand, it is very likely that had either of them tripped or fallen over in the Garden, the same gravity that held them to terra-firma would also cause them harm if they fell awkwardly and scraped a knee or broke a bone. While some might not like this type of thinking, we should all take comfort in the knowledge that without  natural disasters, our world would be wholly different and unsuited to our existence. Moreover, we wouldn’t he here to read and/or rail against such an idea. Yes, Adam and Eve enjoyed the Garden but it was created in ways that we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate.

Extracts and article idea taken from ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

 

How do we know the tectonic plates didn’t start moving after Adam and Eve’s fall out with God?

 

Now while it can be comforting to believe that natural disasters were not an early feature of life on earth, there is little evidence to support this kind of thinking. The reason being that the earth’s surface is made up from a series of plates that fit haphazardly together. Although these plates provide a reasonably stable environment for human existence, they are also prone to occasional shifts as they rub one against another. When this occurs,  tectonic movement happens with the possibility of earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tsunamis.

One reason we can be sure that natural disasters occurred before Adam and Eve is that the pair lived on solid ground and not water. Of course in saying this I am also presuming that they were not located on a flat sterile wasteland but rather they enjoyed a world full of mountains, valleys, caves, canyons, rivers, and sea. A world that was created through tectonic movement and the necessary seismic shifts that makes land rise from water. A world which comes about because plate movement happens and the ripples of earthquake and tsunami follow.

But what if God only used tectonic movement to initially create the earth but that the natural disasters we encounter today came about because of the fall?

I like this argument because it’s logical. The idea that God constructs the world through vast amounts of energy focused in ways that result in mountains, valleys, and islands being formed. Moreover, the reason God does it at an early stage of earth’s history is presumably to avoid having to do it at a time when life forms will be established – thus ensuring no creatures get injured or killed. But there’s a problem with this idea because fossil records indicate that smaller life forms were around in these earlier times and seem to have been caught up in the geological processes taking place. More importantly, examination of the earth leads us to conclude that tectonic movement is continuous because it is not focused in a small window of opportunity but rather occurs over millions of years (and into today). All of which suggests natural disasters did not begin with human failure and sin – oh dear, dilemma!

Extracts and article idea taken from ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

Can natural disasters ever be considered a result of the Fall?

I am not quite certain where the idea came from – possibly my early education at the hands of the nuns in catechism – or later as a ‘born again’ at college? But somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that earthquakes, typhoons, floods,  hurricanes, lightning strikes and tsunamis occurred as a result of human rebellion away from God.

Now, whereas I think quite differently today, I do have some sympathy with those who believe natural disasters happened as a result of the Fall. After all, it’s inferred in the Bible. At the start of Genesis we are informed that God assesses His creative handiwork and considers it ‘good’. And yet, later on we are informed that the same earth is in such a state of turmoil and disrepair that God likens it to a woman who is in the pains of labour who ‘groans’ and ‘longs for’ a time of restoration – all of which suggests something has happened to our perfect world since God created it – but has it?

For many believers, the obvious response is to assert these phenomena came about as a result of human rebellion away from God – but is this a fair assumption to make? One reason we might question such thinking is that it does not accord with what we now know today about the physical properties of our world and the processes within it – such as tectonic movement which (incidentally) is a good thing.

After all, without higher tracts of land there would be no hydrological cylcle allowing moist sea air (containing water) to rise, cool and deposit fresh water as rain. Likewise, without flooding and deposition, large areas of land previously eroded by farming and cattle grazing would never be replenished with new soil enabling the continuance of human survival in those areas. Could it be that things like earth’s replenishable soil – unlike the impervious rock or gas base of other planets that do not facilitate erosion – is what God is talking about when he declares His creation good for sustaining life? (And not a harm-free zone)

Extracts and article idea taken from ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

Why doesn’t God intervene and stop Adam and Eve from making poor decisions in the Garden of Eden?

Following on from the previous post and how gravity results in positive and negative outcomes, let us consider the question of why God has made the world this way? By that I mean, a place where it is possible for bad things to happen to good people (sic Harold Kushner)

Some believers argue that pre-fall Creation was a ‘harm-free zone’  because they believe nothing harmful existed on earth during the time. (Presumably because God was present and/or able to intervene and stop it). But is this a reasonable thing to expect of God? After all, even though God has the ability to be physically present in the Garden, what we discover is He does not intervene and save Adam and Eve from the bad decision they make in choosing to take fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Yes, God could intervene and save us from every pending accident and bad decision we make but He doesn’t. Why? Because God knows that if He does this, he also removes from us the ability to think and act freely. If anything, it seems that God has placed us in a world that is full of things that can both benefit and harm us. Difficult as it is for some believers to accept, this has always been God’s intention because for the world to be any other way is to create a sterile environment where people constantly remain subject to His intervention. I don’t think its unreasonable or unbelieving to assert that ‘harmful’ gravity’ existed in Adam’s time nor affected the world in exactly the same way that it does today. If anything, it’s prudent, observational and true of the real world that God has created for us to occupy and learn from.

Extracts and article idea taken from ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

Might the Garden of Eden ever be considered a harm free zone?Following on from the last post about the benefits of gravity, lets consider some of its negatives. For example, a roof tile may fall from a house and kill the person below because of the gravitational pull acting upon on it. Likewise, just as gravity facilitates the flow of water to a watermill, it can also, on another occasion, result in a flash flood that washes away the mill. While gravity may keep us firmly drawn to the earth to do fun things, it also results in rockslides, avalanches, excessive flooding and things detrimental to human existence. But does the occurrence of these events mean that gravity is a bad thing? Or …

‘would we forfeit gravity rather than run the risk it might one day cause something detrimental to happen to us?’

And of course, the answer has to be ‘no’ because we all appreciate that the benefits of gravity outweigh any disadvantage we might encounter from time to time. But what has all of this to do with the world of Genesis 1 & 2?

Well … presuming that gravity is not a product of the fall – by that I mean an outcome from sin coming into our world – the most obvious conclusion is that gravity has always been with us and part of God’s plan. Which means that gravity existed during the time of Adam and would have affected him in pretty much the same way it affects us today. Obviously,  bungee ropes and snowboards were not available to Adam, but slopes, cliffs and canyons were. And if you are following my thinking, you might question what would happen to Adam if he missed a foothold or fell from a tree while clowning around trying to impress Eve? My guess is that he would fall and hurt himself in pretty much the same way any of us would. Big shock – you can break a bone in the world that God has created good!

More in next week’s post.

Extracts and article idea taken from ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

Can the Garden of Eden ever be considered a perfect idyll?

Think of a world without suffering. Where nothing interrupts the direct line of communication with God.  A world where there is plenty of food and relationships are healthy. A place where work occurs without effort and most importantly, there is no death to spoil the party. But is the early world of Genesis consistent with what we understand about our physical  environment today? Moreover, is it perhaps a case of wishful thinking over the stark reality of life in the real world?

Perfect World syndrome?

The traditional understanding of Genesis is that people began life inhabiting a perfect world – an environment without disease or bacteria or natural disasters within it – nor anything else that might cause them harm. But is this a world that is ideal for humans? After all, the position is problematic given our understanding of the physical world today.

Issue of gravity

Let’s begin by considering gravity which exists for our benefit. After all,  spinning through space at thousands of miles per hour, we should all be very grateful that it allows us to live, work and play without fear that one day, by jumping too high, we will be carried off into outer space. We are probably also grateful for the benefits gravity provides in facilitating us to abseil, skydive, snowboard, ski, etc. Indeed, gravity is an essential element in the hydrological cycle enabling evaporated moisture to return as droplets of water (rain) rather than disappear upwards into our atmosphere. In short, gravity has a lot of benefits.

But there is another side to gravity that we sometimes fail to consider in which people die in avalanches and flash floods– but more about that in the next post:

Extracts adapted from ideas in ‘The God of the Cruel World’ (Bob Eckhard)

‘What if God has already judged us and provided a solution?

‘This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.’ ‘1John4v17

The idea of an austere God sitting in judgment over us is one that is common in many religions in the Western World. Likewise, our understanding of right and wrong, good and evil and a belief that we will be judged at the end of our lives. Moreover, our own failure in being  quick to judge others, while remarkably slow at identifying our own failings and holding ourselves to account.

Now, irrespective of whether a person subscribes to a belief in God or none at all,  the sense of existential angst experienced by most suggests many fear death and judgment. The observant among us will have noticed the Bible verses under each picture in these posts. The first seven paint God in a rather cold and arbitrary way, judging everyone and everything. However,  today’s (eighth) post is strangely positive and upbeat in comparison with its suggestion that people should in fact have confidence in facing the day of judgment. All of which brings us  nicely onto…

The ‘what ifs…’

The Christian perspective of God and judgment is that both are real and inevitable. But what if God’s judgement has already taken place? What if the Divine has already acted and made amends for His Creation? What if God provided a solution for angst-ridden people who worry about their mistakes and what they have made of their lives? What if God has done away with the old form and we no longer need to fear ageing, death or a meeting with our Maker.

The Christian belief is that God has already acted through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. A sacrifice from God for the many so that no one should live in this life with fear of death and judgment.

‘Is it fair to subject humans to temptation if they are judged on the decisions they make?’

‘…until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the holy people of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.’ Daniel 7v22

In this series, we have considered a range of issues related to the exercise of freewill. Today we investigate an aspect so far not considered – that of our ‘environment’ and whether it is conducive to humans making good choices.

But why is this important? Well, if we  believe that those who obey God in this world, fare much better than those who don’t in the next life, then some people might prefer to inhabit a world without freewill – or put another way, one in which God makes all the decisions on our behalf. A world in which freewill and temptation are removed from individuals who might otherwise make poor choices and end up being judged by God. While this deterministic world would never be as educational as a world in which freewill operates and choices have to be made, the fact that people are denied the opportunity to make mistakes also allows them to remain outside of hell. A small price to pay – but is it?

In the film, the ‘Truman Show,’ Jim Carey plays Truman Burbank – a young man who lives in a deterministic world that he believes is real but is actually a large television studio operating around him. Orchestrating Truman’s life through hidden cameras and microphones is artistic director Christof who is increasingly perturbed by Truman’s antics as he questions and attempts to leave this world, Christof placing a multitude of obstacles in Truman’s paths who still strikes out to be true to himself, his nature and desires.

Could this be why God grants us freewill? Not just because he doesn’t want automatons to pronounce their love for Him but rather the very nature of being human necessitates we have freewill to make our own choices, however small and inconsequential they might seem.

Christianity has a marvellously complex and nuanced doctrine of creation. At its core are two important concepts about God which we may call transcendence and immanence. Transcendence speaks to the central claim that God is wholly other, entirely different and outside of creation. He is not part of it ; he created it and stands apart from it,  not just different, but in a unique category of one. He is unlike anything we can name and there are no analogies.

Immanence is the complementary claim that He inhabits creation at its most fundamental level.  That indwelling is motivated by the very creative love that led Him to create, and is not passive but active. He has not just  abandoned it to run its course like a machine. Immanence makes God my God through Christ – it is why I am a Christian and not something else.

Immanence has been cited as helpful in a correct biblical assessment of creationism and evolution. A theologian called Aubrey Moore writing in 1889 at the height of the Darwinian debate, wrote “The scientific evidence in favour of evolution as a theory is infinitely more Christian than the theory of “special creation”. His reasoning was that it demonstrated the intimate immanence of God in nature, and the omnipresence of God in literally everything, all of the time.

He further said that “those who oppose the doctrine of evolution seem to have failed to notice that a theory of occasional intervention implies as its correlative a theory of ordinary absence.”  If we don’t believe that God is  active all the time, then we hold to universe where God is fundamentally absent most of the time. Moore actually suggested that Darwinism had given a helpful hand in restoring the doctrine of immanence of God to its rightful place in Christian theology, and in Christian living.  God is always there, right there, and always at work.

‘Is there a price to pay when humans judge one another?’

“But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Matthew 11v24

The human need to judge is common in most cultures and happens so frequently that we are unaware when engaging in it.  Indeed, our experience of injustice occurs from an early age as:

  • a toddler takes away our toy leaving us to voice our complaint
  • we lament the miserliness of  a parent who denies us an ice cream
  • jilted by our first love, we console ourselves by telling their faults to everyone
  • we judge a mother who is unable to control her child and think them a bad parent

At the heart of these judgments is the notion of a moral superiority which asserts we are ‘right’ and others are ‘wrong’. Interestingly, within these exchanges there also seems to be an aspect of societal control embedded in sharing our judgments about people which works something like this: we make a judgement then share it only to assess the listener’s feedback to see if they are supportive of our position or not so we can:

  • seek out others more likely to agree with us
  • re-think our opinion rather than fall out with others
  • continue as before but being more circumspect with whom we share and what we say

Which brings us to the belief that God will judge the earth and its peoples. And herein lies the problem. While we might hope God will extend mercy to us, we are aware of our own failure in the countless unkind judgments we make of others every day. Judgments in which we condemn and discard the person without qualm and, in so doing, became an offender ourselves. This is the reason why our human propensity to judge others causes discomfort because we believe that one day the same lack of love and grace will be visited on us by the Maker of all things and we’ll be found wanting when the scales are held aloft.