Saturday, September 17, 2005


Why Katrina? Why Rita? Why us? Why now? Why, God, why?

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the devastating flooding of New Orleans--twice--, many might find themselves asking these questions. Or maybe it is the more general question, "How could a good God allow such suffering, pain, and death in the world?" Or maybe even an accusatory, "Why didn't you stop this, God?"

These are some very real questions in need of some very real answers. It's interesting, and enlightening, to note the different responses from people of different faiths. Take, for example, the article "Don't Call Them 'Acts of God'", by Niall Ferguson at the LA Times. In it, Mr. Ferguson laments the fact that most people are quick to apply their particular religious beliefs to the question in a manner that condemns others while supporting their own views. Some radical Moslems rejoiced at the devastation as a just reward for America's crimes. Environmentalists blamed our pollution-happy society for causing global warming, which in turn caused the storm. He also mentions that the traditional Christian response would be to call Katrina a judgement from God, but notes that "few Christian churches risk such strong moral medicine these days."

Mr. Ferguson concludes that "The reality is...that natural disasters have no moral significance." But he then goes on to say that they "should serve to remind us of our common vulnerability as human beings in the face of a pitiless nature," which is itself a statement of moral purpose, and serves to bolster his own naturalistic/humanistic/atheistic beliefs while chiding religious people, at least by implication, for believing in anything higher than "pitiless nature."

But who is right in this matter? Is the death and suffering caused by natural disasters just random occurrences caused by blind forces in a purposeless and pitiless nature? Or is there some higher reason behind all this, some greater force at work?

What answer do Christians have to these important, soul-searching, often pain-filled questions?

First, we need to understand why death and suffering exist in this world in the first place. To do so, we must go back to the beginning--literally. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, God explains to us why we die, and why we suffer pain. God originally created a world that was completely perfect, with no sin, no pain, no death, no suffering. Adam, our first father, and Eve, our first mother, changed all of that by disobeying God's clearly stated command. Because of this disobedience, mankind, through Adam, fell from his perfect relationship with Almighty God, and God placed a curse on His creation for man's sake, withdrawing some of His sustaining power. The effects of that curse are pain, suffering, and death. All humans after that are born with a sinful nature, and actively commit sin from childhood. We are all under this curse of sin. Death and suffering in general is all our fault. No one is innocent.

See "They're Not Connecting It!", by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the articles linked at the bottom of this post for more in-depth discussions.

So ultimately, we are the cause of all the natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, as well as the man-made ones like terrorist attacks and wars.

So that answers the general question of why God allows suffering and death. But more specifically, why did God bring or allow this hurricane to hit where it did? Why didn't He stop it? There are several possible answers to this question.

First, Katrina could have been a specific judgement on a sinful city. Regardless of how the world and even some of the church tries to portray that as a heartless answer, the truth is the truth. God hates sin and cannot abide it. He has promised, warned, and threatened that He will judge those who do wickedly. New Orleans was not exactly the epitome of godly, upstanding, righteous, moral living. God says many times in His Word that the wages of sin is death. Perhaps Katrina was payday for the many who lived their lives as if sin had no consequences.

Second, Katrina could have been a warning to us as a nation. America is becoming more and more ungodly every day and every year. Perhaps God is giving us a taste of what could happen if we do not repent and turn back to Him. Katrina was, after all, relatively limited in scope. It is not, by far, the largest national disaster possible. God does not punish with no warning. He repeatedly warns of coming judgement until we have no excuse. We have already gone through 9/11, huge wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, numerous hurricanes, droughts, floods, and many other disasters. What will it take for us to wake up? Perhaps Katrina was meant as a warning to an increasingly sinful society.

Third, Katrina could be for our good as a nation. While that may seem hard to understand right now, it would not be the first time a natural disaster turned out for the good. The Great Fire of London cleaned out the old infrastructure so new and better ones could be built. There is already a huge rebuilding effort taking place, and promises are being made that the new New Orleans will be better than the old. For another thing, Katrina has drawn attention to the weakness of the levee system, and we are now putting forth more effort to fix it properly for when a worse hurricane hits. Despite the many doom-and-gloom predictions, the death toll has been much lower than originally expected. Perhaps we would not have been so lucky next time. Still another benefit from Katrina is that it exposed the holes in our emergency response systems at federal, state, and local levels. Perhaps after this we will be better prepared for whatever disaster we may face in the future.

A fourth possible reason for Katrina is to give Christians an opportunity to show God's love to people, and be a witness to the world of God's love. The response across America has been tremendous. Millions of people are giving money, food, clothes, water, medicine, and other physical necessities; while many others are voluteering their time and skills to rescue, clean up, and rebuild; still others are opening their doors to the evacuees, their families, and even their pets. I do not doubt for one minute that many people will be influenced to make decisions for Christ as a result of this outpouring. [Not trying to imply that only Christians have responded--people from all different religions have--but just illustrating the tremendous opportunity for Christians in particular to be a witness.] If even one person were to come to Christ through this hurricane, whether for the first time or in recommittment, it would be well worth all the physical and financial damage it caused. Perhaps Katrina was a blessing in disguise.

Finally, Katrina was meant to bring glory to God. We don't know how many, which ones, or to what extent the purposes above apply to this hurricane, but we do know behond a shadow of a doubt that it was meant for God's glory. He is the Creator of the universe, and Controller of the weather. The sheer size and power alone of the hurricane dwarfs man and all of his inventions and accomplishments, blowing away huge buildings like so many matchsticks. Yet that is nothing for God to create, for the very clouds are the dust of his feet (Nahum 1:3). God is also glofified in each of the four purposes discussed above. We can rest assured that God is in control, and that His purposes are always for the best. He sees the bigger picture. He sees what is down the road for us, both in this life and in eternity. In the end, whatever the specific purpose behind Katrina, the main purpose is to glorify God. [While to us it may seem to be mean of God to take the lives of so many people just to bring glory to Himself, we must remember that we are we and God is God. See Job 38-42 for God's response to one who questioned His right to do as He pleased.]

Ultimately, however, whatever is for God's glory is also for our good. Remember the curse of death that was brought on by sin? What if God had not made that curse? Then man would have lived on forever in his sinful state, completely separated from God. For God is a holy God and cannot tolerate sin. Nothing sinful and unholy can enter His presence. So God, in His love, provided a way in which man can escape his cursed body--through death. Yet even in death, his soul lives on, and would be in eternal separation from God, had he not provided a way to become free from the curse of death--namely, His Son Jesus Christ, who is the Life. Christ paid the penalty of sin on our behalf--He died in our place, so that if we believe in Him and accept Him as our Lord, we too can die to sin. Christ also rose again from the dead, breaking the chains of death, so that we too can "walk in newness of life"--both eternal life and spiritual life. So ultimately, death is a way of making it possible for fallen man to be restored to a relationship with his Creator.

The curse actually contains a blessing in disguise. So, for Christians, as we look at death and suffering around us, we can let it remind us of what Christ did for us so that we can be free from such pain. Death is not just a natural condition, one that has always been around and will always be around. It is the "last enemy", and will be abolished once it has fulfilled its purpose. As Christians then, we have hope of a future without death, without pain, without suffering. There is hope! Even in the midst of the darkess times, there is hope!

So, why Katrina? It's our fault--we deserve it--but God will work it out for good in the end. We don't know how, but we do know that He has His glory and our eternal good in mind. And praise God, death is not final--The Life killed Death so the Dead could live! Hallelujah!


For further reading on the proper Christian response:

"A Lesson From a Hurricane", by Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis

"Why is There Death and Suffering?", by Ken Ham and Jonathan Sarfati from AiG

"Why Us?", by Ken Ham, from Creation magazine

See also the other articles at the Death and Suffering Q&A page.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

What's in a Verse?

Sometimes I think it would be better for us if we had to experience trying to live the Christian life without a Bible. We too often take it for granted. Even aside from the Bible as a whole, certain passages have become so familiar to us in our church culture that we often rattle them off without really stopping and thinking through what they are actually saying. Take John 3:16, for instance. Practically everyone can recite that: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." But how often have you taken the time to really read this verse, and see what it says? Why don't you take some time right now and do that.

Here's a question that will help you: How many major doctrines of the Christian faith are contained in the 25 words in this verse? Let's start counting and see.

1. There is a God--"For God"

2. God is a God of love--"so loved"

3. The world is broken and unlovely (the Fall)*--"so loved the world that He gave"

4. God took the initiative--"He gave"

5. Salvation is a gift--"He gave"

6. The Godhead includes more than one person--"His...Son"

7. God's Son was physically born (virgin birth)--"His...begotten Son"

8. There is only one Son of God--"His only begotten Son"

9. God has other sons*--"His only begotten Son"

10. Salvation is open to all--"whosoever believeth"

11. Man's part is believing--"whosoever believeth"

12. God's Son is only way--"believeth in Him"

13. There is punishment for not believing (hell)--"should not perish"

14. God's Son is way of escape from hell--"should not perish"

15. Eternity is real--"everlasting life"

16. Life after death--"everlasting life"

* by implication

Amazing, isn't it! And I'm sure you can find more too. I'm beginning to realize that many of the verses we tend to read over quickly contain much, much more truth and spiritual gold, if we would only take the time to dig for it. Not necessarily even just in the overall picture, but in the details of the words used. Notice that most of the doctrines above are contained in individual words themselves; relatively few of them are directly involved in the overall picture, at least the usual overall picture.

Too often, at least for me, I tend to almost subconsciously assume that some of the words are just thrown in to make the main phrase sound better, and have no real meaning. For instance, take the phrase "His only begotten Son." We tend to think that the "only begotten" part is just for embellishment, but when you look at them they actually have profound meaning in themselves, and add much to the meaning of the phrase of a whole. We tend to read "His only begotten Son", but think "His Son." In doing so, we miss out on some real insights and inspiration.

One thing that has helped me some in looking at what the verse is actually saying is to take a phrase by itself and repeat it several times, putting the emphasis on a different word each time. It really makes you think, as you recognize the difference in meaning and importance when read in those ways. Then, when you put them all together, it gives you a fuller picture of all that the verse is saying. Let's take the same phrase again as an example. Think about the implications given to the phrase by emphasizing each word.

"His only begotten Son"

"His only begotten Son"

"His only begotten Son"

"His only begotten Son"

Now as a whole:

"His only begotten Son"

See what I mean? I hope you have been challenged, as I have, to read your Bible more carefully, and pay more close attention to the "insignificant" details. As you do so, I know that you will find that there is more than first meets the eye in verses you thought you understood completely.


The epistles of Paul and the other apostles are great places to start, particularly Romans and Hebrews.

Monday, September 05, 2005

KJV only?

I recently came across a ministry on the web called Dial The Truth Ministries. I found the few articles I read quite interesting and informative, and the authors made some very good points on various issues. [I did find the tone of most of the articles rather disturbing, however, since it tended to be rather dogmatic, sarcastic, and almost arrogant.]

One of their beliefs that I found particularly interesting was that the 1611 Authorized Version [King James Version, or KJV] is inspired and inerrant. Not that the Bible is inspired, but that the translation itself is inspired.

I greatly respect the KJV. I believe it is a very accurate translation, and I use it 99% of the time. But I don't believe the translation itself is inspired.

At first I thought this was just another rather weird group with radical ideas. But they do bring up some very logical and very important points in support of their belief in the inspired KJV. The articles I read caused me to think about this for a while, which is good. Here's what I concluded.

The first question we must ask is, "Were the original manuscripts inspired?" I think most Christians would answer yes, since this is what the Bible itself teaches.

The next question is, "Are there any differences between the KJV and the original documents?

Upon this question lies the entire issue. If there is a difference, the fault must of necessity lie with the KJV, lest the originals be considered less inspired than the translation. If there is absolutely no difference, then the KJV is indeed inspired, but only because it exactly reproduces the originals.

This is assuming we have the originals with us. But we don't, which makes matters a little more complicated. All we have are copies of copies.

To ascertain how accurate the copies are, we must ask the same question of them--"How accurately do they repeat the originals?" We cannot answer this with complete certainty, since we don't have the originals. However, we can figure out with reasonable certainty what the originals said, by comparing the thousands of individual copies we do have. Since all of the copies don't have the same mistakes, or say the exact same thing, we can cancel out the errors by combining the different copies. (For more on this, see this excellent article by Ron Rhodes.)

Once this is done, we have a reasonably accurate idea what the originals said. Since the translations are based on this aggregate composition, we can be reasonably sure that the different versions are accurate also, though the accuracy and honesty of the translation work can affect the outcome.

In other words, the accuracy--and hence inspiration--of a particular verse in a particular version of scripture is based on the accuracy of the translation, which is based on the accuracy of the copies, which are based on the inspired originals. In this situation, the inspiration of a particular version is dependent on the accuracy of the step-by-step process. Since there are varying levels of accuracy in the translations, there will be varying levels of inspiration in the versions. The most accurate translation would produce the most inspired version. But since we cannot be 100% sure of the accuracy, no single version can have absolute authority or claim complete inspiration.

The only way we could claim inspiration for a particular version would be to say that both the copies and that particular translation were preserved 100% accurately by direct Divine intervention during the process. In other words, we would have to claim direct inspiration for both the copies and the version.

We run into major problems when we try to make such claims, however, since all such copies and translations were completed after the Bible was written. We would need to rely on information outside of the Bible itself to support such claims. While God promises that He will preserve His Word for all generations, that is a more general promise, and can be interpreted in various ways. (For example, we could say that the amazing number of copies that we have today is part of that preservation.) This promise does not and cannot endorse any particular copy, translation, or version. Again, we would need to use extra-Biblical information to support such claims.

But that would be, for all intents and purposes, to claim "special revelation." The Bible explicitly says that nothing can be added or subtracted from scripture. Thus, any claim of special or additional revelation should be regarded with suspicion and examined with utmost care.

So now we have two possibilities that are both rather troubling. One the one hand, the first solution leaves you with a version that is not completely inspired as it is written, and allows for other versions with comparable inspiration. The other solution holds up one particular version as completely inspired, but relies on extra-biblical information to do so.

Personally, I choose the first option, since it allows for very nearly complete accuracy--and hence inspiration--without relying on outside proof. The way I see it, the other option opens the door to new revelation and inspirations, a condition which I find very troubling, dangerous, and contrary to scripture.

I would rather say that the version I have is not quite 100% inspired than to say that it is the result of new revelation. For all that goes, the vast majority of the differences that are present are minute--only changes in spelling or word order. No major doctrine is affected in the least. Thus, I can be sure that what I read and believe is practically identical to what the original authors wrote down.

Yes, the King James Version is a very accurate translation--but it is not the only authoritative one.

Besides, God's Word is ultimately not written on paper, but rather it is "forever settled in the heavens." Furthermore, I have a personal relationship with the Living Word, and have the One who inspired the original documents dwelling within me and helping me to understand them. Manuscripts may be altered and copies may be wrong, but the Son abides forever.

For further reading, see

The Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible, by Ron Rhodes

The Textual Reliability of the New Testament, by James Patrick Holding