God and the Knysna Fire

During the last few weeks our area has gone through some testing times and many are left with questions. Some curse God and some praise God for His protection and help. Others scoff at the Christians and criticise our response. The fact is, we need to be ready with an answer in love. Ultimately, we need to make sense of it all in our pursuit of truth. We should never stop pursuing the TRUTH and events like what we experienced this last month challenge our world view and belief system.


Onne Vegter (a member of Patria Family Church) wrote an article in response to an article in the Daily Maverick. The title of his message was “the answer is in the scriptures”. We can only give you a portion of this article in this newsletter, but you can find the full article on the web at: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2017-06-18-op-ed-god-and-the-knysna-disaster-ivo-the-answer-is-in-the-scriptures/ . This is a balanced view using scripture and an understanding of who God is and worth sharing. “Like so many atheists I have engaged with over the years, it is clear that the god he cannot believe in is a god who, if he did exist, would cause or “allow” such disasters to happen. A god who is “thwarted” by a few kids with matches, and who is either unwilling or unable to change the wind direction to prevent a disaster such as this. A god who is supposedly omnipotent, but actively allows death and destruction.


I believe that one of the reasons people sometimes abandon belief in God is a complete lack of understanding about the nature of God and the reasons why natural disasters, death, destruction and evil exist in this world. The “pat answers” he has heard from Christians have become his straw-man arguments against Christianity and the existence of God: the “devil at work”, God’s “mysterious plan” which is never revealed, or “god is testing us”. The god that many atheists don’t believe in is indeed a god that does not exist. The God that I believe in and who reveals himself in the Scriptures is quite different from
the imaginary god portrayed by Ivo in his column. To explain this, let’s continue to assume that God exists, and that he was well aware of the disaster unfolding in Knysna. Why does he not intervene? Why does a good and benevolent God allow evil, death and suffering in this world? If he loves us and has the power to stop evil and prevent suffering, why does he not do so? This question has been pondered for centuries and many books have been written about it. (Two good reads worth mentioning here are The Reason for God by Tim Keller, and Where is God when it hurts by Philip Yancey). We can start by pointing out that there are two kinds of evil in the world. Death and suffering can result from either of these, or a combination of the two. Let’s call them human evil and natural evil.

Human evil is moral evil, perpetrated or caused by humans, because humans have free will, the ability to choose between good and evil. Mankind’s free will is what allows us to freely choose to love or hate, to obey or disobey, to accept or reject God. Without freedom of choice or a free will, we would be mere robots, automated puppets who only do what we are made to do by our creator. Without free will there can be no real love, for love has to be chosen. A consequence of free will is the ability to choose sin, to choose evil over good, which leads to the presence of moral evil in this world. A fire started by arsonists would fall into this category. So does murder, rape and violent crime. Even car accidents are a result of our free will. Or choosing to build your house on the slope of a volcano or on a flood plain (a choice which exposes you to a greater risk of natural disaster). Do innocents die or suffer because of the moral evil choices of others? Yes. Can God prevent that? Of course he can, but why would he do that? That would violate our free will. You’re asking God to blow out the matches every time an arsonist lights a fire, to jam the trigger every time a killer tries to shoot someone, to block industrial development that pollutes the air and causes lung cancer, to divinely shut down breweries because of the harm suffered by innocents due to alcohol abuse, to take out every criminal or bully or abusive parent before they can harm an innocent person. I could go on and on. Where does it stop? Where should God intervene and where should he allow our free will choices and their consequences? If God did this, he would undermine our free will and we would become mere robots. Every choice we try to make that is potentially harmful to innocents would become impossible, blocked by a God who acts like a kind of puppetmaster.

Human evil is present because God chose to give us free will, so we can choose for ourselves. With the freedom to choose, he also gave us intelligence and the ability to reason. He gave us common sense, wisdom and a conscience. He gave us instructions on how to live, summarised in the command to love God with all our heart and to love others as ourselves. It’s a command, but we can choose to obey or disobey the command, for without choosing freely it would not be love. If all people chose to live by this moral code, there would be no human evil in this world. To blame God that innocent people suffer and die in this temporary world because of evil moral choices made by humans shows how perverted our sense of moral justice has become. As God said to Job, we blame and condemn God to justify ourselves. It also shows how little we value the freedom of choice that God has given us.


The second type is natural “evil”, which is apparent evil or destruction that is not caused by humans, but by the laws of nature. God himself is not limited by the laws of nature, but he chose to limit the universe he created by the laws of physics – laws which are inherently good, predictable and constant, necessary for life on Earth, and discoverable by human beings (to our wonder and amazement). Natural disasters are often referred to as “acts of God” by the insurance industry (to atheists’ eternalannoyance) and it is tempting to conclude that either God does not exist and has nothing to do with it, or God must be evil to allow such disasters. In reality, natural disasters are not “evil” per se, even though they often result in death and suffering. They are simply a result of the design of the universe and the (beneficial) laws of physics and cycles of nature that govern and sustain life on Earth. The same laws of nature that allow life-giving rain to fall can cause destructive storms that cause loss of life. Fire that allows us to cook our food and allows the southern Cape’s fynbos biome to survive can become a destructive inferno such as we witnessed in Knysna One might argue that if God exists, he did a poor job to create the universe in such a way that the laws of physics can also be harmful to humans. The same nuclear reactions and radiation that allow the sun to warm the earth and permit life can also cause cancer, sunburn and devastating droughts. Why could God not create a sun that warms us without the harmful side-effects?

The answer is found in the Scriptures. The book of Genesis explains that everything God created was “good”. There was no death, suffering and destruction before the fall of mankind (the moment we chose evil over good). But after we sinned, everything changed. Since the fall, all of creation is under a curse because of sin, because mankind chose evil and opted not to trust and obey God. The result of that curse, according to the Bible, is that all of creation is now in a state of decay, suffering the consequences of sin, and destined for eventual destruction. Cynical atheists might picture God saying, “Oops! Well, that went wrong...” But God knew this would happen when he gave us free will. From the beginning, this world was not intended as God’s final home for mankind. There was a plan for redemption from the start, in the form of Jesus Christ who died for all of humanity to reconcile us to God. Our earthly lives are a temporary opportunity to choose or reject God. Yet for now, we still live in a world that is “fallen” and imperfect due to the curse brought by sin.”


Please read the full article at the website listed above. If you need a hard copy please arrange with the Patria office, 73 Meade street.

Written By: Pierre Ferreira

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