During one of my meet-and-greet sessions after I gave a presentation at the Answers Center at the Ark Encounter, a lady came and asked a question like this:
I have a recommendation for your next book. I have been looking for a book dealing with death. A family I know needs a book like this, but I can’t find one that adequately deals with the topic. I would like to see you write a book on this.
I was able to answer her by saying, “Well, I have a book coming out [it is now available—more on that later] that does deal with this topic. It is titled Divine Dilemma: Wrestling with the Question of a Loving God in a Fallen World.”
Questions about death, disease, suffering, and understanding a loving God have plagued Christians through the ages.
And non-Christians often use such questions to claim there can’t be a loving God. For instance, consider these quotes from Ted Turner (founder of CNN) and a biography on Charles Darwin:
Turner is a strident nonbeliever, having lost his faith after his sister, Mary Jane, died of a painful disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. “I was taught that God was love and God was powerful,” Turner said. “And I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.” (Ted Turner, “Ted Turner Was Suicidal After Breakup,” NYTimes.com, April 16, 2001.)Annie’s cruel death destroyed Charles’ tatters of beliefs in a moral, just universe. Later he would say that this period chimed the final death-knell for his Christianity . . . so Charles now took his stand as an unbeliever. (A. Desmond and J. Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist [W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1991], 387.)But I humbly suggest that unless we take Genesis as literal history, we cannot begin to understand issues relating to death, suffering, disease, evil, and a loving God.
In 1940, C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Problem of Pain. In this book, he dealt with the topic of reconciling a good God with the presence of evil. C. S. Lewis’ views on Genesis, evolution, and science were complex, somewhat vague at times, and changed over time. But I humbly suggest that unless we take Genesis as literal history, we cannot begin to understand issues relating to death, suffering, disease, evil, and a loving God.
You know, when you think about it, it’s because of death that we are burdened to do what we do at Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter, and the Creation Museum. That’s because death is the penalty for sin. And death happens every day, and it’s a reminder of sin. And as God’s Word tells us, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
That’s why we want to reach as many people as possible with the good news of what Jesus did to save us from the ultimate consequence of sin, the second death that would separate us from God for eternity:
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
It’s a reminder that the Answers in Genesis ministry does much more than just deal with creation apologetics. We use apologetics to defend the Christian faith and point people to the truth of God’s Word and the saving gospel. We equip parents to help them raise godly offspring who will impact people with the saving gospel and in turn raise up more godly offspring, generation after generation.
I find it interesting that the topic we as a ministry are scoffed at and mocked for the most from both the world and Christians (particularly Christian leaders/academics) is that of the age of the earth/universe. Many Christians claim we should just agree to disagree over the issue of millions of years, as it doesn’t matter anyway. They say we should allow other interpretations than a young age (thousands of years) for the earth and universe.
But this topic is not just a side issue and it does matter. It relates to the topic of death. One of the most-asked questions I’ve received from skeptics over the years is how we as Christians can believe in a loving God with all the death, suffering, and disease we observe and experience in this world.
How can a person who believes in millions of years answer this question? Such people believe the fossil layers were laid down millions of years before man. The Bible tells us that after God created man and finished his work of creation, he “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31).
Now, the fossil record is one of death and disease. There are numerous documented examples of diseases like cancer, arthritis, abscesses, etc., in the bones of the fossil record. Would God call cancer “very good”? Of course not.
Also, those Christians who believe in millions of years would have to look at today’s world and say that the death, suffering, and disease we observe has gone on for millions of years. In other words, God would really be responsible for death and disease. But the Bible makes it clear we are responsible because of our sin in Adam. That’s why God describes death as an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death will one day be thrown into the lake of fire, and there will be a new heaven and earth in which there will be no death. This is described as a restoration. In other words, restored to what it was like originally. It’s not going to be restored to a world with death, suffering, disease, and violence.
My new book Divine Dilemma deals head-on with the topic of death, suffering, disease, and a loving God and begins with the literal history in Genesis, with the right foundation of historical events. To build the correct worldview, we need to understand this issue.
We’ve all experienced loved ones who have died. Any time we see death, it’s a reminder to all of us that we have to face our own mortality. You know, when we do experience the death of someone close to us, we feel that terrible separation. That should remind us of the much greater separation that occurred between us and our God because of our sin.
When you think about it, God could have left us in our sin. We can’t even imagine being separated from God in our sinful state for eternity. We can only begin to sense how awful it would be when we read about the wickedness at the time of Noah, the perversion at Sodom and Gomorrah, and so much more. God wants us to spend eternity with him where there is no sin. So he placed upon us the judgment of death. Our bodies die, but our souls (as we’re made in the image of God) will live forever. Now, because death is the penalty for sin, God stepped into history in the person of his Son to become a perfect man, a member of the one human race, to suffer the penalty for sin, which is death. But in doing so, God had a wonderful plan. He raised Jesus from the dead, thus conquering death and paying the penalty for our sin. He offers the free gift of salvation to those who will receive it. Wow!
That’s why God’s Word states, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
So we can understand why we die, and what God did for us. But we live in this fallen world. And we have to struggle through events of death, disease, and suffering. It’s not easy. Sometimes it seems overwhelming. We can’t help but cry out to God and ask, “Why?” And it’s easy to feel guilty for crying out like that to God. But we shouldn’t, as we are just finite humans.
In this book, I discuss the death of my younger brother and particularly how my godly mother struggled through the terrible pain of watching her son die from a horrible disease. And this took place seven years after she dealt with the death of my father (she lived as a widow for 24 years). But her faith in God never wavered. She never lost her burden to tell as many people as she could about the saving message of the gospel. It’s a very personal book in many ways, much more so than any other book I’ve written.
Yes, I have struggled with this issue too. “Lord, what happened to my brother doesn’t make sense. We need more preachers of the Word, not fewer. Why would he be taken at such a young age from his family and friends?
Job came to grips with the fact he had to let God be God, as hard as it is for any of us to do that, particularly in the midst of death and tragedy that we struggle to comprehend.
But even though we struggle, I challenge us all (myself included) to learn from Job. He struggled with the terrible tragedies that occurred in his life, but then God spoke to him in a special way. It’s recorded in God’s Word, so God is also speaking this way to each one of us too. God began helping Job understand who God is. When Job understood God is the one who knows all things—the eternal, all-powerful God—Job acknowledged this and repented in dust and ashes. Job came to grips with the fact he had to let God be God, as hard as it is for any of us to do that, particularly in the midst of death and tragedy that we struggle to comprehend.
On the second deck of the Ark Encounter, we have an exhibit called Who Was Noah? We suggest that God would have prepared Noah for the task he would be called to do—build the ark. Perhaps Noah was already a shipbuilder. He didn’t question God when he was told to build that great ship. We use this exhibit to challenge people concerning their calling from God. God uses our life’s experiences, training, and talents to prepare us for what he has called us to do.
I can see in my own life the parents God entrusted me to, my upbringing and family experiences, my parents’ love for evangelizing the lost, my father’s training not to be led astray by liberal theology, my mother’s devotion to teach her children about Jesus, and my educational experiences and becoming a science teacher were all part of what God used to call me into the Answers in Genesis ministry. Also, my experience watching my mother cope with the death of loved ones and her counsel during that enabled me to write this book, which I pray will help so many others. For those who have heard me speak, you know that in most of my presentations I bring up the millions of years and death issue because it’s such an important issue for us to understand. And it’s one of the reasons I am so passionate about standing up for God’s Word concerning six literal days and a young earth and universe. This, of course, comes through in our literature and the exhibits at the Ark and Creation Museum. What a difference it makes when we take God at his Word!
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.