Approximately two million displaced Sudanese lived in camps around the capital of Khartoum. They came from several parts of the country because of wars and drought. On a visit to one of the many camps I was asked to see a man from the Darfur area who had an abdominal gunshot wound. The man’s name was Abdulla.
Abdulla pulled up his shirt and I could see the scars from his gunshot and the surgical wound. Both were well healed but I saw that he had been left with a colostomy; his solid waste emptied into a disposable bag taped to the side of his abdomen. Because he had no money and surgical services for the poor were so scarce in Sudan, he had been told that he would have to live out his life in this manner, with this stool-filled bag taped to his side.
After looking at the wound and examining the rest of his body I asked Abdulla to tell me his story. In the beginning he spoke as if he were emotionally detached from his physical problem and from the history that had brought him to this place. Within minutes, though, he turned the conversation to matters that were more personal and his feelings were revealed.
He had had a good life as a farmer in Darfur. He had two wives, many children, lovely farmland and more cows than most people in his community. God had blessed him, he said, because he used to teach the Quran to the village children for no charge. He had been happy and very proud of the kind of life that he had been living. People recognized him as a man that had been blessed by God. He emphasized this point.
On one day the village was shocked by the sound of gunfire and screaming as turbaned men, with their faces covered, rode horses into the town shooting whoever they saw. These kinds of raids were being carried out throughout the Darfur region in those days. Men were shot, women were raped and houses were burned. The death toll ran into the hundreds of thousands.
Abdullah was spotted, he ran from the armed horsemen but was pursued and shot in the abdomen. Through tears he told how he had been left for dead and was later carried out by truck for surgery. The incident had been more than one year before and he didn’t know if his wives or children were alive. Because of the colostomy, which he said had left him as less than a whole man, he could never return to his village so he stayed, hundreds of miles from his family and home, in the refugee camp where I had met him with no hope for the future. His voice was so tender, so sincere and so desperate. How could a man that he did not know, and that he had never wronged, ride him down with a horse and shoot him? Why does one man hurt another man?
Worse than just wearing out
A law of science states that all systems tend towards decay. Over time, ordered things simply break down and become disordered. The human race and the earth itself are not just tending toward decay, though. This story of war is not a story of an aging earth. This is a story indicating a hostile aggression. There is some power upon the earth, and upon man, that is working against us, to actually hurt us.
You have seen documentaries of great predators stalking, running down and then ripping apart their prey. The narrator tells you that this is the way of nature and, as an extension of that word, it is natural. If it is natural, then why is our inclination to turn away in disgust? A beautiful cheetah using his claws to disembowel a beautiful antelope does not feel natural to me. It doesn’t feel right to see blood splattered against the antelope’s coat while the cheetah continues to dig and bite into his body, looking up with blood all over his face. Doesn’t something tell us that this is a distortion of God’s intent for life; that this commonplace natural event is not really natural at all?
My medical school Pathology book was over three inches thick, explaining about thousands of different germs that attack man and animal in a variety of ingenious ways. Where did all of these complex and dangerous bacteria and parasites come from? Why do they have hooks and barbs and sticky mucous so that they can hold fast to some vulnerable part of our body while they feed off of us? Did God really make them like that?
Naegleria is called the brain-eating amoeba. It is a microscopic, single-celled critter that lives in warm, fresh water. If a swimmer gets it up his nose, the Naegleria follows the nerves through the skull and into the brain where it feeds and multiplies. Almost all cases are fatal.
On a lighter note, there are actually three species of vampire bats that live exclusively by drinking blood. Vampire bats come out at night, find a sleeping host, locate a warm spot on the skin, use their teeth to shave away bothersome hair if necessary, make a little nick and then lap up the blood.
And here is a question that I have had all my life. Did God create mosquitos and if so, why? They also live by sucking blood that doesn’t belong to them while carrying malaria, dengue, Zika and West Nile fever between the host and the baby sleeping outside the mosquito net or the pregnant mother who went out of the house after dark.
I do not believe these enemies of life were a part of creation; that they are natural. God didn’t create some animals to live only by killing others, nor did He create an earth that quakes to kill people, or infections such as Ebola and AIDS. God did not put into man the hunger to rape and steal and to war against one another in the manner that we see every day on the news.
The horrendous violence seen in nature and in man screams out to us that God’s creation is more than just wearing out. There is something much more serious and even more sinister at work here. The planet is more than in a state of decay; this is more than just entropy. There is some force that is actually acting against us, perverting the nature that God intended. Something has got us in its grip, twisting and squeezing us. Something has taken the natural way of God and has imposed a new and malevolent form of nature.
There is a verse that I think explains all of this. It is in Romans 8: 20: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
I had to read this several times before I got it, but it says that the earth was intentionally messed up in the ways that we see above; it was “subjected to frustration,`’ And the person responsible for this mess is not Satan, but is God. The verse goes on to say that God hopes that this will cause the people in suffering to be humbled enough to come into the family of God.
This world is a place with many different kinds of suffering, but it isn’t hell. We groan in our pain, like children in childbirth, but just as they have hope of the end of the contractions and a baby in their arms, we have a hope that the suffering won’t last long and we will be united with our heavenly father in heaven.
But not yet. We still have some suffering to go, because Romans 8 also says: For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.
The Church is not finished with its earthly task just because we are saved and are in God’s family.
The end of the suffering is waiting until the Church is complete; when all of the children of God have been found and brought into the family: the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Main Point: There is a way to bring the suffering to an end but, week after week, we act as if we are content to let others suffer under God’s curse, rather than doing the hard work of finding them and bringing them into our family so that our family can be complete.
So What: These are the primary tasks of the church: One, to care for the hurting and needy. And, two, to make disciples among all nations, thereby completing our family, so that the curse can be ended. We have not arrived at the end point; there is still work to do. We should be unhappy here, groaning for the hope before us and trying to take others, like Abdullah, with us into God’s family.