New Zealand—part of a suffering world

Photo by JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post in nelsonmail.co.nz Tribute
A loving tribute to the victims of the tragedy.


Last week, my country of New Zealand was reeling from the tragic deaths of six young people and a teacher, in a river canyon accident that has highlighted both the preciousness and the fragility of human life. Accompanied by professional guides from an outdoor pursuits centre, the party was ambushed by a virtual wall of water in a constricted forest gorge and all were swept away, leading to the tragic deaths.

Six of this group were senior high school students and close bonded friends by virtue of attending the same Christian school, and all sharing a strong and personal Christian faith. The seventh member of the group was similarly a Christian and a well-loved teacher at the school of some 500 pupils.

As well as giving rise to seven grieving families and a mourning school fraternity, it transpires that each of the victims attended a different church, thereby widening the circle of sorrow and loss. In fact it was clear from the media coverage that everyone (media included) in this small nation have been deeply affected.

Even under the glare of publicity and through the sorrow, what has been so evident was exemplified by the Pastor of the Elim church to which the school is attached. Asked how they could cope with such loss, he simply shared that although Christians are in no way immune to this world’s woes they have a faith that gives them hope at the darkest of times. This was well illustrated by the surviving students who shared how, through a long night, they were able to support each other and just be there for each other, praying for the missing members and quietly singing Christian songs.

As the shock of such an incident subsides, what rises up is the big question as to why a loving God would allow this to happen. Probably a good place to start is with Jesus’ clear statement when asked about the victims of a collapsing tower. He affirmed that it was not because they were worse sinners than the rest of the population (Luke 13). However Jesus goes on to underline the malevolent role of sin generally in the present plight of this world. The history in Genesis chapter 3 makes it very plain that this world of suffering is the result of mankind’s catastrophic rebellion against God. If that history is undermined, as is continually happening in our western culture through the teaching of evolution and long ages, then it also undermines the way in which even such tragedies ‘make sense’ in the light of this biblical ‘big picture’—a good world, ruined by sin, to be restored in the future.

The good news (the Gospel) is that God Himself sent his own Son, Jesus, to bear the punishment for mankind’s sin—thereby preparing the way for that restoration of our world one day to a sinless, deathless future paradise—ultimately, a New Heavens and Earth. It is also the Christian’s strong belief that all who die trusting in Christ will awaken to find themselves (the same day!) in paradise with the Lord—as did the dying but believing thief on the cross.

This is the rock solid basis for the confidence expressed by the pastor in this present tragedy. The Bible says

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
   the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
    who comforts us in our troubles.
’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

What a contrast to the black despair and hopelessness facing atheists and agnostics when confronted by death and suffering. What a tragedy that there are today an increasing number of these, a trend dramatically accelerated by the teaching of antibiblical philosophies in secular schools, universities and the media under the guise of ‘science’.

Thank God for parents who give their children a Christian education. The Christian, and indeed the Christian community, find that although sorrowing, Jesus enables us to walk over the waters of grief and not sink under them. This wonderful privilege is God’s best plan for every person—the Bible says ‘Whosoever will may come.’

Published: 22 April 2008

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