Making Sense of Machynlleth

Until one week ago, Machynlleth was just a place that most of you had heard of because it was on the way to Aber. The last 7 days has turned that community upside down. As we wait for the body of April Jones to be found, the police have now charged a man with her abduction and murder. As Christians looking on, we can often be lost for words. We can feel as one song writer said, “I believe in the light, but I don’t know what to write, with all this darkness drawing near”. In a world where evangelicals often like to give simply answers to various problems, we have to admit there are big questions that don’t have easy answers. Where is God in all of this? How could God let this happen? What can we say as Christians? Well we can say a number of things.

What’s happened in Machynlleth this week has underlined how far humanity has fallen. The world likes to say that we’re progressing, that we’ve evolved and we’re far better than we have been in years past. The Bible says that’s nonsense and that man is rotten to the core. The Bible is clearer about this nowhere more so than in Romans. Paul is emphatic that man has fallen, that we are all sinful at heart (Rom 1:16-32; 3:9-18). When he writes to some Christians in the churches in Ephesus Paul says that they were dead in their transgressions and sin. Mankind has fallen so far it is dead in its own sin. (Eph 2:1-3). David even goes as far in the Psalms to say that we are sinful before we are even born (Psalm 51:3-5).

The Bible says that humanity is decaying. It’s saying that something is seriously wrong with the world. It says that all of us have sinned. What’s happened to poor April Jones and to the community there just reminds us that this world is a sick, sad place. It reminds us how far humanity has fallen.

We also need to say that what’s happened this week does not prove that God doesn’t exist.There is not a person in the UK currently who doesn’t want justice to be done in this case. People are outraged by what has happened. I was talking to someone, who is an atheist, this week who thought that they should give Mark Bridger the death penalty. I told him that was strange as if there is no God, what’s the point of the death penalty. He couldn’t answer that but the conversation quickly moved on to how incidents like this “prove” that God doesn’t exist. It was an interesting conversation, and one that showed that Atheists have a far greater problem to overcome when considering the evil in the world. [Tim Keller has an excellent chapter on this in his book, “The Reason for God”]. The atheist has no good basis for injustice and unfairness – after all, to an atheist, what is evil? To say something is evil is to make a moral judgment, and moral judgments make no sense outside of the context of a moral standard.  Evil as a value judgment marks a departure from that standard of morality.  If there is no standard, there is no departure. Evil cannot be real if morals are relative.

If morals exist (and even the most ardent atheist would say they do) then we have 2 options:

  • morals exist, but are mere accidents, the product of chance.
  • morals rules are not accidents, but instead are the product of intelligence.

The first option won’t do. Any rule that has no justification doesn’t need to be obeyed. A great illustration of this is… One evening in the middle of a Scrabble game, you notice the phrase “do not go” formed in the random spray of letter tiles on the table.  Is this a command that ought to be obeyed?  Of course not.  It’s not a command at all, just a random collection of letters.

What is the best explanation for the existence of morality?  A personal God whose character provides an absolute standard of goodness is the best answer. If there is no God, this world is some kind of sick joke. If there’s no bigger picture, then it’s obscene and absurd. There is no real justice, there is no hope. Everything is just by chance.

Finally, in thinking about what’s gone on in Machynlleth, we must always remember that God has promised he will put things right. One day the person who abducted April Jones will have to stand before God and give account for what he has done. We must remember that God is certainly sovereign over evil. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10). One day will come and He will deal with it.

Peter draws a parallel between these days and the time of the flood in 2 Peter 3:3 and onward. He’s basically saying that there are loads of people who look at the world and they may be tempted to think that things are not much worse despite all the evidence that shouts otherwise. He warns them that God created this world and that one day he will also judge the world. But there is more than that. As one friend texted me this week – this world is sick, but one day God will make it better. Tim Keller says, “The biblical view of things is resurrection – not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted”.

You’ll have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Remember the bit where Sam Gamgee discovers that Gandalf isn’t dead but is alive? He says, “you’re alive… is everything sad going to come untrue?” The answer of Christianity to that question is a resounding yes! Everything sad will come untrue and it will be greater that it ever was.

John wrote of his vision in Revelation 21:4…

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

One day… God promises it will all be gone. In all the despair that has enveloped that small town in Mid Wales, we must remember that one day God is going to put it all right.

There’s much more than could be said but join us in praying:

  • for the community in Machynlleth – that the Lord would heal the broken in the way that only He can.
  • for Machynlleth Community Church – that they would be able to minister grace to those around and in doing so point them to Christ.
  • for that day when the Lord returns – come quickly Lord Jesus.

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