There is a time for everything,” says the Good Book, “a time to tear down and a time to build” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3). And October, last year, became a time to tear down in my part of the world. A fire erupted in the Angeles National Forest near the town of Piru, California (USA). Winds clocked at 80 kilometres per hour soon whipped it into a huge blaze.
Early the next morning, the US National Weather Service clocked winds as high as 170 kilometres per hour in some places, with 120-kilometre- per-hour gusts common below mountain passes. Downed powerlines sparked new fires in several places. In a few cases, authorities suspected arson but the origin of many of the fires remains unknown. Whatever their source, additional fires soon engulfed thousands of hectares from Los Angeles to the Mexican border. The worst fires were in the San Diego area.
Wind-driven flames raced through canyons and arroyos, leaped over freeways, and surged up mountainsides, consuming everything in their path.
As a precaution, more than half a million people fled their homes.
By the time the conflagration ended, it had claimed 14 lives, injured scores of firefighters, destroyed nearly 2000 homes, and caused billions of dollars in damage. Clearly, as Ecclesiastes warned us, this was a season to tear down.
But why? How do we explain this destruction to the family sifting through the charred remains of what was once their home? A home that took weeks to build and years to pay for, a repository of dreams and hopes, memories and keepsakes; a place where children played, the family shared meals and love, a place of beauty, utility and happiness— now reduced to ashes.
In general, we humans don’t like destruction. We call it senseless, yet it happens. So we seek reasons, causes.
It frightens us to realise we can invest our time, money, hopes and efforts into things that can, without apparent reason, suddenly be taken from us. No, we don’t like destruction—sudden or otherwise—and we exert great efforts to prevent it. There’s something irrational about all this.
The scientific explanation
Scientists have raised the process of random destruction to the level of natural law—a principle called entropy.
According to this principle, over time, everything tends to become less organised—to fall apart, to decay. Put a bottle of perfume in a closed room, for example, and you have two largely separated fluids: the perfume, all in the bottle, and the air filling the room.
These two fluids (considering the air to be a fluid) are fairly well organised within themselves. But, even without a fan blowing the air around, the perfume will slowly leave the bottle as time goes on and spread throughout the room. The two organised, separate systems have mingled and their organisation will have randomised.
In a similar way, when fire sweeps through trees and shrubs, reducing them to their chemical components, it’s simply taking the highly-organised living organisms, with their complex interactive parts, and returning them to a simpler, less organised, non-living state. Or when a home burns, all the carefully crafted organisation of timber and glass, tile and carpet, plumbing and wiring—that made it a controlled, comfortable living environment—vanishes.
Gone! Put simply, science tells us to “get used to it; this stuff happens.” But we don’t get used to it.
Then there are those who refer to all such events as “acts of God.” But our reason rebels at this designation. When the wind downs a powerline and the resulting sparks set off a wildfire, is that an act of God? When hot and cold air masses collide and produce cyclones or tornadoes that destroy homes, topple trees and powerlines, and take lives, are these events acts of God? How does this square with the notion of God as love? Does God destroy?
The great paradox
It’s one of the great paradoxes of our existence. On the one hand, science tells us that destruction, whether sudden or gradual, is built into the universe itself. It’s natural, relentless and unavoidable. On the other hand, we devote much of our energy to reversing, preventing and repairing this inevitable force. It seems we are poorly adapted to living in a world filled with destruction.
Maybe we haven’t adapted to a reality where destruction rules because that reality will eventually destroy itself.
That, of course, is precisely the world science predicts. Scientists tell us that, eventually, entropy will win. All the hot spots called stars will eventually burn out, and their heat will be dissipated in the infinite emptiness of cold space. And every living thing will die, decompose and revert to its elemental components.
But why? If God made us humans and the world we live in, and if He originated the laws by which it operates, why did He make us so we have to continually struggle against that world and its laws? It’s almost as though we find ourselves trying to climb Mount Everest, clad in wetsuits and swim flippers— we just aren’t equipped to cope with the world we live in.
And maybe that’s the answer.
We weren’t made for this!
Is it possible that, like the diver on Mount Everest, we were equipped— perhaps even designed—for a different world? A world that does not include destruction and entropy as part of the structure of reality? The Bible declares that the original humans—the ones we know as Adam and Eve—inhabited just such a world.
A world without death. A world without torrential rains to erode the soil. A world where animals did not kill each other and humans. A world ruled by a Creator who made humans “in His own image,” with the ability to bring order out of chaos, just as He did when He created the world. And God gave those creative humans authority over the planet.
But the Bible tells us this beautiful world came to an end. The serpent told Adam and Eve they would know both good and evil if they disobeyed their Creator, and they believed him. Prior to that time, they had known only good.
But from the time they believed the serpent till now, they and we have lived in an age of destruction, a time for tearing down. Cain murdered Abel, adding warfare to the catalogue of destruction.
Each succeeding generation has further eroded that original natural order and contributed to the growing chaos and destruction.
This explains the predicament we find ourselves in today. It is why, marooned as we are in a realm of disorder and entropy, we yearn to re-create for ourselves a little bit of that original harmony and beauty. Although our first parents long ago abandoned that sweet world, it still calls us. Destruction makes no sense to us, because God designed us to inhabit a world where destruction has no part. Sin, decay, destruction and death are intruders— they don’t belong here and, innately, we know it.
Yet as long as we dwell in this world, we must cope with these aliens in our midst. So long as we dwell here, we shall continue to see survivors mourning their lost loved ones and sifting forlornly through the wreckage left by the destructive acts of nature and other humans. What a desperate predicament to be in: to yearn for Eden, yet be forced to live here!
But there is hope!
Fortunately, the God who made us for Eden promises not to leave us in this sad state of affairs. He proposes to restore those of us who trust Him to the world for which we were designed. The entire natural order will be restored to harmony: “The wolf will live with the lamb,” the Bible says, and “the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling [will feed] together; and a little child will lead them.” He promises that “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6, 9).
When the time comes to rebuild the homes destroyed in California’s wildfires, bulldozing away all the wreckage will be the first order of business. Paradoxically, destruction will also be God’s first step in restoring our world. He will “bulldoze away” all the remnants of sin that have tormented this world for so long. The Bible calls this “his strange work” (Isaiah 28:21), cleansing this world with fire (see 2 Peter 3:10–12).
But when that’s over, the time will come for God to rebuild. He will create a new earth, a new Eden, from the destruction of the old world. After that, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things”—this old order of destruction and death—“has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).