Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why Does God Keep Making Mosquitoes?

Last week, I got what might be the hardest question I have ever had to try to answer. Part of the difficulty was context, of course. It was asked by a young child, and in such a trusting and matter-of-fact way that it was difficult to know how to answer. But even when a similar question is asked by an adult, it is not easy to know what to say. The question was, “Why does God keep making mosquitoes?”


How do you explain that to a six year old? I don’t really know, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to answer it off the cuff, but I did the best I could. What I came up with was that mosquitoes do serve some good purposes, and they just want to live like everything else, so it is really up to us to try to keep them away with things like screens and bug spray.

It seemed like my answer satisfied my little interrogator, but it didn’t satisfy me. I know there is a lot more to it than that. Mosquitoes are more than just annoying. They are dangerous. They carry diseases that are a serious threat to human life. According to this factsheet from the World Health Organization, malaria-carrying mosquitoes infected almost 200 million people last year and killed nearly 600,000. And that is just accounting for one disease carried by them. We have a responsibility not only to keep them away, but also to destroy them. Yes, they do just want to live like everything else. But it is very much an “us or them” situation, and it means controlling their population in order to protect human life. That raises questions about the intrinsic value of our lives in relation to other creatures, which would also be an interesting topic, but is not mine here. Still, it makes my initial answer incomplete. Mosquitoes do not, as far as I know, serve a useful purpose, and they do not really have an equal right to life. So why does God keep making them?

The Problem of Pain

This is really another version of the question that has been asked throughout human history: why is there suffering? It never gets any easier to answer, unfortunately. The closest I have ever seen someone come to a really satisfying answer was C.S. Lewis. In The Problem of Pain, he says that “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Understanding this, though, requires understanding what pain really is. Lewis is saying that God causes pain, and that He creates the things that cause it (like mosquitoes). If we fail to understand why, if we miss the point of what pain is, then God can appear cruel indeed.

Pain as Consequence

Pain is, in one sense, consequence. Creation functions according to a set of laws, and we recognize physical ones easily enough. For example, we know gravity makes what goes up, come down. Nothing can really break the law of gravity. We have developed enough power to send objects away from this planet, but it still takes understanding the requirements of force, and even when they get away they can only fly where they want to go by taking gravity into account. We know this. Most of us might not get the math, but we get the idea.

Moral laws are just as immutable, but we tend to have more problems with them. We tell ourselves that they can be adjusted, broken, ignored, or that they do not exist at all. Then, we try to break them. When we do, there are consequences. And, in the short run or the long, they end up being negative. When we do what is wrong, it results in pain. That is why it is foolish to talk about God as being “judgmental” in the sense we so often use that word. He made the world to work a certain way, and if we had followed it, we would have never experienced suffering. But when we decided to follow our own ideas of happiness and fulfillment, instead, it led to injury, disease, and death. By walking away from God, we guarantee that we will experience pain. Moral laws drag us back down to earth as surely as gravity.

Most people get that when the consequences are one-to-one. When someone lies, robs, cheats, or kills, we naturally expect and desire that they experience pain for it. The closer the crime hits to home, the greater our expectation. But what about the reverse? What about the person who was lied to, robbed, cheated, or murdered? Why does God allow their pain? Free will is an element of that, but let us focus on God’s contribution. Why do the innocent suffer?

Pain as Reminder

I think it is because pain, more than just a consequence, is a reminder. It is there to let us know that this world is not as it was meant to be. When we experience pain, we know something is wrong and it forces us to try to solve our problem or provide relief. And that is why Lewis calls it a “megaphone.” Humanity is alienated from God. If He truly hated us for that, He would just destroy us. If He wanted, He could also force us back into a right relationship with Him. But that would not be loving, either. Love, after all, is about choice. If we were forced to be what God wants us to be, then we would not be loving Him. In other words, we would not be free to choose to love Him. Instead, we would be puppets. Pain is an expression of true love. It tells us our world is not worth clinging to, and directs us to seeking healing through reconciliation with God. Pain is the reminder that we do not belong here, that we are not currently what we were meant to be, and that we can be if we follow God, but we have to choose it.

God does not want us to think our pain is pointless, which is why He took it upon Himself. Jesus Christ was God from before the beginning of time, but He became a man so He could suffer and die not merely like us, but for us. He knows our struggle. He shared it. He carried its whole burden on the cross. Jesus did all of this so that He could be the way for pain to matter. Through Him, through His completely undeserved suffering, we attain the promise that the true, final cost for sin has been paid (1 Peter 2:21-25). For now, our suffering has the purpose of sanctifying us (Romans 5:3-5), it will come to an end when Christ returns (Romans 8:18-23), and we will have joy in His presence forever (Romans 8:37-39). To borrow a silly cliché, Jesus’ pain is our gain.

That would have been a lot to try to tell a six year old. It seems too hard for most supposedly mature adults to understand. But it is true. God keeps making mosquitoes to point us to Himself. They are one of His reminders to us that we are in trouble down here on our own, and the only way to escape is to rely on the love He showed through His Son. When we do, we have the promise that we will be with Him some day. In the meantime, we continue to see consequences and reminders so that they can teach us. They teach us to be sorry for our sins, to recognize the brokenness of this world, and to be thankful for the grace we know we will receive in spite of everything. And they teach us to share that message with others so they can know God, too. Mosquitoes, small as they are, are truly a megaphone for declaring the need for a Savior. And that is why God still makes them.

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