The “Vale of Soul-Making”

3:46 pm suffering

     Recently, many people throughout the world have experienced dramatic earthquakes.  In the last 30 days, the United States Geologic Survey (USGS) has recorded several hundred earthquakes all over the world.  Some of the worst earthquakes have hit in Haiti, Chile and Taiwan.  The earthquake in Haiti was 7.0 in magnitude.  Its epicentre was 16 miles from Port-au-Prince.  It hit Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010.  Between 217,000 and 230,000 people have been identified as dead.  300,000 have been injured.  1,000,000 people are homeless.  250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings have collapsed.  The earthquake in Chile was a magnitude 8.8.  It occurred on Feb. 27, 2010.  The total costs have not yet been determined, but hundreds have been killed.  The earthquake in Taiwan occurred on March 4, 2010 (more than one quake it on this day).  It was magnitude 6.4.  Its epicentre was 40 miles east southeast of Tai-nan.  How do we explain these natural disasters? 
     Some natural disasters occur as the result of the physical design and forces necessary to the operation of the universe.  God has created the best of all possible worlds as a “vale of soul-making.”  The phrase, “vale of soul-making” was first used by John Keats in 1819 in a letter to George and Georgiana Keats.  In this letter, Keats sets aside the phrase “vale of tears” preferring the phrase “vale of soul-making.”  The phrase helps define the purpose for which the world was created.  Keats states, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?  A place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways.  As various as the lives of men are–so various become their souls, and thus does God make individual beings, souls, identical souls of the sparks of his own essence” (—  March  1, 2010).  Suffering develops patience (endurance), compassion, love (Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37), good-will toward men.  Suffering also impresses each of us with the brevity and uncertainty of life.  Through suffering we learn our own helplessness and the great need we have for God, His help and His mercy and grace. 
     Some disasters are the result of God’s chastening men for their sins.  This fact is illustrated by:  the flood in Noah’s day (Gen. 6-9); the plagues brought upon Egypt (Ex. 8-10); the drought in the days of Ahab (I Kings 17:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17).  These calamities were brought about by the miraculous hand of God and were designed to be punitive in nature.  The reason we are aware of this fact is the revelation that God made in Scripture specifically indicating His involvement.  Today, we do not have direct revelation from God concerning whether or not He is involved in the disastrous event.  God is still ruling among the nations (Dan. 4:17).  While it is possible that God is chastening a nation, it is not possible for us to know this with certainty.  We may only say “perhaps” (Philemon 15) and recognize God’s providential Will.  Christians should withhold judgment in such matters simply because they do not know with any certainty what directly caused the disaster. 
     The sufferings of this present time should cause us to reflect upon the brevity and uncertainty of life.  They should cause us to realize that this world is not our final abode.  In the face of the reality of disasters, we grow in our understanding of the need of God and of being in a right relationship with Him through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  Whenever our soul is secure in the hands of God, we can confidently face life or death.  Christians look forward to an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled and fadeth not away reserved in heaven for us (I Pet. 1:4;  See also Rom. 8:18-25). This world is not our home, but it is a vale of soul-making!

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