[I am a believer in the God of the Bible. That is said first off to tell you that I begin this post with all premises intact and with information about God coming from His scriptures. -disclaimer or manifesto- as you like]
The first thing I want to say is that I thought that David Brooks, in his article, was quite candid. It took some honesty to admit that as a materialist one has no way of making sense or meaning out of the tsunami event. I think that was intellectually brave. I think the magnitude of this devastation and the media illustration of it is causing many of us to review it in the light of our beliefs and worldviews.
I will try to present mine.
If you believe in the God of the bible, the first thing you have to face is that it didn’t happen without Him. In some way, if there is such a God, then He must have had some hand in it in some way. The Bible is full of such references. The question is what is God’s purpose and is it a direct event from His hand?
I found as I was considering this that it flings one squarely into that abstract discussion from awhile back on theodicy:
– God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
– God is omnibenevolent (all good)
– Evil exists
The immediate scriptural references that bear upon this would be the book of Jonah and the answer of Jesus to the problem of the tower,
In these are the sum of ideas upon judgement… and when huge numbers of people are swept away, there is an element of judgement involved. But is all judgement for the same purpose? That is, is all punishment?
I believe God has several messages.
To understand disasters, it seems that one must also understand that God has set in place “times”. There is a buildup, much like the tension of buildup in techtonic plates, that erupts – not without warning, but often without heed- in tragedy. This is something that is in the form of a natural law. That idea is in the concept of “fullness of time” as it is expressed in the scriptures. Cause and effect are not immediate, nor always isolated.
Think of things this way: our response to the horrible tragedy of the tsunami, with our sorrow at the misery and loss, is not less than God’s response to the fate of all men, left to themselves in increasing cycles of evil. We think it is terrible that so many children were lost, and it was horrifically terrible, but do we have that same sorrow to the loss of children’s lives to abuses, to slavery of the most exploitive type? Are we sufficiently sorrowful for that? Do we mobilize to end that suffering with speed and dispatch?
So I think that one facet of the purpose in disaster is that it wakes us up to our responsibility to each other and the fragility of our existance. There are forces at work, and warnings may minimize the damage. God has a desire to save, and that is why prophets such as Jonah were sent. If a warning can save by preparing people to do those things to extend their lives, then warnings ought to be in place. People should be held to accountability.
In this tsunami, information is coming out that authorities ignored the warnings of experts and refused to put in place the proper systems that would have saved innumerable lives. Like prophets of old in the spiritual sense, these warnings should have been sent out, and why were they not? For age old reasons of convenience or fear of disturbing the status quo, and apathy.
Is that God’s fault? Or God’s will? But equally is it God’s will for the extenuating of corrupt practices or the systems that create barriers to what is good for people? God makes His attitude clear to Jonah:
There are times of disaster and times which judge us, and we are all caught in those times, whether we be just or unjust, guilty or innocent; it is the times which will sweep all to one end. But is this end any different than is acted out every day? Is it any different than we will all face at one time or another? Are we not all flesh and will we not all turn to dust?
But in the midst of this is hope. That a God who sees all things has set a time to enact justice, and distribute mercy in an eternal time and place. And in the meantime we have a mandate
Are the Muslim nations more evil that they should have suffered? Is it a balance of evil that has been weighed in this? Or has the system been tested with disaster and found to wanting in care and vigilance for human lives?
Should not the nations rushing to help in the immediate need not also call for institution of a system of warning to be put in place for the saving of lives? And should not a portion of help be directed towards that? The debacle of a flood of help into corrupt systems has been well illustrated in East Africa, and a lesson of the vital need of finding accountable outlets to get the outpoured compassion applied to the most needy in this present emergency.
Let’s lend a hand to compassion and uphold demands and institutions for justice in rebuilding these places of the earth, with God’s help we can, and with this I trust He is pleased.
And leave verdicts of judgement to Him, in the final time for it.
In summation of this, however it would be wise to remember that “great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven ” are predicted to happen with an emphasized frequency. This will not be the last time we will need to be called upon to lend aid. Or suffer ourselves.
But in all that, do our bedrock beliefs prepare us to remain sane and compassionate? Do we have something which gives meaning, hope, and and direction to lives and efforts? I don’t think we may long endure tribulations without that. Perhaps that is part of the warning and the message. We are but grass in the face of the ages and in the forces of nature.
In all this our God is a very present help in need- not our insurance that it will never touch us. Beyond this I must satisfy Vash’s desire and say we cannot know all the matter in our own understanding. Not if we are Christians, or Jews, or Muslims , or atheists. We have to face that we do not know why, always, but we may know what. We may know what it is we are to do in response: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.