Sunday, January 09, 2005

Disaster Ignites Debate: Was God In the Tsunami? (New York Observer)

I've just read a painfully probing essay by Ron Rosenbaum in the New York Observer entitled Disaster Ignites Debate: Was God In the Tsunami? Every Christian should read it to understand the effect of so many of the cliches and platitudes trotted out whenever a disaster occurs in the world. [NB: Since I posted this blog the New York Observer have moved the article to their archive where you have to pay to view it so, unfortunately, it is no longer freely available.] This weekend I heard a Christian say that the tsunami in Asia was a message from God in Japanese. The message was: 'Trust Me'. I wonder what the more than 150,000 people lost in the tragedy would think of that statement if they were alive to hear it? Atheists, agnostics, and even many Christians have struggled with this dilemma: If God is all-powerful he could put a stop to suffering and evil. If God is all-loving he would put a stop to suffering and evil. Because God doesn't put a stop to suffering and evil God must be either incapable or unwilling to do so -- or perhaps both -- maybe God doesn't even exist. Asia has just experienced probably the worst natural disaster in history. It is completely understandable that people begin to question the nature of the Christian god and doubt God's very existence. How should we respond? Well... certainly not with statements like I heard this weekend. All they do is raise more questions. If the tsunami from God is a message in Japanese to trust God, does that mean that God has either caused or allowed the deaths of over 150,000 people and millions of others to be homeless and injured so we get the message? Has God either caused or allowed little children to be kidnapped or sold into slavery or made the pleasure-things of paedophiles so we get the message? When we see little children lying in piles of rubble crying for their lost mums and dads how can we turn around and say that is God's will? I suppose it is pretty easy to say things like this when we are sitting in the safety of our lounge rooms in front of the TV. Fortunately, of course, the real heroes are not people who are sitting around having theological arguments about God but are getting on with the job of doing something about it -- whether it be direct involvement in Asia or supporting the interventions with financial contributions. Last night, during the concert telecast on Channels 7, 9, and 10, Australians gave a staggering $15.5 million and the contributions keep rolling in. Whether or not God exists, we can see the principles of love and compassion being expressed by believer and unbeliever alike. It is possible, I suppose, to come up with theological arguments that may be satisfactory to believers and, possibly, some unbelievers. But now is not the time to do that. Now is the time to express our love and compassion in concrete ways and enter into the pain and suffering of the millions who have had their lives changed (mostly for the worst) for the forseeable future.

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