Friday, December 31, 2004

God and the Tsunami

I got a letter today from someone said he knows faith is not a rational emotion, but he is deeply bothered by why God appears to be so quiet in the face of disasters (I assumed he was thinking primarily of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean), especially when he was so active in the Old Testament. I thought I'd post my response, for what it's worth.


I actually think Christianity is rational, although it may not appear to be rational at times, just as some of the discoveries of science appear to be irrational, but they are only irrational from our - or, at least, my - limited perspective. For example, if I understand correctly, scientists believe that electrons circling in atoms can jump between lower and higher orbits without passing through the intervening space. To me that seems pretty irrational, but if it is indeed the case, I believe there is a rational explanation for it even if I don't know it, and even if I can't understand it.

Your concern seems to be that God is silent when it appears he should be active and vocal. You mention that in the Old Testament he was active.

First, about the Old Testament. Remember that the Old Testament miracles were spread out over thousands of years, and how many were there? Maybe a couple hundred recorded? And they were all in a very limited area - in and around Israel. So the likelihood of your seeing a miracle, even in Old Testament times, would be very unlikely.

But that still leaves the question of why God so often appears to be silent or inactive. Why doesn't he step in and save people, like the 100,000-plus who have lost their lives from the tsunami? Or the little girl who steps in front of a truck and is killed, or the child dying of cancer?

It seems it would be wonderful if everyone lived to a ripe old age. But suppose everybody did live to a ripe old age? Then wouldn't we be asking these questions...

- Why does God allow people to forget even the people they most love?
- Why does God let people's bodies become so frail?
- Why does God let us go blind?
- Why does God allow people to die so suddenly, without even a chance to say goodbye?
- Why does God allow people to die so slowly, suffering for months or years?
- Why does God allow some people live to 105 while others only get to live to 92?
- What kind of a joke is God playing, making people only to let them die?

In essence, I think what we object to is that life is imperfect, that it is unfair because some people are happier or live longer than others, and that it all ends in death. We want paradise back.

But this, I'm afraid, is the curse we live with. But also, perhaps God is speaking in this disaster. Maybe God wants to impress on our minds that this life is tenuous, that there are no guarantees here about health and long life, that we should not put our full hope in this world, but put a good portion of our focus on the next life, and maybe he wants it clear that we can't wait until 15-minutes before our God-guaranteed lifespan is about to end before turning to Jesus.

I don't know. But not only does the Bible make no firm guarantees of long life and good health, but there are places where it promises disaster. Sections of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are examples.

Most of this is speculation, and I'm sure it doesn't answer your question fully. Like you, I want to understand as much as I can, but ultimately - Christian or non-Christian - you have to accept that there are questions for which you will not find a full answer. But at least, as a Christian, you can rest assured that a just and good answer really exists, because you believe in a just and good and all-knowing God.

God bless you

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