January 3, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Theologians Wrestle with God’s Role in Disasters

As international rescue efforts accelerate in the aftermath of last week’s tsunamis in Asia (see Caltech for the geological story, and Nature News for the earthquake’s affect on Earth’s rotation), commentators and theologians are beginning to ask the “why?” questions.  The liberal Archbishop of Canterbury is doubting the existence of God, according to the UK News Telegraph.  From a Jewish perspective, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, writing in World Net Daily, argues that it’s not God’s fault, but man’s, for living in quake-prone areas.  On his blog, Biola professor John Mark Reynolds answers the critics who try to use the disaster as an opportunity to attack theism.  Creationist writer Carl Wieland writes for Answers in Genesis about how this incident raises the age-old questions about death and suffering, as does Dr. David Miller on Apologetics Press.  Dr. Kelly Hollowell, also on World Net Daily, compares this disaster with Noah’s flood.  To be fair, the fearfulness of any disaster needs to be balanced against the sum total of factors that make Earth a privileged planet as an abode for life.  Perhaps the best philosophers are the relief agencies like World Vision, who are focusing their energy not on talking, but on helping the victims.

Sooner or later, everyone needs to come to grips with the big questions about suffering.  Actually, this disaster, which will undoubtedly go on record as one of the biggest in modern history, is a trifle compared to the global flood in the days of Noah described in the Bible (Genesis 6-9).  From orbit, these tsunamis would not even register as bathtub ripples.  The Flood killed all but Noah and his family, and reshaped the whole planet (see Dr. Walt Brown’s geological treatment of the Biblical Flood).
    The Creator God is the Sovereign God.  He can give life as well as take it, especially from a world of rebels.  Remember that the Flood was a judgment on sin.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); God never misses a payday.  His word warned us that “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), so it’s not a matter of if, but when, and how.  This keeps our need for God and His mercy imminent in our minds.  We must always be ready to face the judgment, even when sunbathing on the beach at a vacation resort.  The tsunamis only accelerated the human death statistic (100%) in one region.
    The amazing thing is not that rebels will die, but that they can be forgiven (see Romans 5:8).   Jesus did not provide a philosophy of suffering.  He did something about it: in his passion, He offered the way of escape from eternal suffering – an eventuality far worse than anything rebels might endure on earth.  On one occasion Jesus was asked about a terrible thing that had happened.  His response referred both to suffering by accident and suffering caused by evil.  He said, simply, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13).  He also hinted that any given natural process is not specifically targeted at individuals, but runs according to natural laws, when He said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:45), speaking of our Father in heaven, “He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
    That is sufficient revelation for now.  We cannot expect to out-reason the greatest philosophers of history since Job on the question of evil and suffering.  We cannot know things of God not revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).  There are things more urgent and worthwhile to do than philosophize.  Get your heart right with your Creator while you can, before it’s your turn (read Solomon, Isaiah, and Paul).  Then use this occasion of great need to grow in character and unselfishness: pitch in and help with your money, your prayers, and your hands.

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