Every time some kind of natural disaster -- hurricane, earthquake, tornado -- occurs, killing all kinds of people and disrupting lives, people ask why God caused it, why God let it happen or why God didn't protect the innocent.
It's a variation of the old question of theodicy, which is why there is evil if God is good and all-powerful. As I've said before, all answers to that question, which is to say all theodicies, fail. And that failure constitutes the open wound of religion.
We have many things we can say about God and natural disasters, but in the end there is mystery and in the end we must be silent before that mystery.
I was thinking about all of this the other day when the media was marking the first anniversary of the earthquake that let loose a horrifically destructive tsunami in Japan. (To see an excellent presentation about Japan's efforts to rebuild and its need to educate its people, click here. And don't miss the news media links at the end of that page.)
I was recalling a sermon, Paul Rock, pastor of my congregation, gave right after that, one called "Why Sendai?" using the name of the most heavily damaged Japanese city.
As Paul said that day:
"We Christians believe that there is a God. We profess that this God created the heavens and the earth and we profess that this God created us and we profess that this God said that we were good and that this God loves us. If that’s the case, if that’s what we profess, then how do we make sense of any of this? This is the age old question of theodicy. How do you have an omniscient and omnipotent good God who created out of love a good planet, and then you have pain and suffering and struggling and evil like this? How do make sense of any of it? . . .
"There are those who of course sadly have said that somehow God was sending a message of judgment to the people of Japan. I don’t even want to take the time to honor that by even thinking about it, how wrong and disgusting that theology is and the repercussions that it has for us."
Part of what Paul was saying was that although we all want a perfect world and have "come to expect a perfect world, God created the world and said, 'It’s good.' It’s not perfect. Never has been perfect. . .To be perfect means to be complete. To be perfect means to be mature. To be perfect means to be flawless. And we know that is not this world."
In the end, Paul said, "When nature or addiction or nuclear power or war or sin have done their worst, and we slip from or are ripped from the arms of this life, the cross and the empty tomb assure us that the faithful arms of our loving God will always catch us and heal us and set us free to know true life, eternally."
In the meantime, it's OK to shake our fist at the world, at God, at nature when natural disasters happens. But it's better to join in the rebuilding.
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RESTORING A NATIONAL TREASURE
Speaking of natural disasters, an earthquake last August caused extensive damage to the Washington National Cathedral, and new estimates suggest an immediate need for $20 million worth of repairs with an additional $30 million needed to take care of deferred maintenance. If 50 million of you would send in $1, the problem would go away.