I have racked my brain for the last 48 hours trying to think of something to say in the light of the utter devastation we witnessed this past week in the Philippines. No words can express or emotion display the horror we have seen from afar. The human suffering is shocking, the death and destruction is untold. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the agony and turmoil being experienced by people some 6784miles away.
For many people a natural disaster like this one is yet more proof of the non-existence of God. People ask the question if a loving God exists why would he allow suffering on such a huge scale? This question even made it into an article on the CNN webpage, somewhere usually more concerned with reporting the news.
So where does this sort of natural disaster leave us, leave our faith in a compassionate, loving, God?
We have a number of options open to us, we can conclude that there is no God, we can decide it is too difficult to reconcile faith to a world where pain and hardship are a daily reality for millions of people, something brought into stark realism by events like the Typhoon in the far East.
New Atheists Richard Dawkins thinks of human life as not much more than the result of an unseeing, uncontrolled evolutionary process and as such can acknowledge that suffering on this scale is just part and parcel of living in a hostile world we are learnming to tame: His selfish gene premis is that:
“Human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce.”
He would conclude that life is both random and meaningless. When applied to natural disasters, the atheist must conclude, “It is just nature – to bad.”
Or we can acknowledge the existence of God, but question our doctrines of his goodness and compassion. If God is in control of all things and has the power to intervene in the world then why did he not act to stop this storm? As the philosopher Albert Mohler said:
“God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both.”
Or we can be legalistic in our Christian response and see all suffering as a consequence of sin. The problem with this is that it leads us to uncomfortable, and I would suggest dangerous, views that tell a parent of a disabled child that it was their sin that caused the disability or the person with cancer that they are not being healed because of some repented misdemeanour – these are ungodly and abhorrent teachings. We must always remember that natural disasters, tragic illness and hardships in life touch all people it is part of the fallen world we live in.
The odd thing is, disasters on this scale give us questions about God’s goodness. Yet the everyday horrors of living in the two-thirds world, the daily poverty and illness. the every day deaths of thousands of children and adults from curable diseases. The horror of child prostitution and people trafficking will often pass us by without a thought or single question of the goodness of God. Is the scale of a disaster anymore questionable than the huge everyday disparity of wealth in the world, of healthcare and access to drugs and life saving surgery.
The injustice of the accessibility of elected cosmetic surgical procedures in the West while a simple appendectomy is unavailable to someone living in central Africa or other part of the emerging world. Or the simple truth that disasters like this are so much worse in the nations where our goods are made than they are where they are consumed. consider for a moment that so many fewer people died in the 1989 San Francisco earthquke than the recent Iranian tremors, despite the fact that the American quake was more severe in magnitude.
It might feel to easy to say that we are to be God in these situations, it might seem cliched (or even heretical!), but one of the places where God is visible on tragedy is in our response. But not just our response when the big tragedies happen, our daily response and concern for the world. In Genesis god gave people stewardship over the world, we’ve often been mislead to believe the bible says ‘dominion’ but it doesn’t. the Hebrew word is ‘Rada’ which means stewardship not that its there to with as we wish – the earth is in our care for on behalf of God, the inequality that leads to tragedy is our responsibility.
We can respond today with a gift towards the relief and aid effort in the Philippines, and I hope you do and are able to give well. But our responsibility doesn’t end there. it is also in our continued call for change, our action to address poverty, illness and inequality in the world today. In how we continue to stand up for the unvoiced when there isn’t a single discernible ‘natural’ disaster to highlight the suffering.
It’s how we respond to the great freedom and joy we’ve personally found in Christ and how that changes how we behave in the world. How we act for Good because of God. Because God is good.