The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has shocked everyone around the world – who cannot help but be affected by the horrendous footage we have seen? As a Christian, this inevitably provokes questions. Why does God allow such events? Why does he allow such suffering? In an attempt to help think through these questions, I wrote the following for our church newsletter on Sunday. Inevitably, 500 words is nowhere near enough to explore such a topic thoroughly, but hopefully they may be of help to some.
The images coming from Japan these last couple of weeks have been horrendous. What is happening has hit home in this country in ways that perhaps other disasters haven’t. Perhaps it’s the extent of devastation, perhaps the way we have seen it unfold live on our screens, or perhaps it’s because although culturally quite different, technologically and economically Japan is very similar. This is not happening to some ‘underdeveloped’ country where if they had what we have the effects could have been limited, but its happening to people just like us.
As a Christian, such devastation raises the inevitable question ‘why?’
One response is to say that Creation has in itself an inherent risk. Just as God created people to have freewill with the accompanying risk that we might chose to turn from him, so too the design of the world in such a way as to be suitable for habitation entails the risk of harm. E.g. the ground needs to be hard to offer support, but this entails the risk of hurting us if we fall on it.
Does this mean God didn’t design it well enough? Maybe this is where we need to turn to the unfolding story in Genesis 1-3. The world was created good, but through ‘the Fall’. In Genesis 3:17, God announces to Adam, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you’. In Romans Paul writes that the whole of Creation groans, waiting to ‘be liberated from its bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:21). God never meant these things to happen, disasters are not God’s fault, but the consequences of sin.
Somehow this still doesn’t satisfy. If God is good and loving, why doesn’t he intervene? Surely he could do so! Some say that God doesn’t just refrain from intervening, but in fact sends these disasters as judgements or warnings. I struggle with this; this doesn’t fit my understanding of God’s grace and compassion. He maybe in his right to act this way (here the natural disaster of the flood and Noah’s ark rears its ugly head), but how does this tie in with the revelation of God in Jesus?
So does God idly sit back while such events occur? No. Christ has not come simply to offer the forgiveness of our sins, but also through his life, death, resurrection and one day return, to redeem the whole of Creation. Revelation has the marvellous proclamation ‘See, I am making all things new!’ (Rev. 21:5)
But in the meantime we are left with our questions. Perhaps now is the time not to rush to judgement or to the provision of glib answers, but to stand before God with the people of Japan and cry ‘why?’ – offering lamentation is a Biblical tradition, check out the Psalms – but as in those offered in Scripture let’s find hope in the knowledge that despite circumstances and appearances, our God is a good and loving god who is acting to put things right. This is perhaps the only honest response we can make. Let us also act as a conduit of God’s compassion, offering whatever aid and prayer we can.