Natural disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week, the Haiti quake, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and so forth raise so many questions for all of us. Where is God? If God is good, and/or if God is in control, why do unspeakably terrible things happen to so many good people?
“One of God’s greatest gifts to us is to know that we do not know,” wrote Nicolas of Cursa over five centuries ago. Indeed, he continued, the most ignorant people in the world are those who think they know.
From the beginning of time the question of evil has been before us, as evidenced most clearly in the book of Job. Even as Christ hung on the cross, he asked the question “Why?” And after years of study, reading, discussion and prayer, this is what I know: I don’t know. And beware of anyone who claims to know. I remember in my youth an evangelist blamed an earthquake on the advent of mini-skirts! More recently, Hurricane Katrina was blamed by some religious leaders on the sins of New Orleans; in like manner some claimed that the earthquake in Haiti was due to God’s displeasure at voodoo and other native religious practices in Haiti. Let’s be clear about one thing: God does not want any of God’s children to suffer. God is a God of life, of wholeness, and of peace.
There are others who claim that God causes tragedies to teach us lessons. Once again, God does not will the death of a single child of God. God does not think “Maybe if I wipe out several thousand innocent people, survivors will turn to me.” Let us be careful not to blame God for every thing that goes wrong. Rather, God suffers with us. God’s heart was the first of all hearts to break when those bodies were swept out to sea.
Remember Rabbi Kushner’s classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People? Notice that the title was not “Why Bad Things Happen….” It assumed that bad things do happen, and the question thus before us is how we respond as people of faith when bad things happen.
And though God does not cause natural disasters, we can indeed learn from them. We can learn to put our priorities into understanding nature’s calamities and avert more deaths. We can realize that we are a global community, and seize the opportunity to put aside our national and tribal differences and work for the common good. Most importantly, we can respond with generous hearts and hands, giving sacrificially to alleviate suffering wherever it occurs. So perhaps the key question is not ”why?” but “how?” How can these experiences enlarge our hearts and deepen our compassion to all who are hurting and grieving? How can we be witnesses to the God of life and wholeness.
“What is it?” we ask when we are frightened or uncertain or confused? Look around: It just might be the goodness of God breaking out all around.