Saturday, February 13, 2010

The God of Disasters

Pat Robertson said that the earthquake in Haiti was a curse from God for a supposed pact that Haitians made with the devil to free them from French occupation. (There was no such pact, but let's not let the facts get in the way of a convenient theodical argument.) Most Christians scoffed and looked down their noses at this televangelist who remains an embarrassment to their religion.

But what alternative explanation did they propose? Was the quake nothing more than a natural phenomenon outside of God's control? If that were true, it would make the Deity into a powerless demigod incapable of controlling what he created.

Was the earthquake simply not important enough for God to prevent? Really? One hundred thousand people die in a minute and it is not worth divine attention? The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over two hundred thousand. How many people are important enough to get his attention?

The explanation I hear most often is that God "permitted" the earthquake but did not cause it. Does that really get the Lord off the hook? On January 28, a fifteen-year-old girl was severely beaten in a Seattle transit tunnel while three security guards watched and did nothing. They "permitted" the violence, and we are rightly shocked. Is this the type of God Christians believe in? I am as appalled by this type of evangelical deity as I am at Robertson's vengeful cursing god.

The other common solution is to lobotomize God, picturing the Divinity as less than a Person. The Cosmic It is not responsible. It doesn't think or feel. It is just a Force, an impersonal Power, the Energy of the universe. So let's all sing, "We are the World," give a few bucks and feel better. If there is one thing that is obvious to me, it is that God cannot be less personal, conscious or caring than humans are!

So what is the solution? Revelation 16 describes the God of Jesus Christ as "the God behind these disasters" (16:9), referring to the "bowls of wrath" that fill this chapter. In the end the buck stops with God.

I don't have any neat explanation for the age-old problem of suffering and evil. But I know the problem is in our thinking and not in God's nature. It is not that God is inattentive or impotent, callous or uncaring. It is certainly not that God lets the devil do his dirty work while he keeps his hands clean by only "permitting" bad things to happen.

It is that our mini-brains cannot comprehend the Big Picture. All the hand-wringing, name-calling and excuse-making will not change that truth. Somehow the solution centers in the Suffering God, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, (Rev. 13:8) the Crucified One who died on the Cross. The more we know Him, the more we understand the pain of the world.

(Artwork is "Haiti will reborn" by Haitian artist Frantz Zephiri)

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