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December 28, 2004

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» Faith and Doubt: Grappling with the Tsunami from Metaphor Country
Over at Amy Welborn's [Read More]

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Comments

FrKeyes

I live in the land of earthquakes, and we do not make God answer for earthquakes, anymore that we make God answer for Herod, Hitler or Hussein. The Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that Life is always victorious. Earthquakes and Tsunamis are signs that the earth is a living thing and give us an opportunity to serve one another.

The CaNN Web Elf

First off, as a long-time student of such questions, it must be said that reasonable and Christian 'answers' do not comfort at the time of a crisis, any more than explaining the remarkable efficiency of the nervous system to a wailing child would calm them down. They need a hug, and whatever other aid is required.

Secondly, our world is the kind of lively active alive place that has volcanoes-- and an atmosphere, and rich soils; tsunamis-- and life-giving oceans; rain-clouds-- and tornadoes. A lot of human settlement is 'just where we happen to be' and also 'places that are great, except for the occasional Really Bad Thing That Happens Here.' Mars or our own Moon are much calmer and safer, tectonically. They're also relatively hostile to life, as is almost 100% of the known universe, as far as we're concerned.

God's making of things in creation is different that our paving or fixing or improving: if he makes creatures that make themselves, then they must be themselves, as guided and shaped by his making. The things we experience as unpleasant or disasterous are usually the flip-sides of good things.

So: I hear the area around Mount Vesuvius is really quite lovely, temperate, very fertile, scenic, and generally wonderful. Except when the volcano really goes off-- ask the people of Herculaneum or Pompeii. But, of course, there are still people living there today. So for Florida (Hurricanes), the Bay of Bengal (flooding), North Africa (drought, famine), California (earthquakes), the Andes (more earthquakes), parts of the Pacific (volcanoes, earthquakes, typhoons). The list goes on.

In terms of disaster, the world operates a certain way; and as St. Paul says, creation has a higher purpose, yet to be fulfilled; the world is shot through with darkness and glory-- this is no recent discovery, in the light of this or any future disaster.

Of course, much of our trouble today is due to technology, and the new and often dangerous but soon comfortable ways we do things. Cars and planes are remarkably risky technologies. That doesn't stop some people from driving in snow-storms, or being frequent flyers.

The ultimate word on the topic comes from Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life: the resurrection and the hope of a new heaven and new earth is the ultimate weight and answer to suffering, death, and sin. But in this world "you will have sorrow. But be of good cheer: for I have overcome the world!"

Also, Jesus reminds of a smaller local disaster in his own day: "About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, "Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die." (Luke 13:1-5, from The Message)"

Memento Mori-- remember death: dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. There are many changes and chances in this fleeting life.

Again, such answers are not 'comforting'-- only our prayer, mercy and pity, helping, and doing our best to be ready for the worst while hoping for the best is God's will in the face of his call to us in the sorrows and troubles of others.

Both worldvision.ca (Canada) and worldvision.org (U.S) are a good place to start.

Nick Luketic

I don’t know if I can help those who are skeptical of God’s love. I am not sure it's possible in times like these to do so. I can only say what I believe. I know God's purpose for me is to be with Him and to bask the brilliant sunlight of His glory. I am incapable of comprehending His greatness or His magnificence but I believe He wants me to be near Him, to shine His light upon my face.

To prepare me for that time, I must be forged through the fury of pain and suffering, joy and exhilaration. All that I am and all that I “possess” is a gift from God. What I must do is maximize the joy I get from the gifts he gives me and with humility and patience surrender what he takes back. To do so, I prefer to think of myself as a steward for these gifts, not a possessor.

My skeptics have no alternative. If not God’s will, then whose? If I do not place myself in His care, whose care will suffice? With God, there is eternal hope. In Jesus Christ, we have the perfect example of surrendering our will to the Father’s. Those who rail against the perceived cruelty of God’s will have no place to turn. It is my hope they will realize this and accept what I am so fortunate to have accepted myself.

May the love of Jesus Christ sustain and nurture all those who are suffering from this terrible disaster. May all of us who already know this perfect love use it to help our brothers and sisters in this time of need.

May the Peace of Jesus be with you.

Jason

In "Crossing the Threshold of Hope", the Holy Father makes an excellent point about how the passion of Christ was the only way God could (in a sense) "justify" himself before man. Unlike some distant Roman deity, God became man and shared in all the burdens that come with that nature. He knew pain, poverty, sadness, grief. He knew what it was like to just say, "I can't do this anymore". He freely endured the agony of his cross, even though he knew no sin, and by the agony of that cross, he recreated the entire universe.

The tragedy in Asia has no meaning apart from the tragedy in Jerusalem. Neither does it have any redemption.

Rich Leonardi

In "The Problem of Pain", Lewis made a distinction between "love" and "kindness."

"Kindness cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering", while Love "would rather see [loved ones] suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes".

Since ours is a loving God, not merely a "kind", grandfatherly one, suffering is ordered by Him toward making us good and ultimately "lovable".

And, yup, there's a whole 'lotta mystery in getting our minds even partially around that.

caroline

As I child I was taught in Catholic school that all the sufferings which come from natural disasters were a consequence of original sin; that since Adam's sin, nature itself was in rebellion against man and caused him much of his suffering. Conversely, that without original sin, natural disasters either wouldn't happen or that they would not negatively impact mankind.

Fr. Matthew K

To quote Canon Francis Ripley in his classic catechism This is the Faith, "men always tend to exaggerate the amount of evil present in the world. Death for instance is really the beginning of life; suffering is always a grace".

Meggan

This might be trite and not as scholarly or thoughtful as the rest of the comments here. But, when I hear people asking how God could allow such disasters to happen, I can't also help thinking - how can God allow the sun to shine today and the ice on the trees to glisten and make me so happy with it's beauty? I have a roof over my head, plenty to eat and a family that loves me. Why me, Lord??

Frank Gibbons

Well, while we're asking tough questions, let's get to the heart of the matter. Who is this God that never had a beginning, who was never created, who can only be described as "love", who is disembodied, who we can only begin to comprehend if we accept that He loved us so much that He became like us so that we might know Him? He is unknowable without Jesus. These are the questions I sometimes put to Him. You say you understand all this? I don't. I have to go on that thing called faith. I only know that if Christ didn't exist or He isn't who he said He was(sic), then this life, for me, is a diminished event.

Liam

It is interesting that the All Saints Day earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 is widely held to mark a major rupture in the history of Western belief in God's providence -- not only among intellectual elites, where corrosion of belief was already advancing rapidly -- but among common folks, paving the way for the modern belief systems of the revolutionary and industrial eras, as well as a more candid exploration of existentialism in Christian thought that had previously been the domain of mystics and contemplatives.

Liam

Ultimately, belief for me flows from loving God, not the other way around.

Sandra Miesel

Plate tectonics is part of the intrinsic design of the earth. There were earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, giant asteroid strikes, and doubtless tsunamis, millions of years before man existed. Natural disasters cannot be the result of human sin.

Peggy

I don't have particular answers, but I think some interesting perspectives have been posted. It is indeed a great mystery that natural disasters occur and many are killed, without cause or sense. There is of course the suggestion that God brings good out of evil/bad things, as some means of understanding tragedies such as this.

As there is no other place appropriate to post some practical questions to which I have not found answers in the news reports, I hope some one who might know could help me understand the practical aspects of how this occurred [not the earthquake itself...read on] and how so many have been displaced or killed.
1. How far inland did the waters go to have affected so many?
2. I understand there were not additional earthquakes on the land, rather than in the sea. So, how did it come to pass that so many were affected?
3. Do these countries have extremely high seaside populations? Or was every one at the beach, along with the westerners, for a holiday [I mean "holiday" in the British sense referring to a trip/vacation]?

Thanks. I am trying to put my head around the magnitude of damage and lost human lives. May those who died find eternal rest.

Carrie

I think the problem lies in the perspective from which we ask the question. If this world is our primary focus, tidal waves are an interruption of the happiness we think we deserve especially if we believe in God. But what if our perspective is eternal? What if we place our eternal destiny above our earthly concerns? That is what being Catholic is all about, after all.

Now our hope is in Christ. Our desire is to be with Him. Our home is heaven and we are "banished children of Eve" living in a "valley of tears" as our prayer Hail Holy Queen tells us. This life is a trial, not a reward. God asks us "Will you still love Me when your world falls apart? Will you still trust Me?" We can answer "yes" or "no."

Death is not the end. Those who died in the tidal wave are not gone forever. They have moved on, but they still live. God is merciful. We hope that they are living in a better place where true happiness, unlike the temporal joy that we experience here, will be their eternal gift. From this perspective death can be a blessing rather than a curse. From this perspective suffering, while we dislike it intensely, is the stuff of our cooperation with our Redemption. God can and does transform tragedy. All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.

AH

Cheap shot, trotting out the old "problem of evil." If the misfortune is so great as to trigger that, discussion of it is no comfort. If real discussion is wanted, it's an ill-framed question.

I've just been studying John 9.

...a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. (The Message)

I hear this as a stimulus to get to work. Give ( see http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com/ or world vision). Work to share our prosperity and communication systems. Command our own fear of death to desist, it's ludicrous if we're Christians.

Downto

I strongly recommend reading Fulton Sheen's Sanctifying the Moment. In it he explains who Christian anthropology is so radically different from the secular view. He roots his argument in the Christian view of time, past, present and future, and how every moment is the perfect moment for further conversion.

If you limit your focus to the present moment then disasters are truly not as horrible as we make them out to be. Death is not so terrible, the future is not so grim and the past is not so painful. I am doing great injustice to a great essay. You should read it yourselves.

(Try also excerpts from Lift Up Your Heart.

JohnMcG

Hopefully, we can provide the answer to the question of "where is God in the tsunami" not with our scholarly answers about the mystery of God's creation, but through being signs of the Incarnation through our works of mercy for those hurt by it.

I am not saying that God did this so we'd have an opportunity to strut our stuff. But as others have noted, talks about the Fall are not going to comfort the man who lost his house, or worse, his daughter. But our compassion and our generosity can be reminders that God is with us.

BA

Frank:

"who is disembodied" This has not been true for 2,000 years.

Liam:

"Ultimately, belief for me flows from loving God, not the other way around."

Sounds like you're focusing on one side of a feedback loop. Belief leads one to love, love leads one to trust, which is a form of faith (and love). So it goes, from strength to strength, provided co-operation with grace.

Sandra:

"Plate tectonics is part of the intrinsic design of the earth. There were earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, giant asteroid strikes, and doubtless tsunamis, millions of years before man existed. Natural disasters cannot be the result of human sin."

I beg to disagree. It would be pharisaical to try and draw some point-to-point correlation between this happenstance and sin, but ruling out the general connection between sin and disaster is overhasty, imo. Creation groans awaiting its redemption, said the Apostle Paul. It groans because it suffers under the weight of sin, original and actual. This is important to realize because it points, like Lourdes and Fatima, to supernatural remedies to the mess we're in, which includes suffering in a way that co-operates with rather than rebels against grace.

I think it would prove fruitless to try and explain how this disaster fits in with the Incarnation. People who do not believe or are wavering in their belief will not be convinced by arguments but by God's action in the world through us. Thus, it's back to work for me.

Christopher Rake

Taking into account that satisfying answers cannot be found in a comments section on a blog, I will nevertheless say how the gallant answers above are immensely inadequate for me.

I live in the land of earthquakes, and we do not make God answer for earthquakes, anymore than we make God answer for Herod, Hitler or Hussein. The Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that Life is always victorious. Earthquakes and Tsunamis are signs that the earth is a living thing and give us an opportunity to serve one another.

Not to pick on Fr. Keyes, because this is an answer with which we're all familiar. But for me, at least, it is nothing compared to the indescribable human suffering of which the tsunami is just one trifling example.

Since ours is a loving God, not merely a "kind", grandfatherly one, suffering is ordered by Him toward making us good and ultimately "lovable". [Rich quoting Lewis]

I remember reading about the hurricanes that blew through the Caribbean, and a pregnant mother whom authorities surmised was trapped in her home, gave birth and then drowned with her baby.

What mighty God.

No work to be done, no stimulus to action... a terrified mother alone and then executed at random with her newborn child.

Years ago in college, my superb religious studies professor arranged for a theologian of some note to address our class. A classmate asked a question related to the Holocaust, something along the lines of, "What should a Christian say to a Jew about the Holocaust, given what we believe about the justice and mercy of God?" His answer, paraphrased, was that it might be best to say nothing at all considering the incomprehensible depth--and incomprehensible purpose--of that evil.

Equally unsatisfying, no doubt. But I've never forgotten it. At least it is bluntly honest about the facts of terror and pain which so many experience down here on earth. Many of the stock answers to this stock question are, I'm sorry, platitudes from the vending machine.

Love to all...

Leo

The death of 44,000 people all at once is, logically, no more mysterious than the death of those 44,000 in due order. (They were all going to die anyway sooner or later.) The mother and newborn Christopher cites, for example, could very well have been among the numberless mothers and infants who die "naturally" in childbirth. Mass death is more impressive emotionally, but poses no additional problem than the problems of death and suffering generally.

For which, as Christopher further says, we have no answers. This is where faith comes in, faith that somehow beyond our comprehension the love of God is working itself out.

We're probably just plain not smart enough to understand it, and since God knows that, He hasn't attempted any explanations. Instead He came here Himself, suffered horribly and died. That's His pledge: "You don't understand, can't understand, suffering and death. But know that it is not without purpose, and that My love endures. My pledge of that? That I Myself suffer and die, that I put My own suffering and death on the line as my guarantee that it is not senseless."

Patrick O'Hannigan

Some thoughts on the subject here, with a little help from Peter Kreeft:

http://paragraphfarmer.blogspot.com/2004/12/reconsidering-problem-of-evil.html

Simon

Anyone think this earthquake and subsequent tidal wave is a chastistment because of the sins of the world?

Dan Crawford

As I read the responses to your invitation, Amy,I am grateful that you asked the question. We here are all confronted with mystery - as I read your observations, I kept thinking of all the horrible things human beings have done resulting in millions more deaths than the tens of thousands caused by the tsunamis - and every one of those deaths were caused by the evil at the heart of men and women. I do not know any easy answers to the problem of suffering - but like so many here, I do not understand how God suffers but he did in Jesus - and because he did and rose triumphant from the grave and promised life eternal to anyone who believed in him, I can live life with hope even in the midst of unimaginable tragedy; I can believe that this life is "not all there is" - I can continue to cling to the vision of Revelation 21 and 22.

God bless you all for grappling with the awesome mystery of God and his saving ways.

BA

Simon:

"Anyone think this earthquake and subsequent tidal wave is a chastistment because of the sins of the world?"

It is no good talking about these kinds of things. If one believes it, he should be praying and doing penance, not chattering about it. If he doesn't believe it, why would it concern him?

Jason

>>>"Anyone think this earthquake and subsequent tidal wave is a chastistment because of the sins of the world?"

It may have been. We can't know. Honestly, one of my first thoughts after hearing about it is that there seem to be an awful lot of "signs of the time" going on lately. But, whether it was a chastisement or not, it was permitted for a reason. If nothing else, it should call to mind our own mortality, that it could all be over in an instant. We need to be ready to face the judge.

TSO

Evils of a physical kind such as this earthquake have always been with us but I think that they are more a challenge to our faith than ever before. Came across this link the other day, perhaps relevant:

"A wise Benedictine, John Chapman of Downside Abbey, made this point in a 1923 letter to a non-monastic friend: '[I]n the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most pious souls seem to have gone through a period in which they felt sure that God had reprobated them. . . . This doesn’t seem to happen nowadays. But the corresponding trial of our contemporaries seems to be the feeling of not having any faith; not temptations against any particular article, but a mere feeling that religion is not true.' For this annihilating temptation, Chapman wrote, 'the only remedy is to despise the whole thing, and pay no attention to it—except (of course) to assure our Lord that one is ready to suffer from it as long as he wishes.'"

That remedy is similar to Amy's - i.e. to strongly affirm that God is with us, and especially with the suffering.

TSO

Sandra is right about it not being the result of human sin. I thought this comment was interesting:

As near as I can tell, it would appear that creation has been under assault since the fall of Satan, and from what little we can glean from the Tradition, it would appear that a) angels are the first creations of God, b) the fall of the fallen angels takes place, so to speak, instantly upon their creation and their being given the fundamental option of God or self, and c) the problem of evil superhuman spirits mucking about in the rest of creation is therefore, from our perspective, a "given". Certainly the Genesis account envisions some sort of primordial, non-human intelligence involved in the fall. And significantly, it portrays that intelligence working through other creatures to tempt us. What the account seems to clearly deny is that evil originated with us. We are given the opportunity to participate in a rebellion that has been going on since before we arrived on the scene. And it would appear from the pre-human record that it may very well be possible that such evil intelligences may have been laboring to damage and harm the Creation (all within the Providence of God, of course). --Mark Shea

Peter Nixon

My first impulse is to follow Christopher's suggestion and say nothing at all.

My second impulse is to reach out to these people, to walk with them in their suffering and to do what I can to alleviate it.

My third impulse is to ask myself why I am mourning the deaths of people I don't know who live so very far away from me. From whence comes this idea that somehow my fate is bound up with theirs and that they are brothers and sisters to me? Why do I feel called to respond to the needs of people who can do nothing for me in return? If God is merely an illusion, is that sense of brotherhood merely a absurd fantasy?

My third impulse is to muse on Phil Vischer's questions about natural disasters. I wonder whether the movement of tetonic plates that brought about this disaster is somehow bound up with the capacity of this world to support life at all. I wonder whether a world without such movement would be sterile and dead like so many of the planets of our universe.

My fourth impulse is to raise the question of justice. Many of the countries on the Asian Pacific Rim share an early warning system for tsunamis. The countries of the Indian basin do not have one, despite the fact that millions of people live close to the coastline. I'm not placing blame. But the question of whether preventive action could have mitigated the disaster should be raised.

But in the end, perhaps it would be better to remain silent, and to repent like Job in "dust and ashes."

Christopher Rake

Anyone think this earthquake and subsequent tidal wave is a chastistment because of the sins of the world?

Seems like a fair question, and also a traditional one. I have two respones to that. First, and best, is this one above, courtesty of the Web Elf:

"About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. Jesus responded, "Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you too will die." (Luke 13:1-5, from The Message)"

The second answer is mine: Considering all the innocents who were just annihilated, if this be chastisement, God is Moloch and not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

WRY

It's been said that the reason these things happen is that God wanted a world in which we were free to choose good and evil and had the ability to bring it about. To have that kind of world, its laws have to be such that if I pick up a rock and throw it at someone it may hit them -- and at the same time, that means that if the earth jiggles and rocks or waves are tossed about, that can happen too.
Then too, scripture says we are like grass that grows and in only a short while withers and decays. Whether one lives 80 or 100 years, or 2 or 3 years, there's really little difference between them, compared to the thousands and thousands of years behind us and possibly before us.

Sandra Miesel

Tolkien's invented cosmology calls the earth "Morgoth's ring" because the influence of the Satan-equivalent penetrates all parts of it. But my point about real-world natural phenomena and human sin still stands. The only way you get around that is imagine that Man fell immediately following a creation that occurred in seven days of 24 hours and disasters had not yet happened because the processes that bring them about did not yet exist. That's nonsense. The cosmic picture is inscrutable and designedly so.

The people who claimed the Northridge earthquake in the 1990s was a chastisement aimed at the porn industry (although no pornographers are known to have died)have yet to come out of the woodwork to explain why poor Third World villagers had to be punished so spectacularly. The fall of the tower story in the Gospels warns against such thinking, as was mentioned above.

Cheeky Lawyer

I have to admit that I find so much of the Western Christian answer to suffering inadequate. Or at least the popularized answer to suffering. In the Roman Catholic case, is it part of the Roman tendency to want to define and answer every last question and mystery? Is it just me but do so many of these answers have the ring of platitudes and Hallmark greeting cards? I remember when a friend--now a Catholic seminarian--had just lost his grandmother and he told me how people came up to him and assured him that all would be okay because of his faith or that Christ would make it better. He was angry and disgusted that people could tell him this. Their words were not welcome but patronizing.

I have no idea how God can allow this. Or how God can allow those who desire children to suffer miscarriage after miscarriage. Or how he can allow Reggie White to die in his sleep. We have answers but they are all inadequate. They can't answer this question because it ultimately is a mystery. It simply is. People on the beach relaxing were snuffed out in a matter of seconds.

All I know is that Christ entered into this mystery called suffering. He didn't come to give us little Hallmark greeting card platitudes and make it all better. He didn't come to take away the hurt. He came to be part of the hurt and pain. He entered into it and stands with us in the pain and suffering. And with him and through him I can try in a meager little way to enter into solidarity with the victims of this horrible event. Were it not for Christ, I would tell God to go screw off because he wouldn't be a God worth following. That he gave us the Mystery of the Incarnation is the only thing that makes the Mystery of Suffering and 30,000+ dead in the blink of an eye even somewhat tolerable. (And by tolerable I mean an event that doesn't totally shake my faith in God.)

I hope it isn't scandalous to write that but I find so many of the Christian answers to suffering--answers such as "offer it up," "divine retribution," etc.--to be totally inadequate to the questions and pain in our hearts. They aren't inadequate because we are stubborn human beings who can't accept the truth. They are inadequate because we are arrogant human beings and often arrogant Christians who lack the humility to simply be in front of the mystery that is suffering.

Carrie

Some random thoughts...

Because we cannot know that it is not true, I ask: If we knew that every single person who died in the tidal wave went directly to heaven, would we view this disaster differently?

Some good that comes out of disasters -

People reach out to each other to help.

People contemplate their own death and make changes in their lives accordingly.

People appreciate their loved ones more.

Collecting stuff loses its importance.

People turn to God as the only source of consolation. (Just look at what we are doing here!)

When I first heard of the disaster what immediately went through my mind was 9/11, and how many more people are suffering from this one than from that one.

One change 9/ll produced in my life is that my entire extended family began saying "I love you" nearly every time we finish talking on the phone. No one discussed this change. It was spontaneous.

Another change 9/11 produced for me is the realization that most of the goals I had set for myself in the 80s and 90s were relatively meaningless.

This disaster lacks the immediacy for me that 9/ll had because I haven't watched it on tv. Yet it is far worse than 9/11, and this time there is not the possibility of finding someone to blame. Thus instead of an enemy, we are left with blaming God.

There have been some studies done about making use of weather as a weapon of war. A day may come when an earthquake or volcano, or I suppose, a tidal wave, could be the work of a human enemy. If that day comes to be, it will give new meaning to the many prophecies of physical disasters. As someone has already pointed out, the flooding last summer and now this tidal wave seem to speak of "signs of the times."

Lynn

God does not cause earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. God is with us through these natural disasters, and by helping their victims, we can serve Him in "the least of the little ones."

Lynn

I just read the entire comment page (should have done that first), and my comments seem trite too, in light of the horror of those who experience such random suffering. Perhaps the best response is prayerful silence in the face of overwhelming pain or evil, instead of trying to "help" those who are grieving. A Rabbi friend once accused me of "trivializing" the Holocaust" when I mentioned St Maximillian Kolbe. He was saying that I can never understand, and he was right. All we have are prayer and silence.

Carrie

Cheeky Lawyer,

Once not too many years ago a death occurred suddenly in my family. I had not been able to say goodbye. I was devastated and thought I would simply die of pain. When I could stand it no longer, I cried out to God to take the pain away, and that pain did lessen significantly from that moment. The death still hurt, but it was bearable. Suddenly there was consolation that could have only one source.

A few days later my then eleven-year-old daughter came crying to me with the same pain over the same death. I said a hasty prayer to God to not abandon me and told her my story. She followed my advice, turned to God, and had the same experience that I had. It was a significant moment of confirmation of the reality of God and of faith for her.

I had the same experience not many weeks ago. This time it was not a death but a broken relationship that was the cause of pain. This time I cried out to an icon of Christ Pantocrator. This time, once again, the pain was immediately lifted. Solutions arose in the days that followed. The relationship is on a healing path. I can document the exact moment when the change occurred, and I have a new respect for the icon of Christ Pantocrator, and so for Christ Himself.

It is moments like these that let us know God is real and personal.


Jason

>>>"Considering all the innocents who were just annihilated, if this be chastisement, God is Moloch and not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

"God causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike".

Jason

The destruction of Jerusalem was a chastisement of God. Many innocent people died at the hands of the Romans, but the wrath of God did not rest on them. They shared in punishment for other people's sins.

Jason

Also remember that God slayed the first born of Egypt; not because of their own guilt, but because of the idolatry of Israel.

JohnMcG

I have trouble buying this "chastisement for sins" explanation because there has never been a time in human history that has been free from grievous sin, or free from natural disasters or massive suffering.

The most obvious sins (to me, not to God) are war and abortion, and the places hit by the tsunami are not particular hotspots for either.

I suppose God could be calling us away from war and pursuing our own comfort to help those who are suffering from the tsunami, and it will make us more aware of those who suffer every day even without a natural disaster, but I don't know that.

I don't know, it just seems like any application of the "chastisement" seems to make God small by bringing him into our political arguments. I'm babbling and not making much sense, so I'll stop.

Maureen

Where is God in a tsunami? Right beside us.

All those who suffered, all those who died were on their crosses, right beside Him. Many chose to fight beside Him to defeat sin and death. Many heard Him say "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

May they pray for me, as I do for all of them.

Lynn

Amen.

Christopher Rake

I respect personal testimonies of relief granted by God; I am aware that they are shared with honest motives. But I also want to say, that is very nice for you.

Some of the other comments strike me as unbearably useless, and grossly unequal to what has actually happened.

Well, that is my sentiment, anyway, as sincerely formed as everyone else's.

Sandra Miesel

God created a material universe under the shadow of entropy which insures pain and placed in it creatures with free will which almost assures sin. Why he wanted to do it just that way is ultimatey beyond our unederstanding--the message of the Book of Job. A return to the Vale of Tears model of the world that dominated the first Christian millennium would be a realistic move. Horrors can erupt on anyone anywhere. Those who want to make them "signs" need to sit down with a list of world disasters and see how random they are.

Tom Kelty

We know by faith that God is before space and time and cause and effect as we know them. We often fail to reflect on Him as Uncreated Creator of Truth, Beauty and Justice, Perfect in ways we can not even dream....Who loves each and every soul He has created personally. He is and was personally present to each and every one who died and will die as a result of this disaster. Love, His Infinite love, can not be measured by our way of seeing things. The proof of His love is seen in the degredation He willingly chose to experience during His Crucifixion. God could have chosen any number of means to redeem us. He chose suffering in ignominy and shame. This loving personal redeemer wanted to leave room for faith and belief on our part so that we could choose to share with Him in our redemption. We know we will die and seldom think about it even as we note the death of others. Natural disasters, wars, crimes of all kinds capture the headlines and in our era of instantaneous news bulletins we shrug them off as though God had created a great universe that occasionally misfires. Not so, not so. He is always purposeful and all loving at a very personal level. So talk to Him often, but above all listen and watch how He touches your world. The choice is yours.

Faith

Nothing in this world is perfect. Our bodies are prone to disease, and nature has its own laws as set up by God since man's fall. The next world will be perfect, but not this one as sin corrupted everything, nature included. The lion and the lamb will be enemies until then- a future time when God will reign and death and all evils will be a thing of the past.

Liam

On the flip side of this line of thought, I recall a comment I once read in connection with Lourdes about the apparent randomness and infrequency of miracles: if miracles were frequent and dependable, we would be all the more tempted to reduce our relationship with God to one of transactions rather than love.

Matt

Anyone who has ever suffered the loss of someone they love, however it occurs, knows that no words, no idea, no philosophy or theological anthropology can provide any real comfort. Only love can comfort, and pretty much the only thing that can express that love in a way that the grieving person can understand is "presence". Our presence, and God's presence in us. Emmanuel.

Love is the Christian answer to all the mysteries of life. It is what we were created for and the only thing that satisifes our mind and our heart. It is an inexhaustible source of comfort, light, happiness and fulfillment.

I know it sounds sappy, but it's true, and we're wasting our time if we propose any other answer to the "problem" of God's supposed silence in the face of tragedy.

Rich Leonardi

Nothing sappy there, Matt; just truth.

Donald R. McClarey

When faced with tragedy of this magnitude, or a personal tragedy that sends ice through our soul, we should always recall what is all too easy to forget: In this world, and the next, we are always in the hands of a loving God.

Faith

Hope always- Mary set the best example for us- trusting God no matter what happens.

POV

From the pages of Vivificat!:

In light of current headlines, today's Feast of the Holy Innocents adquired for me a special significance. The estimates today is that over 50,000 people perished in the tsunami. The scope of this catastrophe is staggering and boggles the mind. Why, why did this happen? There's no theologically clever answer that will bring comfort to the families who suffered human and material losses in this catastrophe. What will bring them a measure of comfort is the help the entire globe must pour in the disaster zone. Only when we show love for our neighbor would we be able to say that good came out of this tragedy. May the Holy Innocents pray for the victims and their families, and for the whole world.

David Kubiak

Truth to tell, I incline more and more to the view that we are
living in the end times, which I think even the Holy Father has
suggested.

chris K

Perhaps we are focusing on the wrong target here - "why us, Lord, or them, Lord. Lord, make this make sense from the human standpoint so that You still fit our definitions for security". Perhaps we should allow ourselves to look at the immensity of this disaster, moving islands, earth actually wobbling in its rotation, the earth waves even being felt in Oklahoma! All happening at Christmastime and a Christmastime that is even being considered becoming banned. I don't know if other similar disasters had the same universal or "cosmic" effect, but I do know that in our time we are certainly being universally made aware of such facts in our consciousness. For what reason? Well, the human whys show our helplessness for answers, a certain admitted dependency upon our Creator if we're honest and humble. As a result, we are forced to either trust God or continue to move on, stumbling as we do in our own limited knowledge. Since we are all called to the cross and to realize that He comes as a thief, the human lives who suffer these things remind us that, in solidarity, it just could have been me...and still can be. So those left behind have their crosses too, in losses, the rebuilding, perhaps diseases that will involve us all. Nothing happens in a vaccuum these days. At a time when science and materialism have so coarsened the image of man - as he sees others and himself - and when he continues nonetheless to proceed as to make himself a god in his illusion of control over his little universe, shakeups can be acts of mercy, and those who suffer with them can be martyrs to that cause. Some articles mention scenes "like out of the bible" and then there are the numbers...record heat, record snows, snows in unusual places, record number of tornadoes in 2004, record numbers of hurricanes hitting the same place in an unseen time span. I don't think it's all that hysterical to look and see certain "signs of the times". In all of these happenings God has given us a man, weakened in his own condition, determined to serve until the end, in solidarity with the human cross of worldwide manmade sufferings, who begs for peace and who is an icon of one remaining in humble trust and total consecration during such times. Thus, in weakness is real strength. In our helplessness, our reconciliation with God perhaps.

Jeff Culbreath

No doubt the tsunamis were a punishment for some and a grace for others. Either way it is an opportunity for the Church to show Christ to the world.

Ruling out the possibility of divine chastisement, as some have done in this thread, strikes me as fundamentally atheistic.

As for the notion that natural disasters cannot possibly be a consequence of human sin, this too is atheistic - or else it proposes a distant "watchmaker God" who never intervenes for the sake of temporal justice or mercy. knows nothing of justice or mercy. Certainly the idea conflicts with Scripture and Tradition in a serious way.

I find it interesting that Ms. Miesel offers nothing but an old earth chronology to support her contention.

TSO

True, one can't rule out chastisement, though the seemingly random nature of physical evils would seem to lessen its effectiveness. My comment was awkward; I should've said that I don't think creation was altered by Adam's sin (which is what St. Thomas Aquinas taught).

Christopher Rake

Some articles mention scenes "like out of the bible" and then there are the numbers...record heat, record snows, snows in unusual places, record number of tornadoes in 2004, record numbers of hurricanes hitting the same place in an unseen time span.

There is nothing remarkable about this. The planet has seen far more violent extremes in its lifetime, and any climatologist, or someone well acquainted with The Weather Channel, can tell you that most of the last forty years has been a period of unusually little hurricane activity (at least of the Caribbean/Gulf/US East Coast type). What some interpret as an unusual spike is rather a return to the norm. As for extremes of temperature, we are in a comparably trivial period when it comes to extremes.

Love is the Christian answer to all the mysteries of life.... we're wasting our time if we propose any other answer to the "problem" of God's supposed silence in the face of tragedy....

I do not think that God's silence is always "supposed." This seems to be an all too real problem, to me.

"My house collapsed and I had my daughter's hand in mine as we ran back from the water... But the wave took her from my hands."

alias clio

To Christopher Rake:

Forgive me, but it seems clear to me that you are suffering from a crisis of faith that may tip you at any moment - perhaps it already has - into unbelief or gnosticism.

You are quite right that there are no answers to the questions you ask that do not seem facile in the face of the magnitude of the disasters you cite. That does not mean that these answers are wrong.

Consider this: what if God does not exist after all? No wrongs righted; no justice done; no wounds healed, ever. Is it really easier to contemplate that vision of the cosmos than one in which God is inscrutable and his purposes mysterious? That way, I think, lies despair.

If you are capable of entertaining such pity and anger as you describe without despair then I would suggest that your response to this catastrophe is as facile as those you abhor.

If you are sincere, then I must warn you that if you continue to dwell on the intensity of other people's suffering, forcing yourself to imaginatively re-create and experience it, (which is not the same thing as sharing it by actually going out to Sri Lanka, say, and helping disinfect wells), you will drive yourself mad. It is dangerous to feel others' troubles as if they are one's own, thus crippling one's ability to work and take part in life.

In case you are wondering, I have watched one close relative struggle with mental illness; I am presently watching another die of cancer. I too have asked "why" in anger and grief. But unlike you, or the seminarian friend you cite, I have taken comfort in the facile truths of simple Christian belief. I don't mean to imply that it makes me better than you, but to assert that there are other responses to emotional pain than the ones you describe.

P. Cheng

This is to respond to the many devout Christians who attempt to make the claim that God works so that we can all be with him in Heaven. Please bear with the bad analogy to follow.

Say a man and a woman were recently married, with a newly purchased house into which the husband, in accordance with tradition, wanted to carry his new bride. However, instead of turning at a 90 degree angle and maneuvering her inside, he runs full gallop facing the open door, hitting his wife's head against its frame. Say he did this intentionally.

What I am trying to get at is that if God really wanted those Asian children to be with him in Heaven, then he could have done it in ways that did not include body-slamming tsunamis.

And a question for those who state that God is not subject to us, but we to him- Would a loving, fatherly god subject his children to unbearable pain and suffering? I am not a servant to my father, but he did not throw me as an infant because of his divine right.

I am not trying to offend or put off any Christians, I only wanted some answers; Christians tend to be evangelical and often attempt to coax others to follow their path. I want to know why. Again, I apologize for the terrible analogy.

Frank Meyer

To the Luke 13 passage noted earlier, add the reminders from Psalm 90:12 and James 4:13-16.

None of us is guaranteed to wake up tomorrow. And every day, roughly 160 thousand people don't get another day of life, whether or not some major natural disaster (or some human-created catastrophe like Rwanda or Sudan or Kosovo or Bosnia or name your favorite atrocity) happens.

When many die at once in a small area, everyone notices. The usual social subterfuges for hiding, perfuming, and minimizing the impact of death are temporarily overwhelmed by the high local concentration of corpses to be recovered and interred.

But, every year tens of millions die (in round numbers, roughly 60 million), including millions of children, and many of these deaths are as horrendous, or worse, than being swept away and drowned in a few moments. It would not be surprising if this event adds a few hundred thousand "premature" deaths to the total (including the almost inevitable followup deaths from epidemics related to contaminated water supplies and disrupted food distribution). In the end, though, it will be a small fraction of the "usual annual total".

If only events of the magnitude of the Sumatra earthquake leave us puzzled about what God is up to (or how a loving God could coexist with such a universe), then we must have been sleepwalking through life, oblivious to its finitude. If so, praying the Psalmist's prayer in Psalm 90:12 is a good place to start. The rest of that Psalm is worthy of close attention too.

LaVallette

Only people who first acknowledge the grandeur of God in the magnificence of nature and all the good things that happen everyday around us are entitled to ask the question and deserve an answer as to why disasters occur.

It is the height of hypocracy for people who deny God's existence and presence to then demand of HIM an explanation when things go wrong.

PS for the most part, in this day an age, humanity must take responsibility for the human effects of such natural disasters, when God in His infinite wisdom has allowed us to discover the causes of such disasters and for the most part to predict where they are likely to hit. ; e.g the loss of life in the earthquakes in Iran were due to people living in KNOWN and HIGH earhtquake prone areas, the distaster from the latest TSUNAMIS are the result of the absence of appropraite government level Tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean, as already exist for the Pacific ocean (especially highly developed in Japan). Please dont ask God for an explanation when the next earthquake hits San Francisco or Mount Vesuvius destroys Naples and the surrounding areas. I could name hundreds of such potentially disasters.

More sympathetic than you would think

My biggest problem with religious people is that they, by and large, sem to flock to religion as some sort of comforter-in-the-sky. I don't mean to patronize, but if you have difficulty with the inherent uncertainty in existence, uncertainty about the ultimate questions - who we are, why we are here, what's it all for -- then fine, we all do at one point or another.

Don't try to ignore your fears or worse appease them with some simplistic notion, that some ultimate, yet hidden, power deeply cares for each and every one of us. All that does is lead you to be surprised and questioning when a tsunami, a car accident, or just an illness, kills someone or many someones.

Life happens. It isn't always something we can understand. Accept that and understand what can be understood, and you will be much happier, and those things you do achieve understanding of will be much more enduring. They certainly won't be challenged by bad weather or routine (on a geologic scale) tectonic shifts.

Mass death will always be a sad thing, but a more reasonable approach to living in a largely unknown world/universe won't see you looking suprised that God/Santa/Daddy didn't stop [any tragedy].

That, and you also won't be caught after a tragedy with one of your major concerns being the implications for your security blanket. Seriously -- tens of thousands of people die and the pressing question for you isn't what could have been done to stop it, but "How can I still feel comforted despite all this evidence that the universe isn't really going to step in and protect me from random life events?" ?

Beliefs are fine. But leave childish beliefs behind with your childhood. As an adult, especially if you intend at any point to care for and be responsible for others, you cannot afford to smother serious concerns with some faith-based security blanket. That a belief in God or whatever helps you deal with tragedy is fine. Using your belief to dismiss -- within your own head -- any concern that a tragedy could happen to you or yours is irresponsible.

Using your belief to gloss over or anesthetize your own awareness that tragedies - horrific, inhumane, apallingly large-scale Tragedies happen on a daily, almost routine basis is a very significant indication that you are not ready to act as an adult in the world. At least not on any level that deals with regional or global responsibilities, and by this I mean voting.

When people talk about tsunamis, you can't be a participant if you are still struggling with the notion that tsunamis happen.

When people talk about genocide, you can't be a participant if you are thinking - amidst all these concerned people - "Surely this can't be happening. God wouldn't allow it."

When people are dying of hunger, disease, and simple poverty, you aren't going to be a part of the solution if your base, initial, first reaction is "Well, this really is quite bad, but praise God and He will make it all work out in the end."

Anna

To P. Cheng,

Many of us Christians are not trying to say that "This is good, or that God planned it". We are saying, "we don't know why, but God is right next to us in the pain and grief. God is hurting for each person who has lost loved ones. It is His hand that we grasp, when we reach out into the darkness."


bulker

I'm not really understanding the thesist's responses here. It seems that the problem for the theist provided by natural disasters can be stated with these three inconsistent statements:

(1) There exists a good god.
(2) God could have prevented the loss of life caused by the natural disaster.
(3) No good agent who could have prevented the loss of life caused by this natural disaster would fail to do so.

Contrary to how some here seem to interpret this, the problem is not a challenge to thesism per se. Rather, it is a challenge to the existence a good god (a thesist could reject (1) by claiming god is not good). Obviously no christians want to do that, and (2) is not really up for rejection by someone who believes god is omnipotent. It seems that christians should reject (3). Interestingly, (3) is not a specifically religious question - it is a general moral question.

People here seem to have offered several responses to (3):
(A) Failing to prevent the loss of life caused by this natural disaster is morally justified as an appropriate response to sin (or original sin).
(B) Failing to prevent the loss of life caused by this natural disaster is morally justified as a means to an end we cannot understand.
(C) Failing to prevent the loss of life caused by this natural disaster is morally justified as god has done so much else good.

But these all seem inadequate - to me it seems that (A) is just plain ludicrous, that (B) is not an answer, but rather a rejection of the possibility of answering the question, and that the 'so much else good' cited in (C) does not seem relevant to the prevention or otherwise of this natural disaster. So, could someone here please explain to me what grounds a thesist can give for rejecting (3)?

Donald R. McClarey

"1) There exists a good god.
(2) God could have prevented the loss of life caused by the natural disaster.
(3) No good agent who could have prevented the loss of life caused by this natural disaster would fail to do so."

Warmed over Voltaire after the Sunday quake in his time in Portugal. God is omnipotent and orders the Universe as He wishes not as we wish. God could eliminate all human based evil by taking away free will. He could have granted us earthly immortality and bent nature into a garden of delight such as Adam and Eve enjoyed, without the Fall. God did not. The fact that He does not follow the path of human wishes or even human logic games detracts not a whit from His existence which is amply demonstrated by both revelation and natural reason. Without a creator where did energy and matter originate?

Faith

To those of you who do not believe in God, a question... you are aware of death and taxes- now, YOU explain them.

Steve Talbert

I find natural events such as this comforting in that we are all a part of the fabric of the universe and so insignificantly small in the general scheme of things - yet at the same time as they say "there is a universe in every person". It shows the impotence and fallacy of believing in any kind of "god" or "creator" with any kind of "intelligent" design. We must treat the world and what's on it with respect because it is the only thing we have.

Rick

(3) No good agent who could have prevented the loss of life caused by this natural disaster would fail to do so.

As others have noted, if the Almighty's goodness is not consistent with this disaster, then it is not consistent with any of the 160,000 deaths that occur every day. A truly omnipotent God could prevent them all — but doesn't.

Can a good God allow death? Yes...if somehow suffering death is not incompatible with...and may even be connected with...the achieving of our greatest good.

Jason

>>>"What I am trying to get at is that if God really wanted those Asian children to be with him in Heaven, then he could have done it in ways that did not include body-slamming tsunamis."

First of all, stop trying to shift the blame for the fall of the world to God. That blame falls solely upon man. Furthermore, God is under no obligation to give man ANYTHING. He has freely chosen to redeem the world, rather than grant it the justice it deserves. That he has chosen not to deal out justice, but mercy, should not be met with questions critiquing his decision. Be grateful what what he has decided to done.

>>>"And a question for those who state that God is not subject to us, but we to him- Would a loving, fatherly god subject his children to unbearable pain and suffering? I am not a servant to my father, but he did not throw me as an infant because of his divine right."

First of all, your human father is not God. Sin is an infinite offense agaist an infinite, almighy, all holy God. That you are permitted to even live after you have committed such a heinous offense against existence itself, is purely by the mercy of that God. Secondly, the innocent very often must bear with the punishment of the wicked. God himself endured the punishment of every man. He did nothing to deserve it, but he endured the punishment, and by it, redeemed the world. Man, too, can redeem the world with the punishment for sin. Every man has Adam to blame for his concupiscence and his mortality and all the evils that beset him. But God does not want you to run from those trials. By them, you are to endure them all for love of God, because they will always make you more holy.

BA

"More Sympathetic":

Wow. I've never heard anyone advocate loss of voting rights based on religious affiliation. What are you, KGB?

Seriously, I recognize that God in his goodness exists. I recognize that horrible things happen in the world. I recognize that knowing both of these things will not help me to make sense of the second.

I think of dramatic tragedy, which literary critic George Lucaks called "a revelation of God before the face of God." I think of Eastern Orthodoxy's tradition that theosis--becoming like God--begins with reverence and awe in his presence. This is completely compatible with the "adult" attitude that you describe. So, please, spare us your pretensions to greater psychological maturity.

Look at the history of the Jesuit order for the first three centuries of its existence. There you will find some of the pillars of modern science, who faced the world as it is and held their religious faith devoutly. Isaac Newton, though not exactly a Christian, was a very debout believer in the Christian Scriptures after his own fashion. Belief, in other words, does not necessarily distort one's view of the world so that that view is inherently "childish" or incorrect.

Christian belief can be used as a crutch, but no more than patriotism or affiliation with some transnational ideal. In fact, I dare say, a lot less so.

Matt

Bulker says: (3) No good agent who could have prevented the loss of life caused by this natural disaster would fail to do so.

God is not only the ARBITER of good and evil, but also the DEFINER of good and evil. So I don't accept your premise that there are three inconsistent statements, and therefore, I don't need to consider your responses A, B, and C. God's definition of good and evil very often is not ours.

The problem of massive death caused by natural phenomena is no different than the problem of single death caused by accident or natural phenomena. Certainly there is more intensity to the event, but there is no additional theological or philosophical problem.

And Christianity has never shied away from the problem of suffering and death. Christianity's answer is "Emmanuel", which means "God is with us." He has become one of us and shares our joys and sorrows. He is present among us and wants us to be present to those who suffer. He is Love, and in times of loss, He is communicated to those who suffer by our presence at their side.

Christianity has never claimed to fully understand this Love. But it recognizes it and believes in it, and knows it to be good.

The only answer we can offer is the Solidarity of Love which is Emmanuel. It is the only answer Emmanuel himself gave us.

If those who suffer tragic loss explore the meaning of the infinite love of God, they will find the answers they seek. But they are answers that must be experienced, not discussed. They can't be described with words. They can only be experienced in the intimacy of one's heart and conscience. And I can tell you from my own experience that the answers are far more satisfying than words or philosophical notions about some anthropology of tragedy. But it requires going out on a limb and abandoning oneself to the God you are not sure exists. It is risky and scary.

I know that many will dismiss this as just a nice thought that provides comfort to those who can't face the difficult questions about suffering and death. I pity them and pray that one day they take the risk of believing in the infinite Love Who is Emmanuel.

Jeremy Pierce

My first thought on hearing your question is to remember Jesus' response to the suffering that results from the fall. When he heard about Lazarus' death, what did he do? He knew full well that he was about to go raise him from the dead, and yet he still wept, which means he wasn't crying that Lazarus' life was over. He was crying over the state of the world that allows things like that to happen and reminded of his purpose eventually to restore all things to how they should be. In the meantime, there are tears at the tragedies of life in a fallen world.

Jay Vincennes

Our error is thinking of God on human terms. Like he is keeping some kind of list. Rewarding the good and punishing the bad is a fairy tale concept. Praying to God to change things is a futile excercise except in what it can do to give strength to the one praying. The tsunami happend for physical reasons. God has neither the power or the interest in initiating or preventing disasters. We cannot begin to speculate the 'reasons' or 'powers' of God. Our connection is in faith, and our best use of faith is to give one strength to function and persevere and to help others it this world we find ourselves in. Is our world one of billions? Is everything infinite? These are questions never answered. This is our world. Our responsibility. And it is ultimitely our success or failure. Not God's.

CCV

To "more sympathetic...":

Amazing. You seem to think that by attempting to articulate and reconcile one's belief in a loving God with the fact that sometimes He lets really bad things happen (a question that greater minds than yours have struggled with through the ages) is tantamount to not being adult enough to realize that bad things happen and deal with them.

Glad you're not trying to be patronizing..I shudder to think what you might say if you were.

You say "..when people are dying of hunger, disease, and simple poverty, you aren't going to be a part of the solution if your base, initial, first reaction is "Well, this really is quite bad, but praise God and He will make it all work out in the end."

Somehow I don't think that really applies to Mother Teresa, Catholic Relief Services, heck, even the folks down the road at my local St. Vincent de Paul store.

But you obviously know better.

Sandra Miesel

When one looks at the size and range of natural disasters that have struck the earth in historic times, not to mention those that occurred in the absence of men (who was God angry with when the volcano we know as Crater Lake blew its top? Or the Deccan Traps filled with lava?), one seeks an enormous variety of lethal phenomena that cannot be arranged in any "chastisement" pattern. Supernatural agency need not be invoked to observe that earthquakes happen along fault lines, volcanic eruptions at volcanoes, and tsunamis in the sea. The only events we can safely call chastisements are specific items labeled in the Bible such as the plagues of Egypt.
Flipping through DARKEST HOURS, a handy chronology of disasters, I note that the yaer 1970 saw 70,000 dead in an earthquake in Peru and 500,000 dead following a great cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. But we had no apparitionist apparat in those days to cry "chastisement." Reading significance into the four Florida hurricanes this year, as the hysterical Spirit Daily site does, overlooks the low loss of life in these storms. No US hurricane has cost even 300 dead since the 1960s.
Let's go on discussing theodicy but spare us the prophecies of chastisement.

Clare

I apologize for the length of the post.
I didn't want to post this if anyone else had made the point, but I don't believe this recurrent issue about whether God "allows" bad things to happen is focused correctly. The vast majority of human suffering and tragedy is caused by humans, the very ones called to follow Christ's example of love and care.

This is a striking example of our own failures, not God's. The earth is a dynamic mechanism. The dynamism which produces mountains and valleys, which cycles through icing and warming ages, which creates new islands yearly as it reclaims others is a diverse and abundant home for God's creations. This is no more good or bad than fire. It is essential for human life.

However, the current magnitude of lost life, injury, and subsequent suffering because of the tsunami was not inevitable. God does offer divine assistance, but we too are called as a powerful solution to human suffering. The persistent poverty, lack of technology and communication, poor and corrupt infrastructure, and lack of public education about this type of event- a predictable one in that geography- is due to our (humanity's) failures. In one horrible example, many people refused to leave the ocean during the quake because they falsely believed they'd be safer in the ocean. Animals fled to high ground and survived. Many holidaymakers were enjoying cheap vacations in picturesque huts that they'd never want to live in year round. They and the people with nothing but such poor dwellings lost everything, washed away with their flimsy roofs and walls. The tectonic event was expected, and underdeveloped countries could not stage proper responses. This tragedy could have been much smaller. During other natural catastrophes, you'll see correlation between the prosperity of nations and the death tolls. This is not just "their" problem, but the problem of our world, when it chooses to minimize the significance of poverty, ignorance, and disease while denying those most in need opportunities for progress, prosperity, and peace.

There are tragedies that cannot be avoided, that must be borne in the seasoning of every human heart to embrace God in humility and compassion. But, the overwhelming magnitude of this horror should be a call to us to take better care of each other.

As to predictions of the imminent demise of the earth, I believe that unlike 100 years ago, news of worldwide events is immediate, so we feel the world shrinking. But the world remains large and wondrous. The shake and shimmy of a dog doesn't indicate its immediate demise no matter how disturbing it is to the flea on its back. Still, each of us is known and loved by God who can comfort suffering even on this earth. And beyond earthly death, I'm confident He can remove from the dead their memories of fear and pain. The living are the ones who must survive the terrors and disabilities and guilt. Here, too, humans can do God's work.

Human innovation is as divine a gift as this earth, and we must use it to predict, plan, and protect humans from unecessary suffering. God can move mountains, but we must bring shovels. What kind of divine spectacle would have impressed someone who doesn't see the miraculous potential in each one of us- the industrious and inventive and loving children of God- capable of ameliorating pain and bringing His aid and comfort to the ones in need?

John

I hope not to intrude on what appears to be a primarily theist conversation. But to me, the mass fatalities caused by the tsunami seem to make it starkly more difficult for anyone to argue that god exists. Yes, I concede that suffering happens throughout the world every day without it attracting our attention. But a mass murder such as we have seen this week is less easy to understand or write off than the various smaller-scale tragedies that are seen in day to day life. It seems to me that the best anyone has had to offer in these comments has been rationalizations to assuage the anxieties aroused by this disaster. In other words, suffering is part of life; god in the form of Jesus suffered for us, with us; the universe is not for us to understand; etc etc. These rationalizations correspond with the basic arguments for the existence of god -- "Credo quia absurdum est" or along those lines -- in other words, we hope god exists. Surely I cannot say for sure whether or not a god exists. I hope one does. But unfortunately if one has a commitment to the rational evaluation of the empirical data of life, such as it is available to us, it is very difficult to support this conclusion. Instead, a terrible event like the tsunami -- which cannot be written off as the nefarious result of man's sinfulness or free will -- illustrates that chaos, and not any divine power, is the ruling principle of the universe. Things simply happen for no reason: sometimes bad, sometimes good. But there is no order to it, no underlying logic, no divine guidance. One person responded somewhat angrily to another post that was somewhat skeptical about religion by saying, essentially, that if you don't believe in god the only alternative is "despair." But that is the beginning of understanding life and the universe. Sure, of course we might initially despair to think that our finite biological lives are the extent of our existence and that this is a cold and dark universe. But armed with this knowledge we can begin to construct lives based on rational principles and enjoy what we have, making the most of our span on earth, rather than adhering to a faith that provides psychological comfort without any basis in reality.

IT

Peggy:

THe earthquakes that caused this occurred underwater. The disruption of the seafloor pushed water into the tsunami. The waves were >20 feet and in some cases went almost 0.5 miles inland. They killed so many because low lying islands and villages have no protection from tides that high. They were not people on holiday (or at least, most of them weren't). Before the waves hit, the tide ran out very far (being sucked up by the approaching wave). Many people, particularly children, ran down to the beaches to catch the fish left behind and so were particularly vulnerable when the sea came rushing back with a vengeance.

While Indonesia and Thailand were hit quickly, it took about 2 hours for the wave to hit Sri Lanka and India, 1000 miles away. The Americans and others knew it was coming, they could see it moving about 500 mph across the ocean. But there was no mechanism to warn the people who were largely poor.

The earthquake in Alaska in '64 caused a damaging tsunami, and there was a very destructive one in Hawai'i in '46 (I think). The US has a tsunami warning system, and a few but not all west coast towns at risk have tsunami evacuation systems in place.

I appreciate that you all are trying to put this in context with your faith and religion, but to those of us on the outside of your belief structure, bad things happen simply because they do. Religion is man's attempt to assign meaning to randomness because we as a thinking species cannot bear the idea that there is no meaning in events so vast and terrifying. (Frankly I think we're all a buncha control freaks ;-) For those of us without faith, your attempts to make this event compatible with your concept of a loving God are as baffling to us as our lack of faith is to you. However, I respect your faith and right to your beliefs, just as I hope that you will respect my lack of faith and right to my beliefs.

Regardless of faith or the lack of it, we must join together shoulder to shoulder and help the people who have suffered so much in this, and do what we can to ensure that this will not happen again. The knowledge exists. The US tsunami warning system costs a measly $4million a year. We have the ability to protect people and ameliorate their pain. Whether our morality is driven by religious faith or secular humanism, we can surely agree to do so!

chris K

"I note that the yaer 1970 saw 70,000 dead in an earthquake in Peru and 500,000 dead following a great cyclone in the Bay of Bengal. But we had no apparitionist apparat in those days to cry "chastisement." Reading significance into the four Florida hurricanes this year, as the hysterical Spirit Daily site does, overlooks the low loss of life in these storms."

If one is trying to say that catastrophes in a flawed natural world just happen, willy nilly, outside of some meaning (even if just locally or individually) within the Divine Plan, I cannot be amongst such "believers". Whether you wish to know it or not, these places do have their own local "prophets" even if not universally revealed. Peoples' lives and beliefs in such places are very much effected by such events - even where they develop a fatalistic outlook, there still are "prayers" going up to prevent future similar events in their lifetimes, greater notice given to "omens" of nature and more sacrifices, etc. When down in Peru in '73, I heard of the incredible stories by American missionaries of digging out bodies of friends after the quake and myself seeing bones popping up in the huge desert that had literally been thrown over the mountains. This event effected everyone - the memory of which remains in a strong way - even for several years causing one I knew to jump when any rumbling occurred around him. Today we have a rather rapid succession of "strange weather patterns" - at least in my own lifetime, and, really, that is what matters to any human most: what occurs immediately around him or what he personally reads or hears of.

As far as the articles concerning the unprecedented pattern and altered predictions about the rapid succession of hurricanes in Florida not mentioning the amazing change of courses which avoided a greater loss of life, one did not read completely the articles if one did not see that rather miraculous result mentioned. It was. And this was from persons living in the area, moving about to be in a safe place according to original predictions and yet being spared at the last moment. As they say, "you have to be there" to appreciate the way people actually involved in an event are changed personally. Is that not noted within the greater Divine Plan? I doubt very much if that is overlooked by the One Who counts the hairs of one's head - be they effected in larger numbers in places like China, or within removed places of intellectual speculation only, like we have here.

Tom Kelty

The death toll is heading for 100,000. We love to keep score. We forget that this is the best of all possible worlds, created by God with certain purposes in mind. It had a beginning and will have an end as does all creation. Losses of every kind entail pain and suffering . The child who has lost a toy cries. And we know that Rachel wept for the children slaughtered by Herod. Fear and anger boil up in us at such events. Should we be angry with God? He certainly has our attention. Could this be part of the divine plan, to help us focus on the things that really matter. Why was I born? Couldn't He be more gentle when He wants our attention? For reasons still hidden to our eyes, disasters like this make us focus on the reasons for our existence. Since His voluntary expiation on Calvary, all human suffering takes on a new meaning. He was totally innocent of sin of any kind. We who are not so innocent should not be surprised that pain and loss are so fundamental to human existence in all of its dimensions. Christ wants everyone to be with Him in a place of Happiness that was prepared for us "in the beginning." There is no way to get there without trials.

Bubbles

More Sympathetic, way to go!

Far too often when we are confronted with sorrow, or suffering or death, all we have to say is "Emmanuel - God is with us." We wield it like a "Get Out Of Difficult Theological Quandries Free" card.

See, "God is with you in this," sounds really good without actually meaning anything substantial. But when we run up against someone who dares to point out the essential meaninglessness and uselessness of it, someone who responds with, "So what? Is that supposed to help? Or are you just saying it to shore up your own faith?", we just get pissed off and start spitting out insults to try and shut them up. We don't like to face the fact that we don't know what it's supposed to mean to us, much less what it should mean to them.

TSO

Perhaps part of the difficulty is we expect a trial-free existence when it is evident from Scripture that trial is inescapable, even pre-Fall:

Fr. John Hugo, in "Your Ways Are Not My Ways" writes: "Even before the Fall, Adam and Eve were tested by mortification, for they were required to give up 'the fruit..' which stands for all earthly goods, in order to die by giving up their own wills." St. Leo the Great wrote about Adam, "He thought he could forestall the hour and win the honor that was in store without having to undergo probation." - Scott Hahn, "A Father Who Keeps His Promises"

Matt

Bubbles,

You miss my point entirely. I am not weilding "Emmanuel" like a "Get Out Of Difficult Theological Quandries Free" card. I'm acknowledging the "Difficult Theological Quandary" of suffering and death. I'm saying we don't have a logical answer that will satisfy you or me, at least in an intellectual way. The only answer we can offer is the person of Jesus Christ. And that answer does satisfy on a level that no logical answer ever could.

You say the answer of "Emmanuel" sounds really good without actually meaning anything substantial. It seems to me that you will only accept an intellectual, logical answer. I suggest that you open yourself to the possibility that the answer isn't an intellectual one that is within the capacity of our poor brains to understand. Perhaps the intellectual answer you seek is simply too big for us to understand. But that doesn't mean there isn't one, and it doesn't mean there isn't another "non-intellectual" answer that we can understand if we open ourselves to it.

I think you're dismissing much too cavalierly the experience of many millions of people who have found that the answer "Emmanuel" does, in fact, provide an adequate answer to the difficult theological questions of life and suffering and death.

TSO

"I do not understand suffering - but I know it is real. But a God who is in any way responsible for this terror of our lives, such a God must be terrible, a Molech consuming the children we love in contempt for any individual's striving and selfhood. But that is not the God revealed in the history of Israel and in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a man whose life is written to echo the history of his people. Our God shows that he is with us - Emmanuel - in the slime of life, in the pain of life, in the joys of life, and in our death. I still do not know why people should die meaningless deaths, but because God is with us, he can look me in the face and I will not turn away in disgust. This story is so powerful that its symbols grip me absolutely. If all the details are wrong or ahistorical, the story itself remains true. Perhaps it is a dream, although I think not, but the story of Christmas is that life has meaning, humanity is worthwhile, and ultimately "all will be well, and all will be well, and all things will be well".

Jason

>>>"or those of us without faith, your attempts to make this event compatible with your concept of a loving God are as baffling to us as our lack of faith is to you."

If I believed that this Tsunami, and all the other suffering we endure, is just some useless fact of human existence, then I would literally blow my brains out. Why endure all this nonsense? Let the human race end. It's better than suffering. I believe what I believe because it is true, not because it comforts me. If I was seeking comfort, as I said, I would just blow my brains out. Why put up with it all? Let me drift into non-existence. But my comfort is irrelevant. I must embrace what has been set before me, because it has meaning, and eternal value.

Sandra Miesel

Today's (Wednesday's) WSJ has a head-shaking story about why the victims got no warning. Australian scientists spotted the event immediately but were not allowed to issue a general warning for the Indian ocean because information had to pass through foreign governments, observing the niceties of diplomatic protocol. And the relevant officials just couldn't be located in time, even over the course of hours.
This morning I also caught a snatch of BBC World Service interviewing an Irish aid expert and a UN official. The Irishman accused the governments of the afflicted countries of not caring about their poor and the smarmy UN bureaucrat dismissed his outrage as "Northern arrogance" for daring to suggest that Third World countries cannot manage their own relief efforts satisfactorily. Had they been in the same room, I think the Irishman would have clocked him.

IT

Jason, you would blow your brains out if there were no purpose...really? You value your here and now life so little that you would rather not live at all, than live IN THE MOMENT knowing there were not God in the hereafter? That's SO SAD to me.

I really don't understand. I love my family, I love my life, I love a clear day, and a good meal, and wonderful music. To me, ending it with the nothingness that really is meaningless, defeats whatever joy I had and the memory I trust will live beyond me in the hearts of those (living) whom I loved.

In the face of tragedy, I celebrate the indominable human spirit and will to survive in the present, the now, and the real. I matter because I AM. I live morally because I matter. I teach because I believe in the future--the tangible future of generations to come on this dangerously beautiful blue globe.

But this goes back to my previous idea that religion and faith are man's attempts to establish order where there is none, because we hate randomness. Hmmmm. Interesting.

Thanks for the honesty.

Peace.

Henry Dieterich

It seems to me that the question of the appropriate Christian response to people who are suffering and the theological question of the Problem of Evil, which has been raised over and over again in this thread, are really different questions.

The first requires compassion. If someone is suffering, and we can come to his aid, we should in whatever way we can. It matters little that whatever suffering he is enduring will be, relative to eternity or even to time on a universal scale, extremely short, or that whatever aid we can offer will be similarly temporary and ineffectual. We are commanded to do it. That is, as it were, a game played with counters of no intrinsic value: the mere things of this world. Their value comes only in the use of them, since in the long run they are all evanescent: whether our wealth or our possessions or our own bodies. At a particular moment, the use of a thing in extending compassion is what is demanded; therefore we must do it.

The other issue is on an entirely different level. As a former atheist, I can understand the impulse behind the atheist's objection, but I still consider it fundamentally illogical. To the consistent materialist, how can anything be evil? But if the universe is a series of events driven by mathematically quantifiable laws tempered by quantum randomness, how can one event be better or worse than any other? In fact, for an thoroughgoing materialist, his own reactions to any event, whether it is stubbing his own toe or the death of myriads of human beings in a tsunami, are simply material events in his own nervous system themselves, and have no meaning beyond that. In order to ask the question, "How can a good God allow evil?" one must first admit that anything is evil in anything other than some individual's fantasy.

For the theist--at least specifically for the Christian--faith in a good and loving God is prior to belief in anything else, including his own perception of events. If we believe that God is good, then we know that whatever He does is for the best, even if, as is usually the case, we cannot understand it. Since I know that my own understanding is limited, I would find any proposed theology that included a God Who could be included within my limited understanding highly suspect. If God is absolute and I am relative, if God is necessary and I am contingent, then my faith in God must be stronger than my belief even in myself. That creation makes any sense at all is a great blessing; but I cannot expect that everything in it will make sense to me all the time. God sees the universe from a very different perspective than mine. Every one of those people who died in the tsunami, and all those who died in other places at the same time, were and are precious to Him. What, in His ultimate plan, is the purpose or meaning of their sufferings, or even of my own (should I have any) I may well not know. He commands me to succor them, and He reveals that He cares for them. That is enough for me.

There is much more that could be said about this, but this is how I see it.

Rich Leonardi

I read the piece in the WSJ Sandra referenced and was struck by how many people apparently stayed close to shore once it was apparent something was coming. Evidently they feared that buildings likely would fall on them. The Japanese tourists, more experienced with tsunamis, screamed at those on the shoreline to run to the hills.

The article also mentioned that in a tsunami that took place some years before, 500 villagers survived (3 dead) by seeking refuge on higher ground due to having seen a tsunami safety video.

Jason

>>>"You value your here and now life so little that you would rather not live at all, than live IN THE MOMENT knowing there were not God in the hereafter? That's SO SAD to me."

Why live in the moment? So I can wait for the next moment to bring me sorrow and suffering? Why enjoy my family? So I can wait for them to die and leave me a lonely shriveled old man? Why help anyone else? Why do anything good? If my life is about nothing more than my own pleasure, then everyone else can be damned as far as I'm concerned. Honestly, I fear what I would be if I were not a Christian. If my life were about nothing more than having fun, what fun I would have, with no regard for any human laws. Why wait to endure suffering and sorrow? Just let it end now.

Jason

And why would I value my life? If life were anything to value, then nature would not dispose of it. Since I'm just some random blob on the universe, my life means absolutely nothing. It will come to an end. That, obviously, is the meaning of life, for it to end.

Jason

It's pretty sad when life is reduced to "living in the moment". What if the moment is nothing but suffering? I guess this is the foundation for euthanasia and abortion. If something is unpleasant, then it should be disposed of, including life itself. After all, pleasentness is what life's all about.

IT

Hi Jason,
Then I guess we will just agree to not understand each other. I don't define my real value by supernatural beings. You do. I truly do not understand this.

Rich L:
I think there are concepts of good and evil, I just don't think they are dictated by an external (to humanity) source. Hitler was objectively evil, because he murdered people, whose lives intrinsically have value (because life does have value). see, I don't believe morality is dictated by God, but exists free of the supernatural. But I am no philospher and I can't argue m point of view as articulately as others, and in this company I won't even try.

But unlike lots of atheists, I do not turn my atheism into a religion-by-absence. Many atheists are as fervant in their non-belief as any religious believer, making their atheism basically an anti-theist religion. Ii reject that. I value peaceful co-existence of believers and non-believers (I'm all but married to a believer, so I have to! :-)

Peace

Sandra Miesel

Henry has just made one of the more insightful comments in this discussion.

sj

I've thought that Jesus weeping when he comes to Lazarus's home and Mary says to him "Lord, hadst thou been here, my brother would not have died" as Jesus appreciating the human toll of His great plan. Lazarus had to die as part of Christ's revelation of Himself and it was unavoidable that Mary and Martha and their friends would be deeply sorrowed. But Jesus, knowing that, is moved to tears by the toll the plan must exact.

chris K

Now they tell us! If only someone would have listened!

"The mega quake and Tsunami was predictable with Indian scientists’ planetary angular momentum theory – major worldwide earthquakes may happen soon!"


http://216.132.172.10/indiadaily/editorial/12-28c-04.asp

"Indian scientists recently found a scientific method of predicting earthquakes quite accurately. The great quake of Sumatra along Andaman fault line on December 26th, could have been predicted if the world would have taken these scientists seriously.

If this theory is true, we are in for many mega earthquakes soon. When two or more planets, moon and earth and sun come in one line, these mega earthquakes happen."

Interesting!

Talk about omens - perhaps something to them!

Zac

I'm convinced of one thing: there is no way an event of this magnitude can fit inside anyone's head, regardless of their belief system. There is no such thing as an adequate response.

There are children's bodies rotting up in trees where the waves left them! It is insufficient to say that this occurred in an impersonal and unfeeling universe. It is inadequate to say that this occurred in a universe wound up by a non-interventionist watchmaker. It is unsatisfactory to say that there exists a being with the ability but not the will to have prevented this. Subjective claims that there is no purpose, or that there is a greater purpose, or that there is a majestic ultimate reason but a random proximal cause, offer nothing of value to anyone but the writers themselves.

So feel free to carry on with your personal attempts to reconcile this event with your preferred cosmogony. Talk about tectonics and entropy if you like. Quote your scripture or dead archbishops if that's your appetite. Sloganize your beliefs; parade; posture. Every word you write--and every word I've written here--is an inadequate response to something inordinately inhuman. The discussion is a symptom of how much we are reeling. We are all struggling to fit this in our heads, to find out how to admit any part of it into our picture of the world. Eventually we will each deceive ourselves into thinking we have done so. Callous? Human? Both?

A personal, subjective, faith-based position: hundreds, maybe thousands, of the tsunami victims will have thought or felt something equivalent to "My god, why hast thou forsaken me?" as the waters closed over them. I cannot imagine or feel or glimpse or intuit an acceptable response to their question. My conviction that they will have asked it--screamed it!--fills me with horror. If I were a different person, I too would be flailing to assert some higher purpose or hiding behind the sanctioned shrug that is "Immanuel". But I think the horror is an antidote to despair rather than a cause.

Comments on various blogs already demonstrate people returning to their echo- or debating-chambers after this all-too-unpleasant excursion into the inhuman, real world. I suppose that is not really surprising. After all, children's bodies are rotting in trees--could anyone be arrogant enough to think they have an adequate response? The whole thing is incomprehensible and incomprehensibly awful.

alias clio

Zac, those are the words of a poseur who wants to taunt others with the depth of his feelings and the realism of his pain, not a human acknowledging grief.

You do not know what you are talking about.

Christopher Rake

I'm convinced of one thing: there is no way an event of this magnitude can fit inside anyone's head, regardless of their belief system.... After all, children's bodies are rotting in trees--could anyone be arrogant enough to think they have an adequate response?

I'm nodding my head to most of this.

I also thank Henry Dietrich for his comments, and Sandra for making sure we noticed.

As for me, Zac's comments return me to where I started, best expressed early in the discussion by Lynn:

I just read the entire comment page (should have done that first), and my comments seem trite too, in light of the horror of those who experience such random suffering. Perhaps the best response is prayerful silence in the face of overwhelming pain or evil.... A Rabbi friend once accused me of "trivializing the Holocaust" when I mentioned St Maximillian Kolbe. He was saying that I can never understand, and he was right. All we have are prayer and silence.

Rich Leonardi

... I don't believe morality is dictated by God, but exists free of the supernatural.

No theist believes morality is "dictated" by God. Rather, we believe that God wrote the essence of that morality - and your ability to recognize it - on the human heart. You're moved by grace whether or not you realize it.

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