Many of us remember the lives lost and damage caused by the Alaska quake in ’64, the Los Angeles quake in ’71, the San Francisco quake in ’89, and the tsunami that ravaged Thailand in 2004. Last Friday’s quake and tsunami hit Japan harder than all four combined. Throw in the looming chance of a nuclear catastrophe and we may begin to wonder just how much hardship one nation can take. Let us pray that we don’t have to find out.
Like millions of others around the world, my wife and I were glued to the news over the weekend, aghast at the devastation and trying to imagine the bewilderment and anguish of the people of Japan. But for the grace of God, we could be in the same situation … and thanks to the grace of God, our Japanese relatives are safe. Yet thousands of people are dead, and hundreds of thousands have lost everything but their lives.
“How could God let this happen?” my wife wondered, struggling to reconcile the loving Father of her personal experience with the omnipotent God she’d been taught to believe in.
How could He not? I thought—yet I sympathized with her confusion and despair. She’s hardly unique in wondering how God could love us but still let such things happen. I know firsthand how this seeming contradiction can challenge our beliefs and our faith, for when I was young it was one of the main reasons I rejected God and became an atheist.
Back then I was still arrogant enough to think that if God did not conform to my beliefs, then either God didn’t exist or He wasn’t the sort of fellow I wanted to have anything to do with. Eventually I grew up enough to accept the possibility that my childish beliefs might be the problem, not God.
All parents know that we cannot protect our children from every foreseeable danger. And even if we could, would it really be loving to deprive our children of the opportunity to learn and grow from their own experience, including the consequences of their own choices? Eventually I had to choose between two competing conceptions of God:
Is God an all-powerful micro-manager, interfering with every event, picking winners and losers and putting innocent people in harm’s way out of sheer maliciousness? Or is God the Creator of a universe that works according to spiritual principles and natural laws which we can understand and adjust ourselves to, if we so choose?
As I see it, ground balls obey the laws of physics—and God doesn’t break those laws to make a grounder take a bad hop because He’s betting on the other team. My vision of God is not as a petty micro-manager, but rather as a loving parent who has given us everything we need to succeed, including the ability to reason and to make our own free choices—even choices we may later regret.
To keep events like the Japan quake in perspective, I must bear in mind that God’s time frame is eternity—not weeks or years or a human lifetime. And my faith and peace of mind require remembering that we truly are eternal souls whose depths reach far beyond our finite personalities and our bodies’ deaths.
Is there some sort of purpose behind disasters like the one in Japan? I think not, for a purpose would imply that God meant for it to happen. The quake and tsunami were just predictable consequences of natural forces doing the same things they’ve done for thousands of years. We may choose to learn some lessons from this disaster, such as “humankind must stay humble before nature” or “life is too fleeting to take for granted”—but to suggest that God’s “purpose” was to teach such lessons both trivializes the terrible human tragedy and paints God as a vicious fiend, not a loving father.
As an adolescent, my childish ideas about God would have caused me to regard this disaster as “evidence” that God doesn’t exist. But today I know better. The events in Japan haven’t called my faith into question. If anything they have reinforced it, for these days I believe that unselfish human beings are God’s agents in this world—and when I see the outpouring of compassion and offers of assistance from people around the globe, I see God’s love in action.
I can’t give direct help to the people of Japan from thousands of miles away. But I can pray, of course, and I can help indirectly by donating some money to relief efforts. That’s a concrete way of putting gratitude for my blessings into practice. And though I might not be able to afford much these days, even a few dollars can make a difference for survivors who would probably trade places with me in a heartbeat.
The following link leads directly to the American Red Cross web page devoted to relief efforts in Japan, and includes other links to donate via credit card or your Amazon account: American Red Cross Earthquake and Tsunami Response Page .