Paul Stenhouse: Tsunamis are not the wrath of God January 04, 2005
THE world is still reeling from the tsunami in the Indian Ocean that caused such loss of life and devastation on Boxing Day.
Numbness, disbelief and outrage at our powerlessness, our inability to warn the victims, or to save them, is a common reaction. As is, at times, a desire to blame someone, usually God; or at least to question his wisdom and knowledge in permitting such tragedies to occur, and to seek an explanation for what has happened.
Grief at the extent of the devastation caused by the earthquake and its tsunami, and the desire to come to grips with it in human terms have been overshadowed by comments by Sydney’s Anglican dean, Phillip Jensen, who reportedly said that “disasters are part of his warning that judgment is coming”, and the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Amjad Mehboob, who reportedly said that it could not have happened unless it was God’s will.
Sydney’s Catholic dean, Neil Brown, differed from this view, as did Rabbi Apple of the Great Synagogue and the president of the Hindu Council of Australia, Appupillay Bala.
Christianity does not teach that God causes natural disasters; nor does it teach that God causes them in order to punish the wickedness of the victims. If Jensen meant this, he would be seriously at odds with Christian tradition.
The earthquake and tsunami do, nevertheless, raise important questions that deserve answers, as the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as saying.
As someone who has seen more than his fair share of human suffering around the world, I can sympathise with the halting attempts people make to articulate their feelings at a moment like this: when we stand appalled and seemingly helpless before inexorable destruction and death.
Yet, for all its horror, the suffering caused by natural disasters is not comparable to the suffering that human beings inflict on one another.
Like many others I was shocked at the photo printed in British journals some years back of a 16-year-old boy from an unnamed country whose eyes had been burned out of his head with cigars and whose tongue had been ripped out with pliers. Amnesty International was much criticised for the advertisement, but it told the truth. The police had done nothing about the atrocity because they knew who did it. And apparently approved. Questions needed to be asked, and answers found.