Disasters (part 3)

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Now, here’s a thing – We have been looking at disasters and our response to them.  Last week, we took a look at the broader issue of how Christians view and respond generally to disasters.  This week we’re going to look at some of the explanations people give as to why God lets disasters happen.  Again, we’re drawing upon an academic book, ‘Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?”[1]

An explanation as to why God lets things happen is called a theodicy, a term coined in the 18th Century.

One theodicy rests upon the fact that loving someone does not mean that we constantly intervene to protect them from all dangers – parents have to let toddlers stagger and fall, and teenagers test and try out both boundaries and experiences. There are also limits to parental control and protection. Without letting our children go through these various experiences they will never learn and develop and attain their own state of adult independence.  Similarly God does not protect us from all ills and through that we too can grow and develop.

It is also worth considering in this analogy that whilst we look to children attaining independent adulthood, we look to God’s children attaining eternal life with him.

Linked to this theodicy is that of God giving people moral free will. As O’Mathuna puts it,

If God intervened every time we could be hurt, much pain and suffering could be avoided, but our free will would be an illusion. The world as we know it would not exist. Every time someone went to punch another person, his arm would fail to work. “  – O’Mathuna, page 32

How could we have a true relationship with God on that basis? Also, a world with so many ‘miracles’ in it could have no rationality or predictability.  Science would go out of the window (not a good idea, despite what some Christians think!) and man would have no moral responsibility and therefore not be made in the image of God.

A second question Christians often have when disaster strikes (again based upon Old Testament events) is ‘Is someone to blame?’  Take Hurricane Katrina:

‘….was claimed by some Christians to have been God’s punishment for abortion or homosexuality… by a Muslim official as Allah’s punishment for the US’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by a former Israeli chief rabbi as punishment for President George W. Bush’s support for the dismantlement of Israeli settlements in Gaza. –  ‘O’Mathuna page 34)

It is also worth noting that we live in a world spoilt by sin, and the effects of that can be seen throughout creation. In history we see that there have been many calamities and disasters, man-made and natural as well as the (literally) billions of traumas that affect people in their everyday lives as people grow old or sick or die. People often do not contemplate these things until they affect them personally in some way and this leaves them ill-prepared to respond in a balanced and reasoned way. Having given no thought as to the world, its state and how it works (and has worked down the ages) they often turn against God (whilst also denying his existence!) instead of turning towards him for guidance, comfort and solace.

Having done some wider thinking, then, next week I’ll conclude with how we as a Church should respond to the ongoing pandemic and how we can recover when it is finally over.

[1] O’Mathúna D.P. (2018) Christian Theology and Disasters: Where is God in All This?. In: O’Mathúna D., Dranseika V., Gordijn B. (eds) Disasters: Core Concepts and Ethical Theories. Advancing Global Bioethics, vol 11. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-92722-0_3