Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Japan Disaster: Seeking Answers

As I discussed in the last blog, the suffering of the Japanese people raises the perennial question of how a good God could stand by and let enormous suffering like this continue. In fact, why does God allow suffering at all, if He is powerful enough to terminate it?

Bertrand Russell, the most cynical of British philosophers, put the matter baldly. If God is powerful enough to stop suffering and He doesn’t, He can’t be good. If he is good, but allows suffering to continue, He can’t be all-powerful. “From this argument,” Russell claims, “there is no escape.” (Unpopular Essays). God can’t be both good and omnipotent.

C. S. Lewis, before his conversion to Christianity, believed in the common wisdom that God could not exist on the basis of the cold emptiness of the universe, and that the world’s “creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die.” (The Problem of Pain)

But Lewis came to recognise that this position poses a specific problem. “If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?”

Christianity maintains that God is good, and His creation is good, But humankind, in seeking a rebellious independence from Him, messed it up. Ian, in response said, among other things, “I think that this devastation, as horrific as it is, reminds us of the fallen world in desperate need of redemption.”

It is also a symptom of that Fall. In my blog Thursday February 24: Christchurch: Why Me? I show how Scripture supports the idea that our sinfulness pollutes and defiles the ground, destabilising the planet from its original operating specifications.

I have also given some more thought to the general problem of suffering on the Inscribe Writers’ blogsite

But grinding of the Japanese tectonic plates certainly pictures “creation . . . groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” waiting to “be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 and 22).

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Japan Disaster: Why?

Every disaster on this scale raises a host of feelings: shock at it’s suddenness, helplessness at the scale of the carnage, but most of all confusion, even anger, at the meaninglessness of it all.

Questions invade our minds. Where is God in all this, why does He allow it? Is this a judgement of sorts on the people or nation? For Christians, the juxtaposition between the calamity and God’s love is especially poignant. Is life, after all, just a matter of chance?

While Christians believe there is a final answer to these questions, the murkiness of our flawed understanding will always leave some mystery unexplained in this life. We see “through a glass darkly,” our view circumscribed by our ignorance, reminding us that our walk is by faith, not by sight.

Of course, pat answers are no help to anyone, especially those made destitute, bereaved, or maimed in minutes. For them, the questions must wait; our duty is to bring succour and relief within our capabilities. But the questions remain, hanging as an oppressive cloud over the event.

Volumes are written on the subject of suffering, yet every catastrophe casts a shadow of doubt on all our attempts at answers. Each time it causes us to review the fragility of life, our view of the purpose of life, and the paradox of human disaster and a God of love.

I would like to discuss these questions together in succeeding blogs. Please feel free to share your ideas.