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The older I get the less tolerant I become of people - especially Christians - who respond to theological and philosophical questions about natural disasters with trite, simplistic answers. The most recent example of a natural disaster that confronts us is the earthquake in Haiti in which tens of thousands of our fellow human beings have perished.


Some Christians are quick to attribute a disaster like this to the direct judgment of God. Put simply, they believe that the sins of the people of Haiti have reached a point that God could no longer tolerate so He created an earthquake to destroy the offenders. My guess is that Christians who think like that are few and far between. Praise be to God!! Those who do think like that tend to belong to cults where they are controlled by manipulative leaders and are largely isolated in their extremism.


A variation on the above 'theology' also sees the Haitian earthquake as the judgment of God. However, those who hold this view see the event as a natural disaster (rather than the direct creation of God). In other words, the disaster was natural in origin but allowed by God to punish the people for their sins.


There are other equally sincere Christians who believe that natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti are the direct activity of Satan, not God! They are convinced that every evil event, be it man-made (like war) or natural (like storms), can be traced back to the Devil.


At the risk of appearing ambivalent , many of us struggle to fit such tragic events into a neat theological category with an equally neat theological explanation. To be honest, I wish there was a neat black and white answer to the "why" question because integrity won't allow us to hide behind simplistic answers.


On one occasion Jesus was advised that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices in the Temple.(Luke 13). No doubt many considered this to be an evil, tragic event and, no doubt, there were those - if only family relatives - who struggled to make sense of such a senseless act. Jesus response to this news gives us a clue about how some people explained the reason behind the event.


"Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee . Is that why they suffered?"


Apparently there were those who thought exactly that way. In other words, they saw those multiple murders as judgment on the sin of those people. Jesus was quick to correct that faulty thinking, "Not at all!"


Interestingly, He does not attempt to provide the correct reason, assuming that He had one for that particular event. What He does is use their faulty theology to make a very important point. What Jesus said sounds to me something like this: "If you are right in thinking that their murder was the judgment of God (and you are not), then you can expect the same judgment if you do not repent because, when it comes to sin, you are just as guilty as they were - no more, no less".


As if to make the point even more so, Jesus refers His listeners to another event that was obviously well-known.


"And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worse sinners in Jerusalem ?"


Again, Jesus answers His own question,


"No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too".


Another example of a faulty theological conclusion can be found in John 9 when Jesus' disciples assumed, incorrectly, that the blindness that afflicted the man was the result of either the sin of his parents or his own sin. Jesus made it very clear that neither of those conclusions was correct. His explanation, however, is very confronting and even offensive.


"It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered, "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him".


Was Jesus really saying that this man suffered for however many years he had been alive so that he could become some kind of showcase for God to reveal His power? Could these words of Jesus also be applied to the Haitian earthquake? In other words, that thousands of people - including innocent children - have suffered and died just so God might demonstrate His power?


I have no doubt that God can and will invade a catastrophe like that and turn it for His glory. I have no doubt that there will be miracles that will be done and stories of amazing things will emerge in the days and months ahead. What I do question is the notion that God initiated this earthquake just so He had a backdrop or setting for the demonstration of His power and glory.


Well, if God didn't initiate the disaster, He must at least have permitted it or allowed it otherwise He wouldn't be God. It's about now that I find myself on the edge of the mystery of God's sovereignty. I don't like mystery. I want to be able to understand and explain 'things' so there is no mystery. I think that's where we come to grief. We want to be able to be able to minimize if not eliminate that which is mysterious and incomprehensible.


There are some questions that we will probably never answer to our complete satisfaction. There will always be mystery to a greater or lesser degree. By all means let us wrestle with life's great questions. But let us ask God for the wisdom to know when we have reached the edge of mystery and can go no further and the courage to bow before that reality.

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