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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Happy New Year!  

Friday, January 7 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

God and disasters

I've been asked to comment on the widely asked question that's inevitably raised whenever a major disaster strikes. As applied to the current world catastrophe: Where was God when the tsunamis erupted in the Indian Ocean on December 26 and took—by last count—nearly 150,000 lives? How could a merciful God allow such a disaster to happen? I've written on the same question after the Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck my own part of the country in 1989. On this Forum we discussed the same theological conundrums as they pertained to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Some hardline Muslim clergy have been widely quoted as saying Allah was judging the sinfulness of the Indonesian region, which some American pundits have recast as the equivalent of saying that because many women on the beaches where the tsuanamis hit were wearing bikinis instead of burkas, they received the judgment and wrath of God.

We've also discussed earlier the necessity of looking for God's judgments, as these Islamic clerics are doing, examining where we've failed because, if we are seeking God, we must find Him working in every circumstance in our lives; that's the meaning of a life of faith. Yet we can't blame God, or the binkini-clad sunbathers, for the natural disasters that occur. When the great Johnstown Flood struck in 1889, it was both a natural disaster (triggered by relentless record-breaking spring rains) and could also be blamed on the failure of the owners of the South Fork Dam to maintain it properly. That disaster claimed 2,209 lives, still the largest toll of any flood in American history but small compared to the loss of life last month in the India-Indonesian region. But the 1936 and 1977 Johnstown floods also took lives and were less attributable to human failing.

We can argue about where God is in such events, both "natural disasters" and catastrophes caused by human error or "accidents." But Jesus, speaking to similar disasters in His earthly sojourn, including the collapse of a tower that took many lives, didn't blame the events on anyone but did confirm that they should make us look to our own soul's situations, lest we also likewise perish (in estrangement from God). One of the most memorable stories about the Great Johnstown Flood recounted in David McCullough's book about it mentions the widespread opinion expressed, especially in churches, that it was God's judgment on the city's sin. To which a journalist replied, "If it was God's judgment, He must have awfully poor aim. He missed the bothels on the hillside and destroyed the downtown churches and hospitals."

Yes God communicates with individuals and groups by catastrophes, sometimes by their losses, sometimes by their near-misses, sometimes by deliverance, and sometimes only by example and by sending wake-up calls. But none of us are appointed to judge anyone else's losses for any reason other than offering compassion and lending our aid. More central than the question, "Where was God in this?" is "Where are we, and where should we be," both in our relationship with God and our relations with our neighbors whether next door or halfway around the world, in the suffering that is inevitable in every life and generation. Are we our brothers' and sisters' keepers? Do we help bear and share our brothers' and sisters' burdens? That's all we need to know.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2005

New shoes

A country woman who hated to wear new shoes said she had to wear them for a month before she could put them on.

— Fred W. Paxford 

Thought for today

Writing about a schismatic teacher: "We are not interested in what he teaches, since he teaches outside the Church. Whatever and whatsoever kind of man he is, he is not a Christian who is not in Christ's Church.... He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother."

Cyprian, a North African bishop, Third Century  (via Christianity Today)  

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