Mysterious Ways -- How do Christians explain a tsunami?

Today's editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has an article by Paul J. Griffiths, holder of the Schmitt Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago entitled Mysterious Ways -- How do Christians explain a tsunami?. The article is a review and overview of a new book by David Bentley Hart entitled The Doors of the Sea which Mr. Hart wrote in response to the catastrophic loss of life in 2004's tsunami in Southeast Asia. In this book, Mr. Hart apparently does not propose any new ground, but merely restates the Christian position on why natural catastrophes exist if there is a omnipotent, good God. According to Mr. Griffiths,

From a Christian point of view, Mr. Hart notes, such events are quite easy to explain, if difficult to accept. They are dramatic instances of the fact that the world is profoundly out of joint, damaged in deep ways by the fall of Adam and Eve and the rebellion of man. This fall, brought about by the exercise of human freedom, has altered the very physical order of the cosmos so that what God had intended to be a world of harmony and peace, free from suffering and death, is now a world running red with blood.

Much of this blood is shed by human ingenuity, in holocausts and genocides and gulags. But much of it is shed by earthquakes and storms and tidal waves and plagues, catastrophes independent of human will. This was the case for the quarter-million people who died in December but of course it is the case as well every time, for instance, a stray pathogen robs a single child of life.

Indeed, such tragedies are common. For Christians, they are horrors, evils opposed in every way to God's loving intentions.

For those interested in defending the historic and philosophical truth of Christianity, a later paragraph is quite interesting:

Thus to the claim that the tsunami provides evidence against the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent God Mr. Hart responds: The disordered world in which we live isn't as God intended and created it. God did order the world in such a way that natural disasters don't happen. The only disaster he permitted was the one that we ourselves succeeded in bringing about, the one that disordered the world in the direction of chaos. God will finally overcome even this, Christian faith teaches. But until that victory is complete the damage wrought by chaos provides no evidence against God. Or, as Mr. Hart likes to put it: The God against whom natural disasters might provide evidence isn't the one in whom Christians believe.

He is absolutely right. The question of "how could a good and powerful God allow natural disasters?" is a good and fair one. It is a question to which we need to be prepared to provide an answer. But when the question becomes an accusation that God could not exist because a good and powerful God would not have created a world in which such things happen, then the skeptic is raising a straw man. Christianity teaches that God did not create the world with such things being part of it. It is through the fall of man that nature fell, too, which is the real cause of evil we see.

I am raising a fine line distinction here between God "created a world" with evil, and God "created a world with the potential" for evil. God did not do the first, but God did the second. The potential was realized through our fall which, like it or not, puts the responsibility for the evil on our heads, not God's head.


Anonymous said…
The conventional Augustian theodicy (that God did not create a world with evil in it) is based on the Book of Genesis. God is not causally responsible for evil and therefore not morally blameworthy. The problem is that it reduces all physical evils to a single moral evil.

The conventional Hegelian theodicy (that God did create a world with evil in it) is based on the Book of Job. God is causally responsible for evil but not morally blameworthy because it is a necessary precondition for the display of a completely selfless love of human beings for God.

An exposition of that Hegelian theodicy is found in "Putting God on Trial- The Biblical Book of Job" ( Particular attention should be paid to the section "Introduction", "A New Look at Genesis", "Putting God on Trial" and "A Philosophical Analysis".
Weekend Fisher said…
The review -- I followed the link for the longer review -- leaves me wondering a few things about the book. Does the book take a view that "human sin broke the cosmos all by itself" with no intervention from God? What of the curse of death so clearly recorded in Genesis ("dust you are, and to dust you will return", Gen. 3:19)? I won't judge the author without reading it directly but the review makes me suspicious whether he tries to get God off the hook for the curse without addressing it as a real part of the problem of evil. A theodicy that really does the job won't look only at tsunamis or children with cancer, but the fact that each and every one of us is going to die and that, after the fall, that was God's will.

I'm not saying death or evil is a good thing, or that evil is somehow to the glory of God. I'm just saying in the Bible, God doesn't really come away as uninvolved as all that. The curse was, in effect, "now this can never be paradise; all must be destroyed and re-created".

I think those who see the destruction and don't recognize it as the first step of re-creation are bound to see God as evil or to deny that he could exist.

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