Why God? A simple but profound question.

1 Mar 2005

When great calamity strikes, like the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia and Southeast Asia that swept away over 250,000 lives, our minds are filled with questions: ‘Why did this happen?’ ‘Can anything be done to prevent it happening again?’ ‘What should our response be?’ While science can offer one answer to the first question and a bit of help on the second, human hearts still cry out . We know there are deeper answers, yet we feel inadequate to fathom the mysteries of God’s purpose behind such calamity. People around the globe, from many different cultures and religions, wrestle with a simple but profound question: ‘Why, God?’ At times like this, I’ve often felt some jealousy toward the writers of Kings and Chronicles, who observed current events and were able to give the divine commentary: ‘This happened because…’ They pulled back the curtain of the visible world to reveal God’s purpose and perspective in the spiritual realm. We, meanwhile, interpret the events around us as though through smudged glass. In the midst of the crisis, one of my friends wrote, ‘ I wish CNN would have a theologian on [staff] to help them make sense of the news.’ So true!

Meanwhile, those most affected by the tsunami, the Muslims of Aceh, heard a distinctly Islamic version of God’s intent behind the calamity. According to this interpretation, the disaster came because the Acehnese were not good enough Muslims (though they were more devout than most Muslims in Indonesia). One imam (Muslim leader) spoke on behalf of many: ‘God is angry with Aceh people, because most of them do not do what is written in the Koran and the Hadith.’ This is the essence of message heard from many mosques in Aceh, as people began trying to make sense of it all.

As Christians look at the Scriptures, we find many cases of God’s wrath being expressed through ‘natural’ disasters. And yet in contrast to Muslim leaders, Christians tend to point to a different set of human actions that might have aroused God’s wrath. Some point to the oppression of Christians in the province of Aceh, especially since the implementation of Islamic law two years ago.

One Indonesian Christian leader recounted how the churches in Banda Aceh had planned to hold a joint Christmas celebration in December 2004, but were told at the last minute that the event had to be cancelled. Tents that had already been set up were taken down, and all the preparations were for nought, because ‘It would be an embarrassment for an Islamic city to be holding a celebration of Jesus’ birth.’

Another source noted that Meulaboh, the city so totally devastated by the tsunami, was famous for black magic. Even though black magic was fairly common among the Acehnese in general, Meulaboh was notorious as a place of power, for those involved in occult practices.

While we note the possibility that certain sins may have been a factor in the unleashing of divine wrath in the form of a “natural” disaster, let’s learn from Jesus’ response to calamity. He tended to point his followers away from simple explanations that would focus on the sinfulness of those who have suffered.

In Luke 13, we read of a case where Jesus was asked about a recent calamity in the news of the day. His response was, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish’ (Luke 13:4,5). He then cited another case, a natural disaster, and repeated the same lesson. Jesus won’t let us simply point to the sin of those who have suffered as an explanation. It too easily lets us avoid the fact of our own sin. It tends to make us smug, and allows us to ignore the reality that apart from God’s grace, we all deserve to die a horrible death.

So the first lesson Jesus would speak to observers of sudden mass death is: ‘Change your own way of life! Make sure that your own heart and life are such that you are ready to meet your maker at any moment.’ This is a message worth sharing with anyone who will listen, when conversations turn to the calamities taking place in the world around us.

In John chapter 9, we find another case where Jesus discouraged his followers’ tendency to assume a direct correspondence between calamity and the sin of those suffering from it. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me’ (John 9:2-4a).

If we think, ‘These things just happen,’ or ‘This happened because of their sin,’ then we’d conclude we’re off the hook. It didn’t happen to us, so we must be okay. And we could feel justified in continuing with life as usual. But this is distinctly not how Jesus calls us to see it. He calls us to acknowledge that all have sinned, including ourselves.

Jesus calls us not to ask ‘Whose sin caused this calamity?’ but ‘How does God want to get glory in this situation?’ and ‘What is the work of God that He desires to display here?’ The corollary of these questions is a personal application: ‘What would God have me do with this opportunity? How does He want to use me as part of His answer in this situation?’

Certainly we can give financially to help alleviate the suffering of the victims, and we can pray for them. We can also say, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.’ The Acehnese are only one of 127 major unreached people groups in Indonesia. In this ‘ring of fire,’ (land prone to earthquakes and volcanoes) no one knows when the next disaster will sweep away hundreds, or even tens of thousands.

But even without dramatic cataclysms, thousands are passing daily into a Christless eternity; never having an opportunity to hear and receive Jesus’ Good News of eternal life. A wide variety of opportunities are open for people like you to bring the light of Christ into this land of need.

Prayer Requests

  • Please pray that God will display His glory in Aceh and throughout Indonesia.
  • Please pray that God’s children will ask people the question, ‘Are you ready to meet your maker?’
  • Please pray that in the aftermath of the tsunami, the Acehnese people would see the love of Christ through the lives and actions of His people.
  • Please pray that many labourers would go forth, to serve as the fragrance of Christ among the unreached peoples of Indonesia.
  • Please pray that God would show you what He would have you do in response to the great needs in Indonesia

By DC – Pioneers Area Leader, Island Southeast Asia

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