There is a wonderful mysteriousness to God, his plans are not our plans, and his ways are not our ways. His total otherness to our humanness and the mystery of the incarnation are impossible to wrap our brains around. In Job God doesn’t answer Job’s why questions with answers, but rather reminds him of who God is and what he is. “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”* God says. Then “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know!”* For the next two chapters God asks Job all these, to us humans, unanswerable questions. Those chapters come at the end of Jobs long lament for his lost children and they have been invaluable to me over the years, keeping me humble when my pride threatens to overwhelm me. God reminds me that he is in charge and I am not, that his perspective is not mine and that he really is in control of all things and does as he pleases for his own reasons and that I can’t possibly understand or comprehend him. I know that he judges us, I know that I don’t understand him.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August I heard rumblings in the Christian community of Gods judgment on New Orleans for it’s sins. I also read a story that some al Qaida terrorist boys had celebrated the storms vast damage and dubbed it a private in their little army of terror. They saw the destruction of New Orleans and the rest of the terrible damage as proof of God’s wrath against us, Americans for being the Great Satan.
Actually, I think coming from a puny human with a highly limited understanding of the workings of God, (and I include everyone still breathing as a puny human) that it is a dangerous and proud thing to engage in declaring something a judgment from God. Considering that we just don’t know unless he comes and reveals that clearly and evidently to many people, it would seem highly prudent to remain silent on what God was doing when a disaster strikes.
So what is our response to be? Compassion, obviously, go help in anyway we can. How do we explain the whys of a disaster? You don’t because you can’t. Really, you can’t. You can say that there was a recurring cycle of higher cyclonic activity as was last seen in the 50’s, and that we are just going through a high period. That is true. You can say that the Gulf waters are very warm at that time of year and that contributed to the strength of the storm, that is true as well. Why did it hit where it hit? Only God knows. And then leave it there, there are no other answers. Considering that we don’t even slightly understand 1% of the wheres and whys of weather, I think it is wise humility that lets it be.
When the terrible earthquake hit Central Asia this past week and killed thousands, I cried as I watched the mothers and fathers search for their children in the rubble of crushed schools, knowing that their babies were most likely dead and praying that they would be found. But I didn’t think that this earthquake in anyway was a result of the general sinfulness of the people who lived there or as a heavenly referendum on the Muslim faith. I am a Christian and I have strong convictions about ways to God and salvation and where it is from, I just don’t see that when people are hurting and dying it’s time to step into a blame game, rain falls on sinner and saint, move on. It’s time to show where your faith is and who you serve. I didn’t see the hurricanes as a sign that God is more especially ticked at the Gulf states than he is at the rest of the country. I don’t see the tsunami’s, mudslides, earthquakes or flooding that wreak havoc in our world as anything other than a call for us to show mercy. If God has another meaning in these events, it’s up to him to make that clear, not me, my marching orders from him are to comfort and to show mercy, not to judge a case that is far beyond my scope of understanding.
Sure, there are some things that made the flooding of New Orleans worse, the MR-GO waterway being one, and the poor construction in Pakistan that made those buildings unable to withstand an earthquake. Those are things we need to look at and learn from.
There are just some times that should remind us that we are dust, and we will return to dust, and that we stand in the way of the awesome power of nature and of God. Even more importantly, especially when tragedy stikes, we should refrain from assuming the mind, heart and purposes of God, purposes we can not possibly be privy to.
*Job 38:2 -4 English Standard Version