And I have to say, first, that I don’t claim to know all the answers about a God who is so shrouded in mystery. I don’t even trust people–and have a hard time even abiding people–who claim to know all the answers about God. They seem to think that God dropped the Bible down from heaven, gift wrapped complete with a big bow, so that we can know all the answers to all the questions about a mystery as magnificent as God is.
And I also have to say that that very question–What kind of “loving” God allows such suffering?–is what led me on a search for answers that ultimately led me all the way to dropping a successful and thriving secular career for ordained ministry.
That said, my theology of God in this matter boils down to the following:
God created a world teeming with beauty, and it full of all the natural resources and provisions that we as God’s children on God’s green earth could ever need. God gave us the natural world, the natural laws and order of things that we can rely on, day in and day out, to remain the same.
Now, consider that God gave us gravity, for example, which, if you think about it, is a great gift. We know that what goes up must come down, and that gravity is a sure thing in the natural order of things. Gravity is a natural law we can rely on.
However, if a child of mine falls out of his treehouse and suffers a critical injury or dies, no one is going to question God as to why God did not suspend the law of gravity to save that tender young life.
God’s entire creation is a beautiful and wonderful gift, providing us water and resources for food and shelter and the beautiful wonders of nature. God’s creation also provides us reliable and predictable laws of nature that we know that God will not suspend, even if it means people are in harm’s way.
God also gave us minds to think and wisdom to figure out ways to use the earth and its resources in wonderful ways through engineering and all kinds of science. (And yes, I know very well the church’s history in persecuting some scientific geniuses but that is another issue on evil and the proverbial “man’s inhumanity to man” for another day.)
However, for all the planet’s beauty and splendor and provisions and our God-given minds to figure out ways to harness (or destroy!) our natural resources, even hurricanes are necessary to the natural order of things. Even if we could figure out a way to stop hurricanes from forming, which we could never do, of course, we would only disrupt the natural order of things in a way that is more damaging than the hurricane we tried to prevent.
So the question to ask, to my pastoral way of thinking, is not the one that questions God by asking how God could allow death and destruction and suffering from natural disasters. And it does no good to question a God who allows deadly diseases–our mouth contains a kazillion germs and bacteria that enable us to taste and digest our food, but bodily germs and bacteria can and will do crushing harm in the natural order of things.
The question in my mind is, “How am I going to respond to help people in some way that I can relieve their pain and suffering from illness and injury and pain and suffering of all kinds?
As for Sandy, what can I do out of my love of my neighbors back in my beloved home country today, while keeping in mind the suffering of so many of God’s people all over the world each and every day?”
As for me, I am going to respond with real, actual prayer for the people hit by Sandy. I also am going to donate money for relief efforts to the relief agency that I happen to know will provide actual relief to the victims, with no administrative or overhead costs taken out of my donations. That agency I donate to happens to be UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
But whatever reliable relief agency we donate to for disaster relief, it is our duty as Christians–those of us devoted to the Christian faith and its tradition–to give generously of our money or volunteer work and of course our prayers.
And Christian or not, it’s the duty of all humans, whatever their moral values, to love and give as well.
One of the most surefire of natural laws is this: we’re all in this thing together.
In good times and disastrous times, God never fails us.
But we can always fail God.