In light of the numerous tragedies happening all across the world at present – inter alia, the disaster in Japan, the unrest in the Middle East and Libya – one wonders how a God of justice could allow such suffering and oppression to happen. This dissatisfaction is made all the more acute when one specifically considers natural disasters, or supervening ‘acts of God’, as these seem to be primarily God’s responsibility and cannot be attributed to an ‘act of man’, per se.
I remember in 2008 when an earthquake struck Sichuan, I read/heard an explanation somewhere that this was “God’s way of controlling the world population.” On first reading this seems to be quite a perverse statement, but on reflection it does not seem too unreasonable. It is a very human thing to try to rationalize and understand why bad stuff happens; Job’s three friends did that in the ancient times of the Bible, and we are no less prone to doing so today.
Thus it would seem that trying to explain ‘acts of God’ is but a narrower subset of the perennial question that has challenged theologians for centuries: “How could a just God allow for human suffering?”
I recently came across two articles which I found helpful. The first of which is a blog post which concerns such a question: Earthquakes and Tsunamis: Acts of God? It is written by one of the contributors at the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, a social reform organization which seeks to offer a biblical perspective on issues concerning contemporary society. (It is also from this blog post where I got the title for my own.)
This first article summarises a more detailed paper on the deeper question of whether one can really ‘read’ events and impute God’s intention or purpose to things that happen in the world: Reflections on Providence: can we ‘read’ events? The latter is written by Mark Dever, currently Senior Pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Both are good reads, and though the latter is lengthier it is not too dense.
I hope that these two articles will encourage you in your walk of faith, and also equip you for the questions and challenges which will invariably be posed by those from outside Christian circles (or perhaps even those within).
In this troubled period, let us also continue to pray for God’s Will to be done, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”.