Whether God causes natural disasters– or allows them to happen– calls into question the nature of God. We wonder whether God is compassionate or vengeful; we wonder if God’s power is all-encompassing, or limited.
One recent conversation turned toward the latter question: does God have control over all of these recent natural disasters? And if God doesn’t have direct control, isn’t the Creator at least responsible for making a universe in which great suffering happens? Couldn’t the world have been made in a different way?
The God who is revealed in the person of a suffering common Jewish man, is a God who is not in control– if by control we mean “having power over” another (or others). Our understanding of power ought not be limited to “the ability to control,” however. There are other ways of having power which are not about control; other ways of exercising authority that do not entail imposing one’s will on another. One truth that Christians affirm, is that in Christ is a new kind of power: the power of solidarity; the power of compassion (literally “suffering with”); the power of love (that is, agape– unconditional love) ultimately to prevail. In Christ, God’s power is revealed not in control, but in vulnerability. God’s power is the vulnerability of Jesus, because it is in vulnerability that we become connected– connected to each other, and to God. God’s power is “God with us” (Emmanuel), not “God over us.”
Such an understanding of God’s power leaves suffering unexplained. I think that’s truthful to life as we live it and know it: bad things happen to good people, and innocents suffer. We can express righteous outrage at God for that, and that expression would be faithful: the Bible records many moments of cried out anguish, including Jesus’ own cry. There is a time to cry out to God for the suffering in the world. Then there’s a time to remember God’s solidarity with suffering, as revealed in Christ– and in remembering, to reach out in imitation of Jesus, with our own acts of solidarity and compassion with those who, like us, suffer.
Here is a blurb from the Christian Century on God and disasters:
Most don’t blame God for disasters
We may never know why bad things happen to good people, but most Americans—except evangelicals—reject the idea that natural disasters are divine punishment, a test of faith or some other sign from God, according to a new poll.
The poll, by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, was conducted a week after a March 11 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.
Nearly six in ten evangelicals (59 percent) believe that God can use natural disasters to send messages—nearly twice the number of Catholics (31 percent) or mainline Protestants (34 percent) who so believe. Evangelicals (53 percent) are also more than twice as likely as the one in five Catholics or mainline Protestants to believe that God punishes nations for the sins of some citizens.
The poll, released March 24, found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans believe that God is in control of the world, but the idea of God employing Mother Nature to dispense judgment (38 percent of all Americans) or God punishing entire nations for the sins of a few (29 percent) has less support….