[Been writing this post for something like a week and a half now. I still don't know if it's come out right, but I hope you'll get what I'm saying.]
I had a brief but refreshing time to relax over Christmas (more on that at some other time), but (I assume like most people) my good cheer was dimmed somewhat by the news from SE Asia.
Really, most of what there is to say has already been said in every medium I can think of. It is a terrible thing, with the predicted loss of life running well into six figures, and I cannot imagine what it is like for those directly affected.
All I can do is ask some common questions...
I have this faith, a firmly held belief, in an all-powerful God who is love. So how then does crap like this happen in the world? It's not as if we can point to a particular human failing or evil act that caused so many to suffer and die - no group organized or otherwise has set out to make a point - rather, this is a terrible 'natural disaster'. One which God presumably could have done something about.
The thing is, I haven't got an answer to that one.
A while back I preached a sermon on Job. While I was preparing it, I couldn't escape the hard fact that the Bible offers no easy answers to 'the question of suffering'. Plenty of people have tried to find them there, some even claiming to have succeeded, but I don't think any of them actually have.
I don't know if it's only recently that we have expected an easy, friendly, fluffy life (with our centrally-heated lifestyle banishing all but the most persistent discomfort) and projected that onto our God. I do know that Jesus was very quick to point out that those who followed him would have quite the opposite: despised, rejected, abused. He warned of war and disaster in the last days. These things, however terrible, are a fact of life.
None of which answers the question. I wonder if there is an answer?
For me, I guess it's a matter of faith. But faith isn't blind, nor is it dumb or self-delusional. Faith is what you get when you reach the limits of your understanding, but keep going regardless. We're certainly beyond understanding now. And faith is honest: my faith right now cries out to God, "Why?" and "Why didn't you...?" How could it otherwise?
And there's this little undercurrent running by that is aware that this is awfully easy to say sitting here at my keyboard in Edinburgh. There's no-one I know around the Indian Ocean just now. I'm not there. But what would I be saying if...?
But I think that's okay, too. My faith is in a God who is bigger than all this, and is certainly bigger than my questions. Meantime, I just keep asking.
Wherefores aside, there is the obvious matter of our response to these disasters, as people sharing the same ball of rock. It's heartening to see so many people from all parts of society digging into their pockets to help ease someone else's pain. That is good, and that is right. But ponder this that Debs points out: "Tonight I came across a statistic from the Child Health site that every week 200,000 children die of preventable diseases. It kind of puts things into perspective. It doesn’t belittle what has happened in South East Asia, but it’s just a reminder that we need to be constantly seeking to meet the needs of the poor, not just when the latest disaster hits our screens."
The relief effort going on is truly massive. Ordinary people are putting in great effort to change things. But the fact remains that on 25th December 2004 there were countless hungry, thirsty and homeless in this world, innumberable ill and scared and oppressed and lost. On 25th December 2005 I'm unfortunately sure that there will be a similar, if not larger (although I hope it's smaller), number of the same. It's not as if the world as a whole doesn't have the resources to sort such things.
But maybe I'm just a misguided idealist.