God and suffering

Posted: Jan 04, 2005 12:00 AM

PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland - Throughout the United Kingdom, following the Christmas tsunami that killed at least 150,000 people and changed the lives of their surviving relatives forever, some are asking how a "loving" God, if He exists, could allow such a catastrophe to happen. Another question is, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

The questions are mostly rhetorical, since by asking them, the questioners don't actually expect, or even desire, an answer. They are asked in an accusatory way, as if the questions themselves indict, try and convict as fools those who believe in God.

One counterquestion should be: Why do good things happen to bad people? The Scriptures say, "Only God is good." All humanity is diagnosed as "sinful" and "not righteous." Our desires are "only evil all the time." Look it up.

What about a "good God" allowing bad things? Death is the destination of all living organisms. Some die sooner than others. Shouldn't a "good God" provide a way to escape the grave? He has, but that requires faith, which critics and skeptics lack.

Here's another question for those who ask the other questions: If catastrophe proves there is no God, does charity prove He exists? Individuals in Britain have contributed millions of pounds to the tsunami survivors, more than their government. Most of the world's charities helping in the effort are Christian and American.

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation, yet Muslim nations, including the fabulously wealthy Saudi regime, have given chump change compared to those countries with majority Christian populations. Don't expect Christians, or Americans, to gain points with those who believe America is the "Great Satan."

Human tragedy is bad enough, but listening to some theologians trying to explain it is doubly irritating. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, wrote a Jan. 2 column for The Sunday Telegraph about the tsunami disaster. The front-page headline about the column proclaimed, "Archbishop of Canterbury admits: This makes me doubt the existence of God."

The headline writer misrepresented the archbishop's view, but so convoluted was Dr. Williams' statement about the disaster (as noted by an editorial the next day) it is understandable how the writer of the headline reached his conclusion. Theologians should offer hope and truth. The pagans serve up enough doubt.

Rather than attempt to bring mankind up to God's level, many skeptics try to bring God down to man's level, remaking Him in a human image and thus encouraging the false view that God is someone who is supposed to make us happy and prosperous. If we are unhappy and not rich (or not rich enough), we will deny He exists. Prosperity and good health provide their own motives for unbelief, as C.S. Lewis and numerous other thinkers have eloquently written.

When Dr. Williams says prayer provides no "magical solutions" and most of the stock Christian answers to human suffering do not "go very far in helping us, one week on, with the intolerable grief and devastation in front of us," where would he suggest we turn, if not to God?

As with most liberal clerics who question God, more than trust Him, Dr. Williams offers nothing from Scripture for comfort and explanation. It was the same when Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in that Paris car crash. Clergymen were interviewed, but none offered more than empty platitudes. What good are the clergy if this is the best they can do? Why are they drawing salaries paid by parishioners who might properly expect, even demand, more?

Let me, a nontheologian, offer some help to the skeptics. In Job, Chapter 1, Job suffers a catastrophe when God allows Satan to take away his children and worldly goods to test his faith. Job makes two statements that ought to be remembered and repeated in times like these.

The first is, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised." Job also says in response to his skeptical and nagging wife, "Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?"

If you prefer a secular source, consider Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. Seeking to understand the Civil War catastrophe, Lincoln concluded, "The Almighty has His own purposes."

Those are answers (and questions) that resonate far better than the pap coming from the skeptics and certain theologians who have their degrees, but seem to know less about God and His nature than what causes an undersea earthquake.