Having lived in Japan for two years, the recent earthquake and tsunami were more than mere spectacles of the power of nature and the vicarious agony of watching others suffer.
Although my wife and I lived south of Sendai (in Nagano prefecture), the destruction literally hit home for us. We worked and lived among the Japanese people – we saw their weaknesses and strengths as a culture (as they did ours).
However, I want to avoiding diminishing the suffering of the Japanese people by claiming it as my own due to our short stay in Japan or by writing it off as part of some divine plan.
Yet there are those who insist on taking the latter strategy as part of their Christian duty.
John Piper, the well known “pastor-theologian” from Minnesota, has time and again in the wake of previous natural disasters, insisted that these horrible events are all part of some divine calculus designed in order that God may be glorified. He has done the same in a recent article responding to the devastation in Japan.
This kind of rhetoric that assumes theological rigor and pastoral sensitivity really gets my blood boiling.
So, rather than respond to Piper in my anger, I thought I let others do it for me:
Responding to the Tsunami that wreaked destruction on Thailand and Indonesia, David Bentley Hart wrote:
“Considering the scope of the catastrophe, and of the agonies and sorrows it had visited on so many, we should probably have all remained silent for a while. The claim to discern some greater meaning—or, for that matter, meaninglessness—behind the contingencies of history and nature is both cruel and presumptuous at such times. Pious platitudes and words of comfort seem not only futile and banal, but almost blasphemous; metaphysical disputes come perilously close to mocking the dead. There are moments, simply said, when we probably ought not to speak. But, of course, we must speak.”
“Even if the purpose of such a world is to prepare creatures to know the majesty and justice of its God, that majesty and justice are, in a very real sense, fictions of his will, impressed upon creatures by means both good and evil, merciful and cruel, radiant and monstrous – some are created for eternal bliss and others for eternal torment, and all for the sake of the divine drama of perfect and irresistible might. Such a God, at the end of the day, is nothing but will, and so nothing but an infinite brute event; and the only adoration that such a God can evoke is an almost perfect coincidence of faith and nihilism”.
“As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy…We can rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that He will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, He will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes—and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”” (All DBH quotations are from “The Doors of the Sea”)
Also, be sure to check out these wonderful blog posts:
Cognitive Discopants (awesome name!)
3D Christianity – “Does God Cry?”
J. Kameron Carter – on suffering and the God question (refers to the earthquake in Haiti, but still pertinent to the situation in Japan)
Skye Jethani – “Weep then Repair“