Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami theology

A friend just posted on her Facebook page that CalTech has reported that the coastline of the Japanese island of Honshu has moved 8 feet into the ocean as a result of the earthquake this morning.* That, coupled with the tragic loss of life and property because of the accompanying tsunami, has already occasioned numerous bloggers and other "pundits' from many religious traditions to assert that the disaster was somehow a message/judgment from God. The same kind of questionable (in my mind) attribution of natural disasters to God's judgment is something we've seen before: Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in SE Asia, Haiti, etc. My comment: "Hoo, doggies!"

The theme of all of these "thinkers" seems to be: "Wow, something bad happened in the world and lots of people suffered! God's really angry at _______ (fill in the blank)." There are SO many problems with this kind of thinking, and I don't want to go through them all again. But one of the chief objections is that "many innocent people died because of the (purported) wickedness of some that God is (purportedly) punishing". That's a pretty potent objection in my book. For example, in the book of Genesis, Abraham bargains with God over the destruction of Sodom/Gomorrah. The summary of Abraham's argument is: if there are even a FEW righteous people in those cities, God should spare them. God does not (except Lot's family) -- implying that he agreed with Abraham's argument! It's just that there were no righteous people to be found.

As I said, however, I don't want to revisit these kinds of arguments. I want to raise another. Some background. First, at the end of the first creation story in the book of Genesis (1.1-2.4), God has created the entire world and its inhabitants. And God declares that the entire creation is "very good." The plants, the animals . . . and the humans. Very good! Second, at the end of the biblical book of Jonah, God upbraids Jonah for pouting because God had NOT destroyed Nineveh (they repented of their wickedness -- whatever it was). God's reason: "don't you know there are folks there who don't know their right hand from their left . . . and also many animals?" (Jonah 4.11).

The photo above is clearly NOT related to the disaster in Japan this morning. It is of a disaster that occurred just over thirty years ago. I grew up in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens. I camped in the Spirit Lake campground there. I remember seeing the steam coming out of the mountain just a few days before it erupted. And when it did, the devastation was incredible. And it has been attributed to God's judgment! And there WAS loss of life -- about 65 people (directly and indirectly). But also 7000 large animals (bears, deer, elk) and approximately 12,500,000 fish! (I don't know how birds were affected; many other, smaller, animals could burrow and escape the pyroclastic flow). So, God's judgment on some people is such that God's very good creation of innocents should also suffer? What about those "many animals"?

That's just BAD theology in so many ways. The math is bad, certainly. But what it also assumes is that the "bad" actions of some people deserve such a violent, destructive, response that the deaths of millions of innocents is not even part of the equation. I've not heard anyone address THAT issue: do not the animals fit into the equation?**

It's just bad. No God I would want to believe in could behave that way.

Hoo, doggies!

And now it's up to us to pray for, and help, ALL of those affected by this movement of the earth move forward.



* I've seen this reported elsewhere, although I can't find an original citation.

** I'd like to thank the students in my just-ended class "Pets, Partners or Pot-roast" for helping me see this!

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