There perhaps should be a question mark on the title. Was it God’s wrath that caused the many thousands of deaths in South- and Southeast Asia? “It was as if God had unleashed his anger on the people” said an Indonesian man in the heavily Moslem province of Aceh. The story, in fact is headlined “Indonesian villagers tremble before ‘God’s wrath’ as tidal waves wreak havoc.”
The Scriptures are replete with tales of God’s wrath. His wrath against all of mankind in Genesis 6 is a clear statement against a sinning population:
5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
Well, as any observer of the human condition may attest, it didn’t work — we’re back, we’re bad, and we’re worldwide.
God’s wrath has been more explicitly, and with sadness, directed against His covenant people Israel, when they strayed from the path of righteousness. For example, the prophet Amos (9:5) relates that “the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt”.
This, although directed specifically against the northern kingdom of Israel, is perhaps a metaphor for the current tragedy in Asia. Some important questions must be raised:
First, does God still act in human history?
Second, for argument’s sake, let’s say He does. Then, what is His purpose, or, if you will, message in this destruction of innocents?
In response, there are no innocents. All are sinners; Mother Teresa, me, you. The second point is that while God may work in human history, He has relegated the earthly sphere to Satan. Stated in a post-Enlightenment way, the universe of space and time as we experience them is enmeshed in and inseparable from our evil natures.
So, John Luke, how exactly does God work through all of this? I don’t really know. I do know that we see shadows of His glory in the here and now, the rare beam of His light that cuts through the evil haze that blinds us most of the time for most of our lives. Jesus showed that light, and died to conquer sin. Were we to actually follow Him and not just with hollow forms and prayers, we would have a better understanding of these events.
What all of this pious talk means is that it wasn’t God who directed that earthquake and the resultant tsunami. These were natural events, responding to the planet’s geophysics. Yes, God created the universe, our planet, and, presumably, the laws that govern its geophysics. No, God did not place those people in the path of destruction just because He could. Our God takes no pleasure in pulling the wings off of flies, nor of killing children. It happened because it did, and while it may have been part of God’s hidden plan for us, it makes more sense that it just happened.
The innocent perished along with the guilty. But none of the victims was truly innocent, no more than me or thee. Did they “deserve” to die this heinous death? Not for me to say; I am not qualified to judge them. Is it possible that the world may learn some lesson from this, and mitigate future disasters? History is not kind to this suggestion; all sorts of evil keeps on keeping on, let alone actually helping poor nations to build the infrastructure that would minimize vulnerabilities to earthquakes, floods, and tsunamis.
I claim to believe, as a Christian, that bodily death is not the end of us. Rather, it is a new beginning for those of us who are saved. What about those who knew not God’s Word and His Son who died? Hard questions; those who claim to have easy answers must be regarded with some skepticism.
Regardless, may God take pity on the souls all who died; may He judge all in justice tempered with mercy.