"God and the Tsunami"

"If God is such a loving God why did he allow the tsunami, and how come he allowed so many inncocent people to suffer and be killed?" Not an uncommon question being asked right now by those seeking to understand God and God's involvement in this world.

Right now we know that are over 145,000 people were killed, and 5 million people displaced from their homes in 11 different nations as a result of the recent tsunami. So how are we to understand and address the realities of this situation?

Well we know how a tsumani occurs geologically, but theologically why did the tsunami happen in the first place, and why did God allow it to happen at this place, at this time? Because of the consequences of this event, death and suffering, both of these questions can be placed under the broader question, "why does God allow suffering?"

The first question (why did the tsunami happen) can be addressed by understanding the fall of humanity and the fall of creation, and the affect sin has had on people and creation itself.

The "why's" of the 9/11 tragedy tend to be easier to explain in that God allows people to make choices and some chose evil, or sin, over good. So it's clear that sin was the reason for what happened on 9/11. And it's also true that sin has played a role in the tsunami.

You see, in some cases humanity does cause those events we call natural diasters because of our abuse of creation. For example, our pollution has caused acid rain, which among other things is killing the rain forests, a place where we get many natural resources to develop medicines and other products.

We've also caused events like mudslides and massive erosion, that has resulted death and distruction, because of our poor management of the land God has entrusted to us.

The truth is much of the suffering we encounter in the world in its many forms is the result of other people's sin. And this is true of the many global and community disasters like war, starvation, and injustice.

Also, we cause our own suffering and the suffering of others, through the sin we engage in. The choices we make impact others as well as ourselves. Some have estimated that perhaps as much as 95% of the world's suffering can be accounted for in this way: our sin and the sin of others.

That leaves a small proportion of suffering that can only be explained as being the result of the fact we live in a fallen world: a world where all creation has been affected by the sin of human beings, going back to the fall of humanity in the perfect Garden of Eden.

Natural disasters are a result of this disorder in creation, and this is the category of suffering the tsunami falls in. So why the tsunami happended can be explained as being a result of the fall of creation, and is NOT some vengeful act or wrath of God, as some TV shows have called disasters of this sort.

Now that still leaves the second question of why didn't God stop the tsumani from happening, or at the very least offer some warning so that people, his children, could at least make a choice to stay or seek higher ground. This is a question I honestly can't answer, nobody can. God seems to permit natural evils such as hurricanes, tornadoes, cancer, tsunamis, and so forth for reasons we don't understand. But what we do know is that God's wisdom is far greater then ours, and we know God loves us and would never deliberately harm innocent people.

Yet, there are still questions we seek answers for like, why was there no warning of the tsunami, at least people would then have a chance to escape. Or was there warning? You see there were very few animals killed by the tsunami. They all left the area when they received the warning to flee.

It's said that when the birds see fish doing strange things in the water they leave the area, which in turn serves as a warning for other animals to also leave the immediate area. The elephants felt the vibrations of the earth and left, and as other animals saw them leave they too left. It seems the "critters" of the world have an instinctive warning system they use to communicate to one another.

Well then, why don't humans? After all we are smarter and more intelligent then the animals, we can reason, and are the pinnacle of God's creation. So I wonder if the warning was there, but because we have lost touch with creation, becoming self-absorbed, we no longer can sense, hear, or see the warnings that are provided through creation.

It absolutley amazes me that some vacationer's to the places the tsunami hit retruned to their vacation spots the next day to continue their vacations. They weren't offering to help rescue or care for people, they were more interested in getting their vacation in. This to me is a classic case of self-absorption.

There are also the people taking advantage of the disaster by looting hotels and homes, and kidnapping children to use them as slaves and for sexual exploitation. Muslim extremists have also entered the picture now in "interesting" ways.

I also wonder how many tsunami's, or other natural disasters God has prevented over the course of human history that we aren't even aware of. After all, since we aren't aware of them we don't tend to talk about them. If God were not in the picture at all if God had divorced himself from creation I really wonder how many of us would be here today.

Now some folks will argue that God must not exist or if God does exist, God either doesn't care, or God, after creating the world, stepped aside to let things just happen without His influence.

Well both of these statements are false according to the Bible. God does exist, is the creator of all things, and is very much active in creation and in our daily lives.

It's important we understand that God does not desire for us to suffer. God knows what it feels like first hand to suffer, what losing a loved one is like. After all God endured the painful torture, suffering, and death of his son Jesus. God grieves when we grieve, and God weeps when we weep.

But to truly understand why God allows suffering, we need to go before the cross of Christ. It's here that we begin to understand why a God of love and mercy would allow suffering in its many forms.

First, we see that human beings abused their God-given freedom when they chose to nail Jesus to the cross. And yet God used that very abuse, enabling Jesus on the cross to pay the price for that sin, and for all sin through all time.

Second, we see God working through suffering. Those who nailed Jesus to the cross intended it for evil, but God intended it for good. The cross is ultimately a victory because it holds the key to salvation.

Third, we see that God more than compensates for suffering. Jesus, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross, (Hebrews 12:2) saw ahead to his resurrection, and as a result, he saw ahead to our resurrection and eternity with him.

Fourth, and most important of all, we see that God himself is not removed from suffering. He participated in the suffering of the cross and he suffers for us and with us now.

Psalm 69 says, "I have come into the deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me…Yet God's steadfast love is good." - Psalm 69:2b, 16

Since we can't answer the question why the tsunami at this place and at this time, and we can't change the past, the issue becomes what do we do now? Well we need to be in the present and we need to move forward with God.

Now I'm not suggesting we forget what happened or diminish this tragedy at all, I'm suggesting we need to focus on what God wants us to do to help in the wake of all that has happened. We ought to ask the question, "OK, God now what do you want me to do to bring good to a bad situation?"

Lets take a look at some of the good already taking place. Consider the overwhelming response by the global community to provide rescue, recovery, medical, and rebuilding help. And the many more who are providing money so the appropriate aid can be provided.

Consider the many life saving miracles we're now just hearing about. People being found floating on matresses and clinging onto trees. We've heard of mothers having to decide which child to help and which child to let go while battling strong currents.

Can you imagine being in the position of having to make a decision like that. And then to hear the miraculous stories of how the child the mother had to let go, was saved from the rushing currents of the water. Some have described this as the hand of God snatching the child from death.

So even in the midst of such a tragic event, God is still present. God uses events like the tsunami as a way to bring the world together, putting aside political differences, faith differences, all differences, in an effort to get humanity to help one another.

When you stop and think about it, it's awesome that God has pulled together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddists to help one another, in spite of the few Muslim extremists that are trying to undermine the relief effort.

Also, as we respond to this tragedy we are representing Christ to those who live in the 11 nations affected by the tsunami. God has entrusted us with his work. We are serving as the light of Christ, demonstrating to this largely Muslim part of the world that Christians are not evil. Christians genuinely care for all humankind regardless of belief or faith. And that Christian's are God's hands and feet in this world. Jesus reached out to all people, just as we, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, are reaching out to the world.

The Rev. Paul Benjamin, pastor of Emory UMC in Street, Md. after watching a catastrophe unfold in Southeast Asia stopped asking why. Almost immediately, Benjamin, who once pastored 18 churches in his native Sri Lanka, began asking, "What can I do about it?"

Benjamin reports that communications were difficult in the devastated area where he used to serve, but he has persevered. He has since learned that in one town where he had ministered, 95 percent of the population had been killed and the town was gone -- destroyed, he said.

Benjamin takes heart in the survival of his sister and in the ministry of his niece, who is doing remarkable relief work in Sri Lanka for the Methodist Church where she is a pastor.

As people who know of Benjamin's ties to Sri Lanka ask how they can help, he proudly tells them about the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and the United Methodist connectional system.

To date, friends of his daughter and others in the community have sent over $3,000 to Emory UMC to assist in relief efforts. Benjamin plans to hand-deliver it when he goes to Sri Lanka later this month to assist in relief efforts. And this is just one example of how people, specifically United Methodists have ties to the areas devastated by the tsunami and how they are responding.

And I promise you long after the big name organizations leave this area of the world the United Methodist Church will remain, providing ongoing support to those whose lives have been so disrupted.

I believe God is at work, and through this destruction I believe God is giving us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, not the devastation or loss of life, but people working together for the common good, people helping people, brother and sister helping brother and sister.

Loss of life, loss of livelihood, loss of home, loss of country in some cases, is always tradgic, and not new to humainty. But as we heard read in First Peter as Christians we are to "rejoice that we participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that we may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed…if you suffer as a Christian…praise God that you bear that name."

You see loss of everything in this world is only a temproary situation. We have Jesus, we have hope, we have a future, and we know we are part of a greater kingdom that is perfect and glorious.

So until the day when faith becomes sight, and the trumpet sounds, let us provide an outpouring of prayers and gifts to share God's love with our sisters and brothers, so that healing will occur and communities can be rebuilt.

Now is the time for our congregation and all United Methodists to show care and compassion to our sisters and brothers half-way around the world, to put into action what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, and to demonstrate that the world is our parish.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade