The December 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean triggered a tidal wave of commentaries on the relationship of God to disasters. Most of them redrew in cartoonish strokes Voltaire's famous response to the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of All Saints' Day, 1755, which claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. That natural disaster destroyed the famous philosopher's optimistic faith in a benevolent though generic Providence. With at least 140,000 souls lost to the 2004 tsunami, it is not surprising to find secularists repeating old challenges to belief in God.
But it is disconcerting to find Christian leaders offering something less than a fully Christian response to the disaster. One case in point: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In a commentary for The Telegraph, he wrote dismissively of "vacuous words pouring out about the nature of God's power or control, or about the consolations of belief in an afterlife or whatever." He then asserted that "every single random, accidental death should upset a faith bound up with comfort and ready answers."
Whenever the archbishop mentioned traditional Christian teaching on natural evil, he acknowledged only its defective forms. Otherwise, he devoted himself to desultory comments on the value of human life and the persistence of religious faith in the face of disaster.
Williams wasn't alone. In The Wall Street Journal, Orthodox theologian David Hart described talk of God's inscrutable counsels as "odious" and the suggestion that such disasters serve God's good ends as "blasphemous."
When people take any traditional Christian line of comment by itself, they can paint a devilish picture of God. But each traditional line of thought has some basis in revelation and gives us an important piece ...1
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