For the last 2 days the news has been full of pictures from Haiti and the aftermath of the devastating earthquake there. In the face of such destruction and suffering and death many questions arise. For those of us who take seriously the God who is Love one of those questions is, naturally, Where is God?
Where is God when the world turns upside down, when innocent people have their lives torn apart? Why do bad, even evil, things happen of God is in charge? How can we continue to proclaim God's goodness and mercy in the face of the reality of the world.
I can't answer that question. I certainly can't answer it in the 500 words of this column. Better minds than mine have spent careers trying to wrestle with the problem of evil and the WHY question. And they too rarely come up with answers that really satisfy. For one author I read last year the question of evil caused him to give up on faith. Bart Ehrman struggled with the varied Scriptural explanations of evil events (punishment for sin, testing, “a mystery” to name some) and found them all lacking. For more you could check out his book God's Problem.
I agree with Ehrman. Scripture does not give us a good answer to the “why do bad things happen to good people” question. (Perhaps more vexing to some of us is actually the “why do good things happen to bad people” question but that is another column.) Certainly it seems unfair, even unjust. But there is another way to look at it.
The How, Why, and Where questions around evil are all based on an assumption. They are all based on the assumption of a God who is all-powerful. Indeed this is the God portrayed in Scripture (which, in my opinion, is why Scripture can't answer these questions satisfactorily). But Scripture also tells us that God is Love. To my mind these two pictures can not co-exist in the face of the news from Haiti I watched at lunchtime. No all-powerful God who is also Love would allow or cause such suffering.
And so I have come to doubt that God is all-powerful. In fact I have come to believe that I can not believe God is all-powerful. And this was freeing for me. This was the moment I came to believe that God is still relevant. Also, this belief changes the title question of this column. Where is God?
If God is not responsible for the disaster then where is God in the face of the disaster? The late Fred Rogers, who was a Presbyterian minister, used to have an answer. “Look for the helpers”. When disaster strikes look for the people who are helping. That is where God is. That is how God is acting.
Disaster has struck our brothers and sisters in Haiti. God has started to respond. God calls us to respond. Gifts to support the people of Haiti can be sent through the United Church (and a variety of other agencies).