The enormity of the disaster in and around the Indian Ocean overwhelms the mind: over 135 thousand dead at last count (a number that is sure to rise), five million facing terrible diseases and other challenges, and economies of nations wrecked.
For some, the enormity of such death and suffering also overwhelms their faith or reaffirms their disdain for faith. How could a loving God let this happen?
It doesn’t help that natural disasters are sometimes referred to by insurance companies and others as “Acts of God.”
How could a loving God let this happen?
We don’t really know. We are not God. We may be able to know and understand some things about God, especially through his gifts of grace and faith, but ultimately eternity, infinity, omnipotence, and omniscience cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind (and it is childish arrogance to think that that which cannot be fully understood cannot exist).
The simple fact is that there are things in this world (and beyond) that cannot be fully understood. Indeed, the term “Acts of God” specifically acknowledges that things happen in life that are beyond the power or foresight of man.
With all due respect to insurance companies, the believer generally refrains from assuming that any such event is literally an Act of God (i.e., directly willed by God), while acknowledging that all things – good and bad – are somehow encompassed by the “permissive
will” of God: God did not do it, but God let it happen.
But how could a loving God let this happen? Again, we really don’t know, but our faith tells some things.
Our faith tells us that even this long road of death and suffering somehow leads ultimately to a loving God and to goodness prepared for all of us that is incomprehensibly greater than all the evil in this world.
If human happiness were limited to this life only, death and suffering would be truly hard to endure.
If our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only,
we are the most pitiable of men.
But as it is, Christ has risen from the dead,
the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:19-20
Sadly, even those of us who profess to be Christians many times think and act as if this world in which we live is the totality of existence. Disasters remind us that life in this world is fragile and fleeting: a corridor through which we pass, a relatively short time in which by grace we prepare for eternity through faith in God and care for one another.
The very next verse of 1 Corinthians 15 that follows the passage above is also relevant
For since by a man came death,
by a man also comes resurrection of the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:21
This is reinforced by a passage from the book of Wisdom
For God made not death:
neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living.
For he created all things that they might have their being:
and the generations of the world were healthful;
and there is no poison of destruction in them,
nor the kingdom of death upon the earth
(for righteousness is immortal).
But ungodly men with their works and words
called it to them:
These verses remind us that death and suffering were not
God’s intent for the world. By sin, humanity itself stepped outside the protective cocoon that God created for us in the original paradise and became vulnerable to “the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to.” God let that happen so that humanity might be redeemed by Christ and so attain an infinitely more wonderful paradise in heaven.
We pray for the souls of this disaster’s many, many dead and dying victims, that Christ may take them to himself in his infinitely mysterious mercy, those who did not really know him during their days on earth through no real fault of their own and those who fully embraced the faith of Christ (including those hundreds of pilgrims to a Marian shrine in India who were washed away).
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
We must also pray and work for those still alive and suffering in the wake of this disaster (the website for Catholic Relief Services appears to be online again).
Disasters should shake us out of the sometimes self-centered habits of our minds and lives and remind us what life is supposed to be about: about faith in a God whose love extends beyond our comprehension and about living that love as best we can in our care for one another.