In light of some statements by thoughtless church leaders and religious fanatics I want to suggest to you quite clearly and firmly that the tsunami 2004 is not an act of God punishing the world for its materialism, violence and selfishness. It is not an act of God, sparing many Christians, but judging the Moslem and Hindu and Buddhist world. It is not an act of God issuing judgment on the sex trade in Thailand or the social strife in Sri Lanka or the military regime in Myanmar.
God’s power is not like our desire to move and shake the world. For Christians, God’s almighty power is the power of love. In each situation it seeks to save what is lost, liberate what is in chains, heal what is broken and lift up those who have become tired. God is a burden carrier. And it belongs to the miracles of grace that God gives us the opportunity and privilege to help in the work of solidarity, compassion and restoration.
The tsunami is not an act of God. It is a natural disaster. With all its terrible and catastrophic consequences, it was predictable and it is explainable. It has to do with plate tectonics. Continental plates grinding against each other, producing earthquakes and sometimes tidal waves. It is a disaster that has a history and such disasters will happen again.
The great earthquake of Lisbon on November 1, 1755 has lived on in the minds of Europeans ever since. 30.000 people and a third of the city were destroyed. Some thought that it was the judgment of God upon Roman Catholics. Others proclaimed that it was the judgment of God upon Portugal for being too tolerant to Protestants. “God” should not be used to fulfil human desires.
The country that gave us the name, “tsunami”, experienced one in 1703 that killed 100,000 people around the port of Awa in Japan. The history of humanity is replete with natural catastrophes and such catastrophes have served biblical authors to describe dimensions of divine judgment. But there is absolutely no reason for anyone, least of all Christian leaders, to identify this particular tragedy with an act of God.
Like everything in life, so also the tsunami 2004, calls for our response and interpretation. Here are a few points that from the perspective of Christian faith may be made:
a.. The tsunami has revealed the naiveté and frailty of human nature. In rebuilding the devastated sites all human technology should be taken into consideration as to where to rebuild and settle. It would, to give an example, be stupid and irresponsible to build nuclear power stations on, or near, continental shelves. b.. The tsunami can serve as a warning to listen to nature and respect nature. Nature is not merely our environment, but we, as human beings, are with our being woven into nature. Ecocide is homicide. Not to ratify and implement the Kyoto protocol is the refusal to listen to nature on a political level. c.. The immense aid effort and generosity on all levels from all over the world has revealed the best of the human spirit. We can be proud of the government and of the aid agencies in Australia for responding quickly and generously. May that spirit of generosity be sustained as we face the global struggle against poverty, oppression and injustice. d.. The tsunami response can remind us that human solidarity and compassion for all people is of the essence of human life and of human survival.
And yet my friends, let us not forget, that another kind of “tsunami” happens and will continue to happen every day. Every day! 29,000 children die every day due to malnutrition and avoidable diseases. Our compassion, both on the personal and on the political level needs to be patient and enduring.
As Christians we enter the passion of God for God’s world by showing practical compassion for the victims of this and for other disasters. On that journey of solidarity and compassion we may discover that God is already there welcoming our help.
Rev Dr Thorwald Lorenzen
Canberra Baptist Church, Australia
9 January 2005