The death toll in Japan continues its climb, inching past 12,000 with 15,000 still missing. Like all natural disasters, the earthquake and tsunami indiscriminately snuffed out human life, killing elderly and children, male and female, wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated.
The number of casualties pales in comparison to last year’s earthquake in Haiti (222,000) or the 2004 Indonesian earthquake/tsunami (230,000) or the 2008 Myanmar cyclone (146,000). In only a few horrifying minutes, hundreds of thousands of humans stopped breathing and abruptly exited the stage of life.
Natural disasters appear to operate outside any system of justice. Serious questions scream for answers after watching innocent victims unfairly selected by an impersonal executioner for punishment. In the aftermath of these tragedies, God is inevitably dragged before a grand jury and indicted on charges of being unjust, unloving, capricious and cruel, if such a God who rules over the creation can even be found to exist.
If such a God does exist, is he really subject to human judgment? How can we criticize or condemn a God who created us and exemplifies the perfect standard of every virtue revered by humanity? To do so requires that we hold God to our standard of virtue rather than being held to his standards. In reality, we make ourselves god over God.
We can judge him, only if we make God into a god. To be God means to be greater than all others, a Supreme Deity, the Sovereign Judge. No one can be his equal. He cannot be like any other being or he then becomes a god. Such a god may be greater than humans in certain areas, but becomes our equal or inferior to us in other areas. We can question his virtue because we believe human understanding of virtue establishes the benchmark.
Believing God exists creates a problem, because he is not available to our physical senses. We cannot observe his activity. We cannot call him in for questioning. Is God directly responsible for natural disasters? Or does some other invisible force or power exist that
can unleash its cruelty on humans at will? If God does not have authority over this hostile force, what does that mean for the future of humanity?
This raises the question of knowing. How do we know anything about a reality that we cannot access through the physical senses? Knowledge of God, or god for that matter, depends upon the deity communicating himself to humans in a way that we can know him. We depend entirely upon his self-revelation. Of course, if he does not meet the requirement of integrity, we cannot rely on him to honestly reveal himself.
The God of the Bible claims to have given a revelation of himself to his creatures. He claims to be a God of love and justice, not compromising one for the other. He claims responsibility for many events in history that seem harsh or even cruel to human sensibilities, but he declares that they violate neither his love nor his justice. He does not try to alter the record of these events to comply with human political correctness. Instead, he demands that humans search the revelation diligently to know who He is.
The ancient revelation gives some explanation to these disasters. God created man. In fact, he made the human creature in his own image, so that humans have the capacity to act with many of the virtues God possesses. The image-bearing creatures rebelled against God. Another invisible being appeared to one of the first humans and convinced her that she could obtain a status equal to her creator. It required that she disobey God. The first humans chose the path of treason, believing that disobedience to God would make them god.
Justice demanded punishment. Love softened that punishment. On that day, death entered the creation. Death is the just punishment for rebellion against a holy God. God postponed death for his image-bearers in order to allow for redemption. God has a plan to rescue his beloved creatures without compromising his justice.
The punishment included the opposition of the creation to humanity’s existence in it. God placed the entire creation under a curse. Humans must subdue the creation to make it receptive to their existence. Nature does not cooperate willingly with human efforts of control. Natural disasters are one of many ways creation demonstrates this opposition.
In the final analysis, humans do not deserve to be alive at all. Our acts of rebellion against a holy God abound. We disregard his law with impunity. We dishonor him and his authority with audacity. We discard his self-revelation with stupidity. When anything goes wrong, we foolishly accuse him of evil. Blinded by our pride, we attempt to be god by reducing God to god.
I don’t pretend to fully understand the horrific tragedies in Japan or Haiti, but I believe that God acts within the parameters of his virtues, including love and justice. I plead creaturehood, meaning I do not have the ability or authority to question God. Job tried it and God quickly put him in his place. We need to remember that place and pursue the knowledge of God through the revelation he has given of himself to his image-bearing creatures.