The world’s eyes have been fixed on Japan this last week as we’ve witnessed images that seem more like a Hollywood production than actual life. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northern Japan just adjacent to Sendai, and spawned a tsunami that produced catastrophic results. Videos showed sea water surging over dikes and causeways along the coastal cities, as the wave consumed everything in its path. With its colossal power, the wall of water pushed everything from trains to warehouses miles inland as though they were children’s toys on a miniature landscape.
Most disturbing however, was knowing that within the cascading debris of twisted iron and shattered lumber were precious lives crying out desperately for help, pleading for some kind of rescue that would never come. Bodies will be counted for weeks and perhaps months, and the death toll is likely to rise well above 10,000. The old and the young, the stay at home mother and the business commuter were all taken without warning or discrimination.
As with the tsunami that struck Banda Aceh in December of 2004, mega disasters like these always seem to flush out critics eager to use the backdrop of chaos and turmoil to ask “Where was God?” After all, if an omnipotent God in heaven really does exist, and He is good as Christians claim, then where was He when the innocents were grasping for life? Why didn’t he stop the waters and save the victims? Either He is not omnipotent, or He is not good, or more likely, He doesn’t even exist. He must be a figment of our collective pre-modern imaginations, fabricated from necessity when the ontological reassurance of a benevolent Father watching over His creation consoled us. But scientific observation and rationalistic empiricism have finally washed away these silly theistic fairytales of lore. We are our own masters.
Before the waters even recede, countless commentators and philosophy professors across the western world will use Japan’s plight to preach one consistent iconoclastic theme: Niche was right, God is dead. Humanism’s watchdogs see these natural disasters and their ensuing casualties as time tested experiments that prove beyond doubt that no benevolent deity oversees the health and welfare of humanity. As the late Carl Sagan liked to remind us, the natural universe is all there is.
Unfortunately for His tireless and generational critics, God is not on trial; man is. The question “Where is God in the midst of disaster?” suffers from the same flaw in logic as “How fast does the sun move across the sky?” The sun certainly appears to travel with great velocity from one horizon to the opposite in the course of a day, but we know empirically that it’s the illusion produced by our own rotational movement. The sun is fixed in relationship to earth, and it is our planet that rotates around the sun as well as on it’s own longitudinal axis.
And so it is with God’s relationship to man. He is fixed, immutable, and permanent. And it is man who orbits around the preeminence of God. So the real question in the midst of disaster is not “Where is the hand of God?” but “Where is the heart of man?” God has revealed himself unmistakably in creation, conscience, the written word, and the incarnate Word, and yet humanity has perennially thumbed its defiant nose at Him. Man has consistently rejected the revelation of God, though we know empirically that gravity, matter, energy, or DNA could never have produced itself. Man has instead denied God to justify himself and maintain his futile self-autonomy.
It is God who asks, “Where is man?” Sin and rebellion have undeniable consequences. Paul reminds us, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:19). Hosea tells us that because of wickedness “Therefore the land will mourn” (Hosea 4:3). Our rejection of God and His clear commandments for mankind have subjected all of creation to the weight and penalty of sin. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes are the byproduct of a world living in disharmony with its creator. And yet the people of planet earth by and large accept no culpability for the ruination we have initiated. So repeatedly, it must be God’s fault.
And yet God waits as a patient Father for the objects of His love to acknowledge Him, to serve Him, and to obey His commands. If we would seek Him and repent for our stubborn and entrenched rebellion, He would heal us and put away the pain of calamity. Our world would be healed. The massive loss of life that we have recently witnessed in Japan is not a capricious act of God nor a fluke of nature, but the result of a world straining under the burden of determined defiance. These catastrophes are painful episodes to the heart of God, the one who is “not willing that any should perish.”
As Christians, our heart breaks for the people of Japan. Let’s dedicate ourselves to pray for them and assist them, but let’s never casually accept these gratuitous attacks on our holy and omnipotent God. Where was He? Where He’s always been, on the throne with outstretched arms waiting to receive those who will turn from their sin and call on His name. “Natural disasters” as we call them, tell us much more about the heart of man than the hand of God. It’s time for the world to repent and receive the goodness of God.