Following on from the point above, many would point to the fact that most of the worst disasters on the planet could never be thought of as ‘acts of God’. Wars are fought over many things, sometimes even religion, but we can not blame God for our refusal to live in peace with our brothers and sisters. War is rarely, if ever, ‘just’, and innocents always suffer.
As for famine and starvation, we tend to blame droughts and pestilence, and mass movements of people to escape disasters. But there seems little doubt that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. It is just that we eat most of it in the rich west. Many would point out that the poor are poorer and more vulnerable following on from imperialist history and the capitalist system that perpetuates the inequality in the present day. Starvation and vulnerability to flood and many other so called natural disasters could be seen as economic problems, not natural ones. Men and women were given free will. This is the world that we made. And we blame God.
But there are still many dreadful things that happen to good people, for no apparent reason, except what sometimes seems like some kind of life lottery. Some have, some have not. Some suffer, others prosper. In the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “…all is meaningless…”
The eternal perspective
Many have emphasised the temporal nature of our stay on this earth- the one certainty about being born is that we are all going to die. My faith in God reminds me that whatever this life holds for me, there is more. It also teaches me that I can choose how to live my life- what I do with it, and how I use the talents, great or small, that he gave me. One day I will have to account for how I helped those suffering, sick, hungry and dirty whom God placed in front of me. Jesus said that if you do this for the least of these, then you do it for him.
There is a rich legacy of spiritual songs left behind by black slaves taken to America to work the plantations and mills of the New World. Most seem to focus on the eventual end of suffering brought on by death, and the blessing of the hereafter. Critical voices have been raised against a religion that promises good things in the by and by, whilst tolerating dreadful injustice in this world – even justifying them and giving them the sheen of respectability. This seems to be very like the ‘opium of the people’ that Marx referred to so disparagingly. We should remember, however, that the great anti-slavery reformers like Wilberforce, were also motivated by their faith in God.
‘God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform’, or so says the old hymn. We still hear this quoted, as if to excuse all the bad things that happen in this world.
Could it be, however, that there is a hidden purpose, yet to be revealed? Perhaps there are complex webs of circumstances that might have a final wonderful outcome, and God, like a master strategist, has a great cosmic war game laid out before him, and he will have his Waterloo.
Again, there seems to be some truth in these words. Life has a way of moving on. Difficult circumstances often forge wonderful solutions, and give birth to new and beautiful things.
After a blazing forest fire there comes fresh and clean new growth. Out of war came peace and the United Nations. Out of grief and loss comes a woman giving her life to supporting others in similar circumstances. After brokenness and humility come eternal life.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and our capacity for resilience and adaptation is seemingly endless – particularly in situations of adversity.
We search for meaning, but “My ways are not your ways, and neither are my thoughts your thoughts, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55: 8).