27 April 2012
God In the tsunami?
Theologian and Alliance executive director: churches in mission, Krish Kandiah, answers the question: “If God does whatever He pleases, did it please Him to ordain the Japanese earthquake and tsunami?”
On Saturday, 12 March 2011, we woke up to the terrible images of 40-metre walls of water sweeping over the east coast of Japan and destroying everything in their wake. It was preceded by an undersea megathrust earthquake of magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, and was followed by explosions and meltdowns at nuclear power plants. Some 15,848 people died that day; 3,305 are still missing and 341,411 are still in emergency shelters.
How can we as Christians reconcile these terrible statistics with our belief that God is sovereign over the universe? Does everything that takes place, including tsunamis, occur with His blessing and for His pleasure?
For me, the way into this is the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ model prayer for his disciples has been prayed unceasingly through the generations of Christian believers in all sorts of circumstances. It is not some obscure text but words of our Lord and Saviour and a prayer that has united Christians across the traditions, tribes and theological categories.
Confessing God as our Father and calling for His name to be honoured is paralleled by a similar couplet asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Within this simple prayer some profound ideas are implied.
1. In God’s coming kingdom God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The logic, flow and literary structure of the Lord’s prayer encourages us to see that when we pray for God’s kingly reign to come we are praying for the fullness of God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. In other words we are to pray for perfect love and perfect peace and an end to sin and its consequences.
2. God’s will is currently not being done on earth as it is in heaven.
By asking us to pray this, Jesus is stating that the world, although profoundly beautiful as God’s creation, is also profoundly broken because of humankind’s rebellion against God. The parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 explains why God allows evil and suffering to persist. Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a farmer’s field which has been infested by weeds. Rather than pull up the weeds immediately the farmer elects to wait until harvest time. Does the farmer take pleasure in the existence of the enemy’s weeds in his field? No but he chooses to allow them to remain. There is no question of whether God has the ability to end evil and suffering but it is His will and purpose that allows it to continue. A passage in 2 Peter 3:8-10 explains that God is providing every opportunity for sinful humanity to turn to Him and be saved. The existence of evil and suffering in the world is not proof of the indifference of God but of His compassion, as there will be no more opportunities for repentance after the day that God chooses to end all suffering once and for all.
3. God will one day fully answer this prayer He has given His people.
There is an overwhelming conviction and certainty that God’s kingdom will come on earth. Jesus calls us to pray not empty words of wishful thinking, but a prayer that will ultimately be answered by His Father. The book of Revelation uses powerful apocalyptic language to assure a suffering church that God’s kingdom is coming. The vision in Revelation 21 shows us what it will look like when the kingdom of heaven finally and fully comes to earth, as in heaven: there will be no more suffering, sickness or death.
We live in the in-between days. From the time of Jesus we see the kingdom of heaven breaking in through his healing ministry, his life of self-sacrifice, his challenging of inequalities between rich and poor and in his preaching a taste of the kingdom to come. He witnessed and experienced suffering first-hand and called the Church to be the firstfruits of the coming kingdom. This means that sometimes we will see situations where God intervenes and His kingdom is revealed, and sometimes we will witness the horror of our broken planet.
In these times we are motivated to renew our passion as we pray the Lord’s Prayer urgently. We are also motivated to be the answer to our own prayers as we demonstrate God’s Kingdom in our life together and as we function as salt and light in our towns, in our nation and in our world. Good Question
Krish Kandiah is the Alliance’s executive director: churches in mission.