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15 November 2013

Typhoon Haiyan: what’s God got to do with it?

I'm sitting in the pub – the best place for mission, our local priest always used to say. Sky News is on, so the chat is all about Haiyan. They ask me what I'm typing about, and I tell them.

Oh dear.

"You're a Christian? Why is God murdering all those innocent people?"

So here is my response for you, in case that couple who've been Blackberrying their way through church to get their kids into the school try that one on you at lunch this weekend.

My nephew was christened just days after the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.

His grandfather, the legendary Canon John Sweet, had travelled to Scotland to baptise him, and was left with the unenviable task of preaching about the tragedy. Why, why, why?

I'll never forget what he said. He refused to answer the question. He just thundered out God's response to Job: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!"

I love that God is so sarky when He finally rises to the bait. Of course it is sinful arrogance that we feel we have a right to understand God, and arrogant to think we are best placed to explain God's actions to others. Maybe we are, sometimes.

But, as Fred Rogers famously said: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping."

And isn't that the only thing we can do in the face of something so impossible to understand? Rather than wasting valuable time finding answers, shouldn't we be the helpers, so at least people can say: 'I don't know what God is up to, but look how these Christians love one another!'

Remember 1 Peter 3:15? "Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is in you." For me, part of that hope is helping unbelievers realise God's image in themselves. So these kinds of challenges are actually a gift, and an opportunity for us to turn them gently away from theodicy towards charity.

Of course I don't want to duck the issue. Of course it bothers me too. Of course we should cry to God and shout aloud in all our confusion and pain.

But then we should get over ourselves, and unite behind the relief effort so the avoidable deaths that may result from this will not be our fault.

So the real scandal about Haiyan isn't what God may or many not be up to, it's what we are doing in response.

I'm hoping by the time you read this the numbers will have improved, but at the moment aid pledged stands at US: $20 million; Australia: $10 million; UK: $10 million; HSBC: $1 million; China $100,000.

Did you get that? HSBC – one of those horrid banks – is giving 10 times what China, the world's emerging superpower, is giving, to help the 9.8 million people affected.

So next time someone around you starts on the banks again, ask them what their organisation has been doing to help.

Meanwhile, share with others ways they can help victims of Haiyan.

Eve Poole is Associate Faculty at Ashridge Business School, and has a PhD in capitalism and theology.

Alliancemember organisations are among those with appeals for the victims. Read more about giving to them here.