Responding theologically
to the Tsunami

From Rev Peter Beale

(Published in News First, February 2005 - monthly church newsletter, Warragul Uniting Church) 


What was your reaction when you first heard about, or saw pictures on the news of the tsunami that followed the earthquake near Sumatra?

Like most of you my first reaction to the news was one of shock, particularly at the numbers of people presumed dead or missing. My next reaction was one of compassion, a deep desire for our nation to give deeply in aid and assistance.

I did not respond, as many religious leaders of different faiths around the world have done, as attributing the tsunami to either God, or Satan, or the evils of the west! Some of the assertions are quite incredulous:

A Palestinian Sheik claimed in a sermon that the cause was “the oppression and corruption caused by America and the Jews”.

A Saudi cleric declared, “The problem is that the [Christian] holidays are accompanied by forbidden things…” Allah then took vengeance on Christian and Muslim alike.

Indonesian Imams are blaming their own people for not obeying the Koran.

The president of God's Kingdom Society (GKS) in Lagos, described it as an act of the devil to further impoverish mankind.

A leader of an anti-homosexual group connected to a church in Kansas thanked God for the tsunami and hoped that 20,000 holidaying Swedes would have perished (because of Sweden’s openness to homosexuality).

Closer to home was the reaction by the Anglican Dean of Sydney who suggested the tsunami could be God’s warning that judgement was coming.

But neither God nor Satan nor the sins of Muslims, Christians, homosexuals or the West were the cause of the tsunami.

The tsunami was a result of the seas obeying the laws of physics following the movement of the tectonic plates that have been moving and reshaping the earth’s geography for 4 billion years.

Asking myself “Where was God in the tsunami?”, I find I cannot accept that an angry God took vengeance on the world, or that a benevolent loving God was able to respond and intervene, but chose not to.

Neither can I accept that God only intervenes into human affairs when petitioned to do so in prayer. It is absurd to claim that the many miraculous escapes by some of the survivors were God’s intervening directly because of their (or someone else’s) prayers.

Over 230,000 died. How many of these were faithful believers praying for rescue as they took their last breath, and it did not come? How many of those that lived were people with no faith who found themselves miraculously alive?

The events on December 26th make it clear that God is not some kind of “cosmic puppeteer”, pulling the strings of the world, and either causing pain and suffering on the one hand, or comfort and protection on the other.

Where then was God?

God was and is:

In the wave and on the beach.

Among the dead and survivors alike.

Giving courage to those that would flee, to stay and help.

Stirring compassion in those that could give aid, to give generously.

Working through aid agencies and relief efforts

Showing that many of the theological distinctions between religious faiths are man-made idols.

Breaking down cultural and geographical barriers...

The tsunami (as with Bali, 9/11, the holocaust and so many other human tragedies) has not proven that God does not exist. On the contrary, it has drawn the entire human family closer together; and it has become an awesome call to Christians, and people of other faiths, to become God bearers in the world, finding God not “up there”, but in close, in each other, and in all of God’s creation.