Weekly Blog - Roger Quick:…Famine, Plague, And War, And Epidemic Woes
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…famine, plague, and war,
And epidemic woes
His swift approach declare
So wrote Charles Wesley after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, in which at least 40,000 died. Natural disaster is one of the hardest things to contemplate for those of us who want to believe in a loving God. Some take refuge in the notion of the punishing wrath of the Almighty; Wesley sees disaster as a hopeful presage of the second coming; but Jesus himself tells us that no one knows when that will take place. (Matt.24:36 The Day and Hour Unknown - “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.)
He answers the question another way in Luke 13; “those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!” This went markedly against the religious thought at the time, which held that both natural disaster and bodily defects were a punishment for evil (who sinned that this man was born blind - him or his parents?)
There are those who would want to see the recent Haitian earthquake as God’s judgment, just as some did after the even more severe earthquake there in 2010, claiming that Haiti was being punished. But the principle doesn’t hold good; Cambodia has fewer Christians, and fewer earthquakes.
Condemning someone else as a sinner is often a means of bolstering a fragile conviction that we are virtuous. But it doesn’t work like that, and we know it.
All this is what theologians call Theodicy. A basic introduction can be found here https://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/theodicy_brief_overview.htm
It is the central theme of the book of Job, which ends with God referring Job’s questions to the creation of all things. “Where were you?” That is our answer also; we can find nothing finally meaningful outwith the context of eternity. But we can hold fast to our belief that God suffers with us, and with all of creation, in the person of Jesus. And in Him all things are made new.
By Roger Quick
Chaplain St Georges Crypt
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