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Friday, January 07, 2005

God and Man at the Tsunami

I want you to consider two things: a tsunami that takes the lives of 155,000 people and the .45 caliber bullet that creates vortices in the air as it slams into the head of a young man, killing him.

How do these two events differ? From a theological perspective, they both have a similar aspect. What might that be? Well, if God exists in the Judeo-Christian sense, then God created all that exists out of nothing. Further, He holds all that exists in existence from moment to moment. Think on what that means.

How God Interacts With the World

If there is such a One as God, a Being whose existence is not contingent on anyone or anything else, then the existence of everything else must be contingent on Him. Since everything that exists, from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the largest sun, is created either directly or indirectly out of nothing, it only stays in existence because God keeps it and holds it in existence. So, for example, if God were to stop thinking about a particular tree, it would vanish without a trace – nothing left of it at all. The existence of the tree might even vanish from our memories.

Does this happen? Those who accept God’s existence don’t believe so. God created everything good. Since He is Good, Truth, Beauty itself, every good thing – that is, every created thing – is a reflection of Himself. Taking the good out of existence would be an evil act. Thus, once something is made, it continues to exist. One or another particular creature might be reformed, changed, its constituent parts dissassembled and re-assembled elsewhere in a totally different format, but that is all. The basics will always be there.

Why does this matter? Because we think about this more often when a tsunami takes lives than when a bullet takes a life. When I point the gun and fire the bullet at a young man’s head, God is holding the gun in existence for me to use, He holds the bullet in existence as it travels through the air and smashes through the young man’s skull. He could allow it to fall out of existence, but He doesn’t do that.

Similarly, when rocks are displaced deep beneath the ocean, He continues to hold the rocks and the water above them in existence. He does not allow any of it to fall out of existence – He allows each of the elements it to interact with the other elements. Whatever results come from this interaction will normally not be hindered. One hundred and fifty-thousand people die, millions are left homeless.

But Why?

Why does He do this? Because He created the entire material universe for one purpose – to serve mankind. Every human person is made in God’s image and likeness. Since He is a communion of equal persons, we are a communion of equal persons, each person a material, created body. Since He is the creator, we are sub-creators. That is, we are meant to take earth, sky, fire and water and use these to form objects that will reflect both the divine and the communion between the human and the divine.

In order to assure our utmost freedom in these endeavors, all that exists must be held in existence. Freedom is based in theocentric morality. The more one does what is good i.e. conforms himself to the Good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. So, by deviating from the moral law man violates his own freedom, becomes imprisoned within himself, disrupts neighborly fellowship, and rebels against divine truth. That is, he becomes less free, a slave.

God and the Tsunami

When we rebel against divine truth, we ask God to remove Himself from our existence. This is, of course, impossible. God holds every created thing in existence all the time. If He really did remove Himself completely from our existence, we would cease to exist. This would create problems.

We each exist in order to be in communion with others. If He took even one of us out of existence, the rest of us would have less communion than we were created to have – He would be harming the good and cooperating with the evil intent of the man who wanted to disassociate himself from God. Since God is, by
definition, perfectly free, it is not the case that He has the weakness, the lack of power, which would cause Him to become a slave. In short, God is incapable of sin.

Though a man may have evil intent, his existence is a good thing - it is part of God's intended design for the communion of all mankind. He cannot allow the evil man to fall out of existence.

But, God also desires to respect the will of the man who wants no communion with Him. How to solve the dilemma? There is a way out. He can continue to hold the things in existence, but He could withdraw His power from the relationships between those things. That is, the power which coordinates the interactions of things, the power which was meant to help man achieve his purpose of using creation to glorify God, might be at least partially removed.

So, this is what God does. He holds such a man in existence, but withdraws as much as possible from the relationships the man is involved in: the relationship between intellect and will, between soul and body, between man and woman, between mankind and creation. He cannot wholly remove this relational
power, of course, or all would be lost, but He can greatly reduce His presence in each relationship. Once God’s coordinating power is reduced, things stop working well together. Creation stops working well. But that isn't God's fault. We are the ones who invited Him out.

We call this "the fallen world." Because we insisted and continue to insist that we don't need God, we got a world where things don’t work together as well as they should. In short, because we sin, because we ask God to see Himself to the door, we get tsunamis. God respects who we are. He won’t allow His own Will to be broken, but insofar as He can grant us what we desire, He will do it. If we desire Him to be gone, He’ll leave as best He can.

So, just as surely as I am responsible for the death of that young man by firing the bullet that destroyed his skull, so I am responsible for the deaths of those who died in the tsunami. The question is not how God could allow this. It is much closer to home. How could we allow this?

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