Where was God in the Earthquake?
by Craig Uffman
As my heart and mind struggle to make sense of the suffering we see now and know to anticipate in the coming weeks and months, I can't help but think of my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ and, especially, our children. What are we to say to one another? What are we to say to our children whom we have pledged to teach to walk in the ways of the Lord? For, at such times, from the very depths of caring souls rises a groan, too deep for words, and, eventually, a haunting question: where was God in the earthquake?
There are those who speak at such times of the omnipotence of God. Some will see this and all such natural disasters as evidence against the God in whom we trust. They will portray the earthquake as 'Exhibit A' in their case against our claims of a good and loving God.
Others will feel it necessary to defend the righteousness of God. Well-meaning Christians will rise to declare this disaster to be God's majestic will, a will wholly impenetrable to us, and they will cite our story of Job to warn us against efforts to comprehend it. And, sadly, other Christians also will rise to declare this disaster to be God's will, but, forgetting Job and distorting our story tragically, they will tell us precisely which group among us brought about the earthquake as punishment for their unforgivable sins.
Each of these do us a service, for they force us to give an account of our faith in God and to remember carefully the truths about God we actually claim. For the same question that moves these groups haunts us, too, as we see the tears of anguished, hungry, and orphaned girls and boys reaching their hands out to us: where was God in the earthquake?
Theologian David Bentley Hart offers the best answer I know in his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? He wrote it upon reflecting on the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004. Hart reminds us that "we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God."
As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ in response to this tragedy, let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross. This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith. As Hart says so well, "Ours is, after all, a religion of salvation. Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptiness and waste of death, the forces - whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance - that shatter living souls; and so we are permitted to hate these things with perfect hatred."
Where, then, is God in the earthquake? Hart puts it well: "As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God but the face of his enemy.... for [ours] is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead....rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, [God] will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes - and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"
My name is Craig Uffman. Prior to completing a Ph.D in theology at Durham University, I received my M.Div at the Duke Divinity School, Duke University, in Durham, NC. Many years before that, I studied economics at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. I served as a nuclear submarine officer, and ultimately became president of a high technology company in Baton Rouge, LA. Along the way, I authored a book on small business lending in the credit union industry. While discerning a call to ordained ministry, I served in a variety of lay leadership positions and taught adult Sunday School for over twenty years.
I became the tenth rector of St Thomas’ Episcopal Church of Rochester, NY in September of 2010. I train for triathlon and marathon in my spare time.
The fact that I serve on the Fulcrum leadership team offers an important clue to my theological priorities. Relative to some colleagues in the Episcopal Church, I have a much greater interest in “Reformed” as an important adjective that qualifies my Anglican catholicism. That fits naturally with my academic interests which are principally in the field of ecclesial ethics. My scholarship focuses on the ethics of Richard Hooker, holding him in conversation with contemporary voices such as Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas, and Sam Wells. I have a strong interest in the role of the Church within society, the way the Church orders itself to fulfill its mission, and the way Christians participate in the self-ordering and interrelating of our communities and nations. Some colleagues have called me ‘radically ecumenical,’ which is a description to which I aspire.
I hope you find my posts interesting, sometimes challenging, and always edifying and communicating God’s love. Please share what you find edifying so that those in need may be blessed.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @craiguffman | LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/craiguffman