United Brethren has retired.

Where is God?

An article on the BBC news web site gives the opinion of people from different faiths regarding the recent tsunamis in Asia, and their devastating effects.

It asks a question I cannot even begin to answer - is it an act of God? If it is, how can I believe in such a merciless, cruel God? If not, why didn't He do something to stop it or lessen its effects? If anyone can help me understand the theological implications of this I'd be grateful.

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Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 9:17 AM) 

Start with David Paulsen's "Joseph Smith and the problem of evil: http://speeches.byu.edu/htmlfiles/PaulsenF99.html

Then look at "Suffering in the world" in the EoM: http://ldsfaq.byu.edu/emmain.asp?number=184

I commend the Archbishop of Canterbury's honesty and candor. After all, where is God? But if the leader of the Anglican communion has no better answers than the average Joe, what exactly is the point of the Church of England? 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 9:25 AM) 

Having just read the BBC site, the Archbishop's comments are actually the most reasoned. It's difficult to argue with the atheist though. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 11:52 AM) 

Ronan and Becky: I actually think that John S. Welch, Allison's brother, improves on Paulsen's argument in practical terms in his 2003 BYU Studies article. The citation is John Sutton Welch, "Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity among the Problems of Evil." Byu Studies, vol. 42 no. 2 p. 75 (2003). This article closely examines your precise question, Becky, and give me, personally, some very satisfactory insight into these difficulties. Of course, Ronan's other sources are great as well, but I would be very interested in your thoughts after reading John's essay. 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 12:07 PM) 

I will try and read all these articles today, and post my thoughts tomorrow 

Posted by Rebecca


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 2:03 PM) 

I'd also recommend Eugene England's The Weeping God of Mormonism -- although I would guess that hard core philosophers would have quibbles with it. 

Posted by William Morris


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 3:49 PM) 

Paul Chitness said, regarding the tsunami: In this litigious age we are always looking for someone to blame and in the absence of anyone else we look to blame God because it is a "natural" event. It's quite clear the world is riddled with inequality but I don't accept the idea that God is sitting up there mischievously tweaking the strings.If we don't accept this idea (God sitting up there mischieviously tweaking the strings), what, then, is or was God doing? Does God have control (complete? some?) over "natural" events such as the weather or earthquakes? Can he make it rain in response to those farmers who pray to him for rain during a severe drought? Can he destroy cities via an earthquake or divert a tornado from hitting a house? Are his powers limited? What considerations inform his actions? 

Posted by Justin


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 4:01 PM) 

Your questions have caused me to think even deeper. We all accept that God may or may not act in what humanity considers its own interest. If a child is sick, we pray for him, or give him a blessing, but we accept that God may or may not heal. So what's the point in even praying to God to bless us?

God is actually quite lucky. If a miracle is performed we praise God; if a disaster occurs we (that is believers) explain it away. England's essay (one of our greatest small-p prophets) suggests to me that God cannot always act. That's a frightening but (surprisingly) quite satisfactory suggestion. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 4:31 PM) 

This issue causes me to reflect on scriptural stories involving natural phenomena. The massive destruction of Book of Mormon cities at Christ's death, the flood, Moses parting the sea, Jesus calming the tempest.

Church history stories: Lorenzo Snow's promise to the St. George members that if they paid their tithing, the "windows of heaven would be opened," also the storm that supposedly prevented the mob from attacking Zion's Camp in June 1834.

BTW, Ronan, I came across your name in a 1995 New Era article. Were you the author?  

Posted by Justin


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 5:03 PM) 

Yes, Justin, that's me in the New Era. Well, kind of. I gave a talk at Stake Conference and Hugh Pinnock snatched it from me and had it published. What's funny to me is the accompanying artwork - typical American boys room complete with posters of NFL football stars etc. For this English boy from Worcestershire the artwork couldn't have been further from reality! 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 5:23 PM) 

Justin, what is your view of John Welch's theory in the BYU Studies article I cited above? 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 7:07 PM) 

Tricky "Problem of Evil" scenario here. The BoM and The Flood examples sidestep the problem by classifying all the destroyed people as evil and therefore as deserving the suffering and destruction visited on them by God via natural disasters. Contemporary disasters are not so easily disposed of because we are (hopefully) reluctant to label all those who perished in the recent tsunami (for example) as deserving of destruction, especially the children.

The fallback position of "rational religion" -- that God works only through natural laws and that some suffering of innocents is simply an unavoidable part of the natural world -- is not attractive to most Christians today because it denies "special providence" or God's direct intervention in history on behalf of believers. 

Posted by Dave


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 03, 2005 9:51 PM) 

John F, is there a link or an online version of the BYU Studies article you cited? 

Posted by Dave


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 8:58 AM) 

Can't access John's article - any suggestions as to where I can view it??
Other articles all make valid points, but I just can't seem to reconcile any of them right now. I'm probably just pregnant and hormonal and as a result super sensitive to disasters (and crying at Extreme Makeover Home Edition!), and aren't really satisfied by answers right now. Check back with me in a couple weeks when I've had the baby and maybe I feel differently. 

Posted by Rebecca


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 11:37 AM) 

I checked it out and it looks like BYU Studies only puts the articles online after a couple of years.  

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 2:58 PM) 

It was not an act of God. It was the result of a massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Nothing more.

I actually made a comment similar to this on my blog regarding 2004's Carribean hurricanes

Posted by Kim Siever


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 3:06 PM) 

It's intriguing, but I have questions.

Welch argues that the scriptures describe the future subduing of God's enemies and asks whether those enemies could include voluntary evil and involuntary random events and chaos, which operate independently of God's will.

During the sixth day of creation, he says, evil and chaos still exist and we are exposed to them and their random operations. We can expect chaos and random events to strike the rich and the poor, the wicked and the righteous at any time, to our growth or corruption.

By living on earth, we are exposed to the consequences and events which happen to occur through free will and random conditions (e.g., a child is injured when his father allows him to play with illegal fireworks and a firework happens to blow up his face).

Day seven of God's creation will come in the millennial or celestial age, when judgment will be made and God will subdue his enemies. During this time God invites us to live his gospel and become perfected in the future.

Welch questions whether God actually selects five people each day who most deserve to be involved in automobile accidents or whether these accidents are controlled by free will (bad driving) and random conditions (road hazards). He asks whether a child who is severely burned in a barbeque accident was meant to be a victim (by God?) or whether he was the unfortunate victim of some poor decisions (pouring gas on the briquettes and adults letting the child light the briquettes) and random events (the match sparks a massive explosion).

Isn't this a pretty bleak world and an impersonal God? Does God intervene in our world? Why does God wait to file off the imperfections of mortality until later? Why cannot he do so now? So we accept the tsunami as a natural disaster which God had nothing to do with. Can he act to save people from random events such as tsunamis or drunk drivers who blow through a red light at 75 mph? Does God respond to prayers from families who seek safety during a long car trip or during a huge tornado storm? How so?  

Posted by Justin


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 3:14 PM) 

If it's within his greater purpose to intervene, then I believe he can and does. But in mortality, we are subject to the elements and are shaped by our choices made in the face of chaos and suffering. I don't believe God cares if you drive a pinto or a mercedes. That principle can be expanded, especially if we retain an eternal perspective in which any suffering experienced in mortality will seem but a fleeting moment (and one that we are grateful to have experienced) once on the other side of the veil. 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 3:15 PM) 

We know that God does indeed "file off the imperfections of mortality" here-and-now: Jesus's miracles, the parting of the Red Sea etc. But these seems like short interludes in the greater maelstrom. I like Welch's idea of an unfinished Creation though. 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 04, 2005 5:25 PM) 

This is where Welch's article fails me: if free will and chaos (natural disasters, etc.) extend beyond the present exercise of God's power, as Welch seems to say, then how can God intervene ever in the countless situations involving the confluence of such factors? Aren't his hands tied?

Apparently Jesus was able to calm the tempest before it sank the boat. Why couldn't--or didn't--God calm the tsunami before it hit land?

The lives of those who live in such places as Uganda and Sudan suggests to me that we (meaning, those who live on this earth) are not blessed together with the same sunshine and the same rain, nor do we suffer together the same wind and the same hail (cf. Welch, p.81). 

Posted by Justin


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 05, 2005 11:20 AM) 

The lives of those who live in such places as Uganda and Sudan suggests to me that we (meaning, those who live on this earth) are not blessed together with the same sunshine and the same rain, nor do we suffer together the same wind and the same hail (cf. Welch, p.81).The problems in Uganda and Sudan are a result of the choices of individuals using their free will in favor of corruption or oppression. How do you propose to lay that at the feet of God? Should God deprive the despots of their free agency in order to ease the lives of the suffering commoners there? Or is God content that despite any suffering that they experience right now, it will all be but a fleeting moment when viewed from the perspective of eternity? If it serves God's higher purpose to intervene, I have no doubt that he will do so, but isn't it a tired argument to question God because an evil man has caused deprivation and suffering? 

Posted by john fowles


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 05, 2005 12:42 PM) 

Important points there, JF. Even with the tsunami human culpability comes into play. Would the devastation have been so great had the tsunami hit the Pacific coast of America? Early warning systems and sturdier buildings suggest not. It seems that humanity has the tools to limit the impact of some natural disasters, but because of the great inequalities in this world, these tools are not always put to good use.

Interestingly, the Deseret News has an article about a BYU prof who predicted the tsunami, and who predicts a massive earthquake in Utah too!


Posted by Ronan


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