Sunday, 24 January 2010

God and the Haiti Earthquake 2

Events like the Haiti earthquake raise another question - if God can intervene to perform miracles sometimes, why doesn't he do it more often? If he can answer specific prayers, why can't he intervene to stop disasters like this? This is more than an academic question - it can be heartbreaking to pray for something for ages and it doesn't happen, or to to watch someone suffer while you pray desperately for healing that doesn't come, while God seems to happily find parking spaces for other people or answer seemingly trivial prayers. As always on here, only time for a brief answer, but here goes...


One attractive, logically possible option is to conclude that God does not intervene at all. He lets the world roll on its tracks, and refuses to step in. It is the Deist approach that God created but refuses from then on to intervene in the world. Yet a God who refused to intervene at all is a God who looks uncaring on the suffering of the world. This would be a God who refused to answer any of the heartfelt prayers of his people on principle. The Deist God looks on Haiti with a distant and impassive gaze. This is the God of the Greeks, not the Christians.

The opposite view is that God intervenes all the time. This would seem to convey God's love for the world more than the Deist option. Yet does it really? In 'Hey Nostradamus', one of Douglas Coupland's novels, the narrator comments on an enthusiastic Christian group: "They're always asking for miracles, and finding them everywhere. Inasmuch as I am a spiritual man, I do believe in God - I think that he created an order for the world; I believe that, in constantly bombarding Him with requests for miracles, we're also asking that He unravel the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would be a cartoon, not a world." It's a good take on the issue. The order of the world is necessary if we are to feel safe in it. A world with order, that follows certain reasonably predictable paths, where events happen with regularity is a world that can be trusted and relied on. For God to preserve that order means that by definition, miracles, if they happen, must be relatively rare. For us to feel safe in the world requires that miracles don't happen every time we sneeze.

One solution denies the goodness and reliability of God. The other denies the goodness and reliability of creation. Only one option preserves both - the idea that miracles do happen, but rarely. Out of love and compassion for his creation, God does intervene on occasion, to remind us that he is there, he loves us and will one day heal the whole of creation in the same way as he heals bits of it here and now. Yet he cannot and will not destroy the basic order of the cosmos. He will not "unravel the fabric of the world.", yet he also will not leave us without tangible assurances, concrete reminders that he is love and that he is ultimately in control.

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