The Rev. William O. �Bud� Reeves
Feb. 22, 2005
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. William O. “Bud” Reeves*
images from Southeast Asia are horrific: entire towns washed away,
shorelines laid bare, mountains of dead bodies. Can our minds even
conceive a disaster taking 150,000 lives? Only four months ago we were
wondering how to cope with four hurricanes in Florida.
like the earthquake/tsunami and the hurricanes, as well as other
heart-breaking situations, often cause us to question the goodness and
providence of God. It is one of the oldest and still the hardest
question of all: Why does God allow such suffering? Did God send the
tsunami to punish all those people? What could they have done to deserve
questions are at least as old as the Book of Job. When Job suffered
multiple tragedies in his own life, his friends assumed that God was
doing these things to him and that Job had done something sinful to
deserve such treatment. Indeed, many tragedies are clearly the result of
human choices. We can explain cancer, car accidents, war, murder, etc.,
even if it is only to acknowledge human sinfulness.
random natural disasters are another category of tragedy. We can
explain the geology of a tsunami, but we cannot answer the question,
“Why?” Are such disasters truly “acts of God”?
we truly believe that God created the world and set the natural
processes in motion, there is a sense in which earthquakes, hurricanes,
tornadoes and so forth are acts of God. They are aspects of the world he
made. If God does beautiful sunsets, he also does tsunamis. Ultimately,
God the creator is responsible for all that happens.
But should we say that God therefore intentionally makes natural disasters happen that will cause suffering? I don’t think so.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
A man rests amid the wreckage of his home in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
God set the world
in motion, and the natural processes of creation operate with a certain
degree of freedom, just as humans do. Romans 8:18-21 indicates that
creation itself is affected by the sin of the world and is yet to be
completely subjected to the will of God. Until the Kingdom of God comes
in completion, there will be tragedies that make us wonder.
taught that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) The
mind of God is a mystery; there are many things that we humans just
can’t figure out. (See Isaiah 55:8-9 and Romans 11:33-36.)
However, there are positive responses we can make in times of tragedy.
give us the opportunity to respond in faith to God. Disasters — natural
or personal — force us to make a choice. Are we going to believe that
because bad things happen there is no God? Or are we going to turn with
our broken hearts to depend on God for strength in our time of trouble?
seen it go both ways. Tragedy can embitter a person or deepen a
person’s faith. We cannot ignore the questions; we must deal with them
the best we can. But ultimately we have to trust that God is with us,
that he loves us, and that we — not being gods ourselves — don’t
also open up opportunities for ministry. If we have not been affected
by a particular tragedy, what a great chance it is to be in ministry
with those who are! This is when we can show God’s heart for the hurting
— placing the arms of love around people who are devastated. The
outpouring of worldwide relief efforts for the tsunami victims is
humanity at its best.
for those who have been afflicted by tragedy, the suffering itself may
open up new opportunities to serve. I have personally known cancer
survivors, mothers of children killed in car wrecks, and victims of
tornadoes who use those experiences of suffering to create opportunities
to serve others in meaningful ways. A positive response of faith by a
person who has suffered is a miracle of divine proportions.
glad that I don’t have to figure out all the answers to these deep
theological questions. I’m glad that I can depend on the love of God to
be steadfast and unchanging, and I can turn to him when the going gets
tough. I’m glad I can trust that “in all things God works for the good
of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans
8:28) I can rest in that faith.
*Reeves is pastor of
First United Methodist Church in Bryant, Ark. This commentary originally
appeared in the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.