|The Tsunami - A Christian Reflection
Bishop Kenneth Fernando
January 12, 2005
[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] The recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean presents a huge challenge to all those who reflect on our world and events that take place in it.
Tsunamis have taken place in many parts of the world and we know of about 298 of them - some very small and some very large, but none of them larger than that of 26.12. The occurrence of Tsunamis is a real possibility any time and in any coastal area.
The world knows quite a lot about tsunamis where they have occurred and how they are caused. The sad fact is that many of us did not, and many even learned the word only after the 26th of December.
While much effort has been put into space research and making weapons of mass destruction, not enough has been done to save the world from tsunamis and other such natural disasters. Indeed they cannot be prevented but we could have had more efficient early warning systems in place if only we had our priorities right.
Against that context what do we make of this terrible disaster?
It poses a special problem and challenge to all those who believe in a Creator God and in transcendental powers, as I do.
If there is a Creator God and if we are under the control and influence of transcendental meta cosmic powers how could such a thing have been allowed to happen?
Let us learn to approach this and other such problems scientifically, that is, using the best scientific knowledge at our disposal. Too many people in Sri Lanka, for instance, still believe that angry Gods need to be placated, human sacrifices need to be offered and that it is best to trust in astrology. All of us need to be educated beginning in our secondary schools about natural phenomena and the need to think scientifically and act accordingly.
Those who attribute the tsunami to Karmic forces could not have studied what Buddhism and Hinduism teach about the way in which the Laws of Karma operate. We simply cannot attribute all that happens in our world to Karma.
Theists will in the main attribute the tsunami to God - it is an act of God. They will maintain.
But do we really believe any longer, if we ever did so, in a cruel wicked God who can destroy so many innocent thousands in one fell blow? I for one simply cannot believe in such a God. The God in whom Christians, like me, believe is a God of infinite compassion and love, who loves all people at all times under all circumstances. God desires the well being of all and does not desire even the death of a sinner, but rather that the sinner should turn away from evil ways and live.
Some may perhaps believe that God is deliberating punishing an evil generation. Can a God of justice punish the good with the evil and give vent to wrath in such a dreadful way? No, this is not a punishment from God. No one can believe in such a vengeful God.
The fact of the matter is that we have experienced this deadly disaster and we simply have no explanation. The world continues to be a well ordered and well governed place, this disaster notwithstanding, and the exception does not disprove the rule .As long as we live upon this earth we shall have to put up with such terrible phenomena as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, and we shall never know why. The man made disasters are indeed another matter and we do know why they happen.
Christians will want so say that God s ways are mysterious and that some how God will make some good to issue from this disaster. What a terrible way in which to make some good to result, when one thinks of the terrible suffering the tsunami has caused.
I would venture the thought that we humans can never explain these terrible events but we can turn even the most terrible disaster into something beneficial to humankind if we want to. This seems to be the only way in which we can live through this disaster and retain our sanity.
One day around 32 A.D. an innocent person, Jesus Christ was killed by people. That Jesus was the type, example, of millions of others who have been made to suffer, punished and killed through no fault of their own. But we human have been able to turn the death of Jesus and indeed of others like him who have suffered and died through no fault of their own, into a source of inspiration and benefit for humankind .The great martyrs, and I do not mean just the people of religion, but all who have died standing up for justice, truth and peace, have inspired even the most cynical among us .If that be so they have not died in vain.
These thousands of people who have been made to suffer so much and to die on 26.12 may perhaps bring at least a few of us, not least in our Asian countries, to our true senses.
How could we have killed one another in internecine conflicts for so long? How could we have killed so many of our own fellow country people by simply ignoring the death dealing poverty in which they languish? How could we have wasted our own resources and the resources of our countries in wars, and in extravagant and wasteful life styles when so many of our own people did not have the basic needs of life like, clean water, food, clothing and adequate shelter, to maintain their lives?
Perhaps this tsunami will make us give up quibbling and yearn for justice and peace with greater sincerity. Perhaps it will impel us not just to send back the displaced to their hovels and their grinding poverty, but to make is possible for all of them to live decent human lives which is their birth right. If we so wish we can learn from the tsunami that just as it did not discriminate between rich and poor, Sinhala and Tamil, male and female or any other such thing, so we too must live as one human family, all subject to the many changes and chances of this life .Are conflict and division justifiable any longer when just one tsunami can finish up the lives of us all in a matter of minutes?
If the tsunami will teach us this lesson the many thousands who have died, not least the children, would not have died in vain. It may be that God still continues to reign. -- Bishop Fernando is the retired Bishop of Colombo and former Co-President of the Christian Conference of Asia