The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have not only shaken the world, they’ve shaken a lot of people’s faith.
“How could a good and loving God allow such a thing to happen?” they ask.
It’s the oldest question in the theology book. If there were an easy answer, it would have been given a long time ago.
Some people answer it by saying there isn’t a good and loving God, and the devastation in Japan is evidence.
Some say God is good but not very powerful, and therefore not able to prevent such things.
Others say God is powerful but not very good, and therefore not interested in preventing them.
Christian theology, for the most part, has simply acknowledged the tension: God is all-loving; God is all-powerful; terrible things happen.
Maybe it would help to look at that word “terrible.” We think it’s terrible that so many people died in this recent tragedy, but the truth is that everything in this world is finite.
Nothing lasts forever, and especially not something as frail and vulnerable as human beings. So it’s not a question of whether we are going to die, but only when and how.
You could make a long list of all the possible whens and hows, but with the possible exception of dying in your sleep in extreme old age, none of the options is all that attractive. And yet this is precisely the point at which we start shaking our fists at the sky.
“Why, God?! Why did this person have to die at [choose one from Column A] from [choose one from Column B]?” The when and how often seem irreconcilable with the notion of a good and loving God.
But suppose a good and loving God is spending his time on that other question: not the when or how, but the whether.
And suppose it’s not the question of whether we will die that he is working on, but the question of whether death will have the last word.
The answer to that question is the gospel itself, and the answer is a resounding “No!”
Maybe you could keep that in mind next time you read the obituaries, when you see all those people smiling up at you from the newspaper and read all those stories about when and how they died.
Maybe you could cling to the truth that this is not the end of their story, nor will death have the last word.
Jim Somerville is pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.