The horrific tsunami has come and gone with its unimaginable disaster and destruction over vast areas of South Asia. As people are slowly trying to get back on their feet, they and the rest of the world are attempting to understand how this could have happened. Beyond the scientific explanation of massive tectonic plate shifting, there are the theological questions that have been spawned in the tsunami's devastation. How could God do this or allow this to happen? Perhaps, it is time to do some tsunami theology for dummies-because a lot of dumb theological things are being said about this event.

It is obvious that this disaster has cut across all religious faiths without any one religion having been spared. Every major world religion and many minor faiths have lost large numbers of believers. For most causal observers, no one religion can take any solace of being spared due to their supposed "true faith."

In spite of cutting across all religious beliefs, the truly dumbest theological statement that I heard in the wake of the tsunami was made by a white, American woman in her mid-twenties who avoided being counted with the tens of thousands less fortunate. Upon her return to the States, she ascribed her escaping the fate of so many others to her God saving her. While we don't normally make the soundest theological statements having just avoided such a traumatic event, she and her listeners need nonetheless to reexamine her theology. It is way off the mark.

Think about how that statement sounds. Here is a young, white Christian, affluent, American tourist, who believes that God hovered over the raging tower of cascading water, spotted her amongst the hundreds of thousands facing drowning, and intervened on her behalf to rescue her. What is wrong with that belief? Do you really think that God selected this one gal for rescue? I'd like to know what she did or believed to have this special deus ex machina treatment from God.

What does that theological picture paint for us? God rescues someone who can afford to vacation in some Asian paradise and allows tens of thousands of others to perish-mothers who couldn't save their children or fathers who couldn't protect their families already on the lowest rung of the poverty ladder. Get real.

Allow me to offer a primer of tsunami theology for dummies. We all need to take this primer before we fail our theology of life.

  1. Be careful about making theological statements about God. The height of religious hubris is thinking that we can plumb the depth of the almighty. The true nature of God is well-beyond our reasoning ability. About all we can say for sure is what isn't theologically true-like, God thinks that I am so special that God treats me differently than all the rest of the world.
  2. All religions have been able to glimpse a tiny bit of divine truth. In addition, all religions have vast repositories of theological nonsense, which was manufactured by people. This nonsense often passes as truth; nonetheless, it remains theological gobbligook.
  3. We ascribe our limited human vocabulary to defining the divine with often disastrous results. Terms like all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect and loving are copied from our vocabulary and pasted upon God. They seem to make sense on clear and bright spring days, but when chaos strikes, our man-made definitions result in contradictions. For example, how could a loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God allow this tsunami to devastate so much of coastal South Asia?
  4. In desperation, we ask, why didn't God do something? Okay, ask that dumb question. I'll play God in this mock dialogue. As God, I would turn your question back upon you and ask, "What would you have me do?" In response, you would say, "Prevent the tsunami!" Using the power that I possess, I intervene before this latest tsunami occurred and stopped the plate shifts that resulted in this horrific lost of life. Now, are you happy?" You would say, "Now, that is the kind of God that I thought you were." However, unbeknownst to you in your theological bliss, the pressure is building up deep in the earth's crust, because I prevented this natural pressure release valve of tectonic plate shifting. Weeks or months later, a catastrophic explosion occurs beneath the surface of the world. The result of this exploration dwarfs anything seen since creation and hundreds of millions of people die in a hellish moment. Are you satisfied?
  5. I think that all that God requires of us is to show reverence for God and to treat others as we should. Theology is an exercise largely beyond our abilities. Actually, loving our fellow human beings apparently is also beyond our ability. Therefore, let's work on love before we do too much theologizing.

In closing, it is numerically highly unlikely that many of us will face catastrophic natural disasters like tsunamis, but it is for certain that we have and will face personal tragedies that will sweep into our lives. We need to think and rethink our thoughts about God before the next horrific event in our lives.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 2/11/05.