The death toll from the earthquake in Nepal continues to climb. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes. The future looks bleak.
What should we do? Our first responsibility is to help. We can give our support to those who are building hospitals, providing food, offering shelter. Here's one way to do so.
We may also find ourselves wondering what kind of God allows such a tragedy to happen. In the Bible God splits the Red Sea. God topples the walls of Jericho. God heals the sick and frees the captive. How can such a God not stop a devastating earthquake?
The Easy Answers
Traditional religious theology gives us two possible answers. The first is that God's ways are mysterious. We do not know why God acts or does not act. To think we can know is hubris and oversteps our limits as human beings. This is the message God gives near the conclusion of the biblical Book of Job.
The other answer is to believe God has an overarching plan we cannot know. Everything happens for a reason, so this argument goes, and we will only know it in the afterlife.
The problem with both these answers is the way they see God. They view God as a Zeus-like supernatural being who can stop an earthquake with the snap of the divine fingers. They assume God is either all-powerful or nothing at all.
God is not a Cosmic Magician
Judaism offers a different perspective. God is not a cosmic magician. God is the ground of being. God is the power that fuels the world. And the existence of the world depends on freedom. We rarely hear biologists or cosmologists ask why God could allow earthquakes or tsunamis to happen. That is not because they lack faith. Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome project, is an evangelical Christian.
The reason is they know a degree of freedom and randomness in our world is a precondition for human life. If the world was totally predictable, we would not have genetic mutations, natural selection and change. Without freedom we would not have life. Without earthquakes we would not have an inhabitable planet.
This perspective may seem cruel. It means we have to accept tragedy and pain as a part of life. But it also means God is with us through such tragedy and pain. And it means God beckons us to continue to grow and change.
God's Hands are Our Hands
Because we are free, we can find new ways to save lives. We can build better early warning systems and more effective structures for getting aid to people in need. We can honor the dead by finding ways to help those who live. We can use our God-given minds to bring the world as it is closer to the world as it ought to be.
God is not absent in Nepal. God is in tears of survivors who reach out in pain to comfort one another. God is in the hearts linking us to those suffering around the world. And God is in the hands reaching out in love to help, heal and rebuild.
Explaining natural disasters to kids is especially difficult. Here is a list of five books to help you do so.