Friday, May 23, 2008

Reflecting on the sovereignty of God in the wake of the cyclone in Myanmar and quake in China

I have been following the news about the quake in China (May 12, 2008). In fact, I was there in Dujiangyan, one of the quake zones, eight years ago with my friends. I could feel the pain, anguish and torment that the victims are going through, and it was really heart-wrenching. I was totally touched when I saw Premier Wen Jiabao said (in Mandarin) "Don't cry, we stand together" on CCTV4 website. One of my closer friends from China shared that she has been having nightmares about the earthquake, and has been asking why these innocent people are going through so much, esp. the school children trapped in collapsed buildings. She also remarked that most of the government buildings are still standing, and many believe that the contractors who built the school buildings compromised on their quality.

This scene and the other that took place in Myanmar (May 01, 2008) led me to question why did God allow the innocent victims to die. At least 100,000 in Myanmar, and at least 50,000 in Si Chuan. As I kept on pondering, I have to ask why did God give Adam and Eve the free will to choose from the tree of knowledge in the first place. The choice of Adam and Eve implicates the subsequent humankind in their act of sin. Did the cyclone and quake happen as a result of Adam and Eve choice to disobey God? I am inclined to think so. (Rom 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned")

The rest of the humankind are implicated in the sins of just a few persons? Yes. The sloppy work of contractors have resulted in the collapse of some buildings. The misuse of land have resulted in floods of great multitude. The emission of CO2 in a few developed countries have resulted in the global warming. But at the same time, the rescue efforts of thousands of rescue teams could control the damage. The efforts of the UN, Red Cross and other humanitarian groups saved the lives of the remaining survivors. Whatever rescue effort that can be done, it could only control or minimize the damage done.

In other words, the negative effects of one single act affects a much more multitude of humanity, and it takes much more than one positive act to counteract the damage. I think that is the situation we are in. But are we alone? No. By sacrificing His Son on the cross for all of us, and by His resurrection, God is showing us that this battle can be won. Jesus Christ's incarnation and resurrection shows that God is standing in solidarity with our suffering. By our free will, the whole of humanity is complicit in the act of sins. But by Jesus' death, all of us are given the chance to turn the tide against the dark force (which is within each and everyone of us). By the death of God's only Son, we have the assurance to continue to hope, and to hold out light in the darkness. For the love of God, we continue to exercise our free will to bring others into the same hope. God cries with us, suffers with us, and marches to victory with all of us.

The question for me now is not so much "why did this happen," but rather, "what can I do now to share my hope with others?" I could think of a few: pray for the afflicted victims, for those still trapped in the rubbles; pray for better infrastructure to be built; comfort those whom we know are affected; contribute financially through World Vision or other organizations; as a church we could hold prayer service for China and Myanmar, and donate imperishable food and clothing to related organization.

Why did God allow this to happen? I don't have the answer. I can only faintly try to glimpse an insight in the fall of Adam and Eve, and being more confident that whatever tragedies we are witnessing now will come to an end. In the meanwhile, each and everyone of us must respond as an ambassador of Christ (that's why we are called Christians).

If one thinks that God allowed these disaster to happen so that the rest of us could ponder about our meaning of life, then I would echo Karl Marx's protest:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right by Karl Marx)

Any message which encourages Christians to find comfort in Jesus Christ without engaging the disaster and the traumas of the victims is a form of opium! Any types of message which numbs me to the plight of the afflicted ones is offering a false reality divorced from the tragedy. The struggling and sufferings of the victims are real and intense. The tragedy that strikes China (and the same for Myanmar) calls for all Christians to stand in solidarity with their plight. It calls for Christians to take the initiative to identify with what victims are going through. I pray that their pain would be our pain. May their memory and traumas be part of the memory and traumas of the whole human race, of which we are a part of.

God's sovereignty is not manifested directly in the disaster, it is manifested through the activeness (not passiveness) of Christians' responses to the disaster. We MUST respond. (For my case, I have been praying regularly for them and following the news on this tragedy, crying together with the victims, donating money directly to the victims. I am currently initiating a prayer meeting, with Tim Leary- staff worker from Inter-Varsity, for the Chinese students whom we know.)

What is your own response as a Christian?

May 22, 2008


Anonymous said...

Do you believe in predestination?

Arthur KohsL said...

Hi, Orhan Pamuk (Ezra),
yes, I do believe in predestination, and the sovereignty of God. I also believe that the knowledge of predestination is so shrouded from our dimension for us to speak of it adequately and conclusively. I am relaying by faith on what has been revealed to us as the ground for our response to crisis.

Regards, Arthur

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm not Orhan Pamuk (that bottom post was a quote)...sorry for the confusion.

Anyway, if you do indeed believe in predestination than I don't understand your initial question (i.e., "Why did God allow this to happen?). In Islam our concept of predestination is known as taqdir and is defined as the universal law of nature, the universal law of God : "Who creates, then makes complete, and Who measures, then guides." I believe that the world's evils (disasters, etc.) are a part of the measuring stage, when God tests and prepares to guide.

Arthur KohsL said...

Hi, Ezra,
I am sorry for confusing your name. Let me see whether I have understood you correctly. You are saying that according to your understand of "predestination," God plans for the catastrophe to happen so as to prepare and guide the world to the next stage. This means that God plans the earthquake and cyclone, and at least 100,000 innocent lives in Myanmar, at least 50,000 innocent lives in China to perish, in order to prepare and guide the world to the next stage. Am I correct in my interpretation?

I will narrate my own understanding of "predestination."
Though I believe in predestination, I don't think anyone of us is able to explain adequately why God allows an event to happen.

In our Bible, in the book of Job, when disaster and suffering struck Job, a righteous person, all his close friends tried to offer different answers as to why this happened to Job. But, at the end of the book, we are shown that the way God operates is really beyond our understanding. Be careful of the word "beyond" here. It does not mean contradict or goes against our natural law. It means that the way God operates exceeds our understanding, and does not fit into any of our "theology" neatly.

Though we continue to affirm the sovereignty of God in any event, we are given the free will to respond. We are also given the intellect to ask "why," as it is part of our natural response.

But how "free" is our free will? Is is so free that it is beyond God's control? Or it is just a delusion? If it is the first case, we have to doubt God's sovereignty. If it is the second case, then we have to doubt about our being as a moral agent. If the universal law has been designed in such a way that God has ordained all these to happen since the beginning of time, our free is a delusion, as we would have no ground to speak of morality, since we have no choice to begin with. Or is the universal law designed only for the operation of material objects? If yes, then, as moral agents, we are given the free will to operate within the confine and stability of universal law. But, in what sense are we moral agents? I will have to fall back on the concept of "conscience," which is rooted in the image of God. When we fall short of the demands of our conscience, our sense of guilt acquits us. By this, we know that we have fallen short of God's expectation. By meeting the demands of conscience, we fulfill God's expectation, and are on the path to a richer humanity.

However, no matter how hard we try, I believe that we always have aspects of life that fall short of God's expectation. In Christian faith, we understand each and everyone of us as sinner in need of God's grace. My understanding of predestination means that God has already prepared to bestow His grace on whoever He pleases, and we have no way of knowing it.

I believe God gives us free will, and holds us responsible for our free will. But does our free will preclude the intervention of God? This goes back to the question whether our universe is a closed or open one. If our universe is an open universe with room for God to intervene, is it an adequate creation where the Designer has to intervene once in a while? If it is a closed universe, where God does not intervene at all, what's the use of praying to God as everything that has been planned will happen, and this has been set up long ago? This goes back to the qus of free will and morality. Or are our understanding of our universe, our time-space dimension, and God, inadequate to even frame the correct question?

There is a dilemma about free will and predestination. Our Bible affirms that we have free will, and we are responsible for our own sin. Our Bible also affirms the sovereignty of God. I believe that as our mind is designed to operate within our time-space dimension, our understanding is limited to what is within our dimension. Therefore, I recognize the limit of my understanding of free will and predestination. There is a paradox, but this paradox shows the limit of my understanding, and the transcendent God who is beyond my understanding.

That's all I can say. I will be glad if you could share with me some of your perspectives so that I could learn from you.

Anonymous said...

I essentially feel that there are two laws: a law for the individual, and a law for the whole. Although an individual's fate may differ from the fate of a whole, an individual may still be caught up in the fate of the whole. I know that's rather vague, and I hope you'll forgive me; I'm working on essay that will explain more in detail my personal philosophy that I will post on my blog relatively soon.