As the disaster in Japan unfolds, many people are wondering where God is in all this. Some people believe that God intends every thing that happens, so our job is to discern God’s intention in every event. When bad things happen, we wonder what God has in mind. This can get us – and God – into some hot water.
Some people are convinced that God caused this earthquake. They think it is a condemnation of Japan for not being a Christian nation. Some think it is a way of converting the Japanese to Christ, by showing them the error of their ways. Others are just horrified, and think God is inexplicable and horrible.
I think all these responses are based on a mistaken idea of how God works in the world. God – the Source of all being – created the world, and us. That included making a planet that cools, that shifts, that cracks and changes. That included making us, carbon-based life forms that grow and die. Sometimes the planet shakes, and we are hurt, but God did not “cause” that to happen at that time and place. God does not have a calendar with appointments for disasters.
If God did not cause the earthquake, where is God in all this? God is the source of strength that enables us to go in and help one another. God is the source of the intellect and courage that work against nuclear meltdown. God runs along with us, redeeming and recycling all the good and bad of our lives.
What does this mean for prayer? If God does not cause things, does God prevent things? Can our prayer change the world? I think prayer can change the world, but not so much by prevention of natural events as by equipping us to face what comes. Prayer can bind us together, and so help prevent tragedies that come as the result of human division and strife. Prayer can sustain people by reconnecting us to the source of life. Prayer is not magic. It is connecting to the will of God, gaining strength to be part of God’s healing and renewing power.
Please pray for the victims in Japan and their families, and for the rescue workers and the crews at the nuclear plants. Pray for the courage and hope to trust in God even when we don’t understand or like what we see.
Love God. Love one another. Serve the world. That’s how God works.