Where was God in the Tsunami?

In an excellent column in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rabbi Danny Schiff, offers comforting suggestions on how to understand the role of God in the face of the immense human suffering wrought by the recent earthquake and tsunami.

He points to the bible story of the suffering of Job, an innocent who was stripped of all that was precious to him, whose questions to God were answered with more questions, teaching that because we are not God, we cannot fully understand the ways of God. As frustrating as this explanation is, Rabbi Schiff stresses that two elements of the story of Job should not be overlooked:

“First, it is helpful to know that there is a design, that there is structure and coherence behind suffering, even if it is hidden from our finite human comprehension. Such an insight, though, does little to help us now, when great agony is before us and explicit meaning is unattainable.

Far more important, then, is this: God speaks to Job. God is there when Job cries out. It could, of course, have been otherwise: Job could have cried out his tortured questions, only to be met with silence. The fact that God speaks, the fact that God is there, the fact that God cares about the human person is profoundly significant.”

Regarding the tsunami, he states:

“God, then, does not cause tsunamis or earthquakes, or single out individuals for horrific illness, or for loss, or destruction. Could God prevent such suffering? Theoretically, yes -- God is all-powerful. But God's plan seems to presuppose a world governed by laws of ethics and nature with which human beings have to grapple, and in which God will not intervene in order to save us from suffering…

God created a world in which every human being, no matter what his/her behavior, will inevitably suffer; the only question is, how much? Each of us will lose loved ones, will be met with trials and reversals, and will ultimately be subject to sorrow and death.

In Asia, each individual who died, was injured or who lost everything, was no different from those who die, are injured or lose everything to sickness or natural disaster the world over. It was the numbers that numbed the mind -- more loss in an eye blink than we have ever experienced before. This should, and has, multiplied our compassion. But the question of why a good God constructs a world in which humans must suffer indiscriminate horrors is not more troubling when millions are affected, than when it impacts thousands, or hundreds, or even one…

Perhaps we should think about it this way: Those who ever contemplated becoming parents were aware that their child would be born into a world that knows numerous possibilities for suffering, and eventual death. Yet, they still went ahead and had a child. And nobody would argue with the goodness or the benevolence of that decision. Why? Because, despite the vast ocean of tears, there is something in us that urges that life, and the world, and the future are still worthwhile. Within that internal whisper can be found the still, small, reassuring voice of God."