God is Omnipotent to the degree that everything that happens, he decrees. Of course, if that is the way we think about God there is going to be plenty of trouble defending God from all the horrible things that happen in the world – the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and again in Sendai in Japan in 2011, the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the super-typhoons.
In fact a 15-year-old girl at catechism class asked me this question right after the Sendai tsunami: “Why is God allowing all these horrible things to happen?”
I told her it is not God that is the problem. Our problem lies in our concept of God.
I continued: Think of the world as a stream of on-going events, because that is what it is. This dynamism explains why the earth formed the way it did to support life, and it also explains plate tectonics, which is the culprit behind these quakes, but that also gave rise to the continents that we now inhabit.
The point I was trying to make was that the dynamism of the world is helpful (to us) but can also be destructive (to us) – and the trouble is that you cannot choose only the helpful and leave out the unhelpful. You need gravity, else things will float aimlessly around, but it is the same gravity that explains why elderly people slip, injure themselves and eventually die.
So I explained that the monster quake and the equally monstrous tsunami come with the package that we call the universe – and constitute part of its dynamism. We do not blame that on God.
But amid the death and destruction, life goes on after the quake, does it not? All over the world, emergency services are always planning how to do better in the future to respond and meet these contingencies. At not just at Sendai, but in every disaster-stricken area — we lament the dead, express our sympathy in various ways, and send aid to them even if it is not solicited.
Amid the death and destruction, there is, in other words, a dominating ethical goodness, a drive towards harmony, beauty, grace and order. We don’t just leave devastated areas and lives in ruins. We are, as members of the human race, trying to restore it to order – all the time. We don’t leave the survivors to fend for themselves; we care for them. This sensitivity to the demands of goodness, this responsiveness to the call of the hour, the capacity of the world to heal itself, the fact that order is soon restored, and that we emerge stronger from this experience (without in any way discounting the pain that we have suffered) — this is what is truly worshipful, this is what is Divine.
This can be called God!
So, no, God does not want all these horrible things to happen. They are processes that are part and parcel of the universe that God does not control like you control a toy.
God is rather the name we give to the goodness that eventually triumphs – “I am who I am” – the order that eventually emerges, the beauty that eventually blossoms from all the tragedy we have had to bear.
In closing, let me paraphrase a Jesuit song written in 2010 which I taught that confirmation cohort (2011) which was inspired by that 15-year old girl’s question: That behind our restless search for greater meaning, our boundless hope, our trust that all things will be better and that peace will reign and mercy will prevail; indeed behind our deep regret for all our failings, beneath our restless shame and desire to rise from them again, behind our courage to forgive each other and willingness to heal each other’s pain – deep in our hearts, in our souls, in all we are – dwells God. – AL R DIZON