Tsunami Atheism

Gene Edward Veith

Gene Edward Veith, Jr., is Professor of English at Concordia University-Wisconsin, where he has also served as Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. He has authored numerous books, of which Postmodern Times received a Christianity Today Book Award as one of the top 25 religious books of 1994. He was a Salvatori Fellow with the Heritage Foundation in 1994-1995 and is a Senior Fellow with the Capital Research Center. He is currently the director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia University, a center devoted to the study of Christianity and culture. He is the cultural editor of World magazine.

Some see the dead bodies on television and say, "If there is a God, surely He would have stopped this. It happened, so there must not be one." But the tsunami does not disprove the existence of the God of the Bible. It only disproves the existence of the kind of god we make up for ourselves.

"The God I worship would never punish anyone," we hear. "The God I believe in doesn't care who we have sex with or how we worship or how we live our lives. My God is not so judgmental." Well, that God does not exist. The image of a nice deity who looks benignly down from heaven, wanting us all just to have a good time, is a wish-fulfillment, a fiction we might make up so we feel better.

The God revealed by the Bible is not that way at all. He is a consuming fire. His ways are not our ways. He can be full of wrath, wiping out nations and devastating His own people. At one time, He went so far as to tsunami the whole world, sparing only a single family in an ark (and in His mercy said He would never flood the whole world again).

The God of the Bible is not like us, and not at all the sort of deity that we would make up for ourselves. And yet, whether we like it or not, He is real, and the world displays that reality. It is a hard world, one of cancer, heart attacks, senseless accidents, and—the tsunami.

We think the death rate of 150,000 in the tsunami is horrible, and it is. But the death toll is going to rise higher. Before too long, the number of the dead will reach 6.2 billion. Everyone now alive will die. The death rate is 100 percent. And no one knows when or how death will come, whether in youth, the prime of life, or old age; whether it will come suddenly, as with the tsunami or a heart attack, or be drawn out and painful.

The old theologians believed that ordinary human reason can know—recognizing the order in the universe and the testimony of one's own conscience—that God exists. Reason, however, cannot tell us very much about God or His disposition toward us. For that, we need His self-revelation. That is, we need what He has given, His Word in human language, the Bible.

The Bible reveals that the God behind all of life is indeed frightening, but that He also is righteous. Moreover, He loves us. That was news to the ancient pagans, who assumed that the gods were capricious and cruel. God's goodness, though, is often hidden in this fallen world, which is indeed a realm of sin, suffering, wrath, and disorder. He will indeed eliminate all evil and suffering, but that comes later, when the dead will rise to a New Heaven and New Earth. In the meantime, we live in a vale of soul-building.

What is missing in most people's conception of God is that He does not just look down from heaven on the human condition. Rather, He joins it. The Second Person of the Trinity became Man. God Himself suffered hunger, poverty, and physical pain. He Himself died unfairly in the prime of life. More than that, in a miracle as stupendous as the creation, He took upon Himself the sin, guilt, and afflictions of the world. He atoned for them all in His death on the cross.

Jesus explained that senseless disasters, like the fall of the tower of Siloam, are not due to the sins of the victims, and yet such horrors should awake us to our condition and drive us to repentance. And to those who cannot help but ask, "Where is God in the midst of all of this suffering?" Jesus told us where He would be: hidden in our suffering neighbors.

© Copyright World, 2005. Used by permission.