In the wake of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, many people are having this conversation. Even as we pray, "Lord, in your mercy remember your creation", we wonder how this can happen. I know some of my brothers and sisters in faith, even now, are sorting through the history of Japanese sins, but many others are already collecting or sending funds, supplies and heartfelt prayers.
Does God cause these things to happen? Answering this question would take me into the realm of apologetics, the theological field of explanation. I'm neither qualified nor able to be God's apologist.
Here's why: Consider Isaiah 45:6-7
[S]o that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (New International Version)
So that everyone, from east to west, will know
that I have no god-rivals.
I am God, the only God there is.
I form light and create darkness,
I make harmonies and create discords.
I, God, do all these things. (The Message)
[S]o that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things. (New Revised Standard Version)
I realize I'm proof-texting from two verses what I could easily undermine by discussing God's love for creation, promise to Noah and even other verses in Isaiah. However, the end result will be the same. I don't know why bad things happen. I believe God is in control, but I also believe that God does not subvert the way that nature plays out.
The Lutheran theologian Martin Marty says this:
God the creator creates out of love. That creation finds us in a created and hence "natural" world, not Eden of old or Paradise of tomorrow or Utopia in between. Since we belong to the created or natural world, we are subject to all that goes with it, including birth and death, springtime and autumn, sunshine and shadow- some lives knowing outrageously more of the latter than of the former. And as we belong to created nature, we also live in a world in which accidents happen, unexplained good and bad things occur. Those people killed by the fallen tower of Siloam just happened to be there, and the surviving soldier whom one bullet missed just happened to have moves before it came and killed his buddy behind him. (Marty, Martin E. Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers. Augsburg Fortress, Minneaoplis, MN. 2007. p. 45)
What Marty is saying is that we don't always know why things happen, but we're not called to stark realism, we're called to hopefulness in the presence of God in suffering and in joy. We may never fully understand the whys and wherefores in this life, but we simply focus on the the gift of life we have and on trying not to cause more chaos than already happens around us.
For today, Psalm 46 in haiku:
God is our refuge,
a timely help in trouble,
the Giver of strength.
Never shall we fear
even though mountains should fall
into ocean depths;
when wild waters rage
and mountain are washed by waves,
God is our stronghold.
Consider God's works
and the redoubtable deeds
He has done on earth:
He has stamped out wars,
breaking bows and snapping spears
setting shields ablaze.
'Know that I am God,
supreme among the nations,
high above the earth!"
the Lord of hosts, is with us.
Jacob's God, our shield.
Gwyn, Richard. The Psalms in Haiku Form. Gracewing, Fowler Wright Books, Herefordshire; 1997. p. 52