Friday, January 07, 2005

Thoughts on the Aftermath of the Tsunami: Wrath of God or Act of Nature?

I wasn’t able to blog immediately after the tsunami destruction. But the plight of those that died during the tsunami, and those left suffering in the aftermath has often been on my mind. Many people may look at his as a random act of nature, others may say that it was an act of God for one reason or another, while others may question “If there is a God, how could God allow so many people to suffer?” The question of how a benevolent God could allow or cause human suffering is an age-old question, and one that I’d like to address from the LDS perspective.

In LDS theology, we believe that before man came to earth there was a grand council in Heaven (see Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3:22-28). We were all spirit children of God the Father. Jesus Christ and Lucifer (or Satan) were likewise spirit children of God, and therefore our brothers, but they were the most advanced or intelligent of them all. Jesus is termed the Beloved and Chosen of the Father, which I take to mean that he was the wisest, most intelligent, and most perfect of all His children. In the council, God told us that we would be sent to Earth to receive bodies of flesh and blood, and that it would be a testing period to see if we could learn how to become like God, and then return to His presence. Two plans were proposed. The first plan was God’s: we’d receive a body of flesh and blood on Earth, be tested, and then die.

Through acceptance of the sacrifice (or atonement) of Jesus Christ, the greatest of us all, we’d be able to return to the presence of God the Father. The atonement would be necessary because we are all imperfect beings, and would inevitably fall short of perfection through sin. The Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden caused our bodies to be subject to both spiritual death (separation from God) and physical death (separation from our bodies). And because “no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God (see Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 15:34),” we would need a method of atoning for or becoming clean from our sins. Through repentance and faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, we become purified and are able to return to God’s presence. Some of us would be unable to return to God’s presence because of our own choices and failure to repent of our sins, but that would be up to us.

Christ’s atonement and subsequent resurrection also allows us to be resurrected as well, where our physical bodies are reunited with our spirits in an immortal state. The resurrection is supposed to take place when Christ returns to the Earth, with the righteous being resurrected first and the wicked (this means you Osama et al.!) being resurrected last. Immortality is a gift for everyone, but then we all will be judged according to our thoughts, words, and deeds, and then given a reward according to our judgment. This is pretty daunting stuff. I figure I’m a pretty average person, neither very good, nor very bad. Anyway, I’m getting off track.

Now Lucifer also had a plan and it was that everyone would return to God’s presence because none of us would sin. Lucifer would be the enforcer, and see to it that none of us ever made a mistake. We would have no agency to make decisions so we wouldn’t learn from our own mistakes, but we’d all be “happy” because we’d all return home having never sinned. Lucifer also wanted all of God’s glory for himself in return for his leadership (see Pearl of Great Price, Moses 4:1). Jesus on the other hand said to his Father, “…thy will be done and the glory be thine forever (see Moses4:2).” Lucifer’s plan was rejected, and as a result he rebelled and became the devil, the “father of all lies,” who is dedicated to frustrating the plan of God (see Moses 4:3-4) i.e. tempting us to screw up so we can’t return to God. So anyway, a scripture sums all of this up as “…this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God… (see Book of Mormon, Alma 12:24)”

So getting back to the tsunami and other natural disasters, what is the purpose of such an event if there is any? Well, I don’t believe that God causes such disasters, but I think he does know when they will happen and permits them to occur. Why? I believe such events are part of living on a planet like Earth. I mean if you live on the coast, there’s a good chance that there may be a hurricane or a tsunami in your lifetime. You assume the risk by living there. In Texas (a.k.a. tornado alley), for example, it’s possible that our house may be obliterated by a tornado, but that’s the risk we take by living in Texas. We can’t stop tornados from occurring, but we can prepare by building a storm shelter and use technology to warn each other of impending tornados. In the case of the tsunami, many lives could have been saved if there had been a well-organized tsunami/earthquake warning system. Sadly, we humans do not have the gift of foresight and we often don’t implement such changes until after a major disaster has already occurred.

But the real question is how do we react to events such as the tsunami? Do we “curse God and die (see Job 2:9),” do we focus on saving ourselves or perhaps profiting from others’ distress, or do we exhibit Godly characteristics such as self-sacrifice (Greater love has no man, than he layeth down his life for his friends, John 15:13), charity, faith, and courage? Such trials bring out the noblest and the basest instincts in people, and I believe that God judges us on how we react to them. I think about all the wonderful people that are over there aiding the survivors of the tsunami, or those that have sent money and supplies to help out. Then I think about the looters, the child traffickers and the con artists posing as representative of charities.

Also, I do believe miracles occur in these modern times and during such catastrophes. The lives of many people were miraculously preserved, e.g. a man and a woman were each plucked from the ocean over a week after the tsunami struck and a child was found alone on a raft alive. Why were their lives preserved when others’ lives were not? It may be that the person’s faith in God helped them survive, or perhaps they were not religious people but God saw fit to extend their lives on earth for some unknown reason. I don’t think that the people who died were necessarily wicked while the ones that were saved were necessarily righteous. I believe God loves all of his children, even Osama Bin Laden. But he’s probably a big disappointment. He had the potential to do so much good with his wealth and position in life.

What would you do with your life if you had survived such a catastrophe when so many others had died? I’d like to think that I would try to live the rest of my life in a more charitable and spiritual manner.

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