On the Monday of the Aber Conference I spoke on Responding to Tragedies at Prime Time, a meeting for over 45's. Here is a brief outline of my talk.
We live in a world of tragedies and disasters. 230,00 Were killed in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Thousands were swept into eternity by the Japanese Tsunami earlier this year. Many are suffering and dying due to the East Africa famine.
This is a big subject. All I can hope to do in this meeting is try and place disasters and how we might respond to them in some kind of biblical perspective. This is not an exercise in apologetics – a reasoned defence of Christian belief. I'm assuming we agree that God is there and that he has revealed himself in the world that he made, in the Word that he has spoken and above all in the person and work of Christ.
The Christian response to disasters is that of faith seeking understanding, hope in the face of tragedy and love in action.
I. A Responding in Faith
1. Theological Framework
1) The Lord our God is good
God's goodness is revealed in creation Ps. 104, and redemption, 1 John 4:10. The one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our Creator and Redeemer is love and Lord. He is both compassionate and commanding.
2) We live in a fallen world
Genesis 3, Romans 8:18ff
3) God is still on the throne
Open theism is misguided. The Bible does not simply say that God "allows disasters", Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6.
2. Towards an answer to the question “Why?”
1) The fall
Suffering is part and parcel of life in a fallen world. We need to be realistic about this. "Life under the sun" throws up anomalies, Ecclesiastes 8:14.
2) To punish people for their sins
Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19, the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, 2 Kings 24:1-4.
3) To discipline the saints
Hebrews 12:3-11, conformity to Christ, Philippians 3:10, the development of Christian character, Romans 5:1-5.
4) To warn sinners to repent
5) The need for caution
Job, John 9:1-3, Jesus, the ultimate example of innocent suffering.
Theology does not eliminate the mystery of suffering, but erects a fence around the mystery to protect the church from error and misunderstanding. Having done all our theological reflection we still have questions for God, 'How long, O Lord?', Ps 13:1, 44:24
II. A Responding in Hope
The gospel hold out hope for a disaster-struck world. Disasters signal the death throes of the present age and the birth pangs of the new creation, Matthew 8:23-27, Colossians 1:20, Romans 8:18ff, Note the seven “no mores” in Revelation 21:1, 4, 22:3, 5. Earthquakes and wars don't necessarily signal the imminent "end of the world", Matthew 24:4-8.
III. Responding in Love
Matthew 5:16, 7:12.
2) Get involved. Especially those with specialist medical and emergency rescue skills.
3) Minister to the disaster-struck with sympathy, love and biblical integrity.
4) Give wisely (DEC includes Islamic Relief and Cafod as well as Tear Fund).
5) In our response is it right to prioritise helping fellow believers? Gal 6:10.