Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where is God in the Disasters?

That is the question at the center of the Terence E. Fretheim's newest book Creation Untamed:The Bible, God and Natural Disasters (Baker Academic, September 2010). In a recent review in America Magazine Daniel J. Harrington has this to say.

In their frequency, severity and devastation, natural disasters (floods, wildfires and earthquakes) and human disasters (suicide bombings, drone airstrikes and gigantic oil spills) have become all too frequent in recent times. Their frequency tends to muffle the hard philosophical and theological questions that these events should bring to the public forum: Where is God in these disasters? Why do innocent persons suffer in them? Can anything good come out of these tragic events?

Here is a book by a veteran biblical theologian that bravely takes on these difficult questions in the context of the God and the world we meet in the Old Testament. Fretheim, professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, considers how we might speak of God’s relationship to natural disasters and the suffering and death related to them both in biblical times and now. Writing as an exegete and biblical theologian, he deals with the biblical texts as they stand in the Bible, though he is thoroughly conversant with the debates regarding their historicity. He insists that in dealing with natural disasters and suffering we not let God off the hook. After all, it is God’s creation that we are talking about.

This looks like a very interesting read. One point in Harrington's review that caught my attention is his summary of the final chapter.

In the final chapter, devoted to faith and prayer, Fretheim argues that in the context of natural disasters and human suffering prayer may be considered an aspect of the gift of the relationship that God has established with humankind, whereby God and humans can meaningfully interact with one another. He maintains that this relationship is fundamental to thinking about the God of the Bible and the association of God and the world. In this context, prayer (especially lament and intercession) has an effect on the one who prays, on the relationship between the one who prays and God, on God and on persons or situations for which one is praying.

An interesting point. Does suffering and natural disaster bring us closer to God? There are no easy answers. And as Harrington notes about Fretheim, this is not a book with easy answers. Rather, it is a book that encourages us to engage God.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like a great book, John. And that last paragraph is compelling...imagine praying with the expectation that God might actually do something about our request!

    In a book called A Sacred Sorrow, the author, Michael Card, uses the metaphor of refusing to get off the dance floor. Relating this to the biblical book of Job, Card argues that Job refuses to leave the dance with God. There is a certain boldness which the laments allow for the people of God--an opportunity to say, "Hang on, wait a minute God. You must deal with me. I'm not leaving." It is prayer that expects a response--prayer, after all, is conversation. There is a freedom in that sort of prayer that is vital to an honest, vibrant life of faith. I'm glad Fretheim took this on.