Saturday 25 April, Edinburgh. In the morning, I took my 3 year old twins to their first ballet class. By taxi. Next, we returned home to await the arrival of our new sideboard, in which to store all our ancestral china and tablecloths. Then Granny arrived, bringing the twins a massive Georgian dolls’ house, complete with fake food and fire irons. Could anyone have had a more frightfully middle-class first-world day?
“On Saturday 25 April a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. It severely shook the lives of at least 5.3m people and left many homeless. Nepal’s major cities, including the capital Kathmandu, have been badly damaged and rural areas near the epicentre have been completely cut off by avalanches. Latest reports suggest over 5,000 people have been confirmed dead and the figure is likely to rise in the coming days. Even those whose homes are still standing are sleeping in the streets because they are terrified by regular aftershocks.”
And my girls have a fully functioning dolls’ house, with lights that work.
I remember being in the pub when the news of Typhoon Haiyan hit in 2013, and as the news tickered across the TV screens, this was what the regulars asked me: how could your God let this happen?
What can I say? What can anyone say, that helps?
My nephew was christened just days after yet another tragedy, the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. His grandfather, the legendary Canon John Sweet, had travelled to Scotland to baptise him, and was left with the unenviable task of preaching about it.
Why, why, why?
I’ll never forget what he said. He refused to answer the question. He just thundered out God’s response to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!”
I love God’s sarcasm when He finally rises to Job’s bait. Of course, it’s sinfully arrogant of us to feel we have a right to understand God, and to think we are best placed to explain God’s actions to others.
As Fred Rogers famously said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers – you will always find people who are helping.”
And isn’t that the only thing we can do in the face of something so impossible to understand? Rather than wasting valuable time finding the sort of answers that might satisfy us, shouldn’t we be the helpers, so at least people can say: ‘I don’t know what God is up to, but look how these Christians love one another!’
Of course I don’t want to duck the issue. Of course it bothers me too. Of course we should cry to God and shout aloud in all our confusion and pain.
But this isn’t an opportunity for mission, or an opportunity for armchair theodicists. This is an opportunity for us to unite behind the relief effort, so that at least the avoidable deaths that may result from this will not be our fault.
The most pressing question about Nepal isn’t what God may or may not be up to, it’s what we are doing in response. Have you donated yet?
Support the relief efforts by donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Eve Poole is an Associate Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation.
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