24 March 2011

The Japan/God dilemma (NEXT! #26)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: So, does the earthquake in Japan prove that God is benevolent and impotent, omnipotent and malevolent, or imaginary?

Response: Sorry — you are...?

(Proverbs 21:22)

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

Hoping to prevent a bypath:

Before anyone feels obliged to point out what an insensitive and unhelpful response this would be to offer a Japanese sufferer, or an inquiring believer — with which criticism I would heartily agree, if it were relevant to this post —, I ask:

1. Read the question, to identify the sort who is asking it.

2. Read (if you haven't recently) the first in this 26-parts-so-far series, linked at the word "NEXT!"

3. Stay on-actual-topic-of-this-actual-post.

Back to you.

Doug Hibbard said...

And here I thought tragedy only proved the impotence of man in the face of the result of sin....incapable of preventing the general effects of corruption, incapable of preventing the personal effects.

Just shows my ignorant hickness, I suppose.


Anonymous said...

Sorry - you are...aware of the location and size of the storehouses of the snow...the one who makes mountain goats have their kids on time and in place...anyone of authority in the universe...

That is to say, you are...preparing to repent in dust and ashes?

Robert said...

Sadly enough, people are questioning where God is in all of this. I actually read a response to these events by an atheist where he said that God either does not care, is not omnipotent, or does not exist. He didn't leave any room for the fact that God could be working through this for the good of some people.

As a Christian, when I see disasters like this and how they put people in horrible situations, I'm reminded of Amos 4 where God shows all of the times that He sent the people trials and tribulations of all sorts to turn people back to Him, yet they refused. I would say that this atheist response is much in line with this same type of attitude. And sadly, I think much of the world thinks along the same lines or else feels that we have disturbed "mother earth" and this is our warning from "her".

We should read the response that God gives to Job and realize that God is God and we are His creation. As one evangelist put it, if God blinked, everything in our world would be destroyed.

DJP said...

Mass tragedies like this create an insoluble dilemma.

For atheists.

If a Christian handles it in such a way that doesn't make that objectively clear, or makes it seem as if he's embarrassed and on the defensive, he's failed.

Eric said...


I like the way this post is mainly letting God speak for Himself. The words of God in this passage are stirring, chilling, and awe-inspiring. And at the same time they are wonderfully comforting.

In the era of inflated self-worth and self-esteem, we all can take a cue from Job when he says "therefore I despise myself". Not a common theme these days. Of course the Christian doesn't stop at despising themself, but like Job they move on to confession and repentance and living a life of joy in the Lord.

I hope a good number of people read and ponder the words of Scripture that you have posted today. Thanks.

donsands said...

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”

The Squirrel said...

I've found it amusingly useful to point out that, in spite of all the efforts of all the relief agencies worldwide, everyone in Japan (& Libya, & Haiti, & Indonesia, & New Orleans, &...) is going to die.

Get the funniest looks when I point that out. But an opportunity to give an explanation is an opportunity to present the Gospel.


Scott Autry said...

I would give a correlation of the THE GREATEST TRAGEDY at the hand of an omnipotent, holy God - namley Acts 4:27-28.

CGrim said...

Rom 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 strongly suggest something along the lines of the soul-making theodicy.

As I recall, the idea is that an 'ideal' world where no evil existed would allow for things like love, beauty, contentment, etc but a 'perfect' world where evil exists allows for the development of other significant virtues such as courage, sacrifice, patience, mercy, hope, etc None of those things would be possible in the 'ideal' non-evil world. The existence of evil makes it possible for believers to be grow into more robust virtue, and therefore a world where evil exists is better (in the long run) than a world where it does not.

At least, I think that's how the argument goes.

Also worth consideration in my opinion are the examples in Luke 13:1-5 (evil is cautionary) and John 9 (evil provides a context for a better appreciation of good).

DJP said...

Anyone wishing to can find mine own theodicy among these conference talks.

Steve said...


Are the notes for the SOG messages available?

ANiMaL (richard) said...

Response: Yes, that proves the god of mans own imagination is all of those things. The God of the bible is busy plucking as many people as call on Him from the fire. (Zach. 3:2, Joel 2:32 Rom. 10:13)

Guess that's not as pithy. I'll work on it.

michellemabell said...


Yes, they are all going to die...and so was the man in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) and yet Jesus calls us all to go out and do the same....to show mercy. Even if that is just praying for them.
But really, to find anything amusing at all about the suffering of the lost and others who are in the Christ Jesus is sad.

DJP said...

...to find anything amusing at all about the suffering of the lost and others who are in the Christ Jesus is sad

You've seen someone find something amusing about the suffering of the lost and others who are in the Christ Jesus?

Rob said...

Excellent response. Having just finished a reading of Job, it's hard to top God's response to Job in those final chapters.

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...


A great answer. I've been asked this same question several times this week by non-believers who are quite hostile to God. They always take issue with my answer, namely that God is who He has revealed Himself to be according His Word, and I'm not here to answer for Him.

They get really upset when I tell them their "not fair" argument is invalid, and they still have to one day stand before God, and they can do so in Christ or on their own accord. I'm not trying to upset anyone; the truth is just hard to take sometimes.



Robert Warren said...

"Sorry - you are?"

Probably someone who thinks God is just like them. (Psalm 50:21)

michellemabell said...


yes I do.
I enjoy this blog and reading through the comments...but reading Squirrel's reply to this post sure seemed like he or she was amused by the relief organizations helping people in need. If I misread the reply I am sorry, but I have reread it a few times now and that is what it seems to be saying. But I offer my apologies if I am being too sensitive.

Robert said...


I know that Squirrel will speak for himself, but what I understood him to mean is that when he tells people that in spite of the work of relief agencies after any disaster, every person is still going to die, it seems to work well to create a dialogue. I think he only means that it is amusing how well that it works in order to create an avenue for presenting the Gospel.

I may be wrong, but that is how I read it.

RomansOne said...

Questions about "where was God" when a disaster strikes always reminds me of what Jesus said in Luke 13:

Luke 13:1-5 (NASB): Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

He didn't try to explain why these tragedies happened, or why God let them happen. He pointed them to their own mortality, their own guilt before God, and their own need to repent and believe the gospel.

Because in the end we all die, and after that comes judgment (Heb. 9:27).

Stefan Ewing said...

Actually, this was almost exactly the opening question that a certain TV interviewer recently asked of a certain pastor.

I thought the question odd, since it subsequently became clear that the interviewer is both (a) intellectually sharp and a diligent researcher, and (b) a "committed Christian" who attends a reformed church (by the sounds of it, a conservative evangelical).

In hindsight, it may be that he was posing such a false dichotomy to the pastor, in order to see how the pastor would respond: by taking the bait and answering one way or the other, or by rising above it and providing a sound theological response.

In the event, the pastor in question did neither, and rather gave a mushy, tangential deflection as his answer.

The Squirrel said...

michellemabell said...

"...But really, to find anything amusing at all about the suffering of the lost and others who are in the Christ Jesus is sad."


I assure you that I find neither the suffering that results from any disaster, be it 20,000 dead in an earthquake halfway around the world or 2 dead in a car accident halfway across town, nor the plight of those dead in their trespasses and sins and without Christ, in anyway amusing. I am sorry if I gave that impression.

What I do find amusing (not in a "funny-hahaha" sense, but in more of an "Uhuh, now what're you going to say?" sense) is the reactions of lost people, who will do almost anything to avoid thinking about their own mortality, when they are forced to face the fact that we will all die. When ever any event, big or small, brings into people's awareness the fact of death, it is a good time to preach the Gospel. Give them the Good News while they're faced with the Bad News.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)


The Squirrel said...


Nor am I saying that relief efforts are not warranted. By all means, help the suffering. But we need to always remember this, people's biggest need is not physical, but spiritual. We can rescue someone from physical danger today, but they will still face the Judge of all the Earth at the end of their life, and, if we do not share the Gospel with them, the fact that we pulled them from the rubble of an earthquake really doesn't mean anything in eternal terms.


michellemabell said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond back to me (and Robert too.)
I understand what you are saying. I really do.
I am just not one who thinks that all relief organizations are full of lost people not wanting to deal with their own mortality.
And some of the people who are affected by this disaster as in every disaster are already spiritually saved but they are still in need of physical help and mercy.
Yes, someday we all will stand before the Judge of all creation.

Thanks again for taking the time. I don't mean ill will.


Beyond Zaphon said...

Speaking of disasters it has been said "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." Luke 13:5

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

There is an article entitled: God, Man or the Devil, and it is at:


I suggest this because one of the observation of the article comes from Reformed Pastor/Teacher Donald Barnhouse which proposes the following as it relates to human events, tragedies and so on:

When asked why an omnipotent God permits the holocaust of human history, the answer from the Word of God must be that He permits it in order to demonstrate to the universe that neither Satan nor man can do anything for themselves or for each other. If it were otherwise, these forces, which are at enmity with each other and both against God as their common enemy, could say either separately or together:

Anonymous said...

"I begin with the belief that when we shed a tear, God sheds a tear...."

For this and more "profound" thoughts about God and Japan see this "riviting" interview from MSNBC with Rob Bell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA

Anonymous said...

It proves that if God is anything, He is not sentimental.

He lets it all happen.

Matt Burke said...

How would you propose to answer the question, zippy?

thomas4881 said...

Hopefully this will make a way for the Japanese to get the true Gospel and come to salvation. From what I have read most Japanese are into Zen. Zen teaches that people can become like God.

Thomas Louw said...

Let me venture what you would answer.
And this is very difficult, you having no identity whatsoever.

Zippy the Atheist.
There is no God. We have evolved from a single cell organism.
Nature will take its way, we will be born and we will die its law. So let us try to live as long as we can and enjoy life as much as we can. By trample ling on any other living animal if need be, human or otherwise. To make us feel good, sometimes we will help the odd old lady across the street, hoping for some candy.

Zippy the Agnostic.
God is not involved and does not care even if He is there. Can we know anything for sure?
We are left to ourselves, enjoy all we can and hope Rob Bell is talking the truth.

Zippy the Christian
There is a higher purpose, there is hope, and there is a reason. Life is not empty life is not meaningless, life is not about me. It does not end. I am loved, not because who I am but because He made me.
Life is about Him.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Really, the athiest is - or ought to be - at a loss to explain why the Japanese earthquake (or any other such) is a disaster. This is the way the universe is - the way this world is. These things happen as a result of the inevitable forces of physics and chance. Life goes on, or it doesn't - no matter either way, because in the long run we're all dead.

You can really only call something a disaster if "that's not the way it's supposed to be". Without God, there's no "supposed to", there's just what is.

"And you are..." someone who doesn't believe in God, and is angry at Him for not existing. Angry at Him for not making things come out the way I think they should be.

one busy mom said...

God is just that - GOD. He doesn’t answer to us - we answer to Him.

We obligate the “god” of our imaginations’to provide long life, health, happiness, prosperity,& peace to all whenever we “rub his belly” or invoke his name.

The God of the Bible gives no such guarantees.

We know we are all eternal creatures – spending that eternity in one of only 2 locations. Curiously, it doesn’t matter how long we live on this earth – whether a day, a month, a year, a decade, a century, or even a millennium – mathematically the percentage of our existence spent this side of the grave is 0%. The percentage of our existence spent in heaven or hell – 100%.

Although painful tragic things happen in this life, they are – in the light of eternity – minuscule and fleating. It doesn’t mean we don't grieve with the hurting,but our perspective and priorities need to focus on the eternal. That is forever.

Stefan Ewing said...

One Busy Mom:

You're right. That was a brilliant comment to read—all of it.

That the "gods" of our imagination are just talismans of good living...and that compared to the fleetingness of this life everlasting really is everlasting...sobering stuff.

Stefan Ewing said...

I mean, compared to the fleetingness of this life, the life everlasting really is everlasting.

Sam said...

Atheism is too simple. Why bother to ask.

dinosaur_walter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dinosaur_walter said...

Did God cause the earth to shake or was the earthquake a result of plate tectonics and the subtle and inevitable shifting around of the physical construct of this globe? In other words was this earthquake a natural disaster as a result of physics over which God has no control or was God aware that tis event would take place and which now God sovereignly uses for his purposes, having already foreseen the event? Boyd would say that God was taken by surpise and now reacts. What think ye?

Anonymous said...

A god that can be caught off guard is no god at all.

Steve Berven said...

I always hope that, were I in a situation like that, where someone asked me, why doesn't your God save you, I would be able to answer:

"My God saved me when I was six years old."

Anonymous said...

Natural disasters are an embarrassment to a god believer like myself.

Phil said...

DJP wrote:
Mass tragedies like this create an insoluble dilemma.
For atheists.
If a Christian handles it in such a way that doesn't make that objectively clear, or makes it seem as if he's embarrassed and on the defensive, he's failed.

I'm not as intelligent or on the ball like the rest of you guys. I've been mulling this over all weekend but I still can't see what dilemma an atheist is faced by a mass tragedy. Sorry but could someone spell it out for me please? Thank you.

DJP said...

Then, ckr, I'd urge you to turn from your "god" to the God and Father of Christ. This isn't the thread to begin that, but there is a lot of reading on this site and elsewhere, where you could begin that exploration. Perhaps you could start here.