Seeking the Hand of God in the Waters?
(Top Posts - Social/Legal - 010105)

Believe it or not, in the following article, some religious
followers (a Jewish Rabbi and a Christian) have stated
that God did it to spite the world (Jewish Rabbi's view)
or to spite non-Christians (view of a Christian).

Some Hindu organizations view it as God's retribution
for the arrest of a Hindu leader.

A Muslim views it as a test of faith.

Others (like some Buddhists) view the event as natur-

A Lutheran Christian offers distance from trying to asso-
ciate the act with God being causal in any discernable
way, while at the same time asserting that "God, some-
how, is a presence in all of this."

Seeking the Hand of God in the Waters

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 2004; Page C01

Complete article:

Let's turn to history.

The date: Nov. 1, 1755.

The time: past 9 a.m. on All Saints' Day, a Catholic

The scene: Lisbon, the devoutly Catholic capital
of the devoutly Catholic Portuguese empire, shook
-- first a big earthquake, then a big tsunami, then
a big fire.

More than 100,000 people died.

The pious ones of the 18th century, clinging to their
merciful and omniscient and just God, asked in awe:
Was He angry? Was this His will? Was this His reac-
tion to an ill, sinful world?

Three centuries pass and here we are. In a world of
Muslims and Christians and Jews and Hindus and
Buddhists, with the disaster in South Asia so far claim-
ing more than 110,000 lives -- many of them children --
folks all over the world, in all places of worship, are
pondering similar questions.

On the Web site, someone from Bel-
gium asked the geologist Zaghloul el Naggar: "Is there
any religious meaning that we can take from a country
being affected by tidal waves? Is this a punishment
from Allah to these people? Or is it a test? How do we
know when a form of natural disaster or phenomenon
is a test or a form of punishment from Allah to the

Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sephardi chief rabbi, has said,
"This is an expression of God's great ire with the world.
The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it
people's needless hatred of each other, lack of char-
ity, moral turpitude."

Some organizations in India say the tsunami is "divine
retribution" for the arrest of Jayendra Saraswati, a Hindu
religious leader.

Since Sunday, those of different faiths have sought
their own meaning, and some kind of explanation, for
such a massive loss of life.

On his Web site, Bill Koenig writes: "The
Biblical proportions of this disaster become clearly
apparent upon reports of miraculous Christian sur-

Christian persecution in these countries is some of
the worst in the world." Eight of the 12 countries hit
-- Malaysia, Burma, Bangladesh, Somalia, Maldives,
Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia, he says -- "are among
the top 50 nations who persecute Christians."

Koenig, who lives in Alexandria and started the site
in 1996, sees the South Asian disaster as an example
of Christian exceptionalism. "What happened, and we
see this happen over and over again, was that Chris-
tians, supernaturally, have been able to escape from
harm's way," says the self-described Christian funda-
mentalist. "

'For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not
been since the beginning of the world until this time, no,
not ever shall be,' " he says, quoting from Matthew 24:21.

Mahdi Bray, a Muslim cleric, is the executive director
of the Freedom Foundation, a public affairs arm of the
Muslim American Society, a national grass-roots reli-
gious, social and educational organization based in
Washington. He quotes the Bible, too, a psalm which
says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh
in the morning." There is a similar passage in the Koran,
he adds, "Verily with every difficulty there is relief."

"This is a test" of people's faith, he says again and again.

Sutadhara Tapovanaye, a Buddhist monk for 38 of his
48 years, tries to explain it differently. This, he says, is
a part of life, the dynamics of nature, an always-changing

On Wednesday night, in a tearful memorial service at the
Sri Lankan Embassy, he was asked to say a few words.
"It was difficult," he remembers.

He arrived in the District two months ago for a year-long
sabbatical at the Washington Buddhist Vihara Society.
"According to Buddhist explanations, life is very short,"
says the linguistics teacher at Kelaniya University in Sri
Lanka. "It is like a dream, but I never expected a night-
mare like this.

"Now, in Sri Lanka, human bodies are piling up and with
no identities. Nobody can recognize bodies as a part of
any ethnic group or religious identification. Just human
bodies. The medical workers give a number for each
body," he says. "That means, we have to think about
this death as inevitable, but at the same time, we have
to rethink about life. Though we have different barriers
-- man-made barriers, actually -- the reality is beyond

Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history
at the University of Chicago, has written his 55th book,
"When Faiths Collide," which he says should land in
bookstores this week.

He's been an ordained Lutheran minister since 1952.

"It's only natural to repose yourself in the will of God,"
he says. "If you're a believer, then you must believe
that God, somehow, is a presence in all of this. But
God didn't tell anybody that you go through life with-
out disasters."

Still, talk of religion's role in the disaster irks Marty.
Following the devastation in Lisbon in 1755, priests
roamed the streets, hanging those they believed
had incurred God's wrath. That event "shook the
modern world," he notes, changing people's idea
of a benevolent, all-caring God.

"In each act of nature -- your insurance calls it an
act of God -- when people are precise in knowing
that this is God's will, they're creating great trouble
for themselves and others. You have to say that
God is playing favorites. You're thinking, 'If I were
spared this time, then when disaster comes next
time, I'd have to blame it on God.' "

- - -