As the sun rises over Kuala Bubon, Wadi begins mending his fishing nets. Soon he is accompanied by the sound of hammering that echoes across the lagoon where dozens of brightly painted new boats are moored. Two and a half years after the tsunami ravaged this village on the southwest coast of Indonesia’s remote Aceh province, life has begun again and peace has flourished.
Tsunami survivor Marzuki Arsyad, 34, was luckier than some in Banda Aceh—his wife was unharmed because she was working outside the city. Even so, on December 26, 2004, this pedicab driver and fisherman lost 13 relatives as well as his home. The death toll in Indonesia’s Aceh province was 170,000; 500,000 became homeless.
When disaster strikes, people turn to religion to help them answer two questions: Why did this happen? and What should we do about it? Call the first the meaning question and the second the action question.
At a dinner in honor of a prominent guest, I was seated next to a woman who works for CBS.The tsunami had just struck off the coast of Sumatra with all its destructive force, and we were talking about the magnitude of desolation, the plight of the victims and the insanity of the event. She knew I was a theologian, so she broached the question of God. “Where was God?” she asked bluntly.
When Nadarajah Arulnathan visits his church at Pasikudah, he puts on a surgical mask because along the way he must pass rotting bodies tangled in the underbrush. They can’t be removed because of the landmines, washed loose from a nearby military base and scattered across the land. The church sanctuary is battered but still stands.
Evil should be mourned but not ascribed to any greater divine purpose
Jan 25, 2005
It is hard to speak theologically about the Indian Ocean tsunami without being banal or obscene. To say the event reminds us of our finitude or our inability to control nature is to mumble platitudes. To say God willed such devastation for some greater reason is to administer a theological slap to the tear-stained faces of all who mourn, especially the parents who mourn their drowned children.
Although tsunami recovery supplies destined for nations bordering the Indian Ocean were slowed at first by transportation bottlenecks and chaotic conditions, churchgoers were able to speed generous donations via computer to relief agencies responding to the widespread tragedy.
The killer tsunami that devastated islands and shorelines on the Indian Ocean within hours last month ought to alert political leaders to the perils of what some scientists call a much slower but earth-circling climate change, say two international church executives.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.