Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thoughts on God and Suffering from Banda, Aceh Indonesia

Speaking with us 'round the Firelight today is Megan King. Megan, 35, is the Head of Mission for Caritas in Banda Aceh. Aceh is a region on the north tip of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Banda was the epicenter for the South Asian earthquake of 2004. The tsunami, which followed the earthquake, killed 200,000 people and destroyed the entire west coast.

The main focus of Megan’s role with Caritas is to work with NGOs that support democratic transformation by trade. In briefly describing Banda, post tsunami, Megan says this: “The city was entirely rebuilt. Everyone in Banda Aceh lost part of his or her family. Many lost almost everyone.”

Megan describes herself as more of a philosophical Christian than a religious one. She’s a fan of Jesus, though. When she examines ancient cultures who seem to embrace the idea of a wrathful God, Megan says, “suddenly, smack dab in the middle is some hippie in the desert telling everyone to stop worrying about life, relax and be good to one another. Maniac. Somewhere in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is the passage about the sparrow [Matt.6:25-34]. Jesus, in a shocking precursor to Bobby McFarren, gives us ‘don’t worry, be happy’. If God has designed a system so perfect that it provides for the simplest creatures, ie the birds, then of course he is going to provide for something much more complex like humans. Of course the Bible passage does not talk about simple or complex life forms, it talks about the love that God has for man.”

Katie: How do you respond to the following question: “If we believe we worship the One who can calm a storm with a word (Matthew 8:23-27), then how are we to respond when it seems He allows the storm to rage?”

Megan: The earthquake in Japan, and before in Aceh, was not the act of a vengeful God. Many in Aceh thought that was the case. They thought that the Aceheneese had moved too far from Islam, causing God to destroy the coast and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

God, in my humble opinion, did not destroy the coast of Aceh because teenagers were going on dates or every once in a while someone was getting drunk or having an affair. God caused the earthquake in Aceh because the pacific tectonic plate had built up too much pressure that had to be released. God was following through on his perfect design of this planet of ours that requires such releases of tension from time to time. The core of our planet is heated and alive, and so are we as a result.

The down side of that is that from time to time, earthquakes will happen and natural disasters will be a dramatic and horrible reality to people in certain areas. It is the consequence of life and the constant renewal of the planet. If we hold tight to our ego and believe that God only cares for humans, or cares the most for humans, it becomes a horrible act of punishment. If we let go of the ego and realize that disasters like the quake in Japan are the consequence for so much beauty on this wonderful planet called earth it makes it easier to understand and to relate to. Earthquakes suck. Tsunamis suck. A cold lifeless Earth sucks more.

Knowing that disasters are part of life, I believe that someone who works to live his or her life according to the teaching found in the new Testament prepares for them if he/ she lives in a disaster zone, and reacts to aid victims when disasters happen. A Christian in a disaster tries to stay calm and not let fear overwhelm the desire to be compassionate. A Christian works hard to hold on to empathy in disasters. A Christian acts out of love not out of terror. A Christian knows that he/ she can live in the Kingdom of Heaven at the same moment that others are living in hell.

The empathy and compassion that Jesus teaches also applies to people on the other side of the planet. If you want to live according to the teachings, you cannot turn off the TV because you have seen too much and want to think about something else. Someone trying to “do what Jesus would do” puts themselves in that position and asks “what would I want someone on the other side of the planet to do.” The answer might be as simple as just keep the victims in mind and don’t forget them. Pray for them, in other words. Or maybe, keep the victims in mind and act with more love on the other side of the world. Be better to friends and family. Stand up for someone in need. Go out on a limb to help someone. Send love into the universe by living more fully in the Kingdom no matter where you are.

Katie: What words of hope do you have for the people of Japan?

Megan: I don’t think words help. They'll see hope or they won't. Some people don't come back from that kind of trauma; the vast majority does. It happens as they start to rebuild. The thing that we, who are not in the area, can do is impact how we respond. What we do and think. This is the best advice on giving that you could find: It is an article by Annie Lowery from Slate Magazine, “Japanese Tsunami: If you donate money to help the recovery, let the aid groups decide how to spend it.” I think it is spot on.

* * *

I would agree, Megan. Giving indiscriminately so that others can move forward into a new life…that sounds just like something that little hippie in the desert would say.

Thanks old friend, for sharing with all of us around the firelight.


  1. mmm. Good reflections. Love it. Megan, you communicated so many things I've been thinking of in the past week. So many have been wrestling with questions of God's role in all this. But I'm with you. My heart is settled on the fact that God is always good, regardless of the circumstances around us, that like you said this is not a vengeful act. Our world groans for sure, but I think He remains in love with us - in love with Japan. Maybe great hurt is really our great opportunity to show His love. I have friends whose family have been missionaries in Japan for decades. Recently they commented on how in Japanese culture there is more of a sense of individualism - of "I can do this on my own" and less of a tendency to ask for help. Of course I don't want to generalize about a whole culture, but in the midst of all Japan is going through, I just keep thinking what a significant time to reach out and love on a whole country. To show them they are not alone, they don't have to do it alone - to simply love them, because He first loved us. My thoughts around the fire... thanks for a good read!

  2. First, I didn't even know you had a blog. Second, I'm so glad you shared this interview with Megan. I really had no clue as to what Megan was doing. Can I just say now how truly impressed I am with all my friends. You are a blessing not only to me, but the world. I am so honored to know you both.