Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tsunami Facts

My understanding of Scripture's message, then, is that God is still and always has been completely sovereign over the workings of the universe, including tsunamis. As Psalm 97:1 has it,
The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.
Tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanoes are essential to life on earth, and that in ways that scientists have only begun to understand. Thus, like fire and gravity, they are necessary and yet very dangerous aspects of the physics with which God endowed the creation.

Our planet experiences one million earthquakes each year. A large one occurs on average every two weeks under one of the seas. And a tsunami of the magnitude of the one in Southeast Asia in December of 2004 comes along about once a century. But we live in a very tranquil period in earth's history; the frequency and magnitude of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes (not to mention meteorite impacts) has generally been much greater than that which humans have experienced.

Moreover, there are at least three aspects of tsunamis designed to minimize or prevent loss of life. First, about 20 minutes prior to a tsunami, the seas invariably recede in a very characteristic manner, giving people warning to get inland or to higher ground. Second, the mangrove forests native to most tropical coastlines are known to dissipate up to 90% of the force of such a wave. (This buffering effect was observed again this past fall with in connection with the hurricane that hit the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.) We know that the coastlines affected by the 2004 tsunami have lost 30% of the mangroves that existed there only two decades ago. In that wave, villages situated right at sea level--but behind such a mangrove forest--suffered only minor damage. Third, it appears that coral reefs have a similar role in dissipating the force of tsunamis.

There is, of course, a moral component to the tragic loss of life associated with killer tsunamis like the one in Asia. Knowing as we do about the characteristic warning signs, it would be effective and feasible to post informative signs on beaches throughout danger zones, but neither governments nor anyone else has yet undertaken such a humanitarian project. And wasteful destruction of mangrove forests and of coral reefs (poor stewardship of the resources--and in this case the buffers--that God has provided) represents an immoral act with deadly consequences.

Now, I know that I haven't satisfactorily and fully explained the reasons that so many people lost their lives in December of 2004 on the coastlines of Asia. My goal has been a more modest one. That is to assert that tsunamis--like other things we refer to as "natural evils"--play a necessary role in making earth a habitable place and that the Bible declares that God is still sovereign over all such things. My claim is that the erroneous idea that "natural evils" themselves can be attributed to the Fall of Adam has no place in a rational Christian defense of the problem of evil and suffering.

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