Religious leaders’ answer to tsunami points to belief in different gods, Mohler tells “Larry King Live” audience

Communications Staff — January 12, 2005

Where was God when an earthquake on the floor of the Indian Ocean triggered a tsunami that snuffed out the lives of thousands—many of them children—along the coast of South Asia the day after Christmas?

A panel of six religious and spiritual leaders addressed that question on CNN’s Larry King Live Jan. 7, and each gave distinctly different answers. Their responses exposed a difference between the personal, sovereign God of Christianity and the deity of other religions that is as vast as the devastation the tsunami left in its wake.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary appeared on the show along with New Age author and spiritist Deepak Chopra, Muslim scholar Maher Hathout, Buddhist monk Henepola Gunaratana, Roman Catholic Priest Michael Manning, and Jewish Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Mohler said the tsunami and the resulting destruction did not fall outside the control of the sovereign God that Christians see revealed in the pages of Scripture.

“This God who has created this incredible universe has also disclosed Himself in His written Word, the Bible,” Mohler said. “He tells us that He loves us. He reveals Himself as all-powerful and it’s clear in this incredible universe that is affected by sin, [that] there are these natural laws that operate.

“There is not one atom or molecule that is outside of God’s control. God is love. He loves His creatures, but these laws operate and, unfortunately, it rains on the just and the unjust. Sometimes there is just no way you can give an explanation that we know why this has happened. But we know what we have to do now that this has happened.”

Lerner said the Christian concept of God is invalid and must change to accommodate a changing world. Liberal Jews are re-conceiving God as a “force” who is in a state of evolution alongside creation, he said.

Further, Lerner argued that god is not “up in heaven throwing down punishments and judgments” and controlling and governing creation. Instead, he said liberal Jews conceive of god as “the force of healing” who does not control every event in the universe. The universe itself is moving toward a higher level of “god-consciousness,” so saying God had anything to do with the tsunami is presumptuous and arrogant, he said.

“I think that the older conception of God as the big guy up in heaven shaping and controlling everything has to be replaced,” Lerner said.

“And over the course of the past several thousand years, as Jewish suffering has been so intense, we have been asking this question and evolving a conception of god as the force of healing and transformation in the universe—the force that moves the universe towards greater love, greater kindness, [and] greater caring.”

Similarly, Chopra articulated a deity similar to that of Lerner. He called sin and punishment “very primitive” ideas whose time have passed and said that human beings’ concept of god must change as they evolve.

Regarding the tsunami, Chopra said people should learn compassion as well as their need to “reconnect” with nature in a way similar to the animals. This “connection” is possible because the earth itself is god-like—a living organism—and all of nature is one, he said.

“Is it possible that our consciousness and the turbulence in our consciousness have anything to do with the turbulence in nature?” Chopra said. “One of the very interesting things that happened with this tsunami was that no animal died. [Animals] were so tuned in to the forces of nature that they escaped.

“We have lost that connection. Is there a way that we can collectively transcend to a level of consciousness where we see that the turbulence in our collective mind, possibly, is inseparable from the turbulence in nature because we are part of nature? …

If we quiet the turbulence in our collective minds and we heal the rift in our collective souls that could have an effect on nature’s mind—if nature has a mind.”

In lieu of a supreme being, Gunaratana pointed out that Buddhists believe in a “universal force” called “eternal law” which asserts that everything that happens on earth is merely a series of unchangeable causes and effects that are part of nature. Therefore, the unconscionable death brought on by the tsunami is merely the existential cycle of nature playing itself out, he said.

“This (suffering) is part of nature, that things come into existence and are going out of existence in one way or another,” he said. “And this is one of those ways that things went out of existence.”

While people of all faiths mourn the tragedy in South Asia and are rightly seeking to aid those who are suffering, Mohler said, it is only the Christian God and His Gospel that can offer genuine, eternal hope.

Scripture and the love of Christ compel Christians to show mercy, to “weep with those who are weeping,” Mohler said. But believers show authentic compassion when they share the good news of the Gospel even as they bind the wounds of those hurting, he said.

“As you look at this program today, you have two very different understandings of God,” Mohler said. “Christians don’t believe that God is some cosmic principle. We believe He is the triune personal God who has revealed Himself in His Word. He has told us who He is and He has told us how we can come to have peace with Him.

“We are all united on this program in broken-hearted concern for the people of South Asia. But for the Christian that concern is not only for this life, but even more urgently, for the life that is to come. That is what drives us in our concern.”

As to the question of how a loving, sovereign God could allow such massive human suffering, Mohler pointed out that grief and death are the results of a world that is fallen and held captive by sin. However, Mohler cautioned Christians against attempting to discern God’s purposes for tragic events. The Bible gives believers no warrant to view the tsunami as an expression of God’s judgment on particular people for particular sins, he said.

“He is omnipotent and He can do anything, but if God stopped all death there would be no death, and we are told that death is a part of His judgment,” Mohler said. “If God intervened in every natural law, we wouldn’t have any confidence that gravity or any other principle would be always operating.

“We must now do what is right in the aftermath of this and a part of this is assuring people that God does love them, even, and especially in the midst of this incredible suffering.

“The Christian response to this is that we know the character of God and we know that God is even now working through His people in the midst of this. And we have a Christian responsibility in this and that is why so many people are going to South Asia and giving (aid) to the people who are there.”

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