What was God thinking?

In the wake of the tsunami that left hundreds of thousands dead or homeless in Southeast Asia last month, waves of religious leaders and spiritually-minded folk have weighed in on the mind of God. Their thoughts have not been uniformly thoughtful.

“This is an expression of God’s great ire with the world,” the chief rabbi of Israel said. “The world is being punished for wrongdoing – be it people’s needless hatred for each other, lack of charity, [or] moral turpitude.” An Indian Hindu priest claimed the disaster was caused by “a huge amount of pent-up man-made evil on earth” and driven by the positions of the planets. A British Muslim cleric confessed: “We believe that God has ultimate controlling power over his entire creation. We have a responsibility to try and attract God’s kindness and mercy and not do anything that would attract his anger.”

Certainty about the mind of God makes me uneasy. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.

More humbly and helpfully, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Saks, cites the Jewish medieval sage Moses Maimonides: “Natural disasters have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.

“To wish it were otherwise is…to wish that we were not physical beings at all. Then we would not know pleasure, desire, achievement, freedom, virtue, creativity, vulnerability and love. We would be angels – God’s computers – programmed to sing his praise.

“The only adequate religious response is to say: God, I do not know why this disaster has happened, but I do know what you want of us: to help the afflicted, comfort the bereaved, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.”

U.S. government aid and charitable support have topped $1 billion, not to mention costs of military personnel and equipment or volunteers that have hurried to help. Nearly half of all Americans have contributed. The world has come together in ways one hopes will bring healing of souls as well as bodies.

Rather than “What was God thinking?” we might ask “What is God doing?” If the Bible and experience are faithful guides, God rushes to the side of sufferers. Faithful worshipers of God will be side by side, showing what God is doing through us.