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Religious Tolerance logo

Why did the South Asian Tsunami happen?

Part 1: Reasons given by some religious
moderates, liberals, progressive neopagans, etc.
A painful sermon. God is not responsible.
People are ultimate responsible for their deaths

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tsunami Responses, mainly by religious moderates, liberals, progressives, neopagans and secularists:

Speaking generally, most religious liberals, whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccans, and some others, do not attribute the tsunami's devastation to an intentional act of God. God is not trying to get our attention in order to persuade us to change our behavior or beliefs. Some responses were:


A painful sermon on the role of God:

Rev. Nettleton is the pastor of the South Yarra Community Baptist Church in Melbourne, Australia. A week after the disaster, he preached a sermon stating in part:

"There are all too many other words spoken about God.
Everyone has an opinion.
Some will say that God is absent, dead or doesn’t care.
Some will say that God is all-powerful, that nothing happens except at God’s say-so and that yes, tsunamis only happen if God wills them to.
Some will say that the tsunami is God's judgment.
Words words words; there are no end of words about God...."

"And where was God as the wave hit?
Wasn’t God right there bearing the brunt of it.
Wasn’t God there clinging to his beloved child only to be overwhelmed by the wave and have the child ripped from his arms and torn away on that surging flood of hatred and battered and smashed and pierced and tossed limp and lifeless to the earth." 1

Rev. Mettleton seems to parallel the thoughts of Rabbi Kushner who tackled the problem of theodicy in his famous book "Why bad things happen to good people." 2 Theodicy is the study of why a good, loving, compassionate God allows evil to exist. It is a field of study in which there are many answers, none of which are entirely satisfying. As a result of a personal tragedy involving the death of his son, Kushner came to the conclusion that God cannot be simultaneously omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and beneficent. The concept of a God with all four attributes, as is often taught in major religions of the world, leads to logical contradictions. He concluded that he had to drop one of the four attributes. He concluded that God is not omnipotent. He is unable to prevent tragedies like the South Asian tsunami. Instead, God weeps with us whenever these tragedies happen.


God is not responsible:


Reporter Judy Gerstel describes a belief system close to Deism -- the concept that God created the world and the rest of the universe, set it all in motion, departed, and hasn't been seen since:

"The response of many enlightened spiritual leaders is that the Lord, loving and compassionate, set in motion a universe that functions according to scientific laws and that natural disasters, including birth defects and childhood cancers — and even manmade disasters such as 9/11 and traffic accidents that kill teenagers — are unavoidable consequences of creation."

She tempers the remoteness of the Deistic God by writing:

"...the benevolence of God, they say, is in the human response, the will to survive, to comfort the afflicted, to transcend suffering." 3


Rabbi Michael Lerner is founding editor of Tikkun, a magazine devoted to "the healing and transformation of the planet." He said:

"The tectonic moves of the earth are part of a totally integrated moral system that has been in place since the earth began to evolve. That moral system, described by the Bible, tells us that the physical world will be unable to function in a peaceful and gentle way until the moral/spiritual dimension manifest in the behavior of God's creatures coheres with God's will: that is, is filled with justice, peace, generosity and kindness."


Rabbi Daniel Isaak, of the conservative Jewish Congregation Neveh Shalom, in Portland, OR said:

"It is really difficult to believe in a God that not only creates a tsunami that kills 50 or 60 thousand people, but that puts birth defects in children. Often the first question people ask on an individual basis is that question that that Indian woman asked. 'Why is God doing this to me?' This is not something that God has done. God hasn't picked out a certain group of people in a certain area of the world and said: 'I am going to punish them," The world has certain imperfections built into the natural order, and we have to live with them. The issue isn't 'Why did God do this to us?' but 'How do we human beings care for one another'?" 4


Costas Kyriakides a Greek Orthodox theologian in Cyprus said:

"I personally don't attach any theological significance to this -- I listen to what the scientists say. God is always the fall guy. We incriminate Him completely unjustly." 4

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People are ultimately responsible for their own deaths, according to some Buddhists:


Ananda Guruge, a Buddhist, a former ambassador to the United States from Sri Lanka and a teacher at the University of the West in Rosemead, CA attributes the mass deaths to the Buddhist doctrine of karmic law -- not random chance. He said that the regions had been suffering bad karma, perhaps caused by oppression, unjust war, and other negative actions. Theravada Buddhists, who form a majority in both Sri Lanka and Thailand, generally believe that those who died were paying the price of accumulated demerits in this life or in previous reincarnations. Those who survived have been rewarded by their past behavior, in this and previous lifetimes. He said:

"Buddhist doctrine makes people responsible for their own fate. ... such doctrines of cause and effect provide solace by empowering people to take corrective action. By doing good deeds, he said, people can improve their own futures and transfer their merits to deceased loved ones to help bring them a better rebirth." 5


Bhante K. Uparatana, a native of Sri Lanka and chief monk and founder of the International Buddhist Center in Silver Spring, MD, said that Buddhists believe that nothing is permanent. They look for ways to improve their lives by eradicating bad karma. Disasters give them a chance to learn from the tragedy. He said:

"We have to be more generous, more compassionate and show more loving kindness to one another and respect each other." 6

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nathan Nettleton, "A Christmas Tsunami," a sermon, 2005-JAN-2, at:
  2. Vince Isner, "Where is God?," FaithfulAmerica, 2005-JAN-19, at:
  3. Judy Gerstel, "Watching the wreckage, waves that come and go," The Toronto Star, 2004-JAN-07, at:
  4. Peter Graff, "Faiths Ask of Quake: 'Why Did You Do This, God?'," Reuters, 2004-DEC-30, at:
  5. Teresa Watanabe and Larry B. Stammer, "Deadly Tsunami Resurrects the Old Question of Why. Leaders of various faith traditions have different interpretations of how such human suffering can occur under a benevolent God." Los Angeles Times, 2005-JAN-08, at:
  6. Bill Broadway, "Divining a Reason for Devastation. Followers of Various Faiths Differ on Natural, Supernatural Explanations for Tsunami, " Washington Post," at:

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Copyright © 2005 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JAN-01
Latest update: 2014-MAR-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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