In the wake of the tsunami that claimed more than 220,000 lives, some people were asking hard questions. Faced with such devastation, they wanted to know, how was it possible to believe in a good, all-powerful God?
Now stories are leaking out about what’s going on in the aftermath of the tsunami. The reports are sketchy and anecdotal so far, but they already have people asking another, equally important, question: Is it possible to believe in the goodness of man?
Women and children in refugee camps have been sexually abused. One teenage girl told a story of being raped by a man moments after he had pulled her to safety. At the same time, children separated from their families have been illegally taken out of the country and placed for adoption. And other stories of human trafficking are circulating.
Now at this point the numbers are small, and many of the reports unconfirmed. But as reporter Jaci Schneider, writing in the Abilene Christian University magazine, explained, “The region of South Asia . . . was already known for the trafficking of children for forced slavery and prostitution and has become even more susceptible to those atrocities. In just one region of Indonesia, at least 13,000 children might have become orphans. Even if their parents are alive, they have been separated, and it may take weeks to be reunited with their families.” These children are more vulnerable than ever to a practice that, as Schneider points out, was going on long before the tsunami called the world’s attention to that region.
Washington Post reporter DeNeen L. Brown adds, “Those who have long worked in disaster zones say human predators are part of a pattern. The natural disaster strikes, people die, people mourn, compassion and aid roll in — and so do the predators.” Tragically, we’ve seen it happen just recently with reports of UN workers in Africa abusing and exploiting the people they were there to help.
The stories from Asia led Brown to make a lame attempt to try to explain the problem of human evil. She quotes psychologists who state that people behave this way when they are overwhelmed with stress, or when their needs are not being met. But in the end, she was not able to come up with any real explanation of the root problem. She could only conclude, “It raises questions about the nature of humanity and its capacity for evil, for wickedness.”
Indeed, it does — questions I have heard through years of prison ministry from those who want to believe that human nature is basically good. It’s not. Forget the excuses.
It may be hard to believe that God is good during a time of natural disaster, but it becomes easier when we recognize just how depraved human beings can be. Seeing the kind of evil that humanity is capable of, we know that something has gone tragically wrong with the whole world, including creation. That’s what we mean by the Fall: It is very real, despite secular society’s desire to ignore it or to excuse it away. But then when we look at God’s work of redemption and mercy, it helps us understand that God looks lovingly upon us despite our own natures and that, by His grace, He understands more about goodness than we ever will.