Anguish and Providence

by Arthur W. Anderson

Imagine 37,000 lives swept away in a typhoon. The catastrophe in Bangladesh strains one’s belief in God’s providential care as well as in the dignity of human life. The news opened up an old nightmare I had in my teens when I started to brood on the threat of World War II. If thousands can lose their lives in one natural calamity such as this, or millions in the horrendous holocaust in Germany—people who have every right to live as much as I—why should God have any concern for me?

When I shared this sense of anguish with a friend of mine who is a math professor, he said: “But you can cry?” Indeed, I can cry. As a pastor, I shared many tragedies with families in the church, for which I had no answer but a cry. Yet, I reason that every person is a universe, in a sense, a living end. Each one of us looks out at other people, the world, and the things that happen through our own eyes, with our own perspective, from the place where we stand. Each of us confronts a staggering mystery in trying to understand our own world. If we try to enter the world of a starving Kurdish mother in Iraq, or the individual worlds of a family of Jews shattered by the holocaust, or the world of a 12-year-old Polish girl ushered into a Nazi concentration camp, the mystery seems assaulted by a deadly alien power.

I have no answer and I doubt that anyone else does. The only way I can come out of reflections such as this with any sanity is to try to realize that we still die one by one and that there is a kind of infinity about each death, each one crossing the Jordan under the loving, watchful eye of a caring God. Life itself is still priceless. Trespassing on another’s world as though he or she were more dispensable than I is still a violation of the love of God. Though each day is an act of dying to our own ego and to the necessity of having to be sustained by a perfectly rationalized and comfortable way of living, it is perhaps even greater to say with the Psalmist, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” (Ps. 63:3) Christ’s death revealed that. As Christians, we can go on in that saving mystery.