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Friday, January 14, 2005

Viderunt te aquæ, et timuerunt

An interesting article in the Spectator, on the business of the dreadful tsunami and the goodness of God. (Yes, I know that wasn't strictly a sentence.) Paul Johnson argues that it was (am tempted here to add 'in a very real sense', but that would be chickening out) an act of benevolence, in informing us of the fragility of our life and the imminence of our death. This would seem to be similar to part of CS Lewis's thoughts on The Problem of Pain. I am not quite sure that the part of his reasoning based on scale is necessarily quite the thing:

Why did God kill so many people? But God kills people all the time, millions every day. For that matter, God creates people, millions every day. [...] Against a total of 150,000 or so, we have to remember that four billion have been added to the number of people in the world during the last 70 years. That 150,000 is only the tiniest ephemeral blip on the world’s demographic radar. [...] Despite the losses, there are already considerably more people in the world today than there were in Christmas week. We are asked to draw transcendental conclusions from this event because of its scale. But the scale, in terms of the magnitude of the world and its inhabitants, is puny, almost insignificant.

This is undeniable in itself, but what is shocking is surely the nature of those deaths - unprepared, sudden, with no comfort of sacraments, ministers and friends. The number brings the shock home, but does not create it. But then, God will have saved as many of the victims as He chooses to, secundum magnam misericordiam Eius, and the nature of their deaths is no obstacle to this. (I suppose what is initially shocking about Johnson's argument is that he doesn't quite state this outright, and so - being ever worried as to what the Guardian collective mind will make of things - one might read it to imply that God has somehow sacrificed a load of people to teach the rest of us a lesson. Which is nonsense, obviously - quite literally nonsense, in the same sort of way that 'The fool says in his heart "there is no God"' is grammatical nonsense.)

Anyway, no article which includes that phrase 'the 18th-century so-called Enlightenment' can be bad...