God’s Wrath in Chile?

March 1st, 2010

As reported in Chile Earthquake, Tsunami News & Live Updates (Huffington Post 2/27/10), Asia braces for tsunami after Chile quake (WashingtonPost.com 2/27/10), 8.8-magnitude earthquake hits central Chile (Washington Post 2/28/10), Chile and Haiti: A look at earthquakes and politics, Chilean quake’s toll limited by sound planning (Washington Post 3/01/10), and Some scientists defend tsunami warnings  (WashingtonPost.com 3/01/10), one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded (8.8 on the Richter scale) struck Chile yesterday, creating a potentially deadly tsunami in the Pacific Ocean. Read my poem and the longer prose commentary below, let me know what you think, and if you can, make a contribution to support relief efforts in Chile by clicking on the icon below.

“Earthquake scientists, building engineers, and political scientists in Chile and the United States agreed that even though half a million homes were heavily damaged during more than 120 seconds of shaking, the fact that so many Chileans survived was a testament to the nation’s enactment and enforcement of stringent building codes.” – Washington Post

This is in memory of the 700 who died Saturday

When one of the strongest quake every recorded hit Chile.

But for me the moral from this tragedy to be derived

Are the many millions more who survived.

While I don’t want the importance of any human life to discount,

700 killed in one of the biggest quakes ever is a small amount.

That those 700 died wasn’t God’s will

(I don’t believe God’s in business, innocents to kill).

I also don’t think the survivors were part of God’s plan.

In this case, both were determined by the free will of Man.

The free will we have would be meaningless

If we didn’t have the consequences of our choices to address.

One of the main reasons people didn’t die in busloads

Is that Chile has better building codes.

And if that giant tsunami wave had appeared after all,

Catastrophe would those coastal areas befall.

Many deaths might have been created

If coastal populations hadn’t been evacuated.

The world is what we make it.

It started out good, but we break it.

We can make things better once more

(Not perfect, but better than before).

We can keep the world from going downhill.

That, after all, is why God gave us free will.


Only 700 people were killed in the earthquake in Chile. I don’t want to belittle or downplay the suffering of those people and their families — each of those deaths is its own tragedy. I only use the world “only” in comparison to the death toll (now estimated at over 220,000) for the earthquake in Haiti.

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, or that they are proof of a cruel or apathetic God. There are a lot of things I haven’t figured out about what I believe, but this one I have. If there is a God and if God gave us free ill (both of which I think are true), then that free will is meaningless if our actions and choices don’t have consequences. So God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people (or even good things happen to good people), we (individually and/or collectively) make them happen to ourselves.

If God is all powerful, then even this view suggests that He’s willing to accept a fair amount of human suffering to make a point, although I guess if you look at that suffering from the point of view of life eternal and the infinity of the universe, then it’s not as big a deal. I’m not sure where I come down on that point, but I do accept that free will is meaningless without consequences for one’s choices.

That, I think, is also the view that makes the most sense from a practical perspective, i.e., it is the view that encourages us to make the world a better place. One of the reasons the earthquake in Haiti claimed so many victims was that the buildings there were poorly built (the same was true for the 8.0 Richter scale quake in 2008 in Sichuan, China, which claimed at least 68,000 lives). Part of the lower loss of human life is sheer luck: in Chile, the quake’s epicenter was farther from population centers than was the unfortunate case in Haiti. But even that is something that human beings have at least some impact on in the long term, by promoting growth in safer areas, and enhanced building codes in areas (like SF) more prone to earthquakes.

More important however is the importance of good policy. I know that just the word “policy” is boring, and triggers almost immediate apathy in most people. But good policy saves lives, and bad policy costs them. We don’t have to look far from home for more examples: 9-11, Katrina, and the early years of Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s no coincidence that all those things occurred during the Administration of the man whom a majority of historians have rated the worst presidents in U.S. history (for more about that, check out this book in our Amazon store). Or, for another example, check out this book about an earlier Republican White House written by one of the Watergate plumbers.

One of the things that the tsunami in Indonesia taught us is the importance of quick action to evacuate possibly affected areas. After the earthquake in Chile, immediate alerts went out. Tsunami waves hit Hawaii, New Zealand,  Japan, Russia, and Australia. Hawaii and other affected areas took quick action to evacuate people from areas that might have been hit by the resulting wave (in Hawaii, emergency sirens got people out of bed at dawn, and thousands were evacuated from coastal areas). The wave turned out not to be as big or destructive (no damage was reported in any of the places it hit) as it might have been (hopefully that won’t in turn cause people to under-react next time), but if it had been, the measures taken could have saved tens of thousands of lives, or maybe even hundreds of thousands.

Disasters like this also give people a chance to band together to help themselves and each other, which is really one of our greatest strengths as humans, without which we undoubtedly would have long ago gone extinct. I personally experienced that in “The Flood” (that’s how we always referred to it, because there was only one) in 1973, when hurricane Agnes put 1 foot of water on our second floor. That experience remains one of the most formative of my life.

For more, check out the article The Chilean Earthquake and God’s Wrath (Huffington Post 3/01/10), by Jeff Schweitzer, who has also written a well-reviewed book on the subject, Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World.

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One Response to “God’s Wrath in Chile?”

  1. Was the #earthquake in #Chile God’s wrath? www.newsericks.com/gods-wrath-in-chil - Aardbeving Chili Says:

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