Natural disasters often lead people to think about the problem of evil and theodicy. This is, I think, probably a bad idea. The problem of evil can be neatly summed up thus:
1. God is loving.
2. God is all powerful.
3. Bad things happen to undeserving people.
The assumption is that all three of these statements cannot be true without some modification to at least one of them. Over the centuries, this has been a fun intellectual parlor game and the various solutions have been proposed. One might argue that suffering makes you a better person, which amounts to a negation (or at least a modification) of 3. One might suggest that God doesn’t really care about particular human suffering, which amounts to a negation of 1. One might argue that God is limited in his ability by either human freedom or the nature of reality in intervening in human events, which, of course, amounts to a negation or modification of 2.
Interestingly, the scriptures don’t seem to have a great deal of patience with this particular parlor game. When Christ talked about human suffering, rather than offering a theodicy, he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Job poses the question with wonderful eloquence, but resolutely refuses to provide any answer other than to affirm the power and reality of God. Even the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants to which Mormons most often turn in search of theodicy — those given to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail — are not ultimately “solutions” to the intellectual problem but rather examples of divine comfort.
I am inclined by culture and training to assume that ultimately the world is made manageable by thinking about it. I tend to assume that the proper response to a challenge is to understand it. There is — it goes without saying — an enormous amount of merit to these instincts. However, when faced with actual tragedy, I am convinced that understanding is far less important that help and succor. Rather than explaining to those that mourn that ultimately there is nothing to worry about, we are to mourn with them, pick them up, and take them to the inn on the road to Jericho.
Abandoning theodicy in the immediate face of disaster and suffering is not an abandonment of God or even of our attempts to understand him. Rather it is a realization that God often has projects for us other than understanding.