Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hauling Water to a Thirsty, Unbelieving, Unconvinced World:

The view through my keyhole is narrow--bound as it is by my perception--but, magnified by the Internet, it is long.
Some friends of mine serve as Christ's witnesses in Phnom Penh. The tragic bridge collapse, of a few days ago, took place in their neighborhood. T. recently wrote:

We're writing with sad hearts. As you've probably seen or heard on the news, the
Water Festival ended with tragedy here in Phnom Penh last night. The latest
reports are claiming about 400 people died and 400 more were hospitalized after
a stampede on a bridge not too far from our apartment.
. . . To be honest, we are feeling sad and frustrated. . . . 400 people almost all of whom did not know Jesus suffocated or were crushed to death, 400 families lost
children, parents, siblings and just as many are in hospitals fighting for their
Because there was no way to really help besides praying for the families, I spent the day driving my motorbike with as many cases of water as I could carry to deliver to families waiting outside three of the major hospitals which received stampede victims. . . .
At the last hospital, the people in charge directed me to take the water to the place where families came to claim bodies. There were so many exhausted, hopeless faces. I felt incredibly inadequate showing up on a motorbike loaded down with a measly 10 cases of water in the face of such loss; but the workers there were kind and thanked me. . . .
The scripture comes to mind, "And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42, NASB95)
My friend sees his act as insignificant, and by the metric of the horrendous scale of the disaster, I have to agree, but apparently there is a Divine measurement that imputes far greater significance to a moped loaded with water delivered by a kind, though foreign face.
A few days after receiving the note above, I happened to see T. online. We chatted for a moment. He observed that most of the people affected by the tragedy believe in reincarnation. They are comforted that because these loved ones died in such a terrible manner while participating in a religious event, they would come back in a better state in the next life. He asked,
"How do we argue with that?"
I don't think my friend's question was primarily intellectual. He is well versed in apologetics, and knows how to share the Gospel. His query came from the gut more than from the head. How can we take away this shred of hope--false, though it may be--when lack of language, trust, and cultural awareness make it nearly impossible for me to share the real hope. Like his meager offering of water in the face of such overwhelming need, T. felt that what he had to offer was inadequate.
My reply to T.'s question, "How do we argue with that?" was brief.
"We don't."
I went on to offer some further explanation about how we trust God to penetrate hearts with the Good News. He and I know, however, that such penetration is usually frustratingly slow and sporadic. I wished for a jet plane, a couple of cups of coffee and time to listen and talk.

I share some further thoughts here not only, not even primarily, for my friends there on the front-line--I figure they already know more than me--but mostly for all of us who constantly struggle with questions related to tragic events.

  • First, T., though your offering of water is literally a drop in an ocean, you were precisely and profoundly right to offer it.
    I don't have his book in front of me but Theologian and pastor, Millard Ericson, in his book, Christian Theology, makes the important distinction between a pastoral and a Theological answer to the problem of evil. People who are hurting are much more in need of a drink of water, offered from a kind hand, than they are a tightly reasoned Theodicy offered from a brilliant mind.
  • While my answer was brief--partly due to the constraints of i-chatting & slow-typing--I still think it is right. Clearly there is at least (I say "at least knowing that many, to one degree or another, hold to and practice evidential-apologetics.) an element of truth in presuppositionalism. Our task is not so much to prove the validity of the Gospel as to proclaim it. We believe that "Life and reality make sense only on the basis of Christian presuppositions." ( As Jesus said, "If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17, ESV) There is always an element of risk in faith, at least on the front end. No apologetic safety line can make the plunge into faith--especially when the starting point is a culture largely devoid of Christian influence--totally free of fear. Examples abound of those who received the Good News when it appeared to many outsiders that it was totally unreasonable for them to do so. Later they found it made perfect sense. Often those Saul/Paul-like conversions lead to significant penetration of the truth of God into a people-group. Keep hauling water, both in plastic bottles and the "Living" kind.
  • We cannot get away from the reality that our security in the Lord is not primarily based on our complete understanding of His ways, but in our trust of Him. We need to refer to Deuteronomy 29:29 often.
  • We are far better to offer no answer than to traffic in easy, pat, feel-good pseudo-truths. Following another disaster, Al Mohler shared some words worth reading in this regard, "God and the Tsunami."

To my friends in Cambodia, thanks. To the rest of us, Let's haul some water.

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