The earthquake and tsunami that have devastated Japan, and beyond, are off any scale that exists in my thinking. Massive waves that move across the ocean at 500 miles per hour, and tremors that cause buildings to sway like reeds in the wind don't exist in my mind. When "experts" explain these phenomena I gain a new appreciation for their magnitude, but I understand them only in the sense that I learn to parrot back some of what these specialists say. It is not dissimilar to my "understanding" of this computer. I know that when I press the "I" key that the letter appears on the screen in front of me, and that the code that produces that "I" can be stored on a hard drive or sent by digital signals across vast distances. (I'm going to date myself here.) I remember when manual typewriters were popular. I could examine the levers, springs, and gears and understand how it worked. I am confident that if I had put forth the effort I could have explained, complete with pictures, how my old Remington worked. This computer: in broad terms I can explain it, but much of it is a mystery. That is where I am in explaining the cataclysmic events of the past few days--my knowledge base is inadequate.
I think I know enough, however, to be confident that the correct answer to why this tragedy erupted in Japan, is "I don't know." Beware of those who have neat, tidy answers. The vast debris fields that once were neighborhoods in the Island nation, are matched by the clutter in our minds. I'm not sure we can altogether understand what has happened. What we can do, however, is "contain" the disruption in our mind and heart with some reality barriers.
"I don't understand, but I do know this."
What are some of the "this"es we can know?
- Disasters like the one that struck our neighbors on the other side of the globe, are tragic, in particular, because they are an accumulation of personal, totally real disasters. This morning the estimates are that 10,000 people died in the earthquake/tsunami. Each of them is a mom, dad, brother, sister, grandparent, or friend. Every one of those buildings was someones home, their place of employment, house of worship, school, etc. One of the dangers of the worldwide communication/news environment is we tend to see the devastation as if it were the tide washing away children's sand-castles. People talk of good that can come from this tragedy. We can identify good that has come from past tragedies, and I already hear of God's people reaching out with the Love-of-Christ. That is definitely good. One of the boundaries we must respect is to call things like this bad--in this case bad beyond my scale of reckoning. In the Old-Testament the word "evil" is used not only to describe the morally corrupt, but natural disasters. This kind of evil will be eliminated in the heavenly realm, Revelation 21:4. The natural disasters that afflicted Job were seen by him and his loved ones as evil, Job 42:11. Let us never be guilty of calling bad things good. Romans 8:28 does not say, "all things are good," but, "all things work together for good." Look in the context and you'll see that a short time before the Apostle pronounced the truth of verse 28, he wrestled with the presence of bad things in the world.
- God is in control. Sometimes we feel like God needs our help. We think that we need to lobby on His behalf and make sure others know this isn't His fault. It is true that God is not the author of evil, but He is in control in this world. His sovereignty extends from the falling sparrow to the culmination of all things. God was not napping when the earth moved with violence. Other than what He has revealed, I don't know why, but I do know the world is in His hand.
- People are responsible. The choices we make have consequences. When aggregates of people make choices--national policies, the direction of cultures, etc. those decisions have far reaching consequences. Where we build cities, how we provide them power, and how the people there live can have consequences far beyond what we see. The Old-Testament is full of examples of societies that became ripe for the judgment of God. The later part of Romans 1 records a pattern that is all too common. Fatalism is never the answer. We need to make wise, right decisions, and encourage the groups we are a part of to do so as well.
- We are to reach out with love and compassion whenever we are able. One of the reasons Christianity came to dominate the Roman world was because Christians reached out with compassion to those afflicted by plagues and other disasters. We must avoid being opportunists. At the same time we must, with courage and hope, reach out with the love God in the face of this world's darkness.
There is much that I don 't know. I am able to cope because of what God has graciously made sure for me.
Some further thought: