Indonesia after 2004 tsunami
On a Sunday morning, the day after Christmas in 2004, the earth’s crust shifted under the Indian Ocean, just west of Indonesia. That earthquake sent outwards, in every direction, some of the largest tsunamis ever recorded. When those massive waves hit shore they brought horrific, unimaginable devastation. You probably remember the images of the destruction. Trains tipped over like toys, cars washed down the streets like leaves after a rain, whole cities with thousands of people deluged, and then swept out to sea. The loss of human life was staggering. An exact count could not be determined, but the death toll of that day and its aftermath was over 280,000. It was the worst natural disaster in recent memory, and one of the deadliest in human history.
Such disasters do make one think about God, each in his or her own way. Some will turn to God in prayer, certainly for help for themselves and others, some perhaps in repentance. Others will wonder about God’s love or even his existence. Some will respond by a raising fist upwards in anger and scorn to a God they may not even believe in. At those times, we see much of this spiritual questioning in the media. Some news people are very matter-of-fact in their reporting, while others display their mocking unbelief. One magazine had an editorial on ‘religious faith after the tsunami,’ and the concluding line stated that the greatest miracle after something like this is that anyone can believe in anything anymore.
But if sadness and tragedy in the world are reasons enough to give up on trusting God, one need not wait for a tsunami to lose their faith. Every day provides reason enough for that, either on a large scale, or, in each individual life. But those who do believe in God believe not only in spite of the tragedies, but for the very reason that in times of suffering and grief, there is no place else to turn but to God. Why, in times of tragic loss, would one want to turn away from the only source of hope that is left?
Why God allows such things to happen is a valid question for a person of faith. But that person will not just ask the question and then turn away. Rather, they will want to look into God’s Word to see if they can find some responses to their questions. Even then, complete understanding is not to be had in this life. What is offered is hope even in the midst of the deepest darkness.
A response by one Christian at the time was, “After a tragedy like this people wonder why a loving God could not provide an escape from the grave. Well, he has.” That is the simple, but true answer. God, in Christ Jesus, provides a hope even greater than death. Life remains a struggle, and it is our Christian calling to respond by helping those who desperately need that help– just as Christians and Christian relief organizations all over the world do after every disaster. But our deepest hope is that eternal hope for which Christ was born, and what he brought into this dangerous world.
The dangers do not come only from natural disasters. All the very worst tragedies in human history have been man-made, and are the result of sin. In Syria alone, an ongoing civil war has already resulted in almost twice as many deaths as in the 2004 tsunami. In the early 1990’s, 800,000 Rwandans were killed by fellow Rwandans in just a few weeks. Hitler had 6 million Jews killed, not the mention the many more millions of people from all over Europe and America that died in the war he started. In a series of purges, Joseph Stalin killed 20 million of his fellow Russians. That is 70 times the number that died in the tsunami. This is to mention only a few from just the past century. There was also Albania, Cambodia, the trenches of the first World War, and so many more. Recent news has been full of the deadly violence in Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine and terrorist attacks around the world. A natural disaster raises questions about the goodness of God. But these man-made holocausts raise questions about the human heart.
A priest in Rwanda survived an attack in which many of his parishioners were killed. He was asked if the massacre had shaken his faith in God. “Absolutely not,” he said, “but what has happened in this country has destroyed my faith in humanity forever.”
And one does not need to watch the news to see the sadness of life and the troubles caused by human sin. Every community and every family contains its own sad stories, as every individual is the cause of and the recipient of such troubles on a much smaller scale. All of our daily mean or selfish acts, large or small, our failures to show compassion or to get along, and our misunderstandings and irritations, all contribute to this sorrowful life in this troubled world.
Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said that the only difference between Joseph Stalin and an ordinary person is that Stalin had an army. The more power one has, the more damage one can do, and many ordinary folks do plenty of damage in their own little sphere of influence. We all make our own contributions to this trouble, or, as the Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” That sin is the source of most of our misery.
In John 1:29 John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The world is full of sin, and so is our own heart. What does it mean that this Lamb of God is able to take away the sin of the world? What can a lamb do? (continued…)
John 1:29 — The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
I John 1:8 — If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
–Peter, John 6:68