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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Overwhelming disaster

The great earthquake and tsunami in Japan has overwhelmed more than the Japanese people. Because of the remarkable technology that places these awesome and frightening scenes into our living rooms this great disaster has overwhelmed the whole world. I know it has overwhelmed me.

One of the questions that inevitably arises is, "Where is God in all of this?" But when that question is posed, I know that the author is quite unacquainted with God. I mean the God who reveals himself in the Bible. If by the term "God" we mean the Creator and sustainer of this universe, then the answer to the question is obvious. "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these." (Isaiah 45:7)

Unbelief lashes out against God for cruelly dashing into oblivion ten thousand people in one fell swoop. It's mean. It's the act of an ogre rather than a merciful God. I say it is unbelief that throws out those imprecations because they refuse to include the facts revealed by God in his word. "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death is inevitable for each and every one of us. If that death comes quietly while we sleep, or suddenly when a tsunami sweeps us away, it is still grim and final. But in fact it is not final! After this comes the judgement. Death is the wages of sin. We brought it upon ourselves. It really is our fault, not God's. The only real tragedy of death is when it happens to one who faces that judgement without a savior. The Christian who is so swept away is immediately swept into the arms of his Savior. Where is the tragedy in that? Unbelief sneers at such theology, but has no explanation to offer, and so concludes that this life is meaningless. Weep for those who are blind.

But if by the term "God" you are thinking of a super being who causes good, fun, pleasant things to happen, and is helpless to prevent accidents and "natural" disasters, then you are talking about a god of human invention. He is really irrelevant to actual history. He lives next door to Santa Claus, and he has no more help to offer than his next door neighbor.

The real question you mean to ask is: "Why would God allow such devastation as the recent Japan earthquake, the tsunami and the pending nuclear pollution?" Well, there is no chapter and verse in the Bible that answers such specific questions. He calls upon us to love our neighbors and do good to all men. Just because He is God, He is not required to answer to any higher authority. He is the highest authority.

But God has made it quite clear what we are to do. He has given the church a commission to tell everyone the good news that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners. The greatest calamity that will ever fall upon men is to enter the final judgment without a savior. That is why we have sent missionaries to Japan for many years. As they have sown the seed in Japan for these many years, they have found the "soil" to be quite hard. There is something of stoic privacy in their culture that prevents them from opening up to admit fear, vulnerability or ignorance. That tendency has been witnessed by all the world through the media during this awful disaster. We saw a woman who survived several days of entrapment in a collapsed building being rescued by Japanese responders. And we have witnessed her polite bow to the crew in thanks for their efforts that saved her life. But then we learned that she was suffering the grief of having her daughter torn from her arms during the tsunami, never to be seen again. She actually had the poise and immense courtesy to bow to her rescuers while shouldering this terrible weight of grief.

But that same cultural detachment has made the Japanese people relatively impregnable to the gospel. I don't want to tell you that this whole ugly disaster occurred as part of God's plan to open hearts of these people. I would have to be God to be able to say that. But that seems to be the actual results in some cases.

Now we are hearing stories of missionaries and Christian friends who drive all night with a pickup full of bare necessities which they bought at Costco to supply churches and schools in and near Sendai, and then return to do it all over again. There are people who, in the past, had been visited by missionaries, now coming out of their homes and shelters to be touched by the love of Christ seen in these men and women who are helping them.

I know that many of us have prayed that God would open the hearts of the Japanese people, and maybe--just maybe--this is part of the answer.

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