Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tsunami one month ago

My daughter, Ashley, mentioned that the Tsunami was one month ago today.

Like perhaps billions of my fellow dwellers on this earth, I’ve sought both stories of the disaster and rescue . . . to try and make sense of it all.

Without a doubt, this was the most violent and widespread natural disaster I’ve ever seen. So I had to ask someone from one of those countries if they had known anyone who was hurt or missing. Always when disasters like the Tsunami happen, people look to their faith to make sense of it.

I’ve investigated how the people in the path of the Tsunami are making sense of such destruction that killed more than one hundred and fifty thousand and left millions homeless and injured.

And I’ve searched my own faith in Christ and Scripture—the Bible—to understand why this happened.

First, I wanted to know how the predominant religion in one of the worst hit of the eleven countries enveloped by the Tsunami—Thailand—made sense of this violent earthquake and wave.

I spoke with Ptah, a Thai woman who had traveled to Puket, Thailand for holidays.

Ptah came dangerously close to death. She was at the water front on Christmas day. She had gone with six family members to the shore of the Indian Ocean for the holiday. They wanted to fly back Sunday night and had planned to stay through Sunday morning at a place in Puket where the Tsunami hit. But there were no flights, so she and her family left early.

“I’m very lucky,” Ptah says. I wondered why she said she was lucky. I told her perhaps God had rescued her, but she said a psychic had told her to stay away from the water, that many would die.

Ptah is a Buddhist, a widespread religion in Thailand. Perhaps she considers herself lucky because many Buddhists believe that impersonal gods of the sea caused the wave of disaster . . . and that destruction is not intended for individuals specifically. Instead, the Tsunami may be viewed as a random act of the gods on a land where offerings and prayers had been unworthy or not taken seriously.

But those who lost loved ones and even some who didn’t will think long years about this wave. When Buddhists try to make sense of this awesome wave they might look to the idea of Karma, says Donald Lopez, a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Michigan, quoted in NEWSWEEK.

They might “ask what they did individually or collectively that a tragedy like this happened.” Their concern, according to Lopez, is to transfer a positive force on the behalf of their loved ones who are deceased so they will benefit in the next lifetime.

There are so many stories of suffering, death, and even survival. So many Hindu, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians crying out to God or the name of their gods . . . like Malaysian Melawati, who clung to a floating palm tree for five days, surviving on fruit and bark from the tree and enduring bites from fish. She lost her husband. And she recently found out she is pregnant with his child. Perhaps she will be one symbol of hope and survival amid the rubble.

My Christian faith, I believe, does not hide the suffering of people or attribute it to God. It speaks of hope and comfort in suffering. What does my Christian faith and the Bible say about the Tsunami? Is there any better answer from Christ and the Old and New Testament Scriptures?

For this I have to be more personal. So I want you to hear some of my thoughts as I’ve tried to make sense of the Tsunami. In my Christian belief, we can converse with God. We talk directly to him through prayer, and we seek answers to our problems and the dilemmas of the universe and creation in God’s word, the Bible.

So I asked God, “Why did 150,000 fall in one day in eleven countries?” What I read in Scripture and could almost hear God saying was that he also knew each little one who was drowned. He knew the number of hairs on their head. Yet he seemed to ask me, “How do you know how long a lifetime is for each person? Do you expect that everyone on earth will simply grow old and die at a certain age?”

Yes, Lord, the world is governed by natural laws and people die at different ages, but why? Why so much suffering for millions of people so suddenly?

While the devastation is massive, there are millions of children dying every year from preventable malaria and water-born diseases. I felt the God of the universe ask me what I could do to help those children, what we as nations, as fellow humans can do to help one another.

But Lord, I asked, if you love so deeply and are so powerful, then why do so many suffer, whether by malaria or drowning?

But I’m reminded of the immense vision of God that I can’t begin to fathom, the vision of a creator who cares for as many suns in our galaxy alone as there are people on earth. I hear Isaiah quote this God of the universe saying, “My ways are not your ways” (Isaiah 55:7-8).

The call of the prophet to God’s people is the same as Jesus’ words to the disciples and Pharisees when they asked him (in Luke 13) about dilemmas of their day and why people died unnecessarily. Jesus said, seek the Lord first, and though you do not understand now, someday you will.

The promise of God is not fully comforting for this life, but it is a promise of hope beyond what we can see with our limited vision. We believe God is gracious and cares for each person who died and each family who lost loved ones, and we know that each soul he will judge fairly and rightly. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18 that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the future glory that will be revealed to us. This earth itself longs to be free of the corruption brought upon it by humanity and sin. One day it will be released from this bondage and “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

I suppose for many generations we will be trying to make sense of these events and ones to come soon, but the God I serve is one who knows our suffering, the suffering of the world, and he longs to carry souls of his children who seek him and accept his revelation in Christ and in the world home to live eternally with him.

I keep coming back to Psalm 62:11-12, which is the crux of the argument for those who use events like this to disbelieve in God. They reason that if God is all-strong and all-love then he could in his infinite strength and infinite compassion prevent something like this from happening. But that same strength and compassion and wisdom is beyond me and I can't claim to understand it, so instead I cling to it. "One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving" (NIV).

More reading
John Mark Hicks, "Tsunami disaster: all askings of 'why' must lead to giving comfort to sufferers
(Christian Chronicle, Feb 05). In the article, Hicks lists two more articles: Larry James, "One way communities of faith can make a big difference" and Michael Learner's article "Where was God in the Tsunami? And where has humanity been?"

2 Comments:

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Fajita said...

Thanks for the comments. There something soothing about them this morning. There is something refreshing about wathcing a fellow seeker seek. It pushes me to do the same.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Toby Taylor MD said...

Greg, good post. I'll add a quote from the Catholic priest on the movie "Rudy". When consoling Rudy about not getting into Notre Dame even though he was trying so hard, praying so hard and wanting so much, he said, "Rudy in 30 years of religous study I have come up with two incontrovertable facts. First, there is a God. Second, I'm not Him."

 

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