The pictures in this week’s Time magazine of the aftermath of the tsunami disasters in the Indian Ocean are almost incomprehensible. Over 150, 000 people are believed to have died in tsunami’s rage itself, with the prospect of more deaths to come as unsanitary conditions and disease wreck further havoc on the survivors. I heard one man tell of running from the rising tide with a five-week old daughter under his arm, and couldn’t help but think of my own granddaughter at that age. So many people have died, so many families torn asunder.
The depth of human sorrow and suffering are beyond our imagining. Many have taken to calling it a crisis of Biblical proportions, and it is! Some news reports have said that one-third of the population vanished in the waves in some areas of Sumatra. That same one-third figure is used throughout Revelation 8 as the seven trumpets are blown and disasters follow. I don’t think this is that fulfillment, but it is interesting to note all the same. With a world now ravaged by religious war, and natural disasters, who can say what the days ahead might bring to our generation?
In considering such things, however, I am always a bit troubled by those who call these things God’s judgment, as if he is the destructive influence in creation. There are two things I know. One, God is the redemptive influence in Creation not the destructive one and, two, judgment in Scripture is never something his people dread. The chaos of creation is the fruit of our own sin—a world out of synch with its Creator. Judgment in its truest sense is not God wiping out people in senseless violence but God setting things right. In the Psalms it is why the trees are clapping and the hills are dancing. “God is coming to judge,” is not the cry of terror, but the song of his people. Let the kingdom come! Let the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ! Those are not days to fear, but to celebrate.
So how do we look at these days? Let us not find relief in blaming those affected by the disaster as some how deserving of it. I heard one fundamentalist Muslim cleric note that these happened during the Christmas holidays as Allah’s wrath against Christianity and the moral depravity of western cultures and against Muslims that have not done enough to rid the world of this influence. No, he doesn’t speak for all Muslims, and yes he looked as ridiculous as Jerry Falwell did after September 11, decrying that day of devastation as God’s judgment on America because of homosexuality and abortion that has been legalized in America. Our Father just isn’t like that. Jesus warned us (Luke 13:4) that we shouldn’t think the victims of tragedy any more guilty than those who escape it.
What do we do in tragedy? We weep with those who weep! I cannot imagine how God contains in his great love all the terror of that fateful day and all the sorrow that follows it. I don’t know how he holds in himself the desperate cries of need that rise out of the aftermath today. But he does. Our prayers can join with him as he reaches to people devastated by this disaster. We can also put feet to our prayers by doing whatever we can to help further God’s redemptive purpose in sending money or resources to provide help to those in need—feeding the hungry, providing housing, caring for orphaned children. By doing it for them, we do it for him.
And somehow our hearts can hunger a bit more for the day when this whole world reflects the glory of its Creator rather than the chaos of our sin. We can feel a bit less at home here and the frustration of creation that has been subjected to the futility of sin. And we can let Jesus have a bit more of our hearts today so that we can be even more the sons and daughters of God revealed in the world so that others might know who he is.