The crisis in Japan is unlike any other. As the third-largest economy among developed nations and well-prepared with a national disaster plan, the country was as prepared as any could be to absorb the disaster it is facing.
Despite this, the extent of destruction and loss of life strains our comprehension and calls for our deepest compassion.
Even across the miles, our hearts ache as we identify with the human suffering. The Japanese were dealt a blow by nature that humbles not only them, but us as well.
The outpouring of concern is an expression of our common humanity, something that we’ve seen before and something that I believe helps us to retain a perspective that’s often lost as we go about our daily routines.
Life is fragile. In a matter of moments, whole cities in Japan were inundated. Thousands of lives lost. Homes and businesses that had taken years to build were swept away.
The surging waters also destroyed the order that we take for granted. The routine that we assume makes up our humdrum daily affairs turned to a moment of sheer terror.
Inevitably, some implicated God in the tragedy. As I type this post, email brings me a press release about an evangelical author speaking to the subject, “Does God Let Bad Things Happen?” It’s a futile question. I don’t believe we can implicate a providential God in the evil of undeserved suffering.
Rather, we live in an ongoing creation. The earth, if not the whole universe, is evolving, and we fool only ourselves if we assume that our existence is fixed and secure.
To recognize this does not weaken faith; it makes it more complex, durable and dynamic. I pray for God to be present with us, to strengthen us, to enter into this contingent experience we call life.
It’s the difference between believing that God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, or is the one who brings death. We will never resolve the enigma of evil by asking where tragedy comes from. This is the wrong question according to Rabbi Harold S. Kushner in his classic “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He cites German theologian Dorothee Soelle (“Suffering“), who says the more pertinent question is: Where does it (tragedy) lead us?
If the tragedy in Japan leads us to care more compassionately for one another; to give the whole of Creation the deep respect, wonderment and concern that it deserves; to value each day as an irreplaceable gift; and to bow before the Creator in humility and gratitude, then perhaps it will have led us to a more fruitful and productive state.
And for Christ’s followers, if it leads us to more fully appreciate and understand the God who is incarnate–present in this existence with us–and who, while enduring our suffering with us, also calls us to be servants and lift up others, then perhaps we will see that such a disaster is not God’s doing. Instead, we might see how tragedy can be an invitation to live the meaningful and abundant life that God intends for all.