Sunday 16 January 2005

Putting the Tsunami Into Context

April 27, 1421 (Holland) – Sea submerged 72 Dutch counties, killing 100,000.

Nov. 1, 1530 (Holland) – Sea dikes burst, killing 400,000 people.

1642 (China) Floods killed 300,000.

Dec. 30, 1703 (Japan) Earthquake, killing 200,000.

Dec. 30, 1730 (Japan) Earthquake, killing 137,000.

1851-1866 (China) Repeated floods during 15 years. 40-50 million people died.

1887 (China) Yellow River overflow, killing 1.5 million.

1876-78 (India) Drought which killed 5 million. (China) Drought also killed between 9 and 13 million.

1896-97 (India) Combination drought and plague, killing 5 million.

1970 (Bangladesh) Cyclone-driven tidal wave, killing between 300,000 and 500,000

1976 (Guatemala) Earthquake, killing 23,000. Same year an earthquake in Italy, killing 900. Same year in Indonesia an earthquake, killing 9000. Same year in China an earthquake, killing 242,000. Same year in Philippines, offshore quake produced tsunami that killed over 5000.

2004 (Southeast Asia) Underwater earthquake causing tsunami, killing 150,000.

There were no videos, no cable TV, no reporting of personal loss to record all these other disasters. This is not to lessen the impact of what we are presently seeing, but it should help us to understand that catastrophe is not an uncommon experience of humankind on planet earth. In every age, people have lived at risk from natural disasters.

In a recent article on his website, Ralph Kinney Bennet comments:

“I would not dare presume the faintest knowledge of the mind or ways of God, let alone dare to discern His purpose in any disaster. Make no mistake; I acknowledge God’s sovereignty over creation and His power to do anything or cause anything. Thus it is possible for Him to send or withhold destruction. But who of us can pretend to know if or when, where or why?

“I am saddened by the ignorance of those who say such calamities ‘prove there is no God.’ I am astonished at those who would confidently ‘see’ God’s hand in a natural disaster.

“I only know that what is, is. Droughts and earthquakes and floods are physical realities of this earth, this imperfect way station for our souls on their journey into eternity. And when we react to these events with love and sacrifice and selflessness, we become gauges of God’s glory, instruments of His love.

“The advances in communications that have brought this disaster so close to all of us bid fair to create a distorted picture of its place in the greater scheme of things. Knowledge and technology have done and will continue to do wonders in helping us minimize the human cost of such ‘earth events.’ In some case we will indeed be able to predict approaching calamity, issue warnings, and facilitate evacuations.

“But earth abides, and earth surprises, and earth humbles us. And in the history God sees fit to yet give us, this terrible event will take its small place in the long gray columns of statistics that pay grim tribute to the precariousness of our physical lives.”


I hope you find Bennet’s words helpful, instructive, and encouraging. While all of these occurrences certainly do remind us of the brevity and precariousness of life, they do not prevent any one of us from asking the real question: “Where is God in each of these events?” It is not possible to say exactly, and it would be foolish to speculate. Admittedly, Old Testament scriptures allude to certain calamities sent by God on occasions as judgment on a people (the flood of Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, Babylon, etc.). But calamities also correspond to natural forces that operate in the earth. Jesus pointed this out in Luke 13:4, where a natural catastrophe, though of a smaller magnitude, did not result from a special judgment of God, but was simply what occurs from time to time. It is not for us to give authoritative interpretations of such things. As Jesus himself said, it is for us to be warned by such events.

I think the message we must hear from all these calamities is this: Life is fragile, brief, and mortal. Every person should prepare now to meet God in the life to come. This is what we should understand when disaster strikes: It could have been us! Had it been, would you and I have been ready to meet the one who sits upon the Throne of the Universe?

Let us remember that God is still in control. No act or event can depreciate God’s sovereignty over the universe that God created. Calamities will come, and calamities will go, but God will always remain the same. Hebrews 1:10-12 says: “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; and they will grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.”

It must also be said that God can be found in the midst of efforts to console, to comfort, to help, to alleviate pain, and to restore losses. These are all acts of human compassion that correspond to the loving heart of God, and when we participate in them, we are the instruments God uses to express such unconditional love to humanity. Christian people (myself among them) are motivated to respond in love and compassion because our scriptures say that “God first loved us” – we recognize a God of love sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to earth to live and die among us and to redeem all humankind from a plight far greater than natural catastrophes. In the Gospel of Luke (19:10) Jesus said he came – and he still comes to us – to be with us in our times of need as well as blessing, and to save us from a loss with eternal consequence.

-Chaplain Clair, Goshen Health System, Goshen, IN

(This is also currently posted on the bulletin board in the hall beside my hospital office door.)

1 comment:

  1. Clair I love your blogspot. Thanks for the timeline for the world disasters. Guess you could go back to Noah and the flood . . .and if you adhere to the pre-adamite theory, to the time lucifer and 1/3 of angels fell out of heaven and the earth was thrown into chaos (not sure about the validity of that one). Hope it is a long time before we have another major disaster. Bet someone could do a study and prove those countries deserved it - but that isn't my theology. It would also be interesting to see about world aid support and how it differs between now and way back then. Keep up the good work.
    Ann from Pensacola