Over the last week I have received dozens of heart-rending and thought-provoking responses to my latest article, and I am thankful for each of them. Personally, I believe the tsunami and its aftermath is the most serious issue now facing humankind. The "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan looks like child's play in comparison. We need to talk about it and share with one another so that it can continue to shake us-and bring us together. If you have lost a friend or relative, or if you have friends who lost loved ones, I am especially eager to hear from you. The story of each human being, rich or poor, tourist or native, survivor or victim, must concern us.
The question, "What about the dead?" is burning in many of my readers, and probably in millions of people. One woman who wrote said, "The teachings of Christ make it very clear that one must put one's faith in him to go to the Father in heaven." That may be so. But what about those who do not express faith in Him? Can they still be saved, or will they be condemned?
I believe Christ's words are always final. But that does not mean I understand them. Indeed, there is much that we humans will never understand. His words reflect a holy mystery that cannot be unlocked by the intellect, but only by the heart.
Simone Weil, a Jewish convert to Christianity, grasped this when she wrote:
Christ does not save all those who say to him, "Lord, Lord." But he saves all those who out of a pure heart give a piece of bread to a starving man, without thinking about him the least little bit. And these, when he thanks them, reply: "Lord, when did we feed thee?"... An atheist and an "infidel", capable of pure compassion, are as close to God as is a Christian, and consequently know him equally well, although their knowledge is expressed in other words, or remains unspoken. For God is Love.
It was because of God's love that Jesus became human, and took upon himself the sin and suffering of humankind. It was because of God's love that Jesus rose from the dead and liberated a host of Satan's captives. Is it our place to condemn souls?
Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest? for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." And Paul says that "neither height nor depth, nor death, nor anything, can separate us from the love of Christ."
Some of you called my article premature. One reader said, "We who have lost kin need time to come to terms with that loss... We have no bodies to bury? This is the time simply to hug folk and love them."
Another wrote, "Our religious order has lost around 130 sisters and monks who worked among the very poor in the affected region. The wounds and grief are raw, and the losses still have not sunk in? We need time to weep and mourn and get used to the empty spaces that are suddenly in our lives.."
My heart goes out to you who live in the midst of the tragedy. Your words ring true. For those of us who live far away, however, there is the danger of getting back to our normal daily pursuits and blocking out what doesn't directly affect us. To let this happen is to turn a deaf ear to God's language.
Let me clarify here that I do not see this disaster so much as a judgment on the directly affected nations as a call to the rest of us. Let us not act like those described in John's Revelation, who "were not killed by the plagues, but would not repent nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver? Nor did they repent of their thievery, their murders, their sorcery and immorality."
In this connection I would like to share a short midrash (scriptural commentary) recently sent to me by a friend: As the Israelites crossed the Red Sea to freedom, the Egyptians pursuing them drowned. Witnessing this, the angels in heaven cheered and danced. God silenced them and asked, "How can you rejoice when my children are dying?"
This is a vital point: rather than dismiss as "unsaved" all the non-Christians who died-and continue our lives unmoved-the only fitting response to the events of the past weeks can be to repent.
God willing, my wife and I and others from our church will visit some of the hardest hit areas in Indonesia in the near future, and gain a glimpse of the unimaginable suffering there. We pray that such a trip will change us.
You may reprint this article free of charge providing you use the following credit box: Article by Johann Christoph Arnold (http://www.christopharnold.com/). Arnold is senior pastor of the Bruderhof - an international communal movement dedicated to a life of simplicity, service, sharing, and nonviolence. (http://www.bruderhof.com/).