In looking back on the year that has just ended-a year filled with the horrors of war and of natural disasters such as last fall's hurricanes-one would have to be callous not to mention the earthquake and tsunamis. The devastation seems to get worse every hour as new reports, images, and statistics come in. Yet from the moment it happened the day after Christmas, one felt that in spite of the tremendous destruction that was unleashed, God was and is at work, even if his plan has not yet been revealed to us.
The sheer magnitude of this event cannot be comprehended by the human mind. So let us not get caught up in the number of the dead, the injured, the missing and the homeless. We need to become quiet in order to really take in what has happened; we need to ask ourselves, "What is it that God is saying to the whole world?"
The tsunamis show us that we are not in control of our lives, though God is. Death snatched away rich and poor, tourist and native, with no respect for who they were. There was no time for final goodbyes.
Having been in India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia-all nations that have been hit by the tsunamis-this disaster affects me personally. I have seen the poverty these people live under even in the best of times. What hits hardest is the untold number of children who died. Many of them will never even be found. Picture their parents' grief!
As tens of thousands of bereaved families mourn the loved ones they have lost, one wonders, "Why does God allow this to happen? Why, if death is his mortal enemy, does he allow it to destroy so many people?" In this life we may never find a satisfactory answer to that question. Yet we must still hang on to our faith that God is Love, and that no dark power can ever overcome him, even though, at a time like this, it looks as if that is the case. We must remember God's promise that one day, every tear will be dried.
Only time will tell if this disaster is a taste of similar things to come. One cannot but think of the "bowls of the wrath of God on the earth" that are foretold in the Book of Revelation. One thing is certain: we cannot just go on living as usual. Life is too precious, and as this event has shown us, it can be over in an instant.
We do not need to weep for those who have died. They are all with God, as we are told: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord? They will rest from their labors, and their works will follow them." We need to weep and pray for all those who remain alive, for the millions who are suffering hunger and thirst, and facing diseases such as cholera and malaria. Many will surely suffer excruciating deaths.
Meanwhile, we ought to ask ourselves how much time we are still spending considering the meaning of this disaster and praying about it. Only a week has gone by since it occurred, but many people have already returned to petty pursuits like hunting for post-Christmas bargains at the mall. Even on the news, this event is beginning to fade--it's back to Janet Jackson.
We care so little about the rest of the human race. Nothing matters as long as it isn't us. Yet it could be us next time; it is an eleventh-hour warning. So few of us take that to heart.
World leaders have criticized our president for his initial lame pledge of support for the countries stricken by the tsunamis. What would happen if we counteracted their justified concern by pulling all of our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and sending them on to southern Asia to provide disaster relief?
Our supposedly Christian nation pumps billions of dollars into military-related technology and into the war against terror. Yet if we would have spent a fraction of that on a wave warning system, millions of lives could have been saved. In this case, animals were smarter than human beings-they sensed what was coming and headed to higher ground.
It is true that dozens of relief organizations and national governments are now pouring aid into the affected region. Yet even all that will only be a drop in the bucket. May all of us who live in relative comfort be stirred to action and remember that in God's eyes, every deed of love to our neighbor-near or far-is of utmost importance. In light of this disaster, what does that mean? Are we grateful for what we have? Do we and our children thank God every night for a warm house, for food, and work?
A word of comfort to those who have lost loved ones, or are still searching for them: I believe the sky above the Indian Ocean was filled with angels bringing all these souls to God. To me, the fact that this earthquake struck just a day after Christmas is significant. It reminds us that we need to re-learn what it means to bow to the Child in the manger. Herod and the powerful of Jerusalem were so frightened of this little child, that he ordered the slaughter of innocent children.
In light of the current world situation, we could be frightened too. But as we are reminded in these lines from Psalm 46, we have a place to turn:
God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we shall not be afraid, even though the earth be removed;
and though mountains are carried into the midst of the sea? though its waters are troubled and roar; though mountains shake with its swelling; though nations rage, and kingdoms are moved?. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations! The Lord of Hosts is with us forever. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
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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/).