It simply numbs the mind to consider that one minute people can be drinking tea with family or friends, and the next have one’s home torn apart by the earth’s shaking or have it washed away by the tsunami that follows. I know the helplessness that I felt during our Paso Robles Earthquake in 2003, which seemed overwhelming, but was nothing compared to what the Japanese are facing. It’s the same powerlessness one feels in the face of any natural or even man-made disaster. But what we had took only two lives and only destroyed a few buildings. My mind can’t fully take in the tragic destruction the Japanese have lived through this weekend as they saw their way of life fall apart with their homes and workplaces.
I read in my newspaper that the Japanese are the people most prepared for an earthquake, yet when it came upon them, many froze in the face of the shaking they got. Though some remembered what they had learned in their drills and dove under furniture to keep falling walls and objects from hitting them, many panicked and ran outside where there was even more danger. Preparation can go only so far in protecting one in the face of such horror.
Here a community steps in to help when a neighbor’s home burns to the ground. In Japan, where one’s whole community may be destroyed, one has to figure out how to survive without a home, food, water, and, perhaps, without hope. One cannot just be taken in by the community, because it, too, may be in ruins. No one knows how long it will be before help comes, before communication and power will be restored, before one knows if family have survived. I imagine myself in that situation and I don’t know how I would handle it. Do you?
I am reminded that much as men want to be in control of their destiny, they aren’t. Such disasters force us to confront the big issues in life, the meaning of life, and who really is in control. We might wonder why God allows these catastrophic events, even as we trust him to help us get our lives back together. It is humbling to recognize we are but men — men who are dependent upon God.
I am reminded of the Biblical Job who lost all he had in a short period of time — his home, his wealth, all his livestock, and even his children. Then he lost his health. Of course he wondered why, and his wife told him to curse God and die.
Job knew better, even in the face of “helpful” friends who said he was probably being judged for some secret sin. Instead of listening to such counsel, he took his questions directly to God. In Job 38-42, the Lord appeared to Job from a whirlwind and answered the questions of Job’s heart with more questions designed to show Job how little he knew of the mind and works and plan of God.
After all this Job replies “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see thee; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. ” It is after this, and after Job follows the Lord’s command to pray for his friends, who had given him false counsel in ignorance, that the Lord restores his fortunes and his health, and brings comfort through Job’s siblings. He also given more children, just as many as he had lost.
In the face of immense suffering and loss, Job held onto his God, and when he couldn’t understand, he took his questions to the only one who could answer — God himself. He’s the only one who can deal with our questions, and we have to be careful not to try to “help” as Job’s friends did, with platitudes. Surely we here in America will do all we can to provide physical help. But hope and answers only God can give.