Earthquake, Fire, Tsunami, and Radiation in Japan

How does one face such as catastrophic event as Japan’s recent earthquakes and tsunamis? Where does one go to get hope?

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.

The National Day of Prayer Observance

Today the people of the North County came together in the Paso Robles city park to observe the National Day of Prayer. It was hot out — even when I arrived early at 5:30. I didn’t have a chair, so I sat on the grass. But I’m glad I went.

Today the people of the North County came together in the Paso Robles city park to observe the National Day of Prayer. It was hot out — even when I arrived early at 5:30. I didn’t have a chair, so I sat on the grass. But I’m glad I went. At first I thought I didn’t know another soul there.

That didn’t make a difference, though, since you don’t have to know each other to pray together. The Master Chorale sang for a few minutes before the meeting started, and that in itself made sitting on the ground worthwhile.

When the Chorale finished, three people and their instruments led the entire group in singing songs I didn’t know. Then the first of many pastors — none of which I knew — got up and explained the format. Each pastor would lead one segment by reading a passage from the Bible and directing us to pray alone or with a small group on the topic he read about. Then the pastor would close that topic with a group prayer. He would be followed by another pastor, and so on, until we were through. The segments were praying for our government and its leaders; for our military families; for education; for businesses; and for families. Then we all joined in singing a rousing praise song. That was the official end of the meeting.

It was far from the end for me. The Chorale started singing again right afterwards. Their music was like a taste of Heaven. Their faces were radiant. And only a few scattered people of all those milling around were paying any attention to them. People continued their conversations through this live performance without even moving farther away from the bandstand to allow those around them  to hear. I wondered what had happened to common courtesy. Perhaps  people are so used to constant sound from their various media, that they hardly are aware of what they hear. Perhaps it hadn’t registered that they were ignoring real people who were singing their hearts out for a group that largely seemed unaware of them. Their smiles and the light in their eyes didn’t fade. It occurred to me that they were singing for a higher audience who was listening from the heavens. They were making an offering of their music whether it was appreciated by other humans or not.

After they had stopped singing, I went up to thank them and tell them the truth — I haven’t heard such music in years. Their singing had transformed my rather gray mood into a new feeling that maybe God was forcing me to the end of my rope to take me into a new place I’d really rather be. There is nothing like music to lift one’s spirit!

One member of the Chorale came up to me and said he had focused on me for the entire concert because he knew I was really listening. I told him what a blessing the music had been. That led to talk about music and history. I finally found somone else who knew the last verse to the national anthem and the third verse of “America the Beautiful.” I think a new friendship has been born.

Footnote:  When I turned around after the official end of the meeting, I discovered my own pastor and our youth pastor were both sitting behind me. A little later on, two people I knew from the home schooling group in our city whom I hadn’t seen in years came up to say hi. So I did know other people; I just didn’t know they were there.