The wall of water on the television screen could have been a splash made by a child against the side of a tub when the images first appeared last Friday, March 11. What brought the wave into perspective was the massive collection of cars and small buildings sitting on dry land over which the water washed. Like a giant hand sweeping a Monopoly board, the wave sent all the playing pieces into the vast ocean beyond. The river of metal bobbed along. The cars swept by in clusters, caught between the floating debris and the piles of roofs. All of the carnage evidenced the earthquake which had just occurred in Japan.
Fortunately, the camera didn’t move in closer, probably couldn’t at that point, or the stomachs of passive viewers a world away would have lost their suppers watching the human tragedy enfolding beside the material losses. For where there are cars and houses, there are bound to be people caught in the wake of the disaster. Early reports guessed that three hundred lives were lost. The unspeakable numbers of vehicles and structures washing out to sea told a different story. Thousands would mourn this day.
Having just learned of the disaster, I sat in my car waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. The day was unusually warm for early March in Oregon and with such beauty around me, I found it difficult to comprehend the horrific events on the other side of the world. When my friend arrived I told her of the earthquake and as we entered the restaurant, sat down, and ordered, we prayed for the victims, nameless hundreds for whom we could do nothing else.
I tried to put the catastrophe in perspective, comparing it to similar losses I’d known in my lifetime. I was amazed at the number I could name—Haiti, Alaska, New Zealand, Malaysia—tragedies I’d personally read about or watched on television and I didn’t consider myself all that old. Yet when something of this magnitude happens, I find myself wondering, along with those around me, what purpose the event could serve in the light of God’s timing and His plans for the world.
The Bible contains many references to calamities that plagued people’s lives. Considering the span of history over which the scribes of the scriptures wrote, disaster appears to be a normal occurrence for any generation. From an historical perspective, at least, death and destruction are portrayed as part of life. Yet in Matthew 10:37 we are told that not a sparrow falls but that God knows about it. Telling us not to fear, the writer asks, “Are you not of more value than a sparrow?”
In Mark chapter 13, God gets more specific about disasters. We are told that wars and rumors of wars should be viewed as signs of the times. Earthquakes, famines and other troubles will point to the end of the age. But we are cautioned not to be troubled for these are merely the beginnings of sorrows. We are to go on, helping those in need, comforting those who hurt, proclaiming to everyone that Jesus is the Son of God, his life and subsequent death on the cross the path to heaven for any who seek to know God. Acts 16:31 tells us to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
Therefore, no matter how unnerving the upheaval in Japan may seem, regardless of the loss of life and the suffering that will follow in the coming days, God’s people are to persevere. In terms of the timeless and eternal God who loves us all, including those who lost their lives this past weekend, the cataclysm is another blip in the timeline of history, an event that is taking us closer to the end of time—closer to a God who loves us even to the point of knowing the number of hairs on our head (Matt. 13:30).
That is a God I want to know.