There is no better evidence of this than what is going on at the Daiichi nuclear power plant. Every eventuality was anticipated at that facility. They were prepared to handle even the worst disaster…at least that’s what they thought. But now the reactors are shut down, radioactive steam is being vented into the atmosphere, and the operators of the plant are taking desperate measures in a frantic effort to keep the units from melting down and causing a catastrophic release of radiation. In this case the forces of nature have simply overwhelmed the best that humans can do. Looking at the unimaginable destruction I cannot help but think that when the final tally is in the death toll is going to be staggering.
Some who are of this ilk blame it all on the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) that is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is a program aimed at studying the ionosphere. Oddly the conspiracy theorists have decided it is causing all these disasters. Okay, whatever. Then there are the end times fans that see this supposed increasing pace of earthquakes and natural disasters as signs that the Second Coming is near. In response to this it should probably be noted that the U.S. Geological Survey reports that the incidence of large earthquakes is about what it has been since 1900. Over that span there has been an average of one monster quake of magnitude 8.0 or greater in the world per year. We are still on that pace. In other words, things are pretty much as they have been, even though at times it doesn’t seem like it.
What does it mean? One of the toughest questions for me is: how could a loving God allow catastrophes like this that produce so much human misery? I’ve reached a conclusion about questions like that. My conclusion is that the answer to most of them is above my pay grade. I don’t know what it all means. And I don’t have a full explanation for why God allows things like this. Some will accuse me of simply ducking the questions and taking the easy way out. Perhaps. But when I look at the book of Job I see that in the end God did not explain all the disasters that occurred in poor Job’s life. In fact one of the answers that comes out of the book is that God doesn’t always explain himself and the reasons for his actions to humans. Job’s misfortunes are never explained. Instead Job is called upon to humble himself and trust God nonetheless. I believe that we are called to do the same in regard to things like this most recent cataclysm.
That doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about it. The most obvious thing I know is that this is one more terrifying and painful reminder that we live in a fallen world. That is hardly a news flash. But it is the truth, though it is a reality that we don’t like to think a lot about. There have always been earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, fires and epidemics. There always have been and there always will be. So to pick out one particular disaster and ask what it means is either presumptive or foolish, it seems to me. It means the same thing that all the other catastrophes mean – that there’s an awful lot of pain and suffering on planet earth. We should not be surprised by them when they happen. In fact, Jesus warned about drawing conclusions about particular disasters. In Luke 13:4-5 he asked, “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!” Some tower in the Jerusalem area had collapsed. Who knows why? Maybe it was an earthquake. Eighteen people were killed in the disaster. People asked what it meant. Did those people somehow deserve it? Were they guilty of something awful so God judged them through the bizarre collapse of a building? God is just and he is in control of even things like that, so surely those people must have deserved it, right? Jesus said, “No! Stuff like that just happens, and it didn’t happen because those people who died in a seemingly bizarre and random incident were worse than anyone else. Welcome to life on a fallen planet. Stuff happens.”
There are several thoughts that occur to me as I reflect on this heart-breaking disaster. The first is that if all of our hope is in this world, we are truly forlorn. This catastrophe is another reminder that there are no guarantees. No matter how we try to protect ourselves, random disasters can strike at any moment. In fact, we can be sure that little personal cataclysms will occur in all of our lives at one point or another and there is no way to keep them from happening. One of the things that this terrible event has said to me is that I have control over a lot less in this world than I like to believe. There are some events that can strike suddenly in our lives and they can wash over us like a tidal wave. There is not a thing in the world we can do to stop them from happening. In light of that is it not obvious that we’d better have a hope that goes beyond this world? That’s what Jesus gives us. It is why the cross and the resurrection are more important than anything else that has ever happened, because they mean we have hope no matter what may befall us.
It occurs to me as I reflect on this disaster that when we ask, “how could a loving God allow something like this to happen?” we reveal a lack of perception of the reality of our spiritual situation. When Jesus talked about the Siloam disaster in Luke 13 I think he alluded to this. He concluded in verse 5 by saying, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” How many will perish if they don’t repent? All! Why? Because before a holy God we are all deserving of judgment. In other words, the question about such disasters shouldn’t be “how could a loving God let this happen,” but “how come God hasn’t done this to all of us a long time ago?” If we go all the way back to the flood in the days of Noah we see that God promised in Genesis 8:21 “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” As God looks at the human race what he sees in our hearts is that “every inclination of our hearts” is evil from our earliest days. In other words, everything in us is tainted with evil from our childhood in God’s eyes, so what we deserve is the flood. That such things don’t happen to us is nothing but grace. It is merciful of God that the entire human race has not suffered a life-terminating massive disaster. That’s a message that will never sell very well in the world, but it is clearly what the Bible teaches. Even as we grieve over the losses that have been suffered in Japan we should be humble and grateful that for whatever reason in his grace and wisdom God has seen fit to keep us safe from such a disaster. Of all people we in California know that something like that could happen at any moment and most likely will at some point in the future.
Another lesson that this awful event brings to my mind is that sin has consequences. When the first humans made their choice to go their way rather than God’s they introduced evil into the system, and with it came hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and all the rest. As I look at the plight of the suffering people in Japan I know I am seeing the consequences of sin. Not their sin, but the sin of those first humans. It tells me that disobedience to God is a thing to be avoided at all cost. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” This event is like a cosmic, tragic reminder that this is true. Whenever I choose to go my own way I am setting up consequences. They will not likely be a world class catastrophe, but they will be catastrophic. It is not God who is harmed when I choose to disobey him. I am the one who will experience the results. So good idea is to not choose that.
Finally, I think of the obvious. What those poor people in Japan need is our compassion, prayers and help. They are not guiltier than we, nor are they more foolish or unprepared. They are simply the victims of life in world that has been distorted by sin. Just by living here we are all subject to the vicissitudes of this world in one way or another. So let’s pray for them, and insofar as is possible, let’s do whatever we can, whatever God leads us to do, to help them.