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But all was not right with the world. A pressure was building up deep beneath the surface. Two unyielding forces were pushing against each other. And we sang on...oblivious. And others partied on, and holidayed on - walked along moonlit beaches hand in hand, wrapped final presents as the kids fell asleep. "All is calm, all is bright" we sang, "Sleep in heavenly peace." But the pressure grew and grew.
Nothing gave way that night, but the pressure went right on building, and by the next night - morning in the Far East - all hell broke loose. Simple geophysics - two great forces pushed against one another, one slipped a bit, the earth shuddered, the pressure was released. All quite simple. The sudden movement caused a wave. Easily explainable.
But as we here sang the songs about that lovely baby, "that wave was tearing babies out of people's arms, sucking beds out through hotel windows with people still in them, dumping sharks in swimming pools, turning idyllic beachside villages into churning soups of angry water and broken glass and car parts and blood and corrugated iron and dying children and splintered wood.
"It was all over in minutes. The water ran back into the sea taking with it whatever it wished whatever it hadn't impaled or trapped or buried. We have all seen pictures of what it left behind - haunting horrible pictures, mud and ruins and corpses. Tens of thousands of corpses - old, young, men, women - the life sucked out of them. Dead children strewn everywhere. 'What child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?' What child is this who laid to rest in the mud and devastation of Aceh? And what child is this? And this? And this? Who knows?"(1)
Now a week has gone by, and here we are again in church. Do we still want to sing of cute babies now? Do the angels' tidings of great joy mean anything in the face of this? Can we stand in the mud and debris of Banda Aceh or Phuket or Galle and speak of the one who is called Emmanuel, God with us? As one local pastor in Sri Lanka quietly asked on the news last night, "How can we tell people that God loves them in the midst of this?"
And then come those same questions that people raise, not only in the face of a disaster of biblical proportions like this one, but anytime calamity strikes: Why? How could a good God allow such a thing? The feeling comes that if God is REALLY God, if God is REALLY in control, then God is not good. Or the other side of that coin - if God is really GOOD, and all these things happen anyway, then God is not God because there are things that are beyond God's control.
Why do these things happen? It is not a new question. It is as old as human existence. The book of Job is really one long compendium of the questions people raise when confronted with catastrophe: Why? Why me? Why him? Why them?
Job's story, of course, is one with which we are all familiar. Here was a successful and prosperous man, a man whose life had always been right side up, suddenly confronted with the destruction of his property, even the death of his children as the house collapsed on them (tsunami?). Soon Job lost his own health - more suffering in a short time than most of us ever endure in our entire lives. And he and his neighbors raised those questions. Why? Why you? Why me?
Finally, after Job and his friends had talked enough, the voice of God broke in. "Tell me, Job, where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who hung the stars in the sky and how did he do it? Who tells the dawn to break and the night to fall, and how does it happen? How does the wind work? How many clouds are there?" One unanswerable question after another with Job finally responding, "I put my hand over my mouth" (40:4b), or in more modern parlance, "Gee, Lord, I had better shut up; I guess there is a lot about life I cannot answer." And the Lord says, "Right. There is a lot you will NOT be able to answer."
The message of the book of Job is that there are indeed things that we will never know - at least in this life - things that are beyond our understanding. Our call is to not lose our faith in the face of them, not to begin foolishly blaming God for earthquakes or tsunamis or plane crashes or whatever is not to our satisfaction in this world. As Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him."(2)
It was that same kind of trust that sent Jesus to the cross. The Gospels make clear that Jesus had no desire to be tortured or to die - no sane person would. But he endured it...and the tragedy of Good Friday turned into the triumph of Easter. How could that have happened? I do not know. God does. And that is all that matters.
Amazingly, good has already begun to come out of this massive horror. The expressions of human solidarity, stretching across countries and continents, is one bright light. Relief organizations say that the outpouring of support from around the globe has been phenomenal. Good.
Perhaps even our own government is beginning to come around. President Bush, after days of silence, emerged from his Texas vacation to issue a brief statement, and an offer of $15-million. Following a very public rebuke and a worldwide reaction of contemptuous disbelief, the pledge was raised to $35-million. That was equally disgraceful, especially for a nation that spends approximately $270-million each day for the occupation of Iraq, and this past summer, some $13.6-billion in emergency funding to Florida after the hurricanes which resulted in significant property damage and the deaths of more than 100 people. But in the wake of the tsunami, more than 150,000 people have died, and 5-million are homeless. Our national pledge is now up to $350-million. Can this disaster half a world away help our government get its priorities straight? Please, God, let it be.
Night before last, the world welcomed a new year somewhat differently than before. Prayers were substituted for parties. Revelers in New York's Times Square marked a moment of silence as did those in other major cities; Paris draped black cloths along the Champs-Elysees. In Thailand, hundreds of mourners -- many clutching white roses and candles -- gathered in the resort of Phuket to remember lost loved ones and friends. Many Asians were too busy counting the dead, feeding survivors and combating disease to even think about partying. This is a disaster the like of which we have never seen, and certainly hope never to see again.
But now, we are invited to a different kind of party - the Table of the Lord. To be honest, the invitation could not have come at a better time. After all, in the midst of the terrible devastation and loss of life, our host is the one who knows each of the names, and our names as well. Come, with these blessings on your heart:(3)
1. "Christmas Tsunami," sermon by Nathan Nettleton, 2 January 2005 © LaughingBird.net http://www.laughingbird.net/SermonTexts/0343.html
2. Job 13:15
3. A Tsunami Blessing, Steve Goodier, www.lifesupportsystem.com