The reality of true pain and massive suffering is pressed before our very eyes here in Japan. The death toll rise, as I am writing this, is 1400 in Northern Japan. They were hit by an 8.9 magnitude, the biggest in 140 years. Early this morning at 4: 00 a.m we were hit again by a 6.0 magnitude in Nagoya. No damage done here, but Sendai & Miyagi, Iwate prefectures are brought to rubbles & debris. Tsunami, Fire, Earthquake, Nuclear Plant explosion in Fukushima! The ensuing problems are almost endless! The aftershocks are echoing all over Japan, as earthquake trauma grips the atmosphere. Even in the comforts of our home the footages shown in the news & media continue to grip our hearts to the core. Since the biggest hit at the epicenter yesterday, we’ve experienced about 250 quakes in different parts of Japan registering level 3 on the Seismic Intensity Scale.
What we are seeing as a major catastrophe today will only be multiplied a thousand- billion times or more in eternal torment if Japan does not hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This will be the fate of multiplied millions in Japan. I can’t bear that thought. Think about their eternal sufferings if what we see is their temporal sufferings. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10: 14). The Gospel is urgent. A catastrophe of such proportions appears to be almost apocalyptic. It reminds us of a sobering truth & the unfolding of events that Jesus spoke of: “……There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24: 7-8).
What is the appropriate bible-saturated Christian response to such a catastrophe? Words are rare, and mere words will fail. We are left speechless! As one pastor astutely puts it: If our theology can’t sing songs of divine comfort in the midst of human suffering then we don’t have a theology worth believing. As a person who loves God’s Church very much and had seen much suffering at a young age, I approach this subject as one who carries a “thorn in the flesh” by His all-sufficient grace.
When people are in the midst of suffering, there is no time for theological reflections and speculations. Their hearts simply cry out in anguish:“Help, oh God!” Moreover, questions come from Westerners and Easterners alike who have the luxury to ask questions. Questions also come because people that are asking them have had to come to terms with the perplexing issues of God’s love and preachers talking about God’s sovereignty, with the presence of tragedy in their own lives. The earthquake, the suffering and the misery that they see around them just brings back memories of painful past personal experiences. These are legitimate questions and concerns; and should continually be addressed from a pastoral perspective.
When people are hurting, they desperately need someone to come alongside them and experience their pain with them, not remind them of it, or explain why it has come upon them. We’re called to be there to help. Cry if you need to:“Jesus wept!” (John 11: 35). The counseling sessions and all the theological jargons can wait. Like Job’s friends, with really good intentions, Christians are prone to give all the wrong diagnosis; and therefore often the wrong solutions to people’s problems. We often make the first mistake when we open our mouths. Silence and a listening ear are what people need most in times of tremendous suffering.
Certainly God was not surprised by the earthquake & Tsunami, nor is He just an ordinary bystander in the unfolding of world events. The whole counsel of God’s Word lays claim to the absolute sovereign rule of God over all his creation in all time. It is precisely this Sovereignty of God that emboldens missionaries and Christian- workers to venture into arenas that are most humanly daunting. God is a judge; and God is also love. The love and justice of God converges powerfully on the cross of Christ. He governs and orchestrates all things powerfully and brings out beauty from the ugliest messes and circumstances for His glory. How God governs all events without sinning, and without removing responsibility from man, and with compassionate outcomes is mysterious indeed! But the Bible teaches just that! God “works all things after the counsel of his will”(Ephesians 1:11) from the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29) to the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28). God governs all things from the smallest to the greatest, good and evil, pagan or Christian, pain and pleasure for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10).
Life is complex; and so is the world. There is pleasure; but there is also pain. There is sweetness, and there is bitter suffering. There is joy; but there is also misery. There is life and health; but there is also disease and death. Human emotions are not simple. Therefore, the Bible describes how Christ’s servants’ respond to suffering:“[We are] sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6: 10). This means that suffering is temporary in this world, but Christ is supreme now and forever. Those who love people beyond their own comforts, this complexity of human feelings also means that:
(a) We will rejoice with those who rejoice;
(b) and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
For some people the question is: “Why is there so much evil in this world? Where was God during the earthquakes & Tsunami?” This is a good starting point, because it is addressed to God. From there one can truly make progress in humility, as the Spirit leads and directs our thoughts. It was Aleksander Solzhenitsyn who incisively observed in The Gulag Archipelago:
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The answer is: No one! No person in his right mind literally wants “to destroy a piece of his own heart.” Have we ever asked: Why is there so much evil in human hearts? The question is not so much: “Why so much evil out there?” But: “Why so much evil in here, in my own heart!” How is the human heart capable of doing so much evil— without any outside help from Satan? If all our past, present & future sins – committed in our hearts–were to be recorded and displayed on a big screen, we would not want to look at it. God is holy & all-knowing; and He hates sin. Perhaps one must also ask: Where was God when Jesus Christ hung on the cross? As we see the wretched condition of our hearts in all humility, we will gradually begin to ask the right questions and find that the most satisfying answer is found in the person and work of Christ on the Cross.
As a result of the fall, sin has enslaved the entire creation (Romans 8:19-23). Sin, therefore, affects even innocent lives on earth. So people can be alive one moment and in eternity the next. Some of us may die of a car accident the next hour or die during a sleep. Life is not in our hands. The tragedies of our world, in Japan or elsewhere, or any personal tragedy points to our great need for redemption. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8: 22). In other words, the entire creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation. Sometimes, it takes pain to shatter stony hearts and awaken new inclinations, new affections, and new openness to our dying need of a Savior. “Pain,” as C.S Lewis once said, “is God’s megaphone to wake us up from spiritual lethargy.” That small whisper of God in a time of comfort and ease is amplified in a time of pain. Comfort clogs our mind; but pain shakes it away. God’s voice is, once more, loud and clear: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
“Pain is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). In other words, the beauty that pain brings to us is seen in the numerous receptions and expressions of love in and through God’s community. The beauty is seen, when we wholeheartedly submit ourselves to the will of God during our pain. God also establishes His Church for this very purpose: to be a means of His grace to a suffering and needy world. The one that cares experiences the joy of giving, while the one that is being cared for receives it with broken-hearted glee, giving praise to God the Father. The most beautiful of all is seen in the unconditional expression of God’s love on the cross of Christ.
Love and Godly sorrow for this sinful world mingled when He cried like a desperate child longing for His Father’s embrace:”My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?“(Matthew 27:46). Imagine that moment of silence from God the Father, pouring out His wrath upon His sinless son! Something utterly dark and terrible happened in that moment of loneliness, as God struck the crushing blow. The earth shook, the sky turned black, and the rocks split that day (Matthew 27:51-52). Christ who knew no sin—even a millisecond of a bad thought—was made sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5: 21). Christ became the greatest sinner, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, fornicator, and chief of all sinners. He became what He was not that we might become what we are not. He had “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53: 2). He looked ugly beyond recognition when He suffered the punishment for our sins. His appearance was so marred that one couldn’t tell whether He was a man or an animal (Is. 52: 14).
But He gives us His righteousness freely—unearned and undeserved (2 Cor.2: 5). The cross is where God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness meet. It is there that God’s love and justice meet. Thus, sovereign power to conquer evil and God’s love for the world—all came together. The cross, where God’s son was murdered also became a place where sinners find unconditional love and forgiveness. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” was the prayer He prayed for His enemies (Luke 23: 34). And He gets the glory for what He accomplished on the cross.
No one feels the pain of human sin, only God does. Pain then becomes a parable for us to read. When we are afflicted, we scream: “Pain! It hurts!” But when we sin, we don’t feel the pain of sin. And we certainly don’t scream, “It hurts!” When we are in pain, we scream: “Why me?” But not when we sin! In effect we are spiritually numb, calloused and lost. No one feels the pain of sin: But Jesus does! He feels the pain and bore the pain of human sin on the cross. The cross of Jesus Christ is the best place to take our inexplicable pain.
May you learn, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what this means: “sorrowful yet always rejoicing!” To rejoice in the midst of suffering is to rejoice in the sovereign grace of God. Suffering is temporal, but Christ is Supreme now and throughout eternity. That is our reason to rejoice even in the midst of pain. Until He comes back with the glory of His Father, let us remember that, “..our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4: 17). That eternal weight of glory is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is hope for Japan in the power of the cross; also for you and your dear ones who are reading this; and are going through trials & afflictions. Japan needs to see a Jesus-like, beautiful, sturdy, persevering, lasting love. There is such kind of love that is a “willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that doesn’t demand reciprocation or that the person being loved is deserving” (Paul Tripp). In Japan’s dark and desperate hour, the only work that will speak voluminously of the glorious light of Jesus Christ is charity and compassion (Matthew 5: 16).
Sorrowful yet always rejoicing,
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
“Many of us are wondering how we can best respond to the devastating news of the earthquakes and tsunami that have especially hurt an area to the North of Tokyo. As the computer and television screens pour out images, we can pour out our hearts to the Creator of the Universe to take care of the great nation of Japan. We can both pray and donate resources. I (Paul) am coordinating a fund raising effort for CRASH, if you can donate money or help in any other way, let me know!
Our goal is to raise $100,000 in 24 hours we can do this but we need your help. Please let others know by forwarding this message to your friends. CRASH is a reliable organization, I highly recommend it.
CRASH Japan, a non-profit established for just a time as this, exists to help victims of disasters. We have experienced people who know the culture and language on the ground ready to assess the situation and then take appropriate action. Please consider how YOU might be able to help right now by giving a donation that will “kick start” our Tokyo based disaster relief initiative.
CRASH Japan is strongly endorsed by JEMA (Japan Evangelical Missionary Association) and comes highly recommended by Dale Little, JEMA President. http://crashjapan.com/
24 HOUR FUNDING GOAL: $100,000 (send a donation using one of the following options)
Donate via Horizon Christian Fellowship web site (tax deductible receipt provided).
Donate via PayPal (no tax deductible receipt).
Send check to:
1001 E. Palmer St.Indianapolis,
IN 46203 USA
(Put “CRASH” in the comment line of the check.)
Japan Earthquake Prayer List:
- At 2:46 PM local time, March 11, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan off the eastern coast of Miyagi, prefecture. This is the largest recorded earthquake ever to have struck Japan, and the fifth largest recorded earthquake in the world. Even after 24 hours, heavy aftershocks were still being felt throughout northeastern Japan, with no way of knowing how long these aftershocks will continue. Some experts have said that there could be strong aftershocks of up to magnitude level 8 for six months. Please pray that the earthquakes will cease.
- The devastation from the initial earthquake was compounded by heavy tsunamis that hammered the east coast, and even after 24 hours, the eastern coast of Japan was still under warning for tsunamis. Sendai City was hit the hardest, both by the temblor and the tsunami. Some towns were entirely obliterated by the tsunamis. Please pray that these tsunamis will cease.
- Casualty reports are still coming in. As of Saturday afternoon local time, the death toll had exceeded 1,000, with over 600 still missing. Pray for those who are trapped and injured, as well as those who are missing friends and family.
- In Fukushima Prefecture, two nuclear power plants are under a state of emergency. The reactors are overheating at the number 1 plant, and at the number 2 plant, the reactor pressure has been rising. At the Fukushima number 1 plant, there was an explosion Saturday afternoon, 4 PM local time, injuring four workers. The evacuation around the Fukushima power plant 1 has been expanded to 20 kilometers. Radiation levels at the plant have been measured at 1,051 microsievert. One hour of exposure to that much radiation is the same amount that the average human receives in a year. Please pray that the situation will get under control soon, before anything more serious occurs.
- Pray also for the weather. With radiation being diffused into the air, wind or rain could carry it into populated areas and expose people. Pray that any wind will carry radiation out to sea rather than into populated areas. What’s more, bitterly cold night-time temperatures could prove life-threatening for those who are trapped.
- Public transit systems in Tokyo and the surrounding areas were shut down for hours after the quake, with some people still stranded away from their families. Limited railway use has resumed. Pray for those who are stranded away from their loved ones at this difficult time.
- Millions of homes in northeastern Japan are without power, and over a million homes in Ibaraki prefecture are without fresh water supplies. Pray for the power plants and water facilities to be able to resume their work, and pray for those who do not have these essential supplies.
- Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes in the coastal areas and the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plants. Please pray for them, and all who are having to stay in public shelters.
- Relief workers are working around the clock to rescue survivors, but things are grim for coastal cities due to the continual bombardment of tsunamis. Pray for the relief workers, that God would grant safety and stamina.
- Pray for the Christians of Japan, that we would be able to mobilize relief efforts and provide for people’s needs, both physical and spiritual.”