Several years ago, an article appeared on “Time magazine,” about a Japanese doctor who lived through the terrible bombing of Hiroshima. When the blast occurred, Dr. Fumio Shigeto was waiting for a streetcar just a mile away, but was protected by the corner of a concrete building. Within seconds after the explosion, his ears were filled with the screams of victims all around him. Not knowing what had happened, he stood there for a moment bewildered—a doctor wondering how he could ever handle this “mountain” of patients. Then, still somewhat stunned, Dr. Shigeto knelt, opened his black bag, and silently began treating the person lying at his feet. In the Bible: “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11). When people are suffering, they desperately need someone to help them and experience their pain with them, not explain why it has come upon them. “Jesus wept!” (John 11: 35). This means we enter into their sorrows, and bear part of their burdens as much as possible. We must continue to hold fast to God’s power & goodness while holding out our hand to suffering people in dire need of help and prayer. I do not know whether Dr. Shigeto was a Christ-follower or not, but the most compassionate & merciful saints in history have sacrificed themselves for the suffering, precisely because their faith in God’s sovereign goodness was unshakable. The church in Japan is called to bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be His disciples, for the good of Japan and to His glory (John 15: 8).
1) All Things Work Together For Good.
The 3.11.11 disaster, the 978+ aftershocks (including the 7.1 magnitude on 11th April 2011) and the Nuclear radiation crisis, with a couple of volcanoes now being active, has almost left the nation completely crippled. Friends in Tokyo are growing weary of the aftershocks which is predicted to ensue for the following months. Even as I write, there are updates on the latest aftershocks posted on the web. This is the second largest disaster since World War- II for Japan, and the nation was not ready for a 9.0 magnitude. It is also the world’s costliest disaster by far (including the precious 25000- 30,000 human lives that are lost & missing).
Can this catastrophe of such proportions be a blessing in disguise for Japan? It was Oscar Wilde (Irish Poet and Novelist) who said: “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” This is a healthy biblical perspective. One of the most most loved promises in all the Bible is Romans 8:28. The whole context before and after Romans 8:28 is painful. That’s why Romans 8:28 is so helpful. It says: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good (1) to those who love God, (2) to those who are called according to His purpose.” More than any other promise in the Bible this verse has helped countless people trust God through experiences that seemed utterly desperate, pointless, painful and evil. People have held fast to this promise, in “all things” – especially during the bad “things,” and believed the word of God to be true. But do “all things work together for good” for everybody? For both Christians & non-Christians? That’s a hard bitter pill to ponder, but remedial. The promise is two fold: 1) to those who love God. And 2) to those who are called according to His purpose (not according to our own agendas).
To “love God” is not to meet his needs, as though He has any. The way we love each other is different from the way we love God. Man has needs but not God. “He [is not] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). He gave us the joy of joining Him in His work. It is an undeserved privilege. Hence Romans 8: 20 says that the creation – including us – is subjected to futility. And because the entire creation is subjected to futility, there is pain and suffering as we see it. But not without hope. All things are not good in the present, but GOD works all things that are not good together for good because He is sovereign.
So Romans 8:28 is a call. If “all things work together for good,” then the Church can face all impossibilities in the cause of spreading the Gospel. This is a call to take risks to spread the Gospel “in all things” (including natural calamities) for the joy of the Japanese people. This is a call to venture into hard places, like the present Tohoku disaster area. We are called to do hard things in love. That is the way of the Master. This is a call to be willingly spent for Christ and his kingdom advancement in Japan. This is a call to do something radically crazy, so that the radical sacrifice of Christ on the cross can once more shine most visibly in our lives for the world to see. Our trust in God during this massive suffering is that, this terrible thing, this seemingly hopeless thing, will turn out for the ultimate good of the nation & the glory of God.
Even though situations are sometimes bleak, God is mysteriously loving and sovereign in all that comes our way. The ultimate reason for which evil exists is so that Christ could suffer on the Cross for the sins of mankind. God ordained the murder of His son to display His glory and bring about the ultimate good of saving people from their sins. Evil can ultimately have a good purpose precisely because God is sovereign. Therefore, there is hope for the future in the Sovereign goodness of God. Meanwhile, we hug. We weep with those who weep (Romans 12: 15). And we embrace & clothe the displaced and suffering as His hands and feet. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn” and there will come “a time to dance” eternally one day (Ecclesiastes 3:4). God has absolute authority to turn this event in history, and every other evil in our lives, for our everlasting good & satisfaction. And that’s our only hope in this fallen world and in the next to come. This nation’s suffering 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, sadly, will be the fate of multiplied millions in Japan without Christ (see Part 1). This makes the Gospel urgent. “Satan is satisfied with all our religious activity as long as it does not move us to break down [the gates of our comfortable Churches] to rescue the perishing” (J. Piper– Emphasis mine). We have “celebrated” over 150 years of protestant Christianity in Japan. Indeed many good things have come out of it. Institutions have been started & established. Churches have been planted. Christian schools have been established etc. But as one missionary brother said: “Most of us don’t feel like celebrating yet, because of the remaining 99 % that have not even heard the name of Jesus.”
2) Let Your Light Shine.
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. "...let your light shine before others, so that [the Japanese] may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven"-Matthew 5: 16).
There is hope for Japan in the power of the Cross. Hope is also found in the faith of Christians holding out their hands to those who are trapped in the dark. And that kind of hope is seen most brightly in the lives of Christians who take Christ-like risks in making the light of Christ known in such a time as this.
“How many of us so easily choose the path of comfort and safety. The path that is our answer to the question, “What is best for me?” But so many of those whom God has used to make some of the greatest Kingdom impact have been those who have not made decisions based on “what is best for me?” (at least “best” in a worldly sense). They made decisions, or perhaps for some it seemed like there was really no decision to make at all, based on an undeniable, unshakable, “illogical”, “foolish” passion for Jesus Christ and for His kingdom glory among the lost” (Dr. Michael Oh- Desiring God Blog).
Sorrow keeps us human, and pain shatters that all is well. But only a joyful confidence in a sovereign God keeps us faith-filled & rejoicing for the future. And we reach out in love because He first loved us (I John 4: 19). As someone wrote: “To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” There is a radical Christ-like risk in reaching people that are in need, that makes the world wonder in astonishment. “Mika’s [story] is a great example of how people can show the love of Christ no matter how difficult the situation,” said Paul Nethercott of CRASH. This sort of Christ-like risk opens up opportunity for the Church “to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have” in Christ (I Peter 3: 15).
"Christian organizations were...quick to respond to the unprecedented disaster, with many groups working together to organize support. Peter Thomson, an American missionary and a longtime resident of Hyogo Prefecture who cooperates with Christian relief organization CRASH (Japan), was part of one of the first response teams to head north to provide aid and support to survivors. CRASH (Japan) has set up six base camps, in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, to house volunteers and dispatch them to areas in need of help. Pastors of the many churches in the area call to inform them of what each community needs..." (The Japan Times)
3) Spread The Whole Gospel.
The utterly morbid and hopeless philosophies of our times have sent many people to “walk through the valleys of the shadows of death” (Psalm 23:4) in utter helplessness. 30, 000 suicide take place each year in Japan. Many young folks in our day cry in desperation of wanting to be released from bondage. Many are crying from their utter seclusion and isolation. Still, many view mental illness as a stigma that can be overcome simply by trying harder. Behind the suicides of young people is economic stagnation and a pervasive feeling of gloom about Japanese society. Life can be sordidly devastating with no God to obstruct their vision. From the North to the South, to the East or to the West, life takes on a same meaningless jest for the young and aging population alike.
However, the gift that Christians bring to the suffering world is not the empathy of doubt & uncertainty, but hope in the power of the Cross. We do not join the world in their anger at God or their questioning of His existence or justice or mercy. Not because we’re better, but because we’ve tasted grace as sinners. The very thing that earthquake & tsunami survivors need most is hope in God through Jesus Christ. This will not be given by those who make its uncertainty the measure of our compassion. It would be very unkind and unloving if we try to liberate people from their present temporal sufferings and not offer them the whole Gospel to alleviate their eternal sufferings. The ‘whole’ Gospel (not just the Gospel of good works) needs to be proclaimed to the whole of Japan. The whole Gospel must be administered to the whole person. Yes we must with utmost care, do all we can to care for their present temporal sufferings but ESPECIALLY their future eternal sufferings. There is hope for Japan, not only today- here in this life- but also tomorrow and in the next. The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Roms 1: 16), but it is also the “power of God” for faithful endurance in our present crisis. Will Japan turn from this current crisis to Christ? Let’s pray brothers! Grace is available!
The seas may roar around us in this tiny Island, but the Captain of the ship lives, steering us forward towards the heavenly call until we arrive on that beautiful sea shore, where tears and sighing shall finally cease. On that day: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes [including the Japanese], and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 4). What more can I say? “And the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; EVERLASTING JOY will crown their heads. Gladness and JOY will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10). The Great King is coming soon!
- Read the story of a “cheerful, outgoing Mika, a well-known Christian musician and worship leader, [who] immediately began making friends and reaching out to others in the makeshift evacuation center. She was able to return to her apartment sooner than the others, so she went back and brought her blankets and pillows to others who had none.” FULL STORY here.
Video: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD (After Japan Earthquake: Pray For Revival)
Video: PRAY FOR JAPAN | “Who Will Go?”