Such relief to turn off the TV and allow silence to settle upon me after being saturated with news casts of crumpled buildings, dust, distraught survivors, sirens, fires, a toppled cathedral, and bodies in the rubble. I run water, hot water, to wash dishes and thank God for this — a simple, everyday thing which requires major city infrastructure to function and I almost never consider it.
The residents in Christchurch cannot so easily shut off to the disaster. No water, no sewerage system, even no electricity for many. Roads, buildings and bodies broken. Some gone for ever. The interview of a father, a little younger than myself, desperate to help search for his wife in the rubble of a building. In tears he tells the reporter that when his two small daughters asked this morning where mummy is, he could only reply that she was “still at work”. At work, somewhere under that heap of concrete.
Another man tells a different reporter that he is waiting for news of his sister, also a mum, and he asks anyone who is ‘a praying type’ to please pray, “because there is real power in praying you know”. His exact words… faith, even there, even now.
Interestingly, it is now those who claim not to believe in God that are protesting ‘give Christchurch a break’. Who exactly are they addressing? The forces of nature? Even our Prime Minister commented today that “we will not bow to this challenge”. The worldview that there is no God, that chance and randomness rule, causes folks to become hopelessly unstuck when that very randomness and chance strike with force. They shout “unfair” when another earthquake strikes within six months of the first.
There is no reason that can make sense of this event.
No words that can spare our pain.
We are witnessing the havoc caused by a violent and ruthless act of nature…
…We are a resilient nation, and we will not bow down to this challenge.
Prime Minister John Key, 23 February 2011
The great irony is that the Son of God Himself addressed this very issue when asked about senseless deaths:
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
(Luke 13:4-5 ESV)
Jesus debunks the idea that it is because the people who perished were any worse than those who survived, in effect He is saying that tragic events happen, they are not due to God being ‘out to get’ anyone. Judgment will happen at the end and that is when sense will be made of everything. In the meantime some things will seem senseless, there is nothing useful to be achieved by attempting to make them make sense. The difficult work of faith is to refrain from excusing God from having any responsibility by theorizing clever arguments to let Him off the hook, He could have prevented this earthquake, He chose not to. And yes, it doesn’t seem fair.
I didn’t even feel the initial quake yesterday, being 300km away (190 miles) and on my lunch break at the time. Arriving back at work ten minutes after it occurred, my colleagues asked if I felt it. Even then it was evident that it was large and centered near Christchurch. We felt the aftershocks too, I thought of the six stories of concrete above me while watching my computer monitors wobbling and coffee gently sloshing in my cup. There was no reason to think it could not happen here too, no cause for complacent idealism that because I am a Christian I would somehow be spared. Heaving earth and falling concrete give no heed to my theology.