7:00 A.M. EST March 21, 2011
A mother and daughter pause for reflection as they find a family photo
amid the wreckage of their home in Ofunato, Japan. Photo courtesy
of the U.S. Navy/Matthew M. Bradley.
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The earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that it triggered are abrupt reminders that creation, replete with beauty and wonder, is unpredictable and sometimes causes calamity and catastrophe.
The age-old question resurfaces in the wake of this disaster. When we see structures built by human hands torn apart by the violent shaking of the earth, or the fury of rushing waters, or consumed by fire, we wonder, “Where is God in the midst of such devastation and loss?” Watching images of anguish in the faces of people who search for loved ones or a place for shelter or food, we ask, “Was God present in these moments of loss?”
Even faithful Christians question why all this suffering occurs. Why doesn’t God prevent sad things from happening? Wouldn’t it be a better world if God would simply prevent all human suffering and pain? Isn’t that what we mean when we say that we believe that God is “all powerful”?
I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I often wish I did. However, I realize all too well that our human wisdom is limited in its ability to know everything about God. Try as we might, much of how God works in our world is relegated to the “mystery of faith” category. These are the divine mysteries we cannot know and will not know until the answers are revealed to us in God’s time.
I find comfort in some of the bedrock statements of faith: God does not punish us by causing death and destruction; God is always present with us in Spirit; and Christ calls each of us to care for others in love.
In this moment when we are confronted by the earthquake and tsunami, words of faith from our hymnody give us food for thought:
God of the earthquake, God of the storm, God of the trumpet blast,
How does the creature cry, Woe? How does the creature say, Save?
God of the ages, God near at hand, God of the loving heart,
How do your children say, Joy? How do your children say, Home?
– “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale,” Jaroslav J. Vajda
God is present, even in times of earthquake and storm, in hurricane and flood. These catastrophic events are part of God’s natural world. God does not promise that there will be no such calamities, but we are promised that even in our darkest moments, God abides with us!
God does not send natural disasters to punish any of God’s children. When any of us cries out in pain and sorrow, God hears our anguish. When we are overcome with despair and woe, God is present with those who are enduring physical, emotional or spiritual pain and suffering. God’s steadfast love is with us.
God is also known through the love of others who come to give help and comfort. The agony and the sadness evident in the images of destruction and loss break our hearts as thousands mourn loss of loved ones, destruction of home, and loss of life and livelihood. We experience a tenderness of heart because at the center of our faith is Christ, who knew human suffering and pain. As we know Jesus, we understand his deep compassion for all of the human family. His heart was with the poor and the lost.
We who follow Jesus Christ know Christ calls us to reach out to those who are in need. That is what we expect of one another. When human hearts cry out in woe, we respond with compassion for those who are suffering, because all of us are created and beloved by God, and we are all sisters and brothers in Christ.
I now hold in my prayer the colleagues and friends in Japan who are living in the chaotic times in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. In several visits to Japan, I have met and worshipped with many of our Christian sisters and brothers in Christ. I have experienced the evangelistic passion of laypersons, missionaries, pastors and teachers in Japan laboring tirelessly to make disciples of Jesus Christ. They reach out in love and offer hope to persons of all faiths, occupations and nationalities, loving all persons as Christ loved us. As a result, churches, schools, hospitals and other ministry settings are connected to all United Methodists and all Christians around the globe because of this shared history.
In Ofunato, Japan, a house lies upended among debris following an 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which triggered a devastating tsunami. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy/Matthew M. Bradley.
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I cannot begin to imagine the difficult work of rebuilding. My hope is for a generous response of love and prayers and donations as our sign of solidarity and compassion. We can all be grateful and proud that our United Methodist Committee on Relief is already responding and that we United Methodists will be present for the long journey of recovery ahead through UMCOR and through our Christian partners in Japan.
In moments such as this, a message we offer to all in Japan who face the despair of the moment is for them to turn to God for comfort and reassurance in all difficult times through Jesus Christ. Remember that God is our refuge, our eternal home! From Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” comes a statement of our faith that God is “ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in sea storm and earthquake, before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains.” (Psalm 46:1-3)
Join me in prayer as we ask for God’s mercy and care in a time of devastation, loss and woe. Join me in asking God to give us all generous hearts to respond in love and as we pray for the people of Japan and all others who are in need of God’s grace and our love this day.
*Hoshibata, a third-generation Japanese American, serves the Portland (Ore.) Area of The United Methodist Church.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or email@example.com.