Issue 55

March 1, 2011

Summer of Sorrow

Summer of Sorrow, Day of Disaster, Tower of Siloam

Editorial by B. Michael Bigg

Today's technology allows local events and stories to be beamed around the world before most news media have reported the story. What this means is that the world can be aware of events before some locals are, especially if they aren't technologically savvy.

The past several months have seen tragedies take place in many places – some more dramatic and receiving more media coverage than others.

In Europe and the United States snowstorms caused havoc as well as death. In January Brazil was hit by flash floods, caused by 12 inches (300mm) of rain in a few hours, in which 600 people lost their lives. Though not natural disasters, it is worth noting that Egypt and other middle-eastern countries have been hit by protests calling for change – in some instances protesters have been killed by police and/or military forces.

Internationally, so-called “natural” disasters happen annually (or at least appear to), sometimes with devastating results. When one thinks of earthquakes – California (USA) and Japan come to mind; when one thinks of tornados – the American Mid-West; floods – Europe; snowstorms – Russia, Europe, England and North America; tsunamis – Japan and other parts of Asia. Comparatively, Australia and New Zealand – though seeing disasters of their own – seem, in 1 many ways, to have previously got off lightly.

Commencing in December (2010), however, the Australian state of Queensland was hit by flooding rains in the outback. In January (2011) a main road of the “top of the mountain range” city of Toowoomba – and subsequently downstream and down hill communities – were hit, and in some instances, wiped out by what has been called an “instant inland tsunami”. Combined with heavy rains and full dams the state capital, Brisbane, was flooded, particularly low lying suburbs along the Brisbane River. Spectacular images of cars and houses being washed away, boats being flipped, canals where roads once were, circled the globe. To add to these woes North Queensland was hit, in late January, by Tropical Cyclone Yasi, with devastating results for coastal communities. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh called these events, Queensland's “Summer of Sorrow” and was heard to comment on TV, “Someone up there must have something against us.”

What followed was a solidarity and unity of Queenslanders with the “mud army” volunteers getting in and cleaning up Brisbane (relatively quickly when you consider the scope of the damage) – though some areas were affected for some time; whilst the Australian Army along with local and interstate tradespeople helped cyclone ravaged communities.

As dramatic as these events were, and as unifying the community's response, we can't lose sight of the fact that Queensland and Queenslanders aren't the only ones suffering. Floodwaters from outback Queensland steadily made their way south – crossing the border into the state of New South Wales – and, aided by further rain, flooded numerous towns and communities in southern states as well. On the other side of the country, in Western Australia, sparks from an angle grinder set fire to grass which spread to bushland and destroyed houses.

In February we saw a 6.3 magnitude “aftershock” hit Christchurch, New Zealand in their “Day of Disaster”. The quake was shallow and close enough to Christchurch to cause catastrophic damage resulting in the death of scores of people (possibly including over 50 Asian students there to learn English)2. The search for survivors and the recovery of the dead was and is, no doubt, traumatic for search and rescue teams and families alike.

‍The aftermath of the disasters in Australia and New Zealand has left many asking, “Why?” So much so that some “unchurched” or atheists are going to church – any church – for the first time seeking answers. But what answer do we give? If God is sovereign, if God is all knowing, all powerful and in control then aren't these things God's doing, or God's fault?

First off, let me say that because God is God – the creator of everything, He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. And who are we to question or criticise God? What makes “me” so important that I dare accuse or criticise God! That doesn't mean that we can't, or don't, go to God in prayer seeking answers; or crying out to God lamenting these events and the heartache they bring; but rather it means that we don't dare judge God as if He is answerable to us. On the contrary we are answerable to Him!

If we look at Scripture, the Psalms in particular, we will find many laments in which the psalmist cries out fervently, emotionally in dynamic and visual ways. The heart cry of one in pain and suffering if anything is honest – and an honest cry to God is certainly heard. Nevertheless, the question many want answered remains, “Why?”

If these disasters are of God, then what is God saying, or for what reason did these things happen? If, however, God allowed these things to happen – not intervening to stop them – then how does that reflect on the state of “our” perceived relationship with God? If we look at the state of each nation, Australia and New Zealand, and reflect on where Christianity and Christians stand in these countries, and likewise the moral degradation, laws , judgements and political directions each country is taking then couldn't these be judgements from God? Christian values and Christian principles are certainly dismissed quickly enough by western societies in general3 (and this is equally true of some churches and denominations whose Christianity is in name only).

Where once Christian morals and principles at least meant something (in spite of the countries not being wholly Christian), today Australia and New Zealand have effectively denounced Christian morals and ethics, with people wanting to go their own way. Psalm 2 depicts their thinking very clearly,

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!" He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, "But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain." "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 'You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.'" Now there fore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! - New American Standard, Updated 1995 (NASU).

The natural disasters that hit Australia and New Zealand seem not to have discriminated between Christian and non-Christian, which does not necessarily mean anything in itself. It is the disaster itself that we should reflect on, rather than the victims (who we shouldn't forget).

For the people who have died who are “In Christ” it means that they have entered into God's rest now; and though their families weep, they should be encouraged that they are now safe in God's Hands (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13). For non- Christians, and Christians who have slipped back into the world, it is a wakeup call and Jesus' comments concerning the Tower of Siloam echoes clearly during such times.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." - Luke 13:1- 5 (NASU).

Everyone is a sinner and everyone will receive ultimate judgment from God. Whether our stay here on Earth is 20 or 80 years, our time is fleeting and judgment comes all too quickly. The question is whether we have eyes to see and ears to hear, or whether we wish to remain blind and deaf to God's call.

Siloam is also the place where Jesus met a blind man – whom He healed. And just like the blind man – who was born that way (just like we are spiritually born blind) – we too need the eye salve which only Jesus can make and give for us to see? The question is, will we allow Jesus to be our physician and be obedient to His Words that we might see, or will we remain stubborn and obstinate preferring to stumble in the dark?

As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam " (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. - John 9:1-7 (NASU).

Postscript: Waves of Destruction

As with all birth-pangs their frequency and intensity build up. And though there may be lulls, pauses or gaps from one set of contractions to the next, a woman in labour knows to expect the next.

The recent events around the world have grown more visually shocking with the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on Friday 11 March 2011. The disasters of recent months seem to have continued, with one event barely subsiding before the next happens. Atheists, when referring to these events, talk about Mother Nature as the causal link of these unlucky, coincidental accidents. It is amazing that impersonal Mother Nature is sending us messages, trying to communicate the need for change … but I suppose that so long as we, as individuals and society in general, don't need to morally change and seek God then any change must be good? (That's what society believes anyway).

‍As terrible as the earthquakes in Christchurch and Japan are, and as terrible as the death and destruction is, there remains an earthquake that will surpass them all. But what will man do during such an event? If the unity of man is the priority now, what will the priority be when God is revealed in the disasters to come?

I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" - Revelation 6:12-17

Man fails to seek God now, so in the end they will likewise fail to seek God, but rather choose to hide from Him – or attempt to do so.

Reflection

The disasters that have struck Australia, New Zealand and now Japan are certainly real, and not to be dismissed. However, because these countries are as developed as they are, they receive the headlines and the focus. But as Christians let us not lose sight of our fellow Christians in other parts of the globe who suffer hardship, sacrifice, calamity and even death – and whose suffering is scarcely reported. Let us not be blinded by the visually dynamic that we fail to remember the meek that Christ accepts. Let us also remember those who have died for putting their faith and trust in Christ (“And there was given to each of them a white robe.” - Rev 6:11a) and their families who may still be suffering.

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