Monday, March 14, 2011

Of Disasters, Deaths, and Devastation

TITLE: Of Disasters, Deaths and Devastation (Part 2 of 3)
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 14 March 2011

This is the second part of a 3-part Lenten series on prayer. Part One touches on cultivating patience in waiting through four benefits of patience. Part Two deals with how to pray in the light of disasters, deaths and devastation.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6-8)
MAIN POINT: In times of natural disasters, the last thing we ever need is finger-pointing or name blaming. The first thing we must do is to pray, and to ask God for wisdom and boldness to help.

For the past week, I have been getting sad news one after another. A member of my study group has died. Some friends are seriously ill. Others are plain anxious, even fearful of the unknown future. With the depressing sight of devastation in North-East Japan after a deadly tsunami, I can understand anyone who is feeling downright distressed and dumbfounded right now.

{If you have not seen the devastation caused by the March 12th tsunami, check below.

  • Waves engulfing Sendai [link]
  • Terrifying Waves [link]
  • Unforgiving Tsunamic [link]}

The threat of a huge nuclear disaster on top of the tsunami aftermath makes me sick. When will it all end? When will the bad news stop coming? How long must we wait for God to intervene and take away the pain and suffering? So many questions. No answer.

A) Foolish Theologizing
A Japanese friend of mine has been getting nasty comments about her home nation. Phrases such as ‘Japan deserves it;’ and ‘God is punishing Japan.....’ are some of the most foolish and insensitive comments received. I am appalled at such words, even from people who claim to be ‘Christian.’

What is wrong with those people? Don't they have a heart at all? If anyone wants to philosophize about why such suffering is happening to Japan, do it later, and not now. Who gives anybody the right to say horrible things like these, and to pronounce judgments as if one is God? No one is immune from natural disasters. The Bible tells us to expect disasters and natural calamity. Interestingly, it does not tell us when or any reason why. They are simply signs of the end times. If one laughs at the unfortunate now, it will be counted against that person when that person suffers a similar fate in future.

In times of natural disasters inflicted upon our fellow human beings, the last thing we need is to start finger pointing or name blaming. We need to stop any foolish theologizing, and start praying and thinking about how to help.

B) Four Ways to Help
I suppose you must be thinking how you can be of help. This is only natural. It is part of our make-up as people made in the image of God. As much as we detest seeing such devastation, deaths and disasters, we know that we are called to be a part of the solution instead of the problem. Let me suggest 4 things that we can do.

First, pray for yourself. This may seem surprising. Let me explain. I find that some Christians in the Church have a tendency of using ‘praying for you’ as a convenient catch-all phrase to say something nice quickly, so that they can hurry along to do their own thing. For example, when Jennifer shares about the death of her mother, her church friend Geraldine quickly says:

Oh dear. I’m sorry. Don’t worry. I’ll pray for you.

Geraldine then walks out, glad that these magical four words gives her a convenient exit from an otherwise depressing conversation. In the midst of her busyness with her other scheduled activities, soon Geraldine forgets about the grieving Jennifer.

What happened to the “I’ll pray for you?

When we commit ourselves to intercede for someone, make sure the promise is kept. We must pray to God for ourselves first not to be hypocrites in the first place. We ask God to help us to pray, as we do not know all the details of the person’s grief. We ask God to guide us to learn when to stay silent, and when to speak up. We remind ourselves that God is Sovereign. By asking other people to trust God, are we trusting God ourselves? Thus, pray to God that we be reminded we are helpless without God.

Second, pray for personal boldness. It is easy to simply utter words of intercession. It is easy to say flowery prayers. What matters is the condition of our heart. How about praying:

Father God. Empower me to help. Enable me to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Help me to give generously. Guide me to pray constantly. Grant me boldness to volunteer fearlessly. Oh God, show me how to help Japan right now. For we ask in the name of Jesus.
When it comes to doing good works, boldness is needed.

Third, pray for corporate togetherness. Whether you are a Church, a cell group, a community gathering, or simply a small group of friends, you can come together to help. Go on a prayer vigil to remind one another we need God to intervene. Organize fund raising activities to show people we can still care despite the distance. Together, come to God boldly as a group. The Book of Hebrews exhort us as a body to:
“Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
How fitting. We remind ourselves that God is ever ready to receive us. He wants to share of His love to all mankind.

Fourth, pray for wisdom for the long haul. Many responses to natural disasters tend to be more knee-jerk that do not last. When all the world’s media is showering attention on the event, people rush to help. Some go out of pure compassion. Some are there simply because it is their job. Others simply want to snap up a piece of publicity, or to lace up one’s resume for self-gain. True compassion is not short-sighted or short-term. It endures.

C) Help is a Long-Term Commitment; Not a Short-Term Comment
In early 2010, Dr David Horn of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary led a team of students on a humanitarian mission to New Orleans. In his report, he made some pointed observations. Immediately after the New Orleans disaster in 2005, the media were full of praise for people offering to help. Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt even went to build new houses for the homeless then. Political leaders score high approval ratings simply by being there, in the midst of suffering.

Now, more than five years later, where are the news crews? Where are the Hollywood stars? Where are the famous politicians? Horn observes that the people he sees are staff and volunteers representing many Churches, Christian organizations. Here are the words of Horn.

“One of the unsung songs in the national media, now that the television cameras are gone after five years, is that it is almost solely faith-based organizations—churches, Christian schools, and other religious organizations-- that are still packing their bags and heading down to New Orleans to patch the city back together again. Where did everyone else go? But why should the national media care? They already have their story. And the story is that apparently the church is full of hypocrites who think about little else but heaven.” (David Horn, Where is Brad Pitt Now?, GCTS website)

To those who constantly smirks, “Where is God in the midst of suffering?” I challenge them:

Where are YOU in the midst of suffering?

Perhaps, when we spend our limited time, addressing the ‘log’ in our own eyes, we will have lesser time worrying about the ‘speck’ in another person’s eye. We will have more time to think of solutions, and less time to look for people to blame. There will always be people ready to point an accusing finger at the Church being ‘full of hypocrites.’ Let them point. Let them accuse. Christians have better things to do. Our job is to serve God faithfully by being part of the solution. Quietly but surely. Pray, and then move.

Thought: Be part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Be part of the long-term commitment, not the short-term knee-jerk offering of help.


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  1. Thank you for this wonderful sharing and latest information about the events and Christian living. A friend of mind send this article

    to me and also is my first time receiving it.

    I am very much agreed to what has been written in it. Yes, in fact many silly people and even Christian felt Japan deserved this because

    Of the past history. They have forgotten we are sin against GOD and one another and none of us are perfect or even sincere.

    Is truly very very sad when we heard such comments from our Christian fellow people. That shown they do not really know who our

    GOD is. Our GOD Is a Forgiving and Merciful GOD. Many of my non-christian are very stumble by we Christian of our bad attitude and

    Selves righteousness. Judging and blaming others at all costs. The Scriptures indeed must come to pass. At this last days People are very

    Proud, very greedy, selfish, happiness at the expense of others.

    We must have the boldness at this hour to talk to the elderly and people to release forgives to Japan and everyone one that has hurt

    Us one way or another. Boldness to speak the true sharing the scripture who ever we meet.

    Thank you again for allowing me to share and sincere anyone of you are most welcome to write to me so that we can pray in one mind.

    Blessing in YESHUA name,


  2. Joyce,
    Thank you for your comments. We need to pray to God to have mercy, and to intervene quickly and help the suffering. Not knowing the answers right now should not deter us from helping wherever we can.