A biblical and theological reflection on tsunami disaster – was God cruel and heartless?
Southern Asia Tsunami
If there was anything good that came out of the terrible disaster, it was, if we may say so, the great attention God has received. Godlessness is not the deliberate choice of most people of South Asia. But the highly secularized way of life which becomes hectic by the year has effectively crowded God out. We have become very conscious of our religious identity, no doubt, but that is because it is most often mixed with our ethnic identities, which in turn have been highly politicized. There is also a good deal of utilitarian and self-centered religiosity to secure divine favors and divine protection. Hardly do most religious people care to live giving priority to God’s concerns for the world of human affairs and for the realm of nature. Are we saying, therefore, that God has brought this terrible disaster upon the nation so that we may become seriously God conscious? Not at all. Paradoxically, the positive outcome of turning our minds towards God is rather out of a sense of utter helplessness; or out of widely prevalent fears about divine retribution; or out of a superstitious belief that everything that we cannot understand must originate with God; or out of a not so well thought out idea of how God who is Sovereign and Almighty relates to the realm of nature and to the realm of human affairs; or last but not least in the minds of some Christians it is a divine portent of the End of all things that is fast approaching. None of the above sources of inspiration for thinking about God can be seen to be valid on careful theological reflection. Then, the question, “What is so positive about the increased attention God has received?” does indeed prop up most legitimately. The positive outcome, one can dare to say, is that there is now a greater openness to seek real understanding as people who try to come to terms through one or the other of the above ways are not entirely happy with their own understanding. The facts that the tragedy has involved thousands of innocent children, that it has not spared any one religious/ethnic group, that the victims do not belong to any one particular political affiliation, that while the majority of those who were swept away were poor coastline dwellers, quite a few rich holiday makers and foreign tourists have also not been able to escape the sweep of the monstrous waves…have made it impossible for anyone group to point an accusing finger at those who were hurt by the tragedy as those who were not on good terms with God. Similarly the traditional belief that God protects the godly and reeks vengeance on the ungodly also fails to wash as many devotees who went to Church on the fateful Sunday, simply because the Church was close to the sea, had to face the fury of the waves as also some Hindus who went to perform some rites by the sea got swept away. One Pastor of a Charismatic Independent Church, it seems, when the people panicked when water from the first not so fierce wave entered the Church asked people to remain calm and pray fervently and soon a monstrous second wave entered the Church and swept all away including the pastor. So the theory of divine protection or of retribution to the impious only, from any point of view of self-righteousness and exclusivity stands on shaky grounds.
While God is sovereign the fact that nature is not perfect but has inherent imperfections and defects and the fact that humankind abuses and exploits nature with a sense of nonchalant irresponsibility are often forgotten.
For those of us who are not deists, i.e. that God would not interfere with the wound up mechanism of nature even when it is aberrant, the question, “Could not God have protected the tragic and untimely death of so many infants and children?” does persist. Neither can we resign ourselves to God’s sovereign right to be arbitrary under the cover that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and so we must humbly accept what God saw fit to do.
The possibility of imperfect nature’s erratic outbursts from time to time, however, has to be reckoned with. With our increased knowledge of geological factors we do need to do all that we can do to improve our detection and warning mechanisms and avoid danger prone zones as dwelling places. Stories are current that a Hawaii based research centre did try to warn at least South Asian countries towards which Tsunami waves were traveling but nobody took the warning messages seriously. If this is true, the blame is squarely on the shoulders of those irresponsible people who did nothing to act upon the warning at least with respect to those lost in these countries and not at all upon God.
The need, however, to seek theological understanding cannot be wished away by seeking an explanation in terms of aberrant nature or on the basis of human neglect. For we believe that God has a concern for all of life and is meaningfully and purposefully involved in leading creation towards new creation and humanity towards new humanity in Christ. Neither can such tragedies be understood simply as temporary casualties belonging to the fast passing away realm of the “Not-Yet” but which will be off set at the Resurrection. Jesus refutes such a resignation of Martha at the grave sight of Lazarus. His intervention to bring Lazarus back to life shows that tragic contingencies of temporal life are viewed with deep concern by God. What are the implications and symbolic significance of Christ’s action to bring Lazarus back to life for the mass tragedy we have suffered? Our fresh theological seeking is not just to satisfy our academic curiosity but to help many people who are deeply troubled and are looking for a more satisfactory understanding. Otherwise they are likely to settle down to one or the other of the traditional views which does not do justice to God’s universal Love, perfect Justice and deep concern for all life here and now. God’s Future is integrally bound up with God’s present. Let us engage in the search with the assured help of God the Holy Spirit. Let us hope that any insights gained could become instrumental to make the world more conscious of the loving purposes of God.
1. A Statement of Method
We will begin by making a statement on the method. We take the stories of the bible used in the discussion without entering upon any questions of authenticity. However, we do not follow the method of quoting a text to counter the use of another text. We do not believe either that simply quoting a text from the bible is sufficient to prove any theological convictions supposedly arising from it. However, we do need to recognize that theological conviction does depend on a choice of text(s) and engaging in a dialogue with those texts which we choose to relativize. Our particular choice also must be shown to be correct. This process of selection does depend on a prior understanding of God which in turn will depend on Jesus’ own affirmations about God and on his understanding of God’s purposes. We shall also seek a justification from what can be undeniably understood from the way in which God could be seen at work in the day to day affairs of the world. Using this method we may sometimes deliberately relativize one text in the light of another. The method we follow, we hope, will become obvious as we go along. Earlier we referred to the ideas of divine retribution, and God’s arbitrary interventions in nature as a warning or as a portent of impending doom for all as untenable. Using our method of biblical reflection we need to demonstrate why such explanations do not bring honor to God. We shall then try to understand the way God relates to the realms of nature and of human affairs. Finally, we shall seek to envision God at work in the midst of and through the partnership of the victims and the bereaved survivors. Finally we shall gather up our thoughts and try to understand the challenge to all the rest of humanity who remain unhurt but are nevertheless concerned to be instruments in God’s hands and to those others who are cozy, comfortable, smug and complacent thinking that they are indeed God’s favorites!
2. It is Not Divine Retribution
In the introductory paragraph we already mentioned the untenability of this idea merely by taking into account that most were innocent victims and that in its broad sweep Tsunami included the pious as well as the impious, the good and the bad, innocent children and adult sinners. However, those who depend entirely on the support of a few isolated bible texts and are also given to exclusivist attitudes adamantly stick to the idea of divine protection for the Elect Faithful and divine retribution or divine abandonment of the others. Even those who are not necessarily convinced fundamentalists have been heavily influenced by this idea. A colleague of mine in the Seminary who teaches English came visiting bringing greetings of the season two days after the terrible tragedy. The very first words he uttered were that God has established that God is a Vengeful God as the bible testifies. Happily, this friend left our sitting room convinced that it was wrong to attribute the disaster to a divine visitation with punishment. Disappointingly, however, I have not had the same success with many others. These people by no means could be described as adamant fundamentalists but insist that it has to be understood as an Act of God. It is comforting in a strange way to accept with a sense of resignation that it is God’s doing either as punishment or as an act of warning for it is much better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of the Devil! Such friends need to be helped. So we must first trace the roots of this problem which can be located to simply internalizing certain texts to the neglect of other texts and the general prevailing ignorance about what Jesus had said and proclaimed about God. There is also the subconscious desire in most of us which prods us to find satisfaction in the thought that inasmuch as we have been spared we are special in the eyes of God.
3. Internalization of Certain Selected Texts
God visited Egypt with many plagues and pestilences using forces of nature and some peculiar abnormalities as well. God enabled the people of Israel to cross the Red Sea by parting its waves through a powerful wind but by making the sea to return to its normal turbulence killed all the Egyptian pursuers. Similarly during Joshua’s campaign against those who had besieged Gibeon he was able to command the sun and the moon to stand still until he had routed them and both the sun and the moon obeyed Joshua’s command. In addition to making the sun and the moon stand still God also assisted the campaign by raining hail stones upon the enemy forces and killed many. It is said that those who were killed by the hail storm were more in number than those killed by Joshua’s sword. These two stories clearly establish that God is in control of the wind and the waves and all forces of nature and that God will use forces of nature either to protect God’s people or to destroy their enemies. The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by bringing fire and brimstone from the sky which also confirms such an understanding. Therefore, we should interpret all natural disasters as God intended punishment inflicted on the victims. If those who suffered are not enemies of those who were not affected then it must be understood as God’s punishment for their sins of idolatry and immorality. And, if we ask how are we to understand the children and infants who were killed in large numbers as sinners and there is a ready made answer to that question also. God has said that God would requite the sins of the parents until the third and the fourth generation, so we must understand the tragedy that hit the children as God’s visitation upon them due to God’s unabated anger against some of their forbears.
Occasionally, however, the idea of punishment is given up but that all untimely deaths are caused by God is retained. If we ask how to understand the reality that some parents who were taking their children to Church, lost their children while they themselves were spared, we are told that perhaps God wanted those little ones for God’s special tasks in heaven! Like a gardener who may take away some flowers to adorn his table, maybe God took those for God’s own special use as the bible says “ How precious in the sight of God is the death of a saint” (Ps 116:15) ? Without any serious discussion we must challenge this particular interpretation. Such an understanding arises from a gross misunderstanding of the text cited. It means exactly the opposite of what is usually believed. As Good News bible rightly translates it, it means that the death of a saint is costly to God and God, as much as the human bereaved, experiences a sense of loss.
The main hurdle in helping to reach a proper decision through systematic reflection is that there is a given mind set. For many people human life on earth is lived in a predetermined world and so that it is God who orders the death of each individual, untimely or in old age, through sickness, or accident or due to any other cause. It is a combination of the twin belief that all death is ordered by God and that all disastrous phenomena in nature are God’s special acts of visitation that gives rise to the explanations mentioned above. These ideas are firmly internalized by most Christians whether or not they belong to mainline denominations or to any of the other churches. These ideas are promoted by independent preachers who stand to gain by keeping people under fear to create a sense of special protection secured through their prayers. They influence Christian people of all denominations. So it is necessary to try and help the Christian people who live under the delusion that their way of understanding is the truth believing that it is derived from God’s Word.
It is time that we now returned to our earlier stated method with which we must approach Scripture. We had said, it may be recalled, that a prior understanding of God and God’s purposes should govern all interpretations of Scripture. This prior understanding we also said must resonate with what Jesus thought and spoke about God. And thirdly, our understanding of God should be tested against what can be discerned from the way God’s love and justice are seeking to manifest themselves in the world of human affairs. We are not rationalists but we do need to utilize the faculty of the intellect fully. Let us now start engaging our people in a dialogue.
We begin by tracing the common ground that exists between us. Both of us are firm believers in God’s Sovereignty but we differ in perceiving how God exercises God’s sovereign prerogatives. To affirm what God can do is not the same thing as what God does do. We do not deny that God is sovereign, powerful and can choose to punish part or all of creation if it pleases God. However, God declared after the Flood that God will not any more punish humankind using natural calamities (Gen 8:20-22). This decision was taken, we are told, in the full knowledge that human beings would remain sinful. Notwithstanding such a self imposed restriction, there are indeed times when whole nations or cities which provoked God have indeed been destroyed. This is because of their persistent and collective wickedness and total destruction seemed to God to be the only way to prevent the spread of the collective proneness to persist in evil. This was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah. . We should take note, however, that God promised not to destroy the righteous with the wicked, when Abraham pleaded that it does not befit the God of justice to destroy the righteous with the wicked. Lot and his family were saved. If his would be sons in law had heeded his warning they too would have been saved. In the case of Nineveh, on the other hand, it is said that God repented of the decision to destroy the city when they heeded the warning brought to them by Jonah and God did not destroy the city. It is clear that God would not destroy a whole group of people, the good and the bad together. It is also clear that God will warn people before bringing in mass destruction when it becomes necessary to prevent the spread of any evil collectively and persistently indulged in knowing fully well that what they were doing was wicked. God is God of Justice.
In the case of the way God dealt with the Egyptians, first of all we are told that God specially blessed the two Egyptian midwives who refused to abide by Pharaoh’s instruction to kill all Hebrew male newborns. The Jewish people even to this day commemorate with gratitude what Siprah and Pua did and also what Pharaoh’s daughter did in bringing up Moses. In the Book of Deuteronomy 23:7 Israelites are specifically commanded not to despise Egyptians as they once sojourned in their midst, thereby indicating that God did not approve of hatred against the whole nation of Egypt. So the killing of all first born just on the night of the Pass Over must have been done because all Egyptians had acquiesced in the xenophobic Genocidal attempt to annihilate the entire new generation of the Israelites. Such complicity came about much later after Moses had fled to Median, had married Zippo rah and had returned to challenge Pharaoh. The event of the Red Sea swallowing the pursuers affected only those Egyptian soldiers who pursued the people of Israel. What they did was wrong and they brought destruction upon themselves. So also in the case of the kings who had besieged Gibeon who had gone to war with the city simply because the Gibeonites had made a deal with Israel to live in peace with them. So although there are the occasions of God’s punishment using natural phenomena even after the Flood we see that the good were not destroyed together with the bad.
Another factor that needs to be kept in mind in understanding the stories related to the Exodus and settlement in the land of Palestine is that they are symbolic events and should not be used to interpret all natural calamities which hit people in different parts of the world. They are symbolic in that they demonstrate that God is on the side of the oppressed and so can be taken as a permanent paradigm to encourage all oppressed peoples that God is not on the side of the powerful but God is on the side of the oppressed although the powerful oppressors and tyrants may presume that God is on their side because they keep getting away with their wicked ways. This becomes clear from all the Lament Psalms (e.g. 44 9ff) which look back to the stories of earlier victories and lament that such is no longer their experience. All the lament psalmists, however, affirm their faith in God and pledge to remain steadfast in their commitment to God. This is the proper way to use the stories of miraculous deliverance which attended the Exodus and the settlement in Palestine.
We must now move on to see how Jesus understood and spoke about God. Jesus did warn people about God’s Judgment Day and called people to repentance. But on whom did God pronounce judgment? On the stubborn religiosity of contemporary religion which had compromised with the arrogant and tyrannical power of Rome, had endorsed a lot of evil in the name of God, had nurtured exclusivist tendencies, seemed set to prevent people from being kind and human to one another and above all had interpreted the ministry of healing of Jesus as stemming from the devil…This judgment which Jesus warned about was to take place in the end. In the day to day affairs until that awful day, God was dealing mercifully with all, the good and the bad. God made the sun to rise on the just and the unjust and brought rain also on the just and the unjust. In other words God remained faithful to the Covenant God made with humankind after the Flood. God’s concern and providential care, in fact, extended to the whole of creation. God cared even for insignificant numerous and small creatures like sparrows which in human reckoning were cheap and dispensable. Accidents such as the fall of the tower of Siloam and instances of arrogant state terrorism such as the killing of the Galileans in the Temple (see Lk 13:1-5)did succeed in flouting God’s concern to protect and save life. But such events, most definitely, are not God’s doing. Jesus said that those killed were no worse sinners than the rest of the dwellers of Jerusalem. God’s judgment, when it does happen, would spare no wicked and God does not act capriciously inflicting pain on some and excusing the others when all alike are sinners. Often those who escape are much worse sinners! As real as Judgment in the End would be, God’s perfect mercy upon every human person and over all of nature in the present was the reality Now. Therefore, all life style and ethical implications for personal and for societal/national life were to be ordered in the light of God’s absolute goodness and non-deferential providence. This was most emphatically the concern of Jesus.
Calamities and willful acts of destruction and massacres do happen in the present day. They are not to be interpreted as Acts of God.
If as already conceded Dooms Day was going to be a reality could not events like the recent Tsunami destruction, many earthquakes and tidal waves of recent times be seen as portents of the coming Dooms Day for the whole universe? Did not Jesus himself say that there will be famines and earthquakes indicating the beginning of the birth pangs? Jesus also said “Do not be alarmed, the end is not yet” and that “Of that day and hour no one knows…nor the Son”. In accordance with Jesus’ own admission of his ignorance the end which was expected to come before the contemporary generation of Jesus passed away it did not happen. Paul who also believed the Coming of Christ to happen in his own life time later seemed to have modified his beliefs. By the time he comes to write Ephesians and Colossians he had started talking of the hidden mystery now revealed namely that the whole of creation would be consummated in Christ and that the Church was to participate together with God in bringing about that consummation.
4. God and Nature
We must now move on to seek an understanding of the way in which God has chosen to relate to Nature. We must begin with the story of creation. It is stated clearly that God, after creating humankind comprising women and men entrusted care of creation to humankind. In other words there was a willing self abdication on the part of God. God did not take God’s hands off completely. But God chose to respect human freedom and is waiting patiently that one day humankind would learn to exercise its stewardship over nature with a greater sense of responsibility.
The other factor we need to remember is that, as it comes out in the conversation between God and Job, God also has vested nature with a certain amount of autonomy. In Job 38:11 there is also a hint that Nature has its own inherent arrogance which becomes obvious in instances when the sea exceeds its bounds.
Even if scientifically we find it difficult to accept Nature as having a will of its own, we need to accept two things: 1. Abusive and exploitative plundering of nature to sustain the lives of the rich and the powerful at insatiable levels of comfort and luxury does upset the eco systems with disastrous consequences: a) The survival of many species is endangered. b) It results in phenomena like the puncturing of the ozone layer of the atmosphere. c) It causes acid rain to fall on the earth. d) It gives rise to global warming causing a rise in sea levels increasing the frequency and intensity of tidal waves. e) Some eco-sensitive scientists expressed anxiety that the underground testing of an atomic device in Pokran in the desert region of Rajasthan of India may have exerted pressure on the already existing fault line in the inner strata and may have triggered the powerful earthquake of Gujarat in the year 2002. 2. The second factor is that this earth is not perfect. It does have fault lines as already mentioned above in its lower strata, deserts and drought prone areas on its surface; its resource distribution is not equitable… But the earth of all planets is the only one, as far as we can tell, capable of creating and sustaining life. Somehow its ‘inherent imperfections’ seem to be a necessity for creating and sustaining life! God has ordered regularity of seasons but that regularity can be breached by wrong collocation of forces within nature itself or by human abuse and manipulation. So we must conclude that somehow the phenomenon of global warming caused by collective human plundering of natural resources, the possible pressures exerted on the tectonic plates under the ocean due to underground testing of atomic weapons and the quirk of a clash between the unstable inner strata have combined together to produce the Tsunami disaster affecting mostly innocent people. The fact that the average per decade of Tsunamis in the Pacific has increased during the last two decades also seems to point in the same direction. It is by no means God’s vindictive act of punishment or God’s act to bring a general warning.
Aberrant as Nature can be, however, it does not seem to be totally unkind either! For we also learn from the experience of inexplicable premonitions of primitive people, intuitive movements of fish, animals and insect-life forms that Nature has a built-in mechanism of sending warning signals about the build up of forces which might cause a disaster. Observers have stated that except for dogs and a few other domestic animals like cattle and goats wild deer and many other forms of wild life in the Tsunami hit areas seemed to have been able to flee to safety. No carcasses of any wild life have been found! People like the Australian Aboriginals and Native Americans do claim that they can empathize intuitively with Nature when Nature itself is experiencing some internal disturbance. On the one hand we now live in the time of technological advance which can invent instruments of detection and warning but on the other hand we also live in the Post-Modern age when there is greater openness to listen to the experience of people belonging to the so called primitive cultures and to learn from the intuitive capacities of the non-intelligent animal life. Admittedly creation is imperfect and does have faults. But God has created Life with the capacity to come to terms with the potentiality of Nature’s aberrant behavior from time to time! God therefore should not be blamed for our ignorance and neglect.
5. How do we Envision God in Relation to the Victims and the Bereft Survivors?
If God is just and merciful, how do we see God in relation to those who have been the victims of the disaster? God has undergone a self abdication and has handed over stewardship of Nature to humankind. God also respects the autonomy and integrity of natural forces. But God is by no means absent or is only a distant observer. God is God Immanuel. God therefore should be understood and experienced as one who is a fellow-sufferer-enabler. God is the I Am who was with the people of Israel during their suffering under the yoke of slavery for four hundred years and when they faced annihilation. It is only because God Pua and Silpa the two midwives were inspired and empowered to defy Pharaoh. It was God who encouraged the daughter of Pharaoh and perhaps many other Egyptian mothers to adopt the abandoned Egyptian male infants. Thus Moses himself was saved and given a privileged upbringing equipping him for leadership. This is what God revealed to Moses through the symbol of the Burning Bush which was not consumed. The bush symbolically represented suffering Israel and God called Moses from out of it. God walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed Nego in the fiery furnace giving them first relative freedom from bondage before bringing them out of fire. This story was fondly remembered during the persecution suffered under Antiochus some three hundred years later as depicting their own experience.
We referred earlier to the faith affirmations of the Psalmists of the Psalms of Lament. The Psalmists who feel derelict always also are also able to reaffirm their faith. It is no empty talk, therefore, to say that people who are severely traumatized can and do to experience God as a Fellow Suffering and Enabling God. This is now borne out through a few stories that are being shared by those who went to sit and listen to stories of the bereaved survivors of the Tsunami disaster.
Teams of counselors who concentrate in helping children spend time playing with them and by encouraging them to reflect on their experience by drawing pictures. A boy, ten years old, drew the picture of an elderly man shedding tears. When asked whether he was depicting the father whom he had lost it seems he said that he had drawn the picture of God who stood by and was shedding tears. God continues to reveal to children what we fail to see because of our preconceived notions of God.
Another story is a success story in the midst of many tragic ones. Sudhakar is a theological student of the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimattalawa and is the son of a pastor in Batticoloa district. Sunday worship had just concluded. The pastor father had gone out into the town looking for two children of the church run orphanage. Meantime the first wave which was not so strong came but receded quickly and the mother went out anxiously looking for the husband and the little ones. Sudhakar’s sister followed the mother. Sudakar was watching the sudden incursion and recession of the sea. They thought the waves had receded and then came the monstrous second wave and swept away the mother and the sister. Sudhakar held on to a lean and wobbly post. Somehow the mother and the sister were stopped by a thorny bush a little further down but were about to be drowned. This wave started receding and Sudhakar was able to drag the mother out and saw his sister lying well under water almost at the same spot. He carried her as she had become unconscious and had also broken her leg. He helped the mother to walk towards the shore while carrying his sister on the shoulder. As many as 80 people of the Church, however, got washed away except for his family who got ‘miraculously’ saved, because a thorny bush stopped the mother and sister and because God gave courage to Sudakar and the wave in any case had started receding. I had the privilege of meeting this family. They do not revel in the fact that they had been saved when the entire congregation have been swept away. The pastor father has gone back to help the bereaved relatives, to bury the dead and do whatever else that needs to be done. One other student who belonged to the same congregation lost his mother and two sisters. He himself was not affected because he had gone to help in the worship service of another Church well inland. Did God help Sudhakar in an arbitrary and selective manner? The enabling power of God was able to be accessed by Sudhakar only because of the chancy presence of the lean and wobbly support and the thorny bush which prevented the mother and the sister being drawn further into the sea. God who cares for all could not do much else to save others.
We have also heard of others who saw their loved ones being swept away while they themselves were able to hold on to some support close by. One such person is a senior pastor an old student of TTS, the Rev. Kadiresan Pillai. We hear that he is suffering from a severe sense of guilt for saving himself and not being able to help his aged mother-in-law being swept away. There are mothers who suffer guilt because they could not hold on to their child because with all their strength they held on to their support.
The one success story, therefore should not be seen as in any way a story of God’s special favor to Sudhakar’s family. They too are conscious of this and are doing all their best to help the others who have not been so fortunate. The empowering presence of God is to be located in this spiritual strength much more than even in the courage and the timely action of Sudhakar. Why we need to say this is one independent preacher it seems sought an interview with CNN and had said that he and some others in a boat were saved miraculously as he was able to command the waves to be still and they obeyed. He has boldly made up a story ignoring the fact that another pastor of another independent church stopped the people from fleeing to safety and exhorted them to pray saying that the waves would not harm them. Alas all of them including the pastor got washed away. So if the story of the one who commanded the waves is true we have a god who is arbitrary and capricious, not one who loves all and cares for all. There is no use serving such a god. But we do know that the Parent God of our Lord Jesus is not like that and therefore we must hold stories of the many tragedies and a few stories of apparent miraculous deliverance as both belonging to the realm of chance. God’s power available to the bereaved and the saved is of the same kind as that was available to those who escaped. It belongs to the realm of spirituality.
So we emphatically affirm God’s presence with those who had lost their dear ones and their homes and possessions. We see the presence and inspirational power of God active in many instances. It is only because God has still preserved a certain amount of humanness in this exploitative and selfish world, that so much of human sympathy has been evoked and aid to bring immediate relief, to rebuild devastated homes and schools, repair damaged boats and rehabilitate the displaced… flows in large measure. Many have rushed to the scenes of disaster to help to bury the decomposed bodies of the dead and to clear rubble. God’s presence with the suffering people is also concretized through many counselors who risking their own sanity and peace of mind have chosen to be with people to help them through their trauma. While human wickedness is as active as ever in trying to cheat the suffering people out of their due measure of relief, in abusing helpless women in the camps sexually, in trying to traffic in lone child survivors… human goodness transcending traditional animosities and prejudices is also to the fore. Many people see a sign of hope that this might herald a new beginning of inter ethnic amity in this strife torn “Paradise Island”!
But what about the innocent dead? How do we see their tragic end in the light of the Gospel. They were not taken away by God with any selfish intent. Their suffering we could say must be seen as contributing to the pool of redemption along with Christ’s own death. God turned that terrible tragedy into a source of an ever bubbling spring of redemptive power to bring back sanity and humanity to all the humans. Perhaps the time has come for all of us to give up our thinking that the killing of Jesus was pulled off by God in order that it might be reckoned as a vicarious punishment so that we the guilty may be let off the hook. Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man. The best way to understand that self designation is that he was the corporate all time representative of the entire Collective of those who suffer unjustly, one way or the other. Paul is beginning to grope in this direction when he sees his own sufferings as completing that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. The way the Fourth Gospel sees the I Am in the lifted up Son of Man also seems to suggest that in the Cross of Christ the sufferings of all those who suffer unjustly are gathered up. The Church undergoing severe persecution saw Christ as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Soon after Tsunami the Presiding Minister of the United Church of Christ in the US, Dr John Thomas sent a letter to the Churches in the Tsunami affected countries. In that letter he very helpfully points out that Epiphany was accompanied by the slaughter of the Innocents which provoked the wailing of the mothers. True Epiphany depends on Christ’s people bearing the brunt of daring the powers of evil. The two are inevitably bound up.
His death i.e. the death of the Son of Man, therefore, together with all those who suffered unjustly, in a mysterious way, paves the way for repentance of all of us. The collective repentance arising out of a true sense of the guilt of abetting powers of evil makes it possible for God to release new energy leading to the re-creation of Humanity in the image of the perfect goodness of God’s own self. In this specific instance the repentance required is the repentance of the powerful and privileged sections of humankind who abuse and plunder nature and even perhaps try to manipulate nature which result in disasters that hurt the poor and the vulnerable sections of humankind elsewhere. Such is the reality of human corporateness. The Risen Lord is with us. Just as he acted to redress the loss of Lazarus, we need to do all we can to bring consolation and hope to the deeply saddened bereaved. We are told that Job got all his possessions back because friends and relatives brought gifts. Maybe those who lost their children will be given new children or they would be able to adopt the children who have survived but have lost their parents. Let us do all we can.
Dr. Dhyanchand Carr