Human Tragedy and the Reality of the Gospel

May 19, 2008 at 9:47 pm (Christian life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Our world remains for the most part unphased by the devastation that has hit both Myanmar and China. The latest (probably outdated) death tole from the combined calamities that I have heard have been more than 100,000. Why do we not feel the weight of 100,000 souls lost from this planet? These pictures bring us painfully near to the truth that it was not just numbers lost on May 2 when Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, but it was men, women, and children. Nor was it just buildings demolished by the earthquake in China -rather it was husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers. I wish I could shrug off responsibility and go to these people that experiencing such suffering. I remember speaking with those who went to minister to those hardest hit by the tsunami a couple of years ago. They said they just left their clothes there because they would not be able to wash the stench of death out of them. We’ve had our share of disasters in our country as well, of course. 9/11. Katrina. But it is interesting to see how differently our nations react to such catastrophes. Many in our nation got angry at those in power for not preventing the suffering. Others were upset at the government for not easing the suffering in the way that seemed best to them. It will be interesting to see how victims of disasters in these two countries approach the government with their sufferings. For many of these victims, “rights” as we think of them are not even on their radar screen.

It’s not my purpose, however in writing this blog to highlight our nations inflated view of what is entitled to us as human beings. Rather, I write with a few theological reflections in mind.

All life is like grass (Psalm 103:15; 1 Peter 1:24). Grass is here today and gone tomorrow. It is fragile. Life is the same way. Our whole world can be rocked by the words, “It’s cancer.” We pridefully go about our days and weeks acting as if we will be here forever, but when the number of our days is up, who can extend their life? Let us say with Jonathan Edwards, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!” (2 Corinthians 4:18). And let us heed the admonition of our Savior not to “labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man” gives (John 6:27).

All life is valuable. But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that this life does not matter. If a one-day-old baby was lost in the earthquake, would that child’s parents not grieve the loss of that child? Why then, would we buy into the lie that this child’s life was any less valuable 2 days ago? ALL life is valuable. This is an inherent truth in our understanding as people created in the image of God. Why else would exhausted rescue workers dig through rubble on May 19th for signs of life that have been buried since May 12th? We may try to close our ears to that which we know to be true in our hearts, but we are telling ourselves a lie when we say that some human life is not a valuable gift from God.

All people are wired to fill a God-shaped void in their hearts. It is interesting to see people turn to God or a god(s) during times of disaster. How many prayers have the deaf and impotent buddhas heard since may 2nd? How many non-praying people have turned to a higher power to ease their suffering? This is not just weak people grasping for straws during a time of desperation. This is people trying to fill the void in their hearts. We are like cups filled with water. When trials and difficulties knock our glass over, our true desires and longings spill out. As Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in Thee.”

The glorious truth of the gospel shines in the darkest moments. As the death toll in Burma passes 78,000, those in power not only do nothing, but in fact make the situation worse. They have blockaded the city of Rangoon so that no aid workers are allowed out of the city, nor are survivors allowed into Rangoon. Worse still, the food that has come from the West to aid the country is being horded by those in power, fed to the soldiers, and will even be sold to starving Burmans. What is the reason for such cruelty? This is just a continuation of the cruelty that has been happening since World War II. They see this as merely one more weapon to wage genocidal warfare on all minorities. Minorities, which in this case, happen to be mostly Karen Christians who can trace their spiritual roots back almost 200 years to the USA’s first overseas Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson. These are the ones suffering from starvation, dongue fever, no drinking water, malaria, losses of entire villages, and deaths of their closest friends and relatives. And how are these Christians responding? What is it they are asking for from the West? Are they asking for us to wage war on the powers that be? No, they are not even asking us to lend them aid. They are asking for our prayers. Why, because they know from past experience that it is God who ultimately gives them comfort. The contrast is impossible to miss between these poor Christians and the government leaders. On top of this, it is Christian aid workers who were already in the country when the disaster hit (Christian Freedom International, World Vision) and as a result, they are the only ones able to get aid through to the suffering. It is Christian medics from neighboring countries who risk being shot as they sneak across the border to bring relief to the hurting. It is Christian residents Rangoon who smuggle the destitute to safety by cover of darkness, giving them food, water, shelter, and clothing. True religion shines like a diamond in the rough at times like this.

God, help the Chinese and Burmese people as they are left reeling in the wake of these disasters and God, help us if we think they are worse sinners than us deserving any more of a horrible fate than they do (Luke 13:1-5).

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