The news of what has actually taken place in Japan continues to sink in for me as reports continue to come out. Al Mohler comments about the significance of this:
There can be few more frightening experiences than an earthquake, and last Friday’s quake that has devastated Japan will rank among the strongest ever recorded. Ranking 9.0 on the scale of magnitude, the Sendai, Japan quake ranks fifth among earthquakes in recorded history, coming after the 1960 quake in Chile (9.5), the 1964 quake at Prince William Sound, Alaska (9.2), the deadly Sumatra, Indonesia quake of 2004 (9.1), and the 1952 quake at Kamchatka, Russia (9.0).
But then, adding misery and terror to the devastating damage caused by the earthquake, a massive tsunami caused by the quake inundated countless miles of Japan’s coastline, taking several villages completely out to sea. The loss of energy caused by the quake and tsunami then led to another looming disaster — at least a partial meltdown of the reactor cores at two, and possibly more, nearby nuclear power plants. As if all that was not enough, a volcano in southern Japan erupted on Sunday, underlining that fact that the island nation rests atop the Pacific’s feared “Ring of Fire.”
It is very humbling to see the raw power of the world that was created and is sustained at every moment by the Almighty. It is also sobering to see the utter frailty of humanity and the total devastation of a nation. Sadly, we have probably all seen an unhelpful tendency among some people when disaster strikes. Mohler goes on to comment on this:
Disasters like this often bring out the most reckless forms of theologizing. The earthquake and tsunami are indeed horrifying reminders that this world shows all the marks of God’s judgment on sin, and that the whole creation groans under the weight of sin.
Nevertheless, Jesus warned his disciples about drawing the conclusion that a natural disaster can be traced to the sins of those who directly suffer its effects (Luke 13:1-5).
In other words, all suffering is generally a result of living in a sin-cursed world. But not all suffering is directly a result of personal sin. This is important to remember when disaster strikes. We should not try to play God and play the blame-game. Instead, a knowledge of God moves his people to have great compassion in these situations.
On the other hand, some others might be tempted to be disillusioned with God at a time like this. Some might think God is unconcerned, or unable to help, or unloving, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all because they can’t reconcile the fact that suffering of this magnitude exists and that a loving, all-powerful God also exists. Admittedly, there are many ‘why’ questions that we have when suffering happens. And we as Christians have to candidly admit that God doesn’t give us all the answers we might like to have when it comes to human suffering.
But that is not the same as saying God gives us no answers. God gives us the answers we need and God’s answers always point us to the cross. The cross of Christ is the pulpit of God’s love and the justification of God’s holiness. It is the holy place where God’s severity and love meet in the work of atonement. God did what he did not have to do, at great cost to himself, in order to save sinners.
Do you have ‘why’ questions? Jesus had his own ‘why’ questions. In anguish he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). But he asked his ‘why’ questions from a heart that was bent on obedience to the Father. The posture of Jesus’ heart could also say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
The cross is a reminder to sufferers that God has come down into the world of human suffering to experience it as we do. But it is even more than that. The cross is the way God ultimately deals with suffering by conquering its cause, sin itself. My heart goes out to the people of Japan for their loss. As a Christian, my heart returns to the One who is described as a “man of sorrows and aquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Jesus has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” in dying on the cross for our sins. He “was wounded for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5). It is because of this that Jesus can say, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:29). It on the basis of of Jesus’ sacrificial love, that God tells us to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
I have returned several times to a prayer offered by John Piper since I first heard of this event. I reproduce it here for your benefit and as a reminder to pray to the Lord of all the earth and the Author of salvation for the people of Japan.
Father in heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.
O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.
And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.
Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.
Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.
May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.
In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.
Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.
And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.
O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.
In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.