21 November, 2013

What do we do with all this disaster news?

Bushfires in New South Wales, typhoons in the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Guam, mudslides in Japan, floods in Japan, hail storms in Queensland, earthquakes in Japan, tornadoes in the US. All this is recent and I feel like I'm being slammed by disaster news too often. I don't know what to do with it all.

Earlier in the month I read Philip Yancey's recent (e)book, The Question That Never Goes Away.* He writes that because he's written on the topic of suffering before (most notably, Where is God When it Hurts?) he continues to be invited to talk on the topic.

He was invited to Japan last year for the one year anniversary of the earthquake/tsunami/ nuclear disaster. He was invited the same year to Sarajevo, a city that suffered under siege for four years, and at the end of that year was invited to speak to the community in the US where a man gunned down first graders and staff (Sandy Hook Elementary School).

So he writes:
I am well aware that no book can "solve' the problem of pain. Yet I feel compelled to pass along what I have learned from the land of suffering. (Ebook location 119)
Yancey asks, Where is God? and comes up with three answers.

1. God is on the side of the sufferer. He shares in our suffering. God does not overwhelm human freedom or even prevent evil from happening. Rather, what some meant for evil, God redeemed for good. (In the case of evil things happening that people cause directly.)

2. Where is God when it hurts? God is now in the church, God's delegated presence on earth. It might even be rephrased, "Where is the church when it hurts?"
Time will not heal all wounds. Even God will not heal all wounds, at least not in this life. Meanwhile, we in the church have work to do. Some have particular gifts . . . All of us have the power of love. Suffering isolates, batters self-image, ravages hope; a loving presence can prevail over all three. (Location 1221)
He writes, "If the church does its job, people don't torment themselves wondering where God is. They know the answer. God becomes visible though people."

3. God is preparing a new and perfect home for us. Jesus asks for our trust that he's got our future under control.

He quotes Terry Waite, who was a hostage for four years in Lebanon,
I have been determined in captivity, and still am determined, to convert this experience into something that will be useful and good for other people. I think that's the best way to approach suffering. It seems to me that Christianity doesn't in any way lessen suffering. What it does is enable you to take it, to fact it, to work through it, and eventually to convert it. (Location 1254)
So, we "cling to the promise that the God of all comfort has not abandoned us but continues a slow and steady work to restore what evil and death have spoiled."

And he ends the book with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Christian martyr during the Nazi regime. He wrote this shortly before his execution.
I believe that God can and will generate good out of everything, even out of the worst evil. For that, he needs people who allow that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.
I believe that God will give us in each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on Him alone. Through such faith all anxiety concerning the future should be overcome.
I believe that even our mistakes and failings are not in vain, and that it is not more difficult for God to cope with these as with our assumed good deeds.
I believe that God is not a timeless fate, but that He waits for and responds to honest prayers and responsible action. (Location 1264-5)
There is no stopping these disasters. We can but continue to pray to our God who cares, that good will come out of these this suffering. We can but continue to play our part in "being present" in whatever way God calls us to be. We can but continue to look forward to the time when all will be right again and suffering will no longer be a given. And we can continue to know that we are not abandoned.

 * See here for his blog post about the book.

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