Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD; Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive To the voice of my supplications. If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. (Psalm 130:1-4)
When Jesus’ disciples cried out because of a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, He stood up and with a word, calmed the wind and the waves. So where was the Lord when an earthquake rocked Japan and sent a rushing tsunami that leveled cities and washed away so many lives? That’s the question many will ask. “If God is good, why did He let this happen? If God is a loving God, why did He allow all those people to die? If God is all powerful, why couldn’t He stop this tsunami from happening?” They will ask those questions and they won’t wait for answers. The world will shake its head yet again at the God who seems to be nowhere around when death, destruction and misery come rushing in.
It’s hard as Christians not to wonder those same things until we remember that this world is under a curse. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and every other kind of disaster is the result of our fall into sin, a curse the Lord has put upon this world so that we don’t trust in ourselves and this life. Don’t misunderstand; the tsunami didn’t come because people in Japan are more sinful (anymore than in New Zealand, or Africa or elsewhere). But the tsunami came because there is sin in the world and this creation is fallen and groans. (Romans 8:22.) Furthermore, our Lord Himself reminds us that these things are signs that we are living in the time of the end, awaiting our Lord’s return (Matthew 24:7). But there’s no hope in the Law’s explanation!
Watching the video of a wall of water washing away an entire town reminds us of how helpless we are in the face of such a catastrophe. That’s what we are: helpless. And just as little as we can stop a tsunami can we overcome the sin that brings God’s judgment. But Jesus can. And does. But not the way we’d expect. Jesus overcomes our sin by being exactly what we are: weak. Helpless. Nailed to a cross. But His weakness is for our sakes. As true God and true man, Jesus has all power and authority in heaven and on earth. When He hides that power and doesn’t use it, sinners are saved. That’s because when Jesus appears to be the most weak, on the cross, He is the strongest. He throws down the Devil’s power and by His death overcomes sin and death. By His resurrection, our Lord robs death of its power and gives hope beyond this life. He gives the promise that on the Last Day He will wake us from the sleep of death and give us everlasting life.
The Bible never teaches us that salvation means “bad things won’t happen.” Being a Christian isn’t about disasters never striking. Surely both Christians and unbelievers perished in this tragedy. What the Gospel says, however, is that for those who are baptized into Christ, not even a tsunami can hurt them. Through Jesus’ blood, the curse that is upon this world, while it may affect the Lord’s people, cannot ultimately harm them. That is not an answer that is satisfying to the world. The world has a conception that “God is all powerful and yet not, because He couldn’t prevent this.” But the true Lord is not just some collection of adjectives that people don’t see fulfilled. He is the God who comes among us in the flesh to share in our sufferings and by His suffering to taste death and rescue us from our sins.
When such disasters strike, we turn to Christ, who is the only answer to such suffering and destruction. Such disasters are for many a source of despair. Jesus, however, gives us the proper perspective when He tells us, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my Word will not pass away.” Where Christ and His Word are, death and the curse are taken care of. It doesn’t mean we won’t suffer in this life. But in Christ, all enemies have been conquered and eternal life is ours. The same Lord who stood up in the boat and calmed a storm has calmed the storm of sin and judgment that was against us. That means that even if a tsunami were to destroy everything, the victory remains ours in Jesus.
Even if you’re far away, such a disaster reminds us of the opportunity the Lord gives us to love our neighbors. Keep the people of Japan in your prayers. Pray the Lord will comfort those who have lost their loved ones to death. Pray that our heavenly Father will provide everything needed for the bodies and lives of those who have survived but lost everything. The world won’t understand that sort of help either, but what greater gift do we have now than to call upon our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ and ask His blessings and care upon all those who have suffered in this disaster? To Christ alone be the glory, who rescues us from every evil!
For more information and ways to help and donate, check out the resources on the LCMS World Relief site here.