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Richter Redemption

March 21, 2011

Japan.  This word has evoked many images in the minds of Americans in the past 100 years.  My dad’s birthday is on Pearl Harbor Day, which is the reason I remember it better than anyone else’s (I am horrible at remembering birthdays).  Of course, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was answered by the launching of the nuclear age with bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Ironically, the country faces another nuclear test with the inability to control their damaged nuclear plants. 

Japan has come to be known, more than anything in the past couple of decades, as an economic powerhouse.  It is a blend of Western thriving economy and very ancient traditions. 

Now, Japan brings only heartbreak to our minds.  The images of the devastation of the “Wrath of God” and the rising death toll are unimaginable.  It feels like a movie, and I have to remind myself that it is real every now and then while I eat at restaurants or watch the NCAA tournament. 

This disaster will be another occasion for atheists to doubt the existence of God.  They will ask, “Why didn’t God stop the earthquake?”  On the other side, religious lovers of condemnation will, without humility, declare this a punishment by God as if they have learned a formula to always know the mysteries of God.

In attempts to understand tragedies like the one in Japan, we can do no better than the words of Jesus.  Twice, he was asked why certain tragedies had occurred and especially if these tragedies were the result of the sins of its victims.  Once in John 9:1-3, he was asked if a man was born blind because of his own sin; then in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus deals with the questions of a tower that fell and killed some people.  From His teaching, we can come to several conclusions about widespread tragedies. 

First, we must be slow to declare that we know exactly why a specific tragedy occurred.  Job’s friends made this mistake.  They had it all figured out:  all tragedy is a punishment of sin.  God rebukes them (Job 37-41).  Jesus follows suit with the teaching in the book of Job by saying that these tragedies were not the result of the victim’s sins. 

Second, God exists whether we believe in Him or not, and our indictments against Him wrongly put the burden of proof on Him.  Most of the folks in my church existed before I believed in their existence.  They didn’t need my acknowledgement to exist, and God is certainly not in need of it either.  When we indict God because we don’t like the nature of the world, we begin to think that the burden of the proof of God’s existence is on Him.  “He better give me a sign if I am going to believe in Him,” we might say.  However, we are the ones that need to believe in God, it is not God who needs us to believe in Him.  It is pride that puts the impetus on God.  It is in our best interest for there to be a God who can save and resurrect, so the burden of proof is on us.  The Lord’s words to those who will falsely call out to Him in the end are, “Depart from me . . . I never knew you.”  It sounds to me that our spiritual task is to make sure God believes in our existence, not the other way around. 

Third, we are all deserving of wrath, and it is by His mercy that we have not all been swept away in a tsunami of His wrath.  God could rightly judge any country or city as wicked.  How about Bangkok with its sexual abuse of children?  Or what about North Korea with its starvation of its own people in the name of deifying its leaders and building up its military?  Even our own country is wicked enough to provoke the wrath of God.  It’s by God’s mercy that we have not all been destroyed.  So, perhaps events like this speak as much to God’s mercy as they do His wrath, in that they remind us what we all deserve.  My point is, it is very difficult to say that Japan deserved this more than any other country.  Condemnation is what we all deserve.  Grace is what we do not deserve.  Wrath is fair.  Forgiveness, mercy, and grace are not fair to the advantage of the recipients. 

Fourth, every tragedy is a call to Christians to be a presence of redemption in the name of Christ to its victims.  I certainly don’t know why every “evil” thing happens.  However, I do know that, through Christ, we have learned that God is in the business of redemption on the other side of tragedy.  This doesn’t mean that all situations are fixed.  No, instead it means that Christians have the heart of Jesus in them, and we have compassion on the “scattered sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36) – so much compassion that we will act with redemption to love and care for those victimized by tragedy.  God is not always in the prevention business, but He is in the redemption business.  This means that tragedy becomes a calling to believers to exhibit the glory of God (John 9:3).  We do this through our imitation of Christ and His cross, especially with sacrifice, generosity, and service.  Will we hear this call to those in Japan and those in our own neighborhood?

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