Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Shu wa waga..." God in Japan.

I just finished reading a piece from Fox News titled "God in the Rubble. What I saw in Northern Japan." In it, a longtime resident of Japan and child of missionaries tells about his experience looking for friends in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that we are all acutely aware of. Amongst the rubble, he found a piece of wood with the words "Shu wa waga..." written on it. To those of us that know nothing of the Japanese language this is meaningless, but what it translates to in English is powerful. While the entirety of the message is lost, those three words mean this, "The Lord is my way..." In the United States this would not be anything special because there are plenty of people who claim the name of Christ within our boarders. However, in Japan, only 1% or less claim to be Christians. Yet, in the massive rubble and destruction these words were found by a man who understands what they mean and has the means to share it with the world. That in itself is a miracle of no small proportions.

Needless to say, the tragedy in Japan brings to light all kinds of questions about God, His will and His character. While they should all be taken seriously there are some that just can't be answered completely until we arrive in glory and all is revealed to us. I think the same questions arise in almost any catastrophe like the one in Japan, or hurricane Katrina, or tornadoes in the Midwest. If we believe in God and experience a disaster we may as something like, "Why God?" If we do not believe in God we may start a question with, "Why would God..." No matter the form the underlying thought is, "this is not the way things are supposed to be." If we approach the issue from a completely naturalistic viewpoint then it is the way things are supposed to, there is no other option. This is what happened to the dinosaurs and this is what will happen to us, we will be exterminated by the forces of nature. However, if we come at it with a theistic point of view, particularly a Christian worldview, then we have good reason to believe that things are not as they should be.

My preaching professor in seminary liked to put it this way, we live in the then but not yet. Since the time of Christ we have been living in a new era of God's redemptive plan for the world and humanity. While we have one foot in the era that is to come we are still left with the other in the way things used to be. Paul puts it well in Romans 8:22-23, "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." All of creation groans and is in pain awaiting the glorious re-birth at the coming of Christ. The Bible tells us that at that point all things will be made new again and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. In that new creation there will be no more suffering, no more earthquakes, no more hurricanes, no more tsunamis, no more pain. It will be perfect.

No, it is not God's will that any should perish. It is not His desire to see any of His beloved creatures suffer. However, in His perfect plan He allows and even (if I may be so bold as to say it) causes events that are painful for us. Why? So that more of us would be drawn to Him or return back to Him. The natural reaction to a disaster like the one is Japan is to say that God wasn't there or that He removed His hand from a wicked nation. I disagree. God was and is in Japan. I believe His heart breaks infinitely more than ours do when people are put through such immense pain. If we say that God wasn't in Japan during the earthquake and tsunami we have to say that He wasn't at Calvary. God never removed His hand from His Son, Jesus Christ. We often look at the words that Jesus cried on the cross, "My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me," as evidence that He had been abandoned by His Father. It would do us well to remember the rest of the Psalm that Jesus was quoting that day. Listen to Psalm 22:24, "For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard."  Look also at verse 28, "For the kingdom is the Lord's And He rules over the nations." God heard the cries of agony from His Son on the cross and He hears the cries of distress rising up from Japan. Whether it is through Samaritan's Purse, or the Salvation Army or some other relief organization, God is in Japan.

We are told in Mark 4:41 that even the wind and sea obey the voice of the Master. The earth and the sea obeyed the command of God in Japan but He was neither silent nor absent in the suffering that followed. He hears and He is there whether we can see it or not and whether or not we care to admit it.

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