Happenings, News

‘They will renew their strength …’

ON THE Sunday following the tsunami that killed more than 150,000 people and affected millions, I was struck by the confusion reflected in the hymns, words and prayers we spoke and prayed in church that morning.

The anthem was “All Things Bright and Beautiful”; the worship leader com-pared the tsunami with King Herod who slaughtered the innocent children in Israel, and the sermon reasoned that whatever transpires in life is good for it issues from God and He is sovereign. In its own way, all this was appropriate, for in the face of such a deadly calamity, what are we to say? Try as we might to avoid it, for the believer natural disasters have no explanation other than that of God.

All this, however, is nothing new. The Bible speaks of the shattering of the earth and being swept away by the sea.

Job could have been mistaken for an eyewitness for the calamity when he wrote “The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke; by his power he churned up the sea.” Jonah prays “You have over-whelmed me with all your waves” and David cries out “the waves of death swirled about me … the earth trembled and quaked … the foundations of the havens shook … the valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare”. Clearly they knew of the calamity of natural disaster, but what we should note is their response to God in light of it.

First there is a deep sense of awe that gives way to humility. Recognition of our fragility and limitation before the awesome power of nature in turn reveals the mighty power of God.

If Scripture teaches us anything, it is that awe and humility before the power of creation is the beginning of wisdom. Thus, the surprising commonality in the surrender to Allah of the distraught fisherman and the shock of the agnostic materialist be-fore the force of nature. For both there is recognition of the enormity of the universe and their own finitude in the face of such awesome force. If nothing else, the tsunami reminded us all that we are not in control and that there are things larger and more powerful than all our gadgets and manipulation of the earth.

Secondly, there is a recognition of our commonality in the face of natural disas-ter. We are physical creatures and we live in a real world of natural forces created by God. The earth moves, tectonic plates shift, hurricanes, volcanoes, lightning and earth-quakes destroy and kill according to His plan not ours. Though we might wish it were otherwise, disaster is a reminder that we are truly human and to be human is to experience both pleasure and pain, desire and frustration, freedom and bondage, vulnerability and love.

Jesus reminds us God “… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. Many have noted that just as this tragedy was no respecter of persons, religions, races or nations, so in response it has united people formerly divided as Christian, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic and atheist who have collectively rolled up their sleeves to reach out to their fellow human beings who are suffering. Tragedy has a strange way of breaking down the walls that divide us. Often it is only when we share in suffering with another that we recognise our common humanity and our common need for each other.

Certainly, as Christians it should re-mind us that Christ assumed our flesh and suffered that we might be healed. The an-cient wisdom of the church was that which is not assumed is not healed. Thus, it is in His willingness to risk commonality with us that we receive His grace. In the same way we share that grace when we see and address the suffering of our neighbour as though it were are own.

This is not the first time we are over-whelmed by the awesome power that sur-rounds us. As we have noted, the good that has come out of the wreckage, death and despair has been the humility and compas-sion. Nonetheless, as hard as it seems to those who have suffered and as irrational to those who do not believe, according to Isaiah, it is for those who “rest” or “wait in the Lord who will renew their strength”.

Just as nature is a cycle of destruc-tion and renewal, it is God’s grace that allows us to be brought low, but with the promise of His restoration along the path of humility, compassion and grace.

The Rev Dr Thomas Alan Harvey, a lecturer at Trinity Theological College, works with the Singapore Presbyterian Church as a Partner in Mission from the Presbyterian Church (USA).


‘If nothing else, the tsunami reminded us all that we are not in control and that there are things larger and more powerful than all our gadgets and manipulation of the earth.’