By most measures, humans are considered the planet’s most successful creatures, living thickly upon land, sea and even in the air. But on March 11, 2011, in Sendai, Japan, we, the world’s master builders, met our limitations. As you know, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake not only shook our works into smithereens; it followed up the shaking with massive waves of water that washed kilometres inland, sweeping away homes, cars, trees and people. As clever, intelligent and powerful as we think we are, we were helpless when the ground gave way and the sea broke its bounds.

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake will go down in history as one of the greatest natural disasters of all time. In its wake we human beings, having been designed to reflect on such things, try to understand our pain and loss. We struggle to find answers. And on everyone’s mind, no matter their other occupations in the wake of the tragedy, is this question: Why?

Answers that aren’t

Some of us expounded the scientific facts. We noted the height of the wall of water and the location of the fault. We calculated that the quake moved portions of Japan four metres closer to North America. Some parts of the Pacific Plate moved as much as 20 metres west—one of the largest fault movements ever recorded. The powerful shaking actually shifted the Earth’s axis by some 16.5 centimetres, speeding up the Earth’s rotation and permanently shortening each subsequent day by 1.8 millionths of a second.

These scientific facts aren’t without usefulness. They’re part of a jigsaw puzzle of causes and effects that might help us survive some future disaster. But they are of little help to the mother who has just found her toddler dead beneath what was once the walls of her home. She doesn’t want to know why the earth shook. She wants to know why her baby is dead, why her heart is empty. They’re things no scientist can tell her.

Knowing why

It would be safe to say that when it comes to tragedies, great or small, we, with our limited comprehension, will never completely understand why. It may be that such things can be known only to God. But there are some things God has made clear. And while they won’t immediately erase the hurt, they help us to begin healing and find peace.

Here is something we suffering humans must understand: God never intended the tragedy and pain we know in this world. The Bible makes it clear that He made everything, including the moral and physical underpinnings of the universe, perfectly good (see Genesis 1:21). But an enemy got in, an angel turned evil—Lucifer—and ruined God’s perfect creation.
God created a perfect earth. It isn’t perfect now. The reasons why He lets it continue are complex, but it involves God’s need to let sin run its course so that He might never be accused of taking away His creation’s freedom of choice.
God never intended this world to have 9.0-magnitude earthquakes. And, someday, it won’t.

Some self-righteous religious men once tried to tell Jesus that a man’s blindness was someone’s fault—that his parents must have sinned or even that the blind man himself had brought it upon himself by his own sins, but presumably while in the womb, since he was born blind! Jesus would have none of it. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus said. “This happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3, NIV). Then Jesus displayed the works of God in a spectacular way: He healed the man so he could see!
God won’t interrupt evil until it has run its course, which means that things will get worse, not better. But He can push back against the damage Satan does. We may never completely understand why bad things happen to innocent people. But we do know this: He acts through us.
This may surprise you, but the best response to the Tohoku earthquake came from those who went to work to help the people who needed help. Those ordinary people who manned ambulances, sifted through debris, cared for the wounded; those who comforted the grieving or donated to an organisation that was doing those things. Through each of these acts, God’s goodness was shining. They were doing the works of God!

A world without earthquakes

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” reported John as God gave him a vision of the future (Revelation 21:1, NIV). New—and better: “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (verses 3, 4).

And if no more death, crying or pain, then no more earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes, either. Not to mention the end of cancer, war, starvation, crime and the thousands of other things that trouble our peace. We, the inhabitants of this wounded old world, will live in it, restored to the way God made it in the first place. Therein, lies real hope.

There’s no entirely satisfactory answer for our “why” questions now. But we do know that someday it won’t be this way.

(photo source: Yuri Arcurs/istockphoto)

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