Summary: The Asian tsunami requires a response from Christians. This message seeks an answer from Joel.
While many in this land were still celebrating at Christmas parties in the early hours of Boxing Day 2004, the Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates in the earth’s crust moved violently against each other.
The impact of the crash was so massive that scientists tell us that the earth wobbled on its axis enough so that every day hence will be a fraction of a second shorter. The waves that swept across the Indian Ocean from the quake epicentre near Indonesia moved at the speed of a hurtling jetliner. Wherever they met land, they leapt high into the air and swept the margins of the land with a ferocious destructiveness that has so far taken 150,000 lives – and the body count continues to grow. A million people are homeless – at least five million may have had their livelihoods taken away from them. In the time it takes for the land to recover, many thousands more may die from thirst, starvation, exposure or disease.
The images and stories from Asia across our TVs and newspapers have held us in thrall over the last few days:
• An older man desperate to hold on to the railing of a wall as the waters sweep by him – nobody knows if he survived
• The Australian mum who was holding on to two children at the same time – she realised that she could only hold one or all three of them would die. She let go of the five year old for somebody else to hold on to but the child got away from the person’s grasp – a child who was frightened by water and could not swim – amazingly the child was found alive hours later because he had clung on for life to the top of a door, even as the waters swirled around him
• A four year old boy, no older than my own four year old, was swept to the top of a tree in Sri Lanka by the water – two days later they found him, still alive and clinging on to that tree, even though he had no food or water or company
• The high casualty rates among the children because those parts of Asia have 39% of the population under 16 years of age, and also because it was holiday time and thousands of kids were simply doing what kids do – playing on the beach when the waves hit.
No wonder our nation has responded as never before. Two days ago, charitable giving to the government’s disaster committee by people in the UK had reached a million pounds an hour. Across the world, already two billion dollars has been committed for disaster relief. We cannot help but feel compassion towards the hurting, grieving peoples of Asia. We feel their loss. We mourn with them.
Ramesh Richard, a friend of mine who grew up in Tamil Nadu, part of India’s south coast, sent an email in which he said the sea-quake is being followed by a soul-quake. From their innermost souls, people are crying out in agony and despair. Some wished they had died rather than survive without family and without hope. Still others are looking to God as they marvel that they escaped certain death – but what for? They seek something beyond the natural to calm their soul-quake.
We who are far away from the sea-quake may well wonder how our souls should respond to what has happened in Asia? What can we say to those around us who ask why God let this happen? Was he asleep at the wheel and so was unable to stop this tragedy before it occurred? Or does he not care about us? Is he powerless? Does he even exist?
As Christians we search the Scriptures for help in answering these questions in our soul. Today, I was supposed to preach from another passage in the Bible but three weeks ago Andrew suggested that I consider preaching from Joel instead, as a start to our new series on the Minor Prophets. Actually, if you search the Scriptures, there is no better tsunami help than Joel – neither of us knew of the tsunami at the time but I believe that the Spirit led Andrew to changing the passage. So that’s the first thing to note about the tsunami – God knew it was going to happen.
We don’t know much about Joel or the circumstances that led to his writing the words we just heard read to us from Joel Chapter 2. But we do know that an invasion of locusts had swept through the kingdom of Judah that in its own way was as terrifying and devastating for the Israelites as this week’s tsunami. The number dead was lower but the end result was the same – the land was destroyed, there was famine and economic ruin, and thousands of families lost loved ones.