The year that has just ended was filled with the horrors of war and natural disasters such as the hurricanes that struck the U.S. That was before the South Asia earthquake and tsunami. Days later, the reports of devastation still grow worse every hour as new reports, images and statistics come in. The sheer magnitude of this disaster cannot be comprehended by the human mind.
Let's not get caught up in numbers of dead, injured, missing and homeless. We need to become quiet in order to take in what happened, and ask ourselves what is this has to say to the whole world. The tsunami showed us that we are not in control of our lives. Death snatched away rich and poor, tourist and native, with no respect for who they were.
Having been in India, Thailand and Indonesia, this disaster affects me personally. I have seen the poverty these people live under in the best of times. What hits hardest are the number of children who died and the pictures of parents' grief. Many children will never be found.
For the thousands of bereaved families, the question will come, "Why does God allow this to happen?" We will never find a satisfactory answer. But since the moment I first heard the news the day after Christmas, I have felt that in spite of all the death and destruction, God was and is at work here, even if his plan has not yet been revealed to us. One cannot help but think of the "wrath of God" predicted in Revelations. Yet Revelations also foretells a day when suffering will cease and "every tear will be dried." We can still believe that "God is love" and that death will not have the last word, even though it often looks as though he does.
One thing is certain: Our lives should never be the same again. Life is too precious, and it can be over in an instant, as this event has so clearly shown us.
As the days go by, how much time do we still spend thinking of this disaster? Compare this to how much time we waste on petty things like rushing to stores for post-Christmas bargains. Even on the news this event is starting to fade--it's back to Janet Jackson. We care so little about the rest of the human race. Nothing seems to matter as long as it isn't us. Yet it could be us next time. It is an 11th hour warning, yet so few take it to heart.
We do not need to weep for those who have died. We need to weep and pray and act for those who remain alive, still suffering hunger and thirst and facing waterborne diseases such as cholera and malaria. The United Nations and others have rightly criticized the U.S. government for the stinginess of its pledge of support for these millions of displaced people--while it spends $35 million every seven hours occupying Iraq. We pump billions of dollars into technology and the war against terror. If we would have spent a fraction of that on a wave warning system, millions of lives could have been saved.
It is true that relief organizations and national governments are pouring aid into southern Asia. Yet all of this will only be a drop in the bucket. Those of us who live in relative comfort in the West should be stirred to action. Every deed of love to one's neighbor, near or far, is of utmost importance. In light of this disaster, what does "loving your neighbor as yourself" mean now?
by Johann Christoph Arnold
[Johann Christoph Arnold is an author and pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.]