Mount St. Helens in Oregon erupted in 1980. Do you remember the incredible plumes of ash and the region covered with a pall of grey? My cousin Douglas F. Frank, a landscape photographer took many images of the eruption and its devastation as he lived within eye site of the mountain. I found this photo fascinating because of the starkness of life in the presence of death. The pine tree roots have been laid bare to the cruel environment. I don’t know if the tree survived the harsh treatment by nature that brought instant and unexpected chaos in an
otherwise calm day.
Life brings surprises and worse with traumatic accidents, illnesses and trials of diverse kinds. I don’t know how you respond or react to these cataclysmic occurrences in your life? I think unplanned travesties can cause a sense of our own mortality to be experienced. We tend to return to basics or survival tendencies. We might gain courage, like a fireman and run into the burning house. Or we might hunker down and hide from the flames and dust until it is over, whatever that means.
In the aftermath of 911, our nation paused to consider, cry out, and crowd to TVs or crumble. Some 3,000 were cremated. Some 300 ran into the burning buildings, many not to return. I did not know any of the people who died; but my brother who lived in Summit New Jersey at the time could see the burning buildings from his village to which many neighbors did not return. We each have a different perspective and cannot tell another how to respond.
Hurricane Katrina of 2005 brought devastation to the Gulf region of our country. Photos portrayed almost unbelievable results of nature’s wrath. I traveled with our church’s disaster response team to attend to the bereft. We had trouble meandering through the wreckage of scattered trees, former homes and everything else imaginable. From Slidell outside of New Orleans, we could begin to tare down houses, so perhaps some day the inhabitants could begin to rebuild. Stories of lives ripped apart were profound and life changing for them and us who listened. Brokenness was shared in order to consider consequences and continuance. Catastrophe brings conversations of life meaning and eternity.
The biblical story of Job tells of a life torn apart in every way by evil with the condoning of an observing God. Lives were destroyed and God watched. What is the meaning of life? Is God sovereign?
God is the Creator of all things. God is good and His love endures forever Scripture tells us clearly. Then why devastating trauma and trials? I believe that creation and destruction are part of the drama of life. Bad things happen to good people not to punish them, as God is not a respecter of any one, but loves all His creation equally. Since the world was perfectly created, mankind and their desire to control and conquer have subsequently ruined it in many ways. These are not good tendencies, but human evil as opposed to good. God is sovereign and has control over everything, yet He allows good and evil to occur for our good and His glory. He has given us free will to live, as we wish, with consequences. And yes, therefore, the actions of others do affect us as well. Natural disasters happen and can’t be easily stopped. Murders and violence seem to be increasingly common.
God gives us choice as to how we respond to trouble. We can curse God and die as Job’s wife suggested to her husband, clearly out of grief. We can look to a higher good out of the bad. It is a battleground as M. Scott Peck, M.D., author of People of The Lie, describes. It is more a mystery to believe that there is good than evil in the world. There is a war between promoting and destroying life. Evil people project it on others in scapegoating because they consider themselves beyond reproach. The evil hate the light and are unsubmitting to anything. They will tend to think it wrong that there is suffering. Our country does not have much of a theology of suffering, except perhaps to escape from it. I don’t know that it can be treated, except by a soul transplant from God. This change in today’s society is getting more difficult because of our tolerance for all ideas as being equal, except perhaps Christian thought which is no longer much tolerated. There are no truths any longer, so nothing on which to base our careful response if we buy into this destructive and narcissistic philosophy.
Regardless of philosophy, disasters and suffering will continue to occur. In these times, we can consider them as a testing of our faith to develop perseverance and make us mature. Or we can rebel, complain and blame others. Go ahead, blame God, at least then you are directing your angst towards the One who can bring wisdom and change us to a more caring and compassionate world view with His help.