The majestic beauty of Queenstown, the soaring mountains, the tumbling rivers and streams, the lofty forests and the glassy lakes, are a long way from the brutal destruction and devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And even when we try to catch up, New Zealand seems to be very parochial, the TV and newspapers only touching upon world news, much more space given still to the Christchurch quake.
However, I was reading one paper yesterday and it was reported that a Japanese official, well known for being outspoken and at times controversial, had declared that the disaster that had hit his country was judgment on the greed of the Japanese people. Interestingly we are at present reading Jeremiah and the prophecies of destruction that were to come on the people of Israel as a result of their turning away from God and worshipping foreign gods, and it made we wonder ‘what is God’s role when earthquakes, famine…… strike?’
We very quickly put these things down to natural disaster and take God out of the equation, but could he be judging the world? Could these disasters be the result of people turning their back on him?
In one sense we would probably all say ‘Yes’, as, according to Paul, the world is groaning due to the result of sin, longing for that day when God will make a ‘new heaven and a new earth’, when his kingly rule will be fully established. Yet the terrible disaster that has killed so many and caused such devastation in Japan doesn’t fit with the loving God that we read about in the Bible. But what about the God of wrath and judgment that is also found in the words of Scripture, but whom we tend to ignore or skim over quickly?
Yet Israel was given plenty of warning through the prophets of its impending destruction, time to repent and turn back to God. Was Japan given that same warning? I haven’t heard of prophets standing up and telling the people and the leaders of that nation of their impending doom if they do not repent. It seems the wrong way round to be speaking of judgment after the event, and doesn’t fit with the God who seems to give his people a chance to change their ways before judgment comes. But perhaps the images we see coming out of Japan should be a clarion call reminding us of the urgent need to share the gospel message with the world. None of us know what today or even tomorrow holds, but we who love Jesus have the promise of eternal life. Millions don’t know Jesus, and we have been given the commission from God to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ – the earthquake in Japan is perhaps a wakeup call to us all of the urgency of this commission.
However, as we were walking yesterday in the beautiful scenery around Queenstown, we saw people high over the mountains paragliding. It was an amazing sight watching them circling and floating in the currents, but we also thought how dangerous as the cliffs and rock faces are very steep, until we realised that they were in tandem. Each person had a professional with them. And as I thought about it, I realised what a great image it is of us and God. We are not left alone to get on with the commission he has given us, but God, through his Holy Spirit, is on board with us, guiding us, watching over us, supporting us. I am sure that paragliding still seems scary for those who are doing it for the first time, and sharing the good news can still seem scary, but to know we are not alone makes a significant difference.