When the president of Turkey arrived in Erzincan in December 1939, two days after an earthquake that had killed 50,000, an elderly woman wearing a black dress covered with dust ran past security guards and demanded of him, "President! President! My family is gone! Why? Why?"
President Inonu embraced her. He could have reminded her that her husband and son were crushed by sand and rocks they had placed on the roof to provide additional winter insulation, but that wasn't the question she was asking. She wanted to know if her suffering was accidental or if it had any purpose. WORLD's top two stories of the past 12 months concern disaster, and disaster commonly brings a search for meaning and identity.
Even the highly secularized Washington Post implicitly recognized this in an early December story headlined, "Katrina's Emotional Damage Lingers." The article began with a quotation from a man who remained in New Orleans and said that until Katrina struck, "I'd hardly had a drink in years. Right after the hurricane hit, I just started drinking. If I stop drinking, the pain becomes so great it's unbearable."
The Post's interviewee, drinking-again but not born-again, concluded by saying, "I'm scared because I don't have any identity anymore." The Post dramatically described New Orleans residents "walking on deserted streets with glazed eyes. In grocery stores and offices, they inexplicably break into tears." Those who had hard lives but gloried in their friendships, pastimes, or just living in a funky city have lost their identities.
What is our identity? In what do we glory? At WORLD, we aspire to follow Christ, whose life by earthly standards ended in disaster. We don't know what 2006 will bring. We do know that we're blind in many ways, and so what Jesus said of the man born blind fits all of us: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work."
We don't know why disasters hit particular people, but we do know that they should push all of us toward repentance and toward doing the works that God commends. Among other things, that means the exercise of biblical compassion toward widows, orphans, aliens, and those sick in body and soul. Every Christian involved in that work regrets it at some time-it's hard, and our lives would be much easier if we stuck to what is comfortable-but we must work the works of Him who created us before night comes.
Followers of Christ are doing those works, as David E. Crosby of First Baptist Church of New Orleans explained: "Across the devastated area, believers in the Lord Jesus are prominent in helping strangers dig out of the rubble. This hard and dirty work will plant seeds that will produce a hundredfold for the kingdom of God. Already people are trusting Christ. They are startled by our concern for them and our willingness to help them out. And the resistance to the gospel of grace in the Lord Jesus is falling away."
Our top two stories concern disasters: Does that make the past 12 months a terrible time? Dorothy Sayers, in
The Whimsical Christian, calls Christianity the only religion that gives value to suffering. Christianity does that by affirming the reality of suffering and the opportunity to wrench some good out of it, as Christ did when He died for all who believe in Him. Christianity makes the same affirmation out of all our personal disasters and offers the same opportunity.
At WORLD, we'd like to explain all the mysteries to you, but Charles Spurgeon put it this way: "Providence is wonderfully intricate. Ah! You want always to see through Providence, do you not? You never will, I assure you. You have not eyes good enough. You want to see what good that affliction was to you; you must believe it. You want to see how it can bring good to the soul; you may be enabled in a little time, but you cannot see it now; you must believe it. Honor God by trusting Him."
New Year's resolution: To trust Him more.