The enduring image of the Japanese earthquake and the tsunami that followed – not including the real possibility of a nuclear catastrophe – may be the acres of devastation left by the great wave.
Houses, cars, boats, trains. All the apparatus of ordinary existence are tumbled together in a vast wasteland.
It is impossible to imagine anyone surviving it, though we know that some did. And it is impossible to account for the capriciousness of the calamity in any terms either theological or rational.
Some lived, many died; what made the difference for most was a previously unconsidered contour line on a map.
It is a mistake to look for answers to questions of meaning or to offer anything other than hesitant words of comfort where possible.
“All your waves and breakers swept over me,” says Jonah (Jonah 2:3).
They have not literally swept over many of us, but we surely share the feeling of impotence at the sight of so many lives reduced to flotsam on the seashore, and the sense that the tragedy is simply too great for words.
Lord Tennyson was not really a conventional Christian but he was capable of expressing Christian hope.
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“Oh yet we trust that somehow good/ Will be the final goal of ill,” he says. “That nothing walks with aimless feet;/ That not one life shall be destroyed/ Or cast as rubbish to the void,/ When God hath made the pile complete.”
No one can truly say that they yet see how good will come from this; but if we could see, we would not need to hope.
God is a redeemer. He raises the dead, and we would be wrong to limit this activity to a few biblical miracles.
Many things die, swept away by forces beyond the control of human beings; communities struck by disasters like this are among them.
But God, we believe, can raise them to life again; and “not one life shall be destroyed/ Or cast as rubbish to the void.” No one lost is lost to him.
Mark Woods is editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.