I found myself this week reflecting on the tsunami disaster that struck twelve years ago this week. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands… dead. Within mere hours, in a cataclysm of monstrous proportions, a tsunami literally wiped countless numbers of people off the face of the earth.
Unsuspecting tourists, among the extremely vulnerable, perhaps intended to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet death came.
All along the 3000 miles of the coastal rim surrounding the Indian Ocean, children were walking along the beach, sitting on the floor of their village homes or playing in the streets… then death came. Even those wrapped in the arms of mothers or fathers were savagely ripped away and lost.
There were no easy explanations or cliché speeches one could share that would take away the hurt or mend the brokenness of all these lives even in the years that have followed.
Nor are there easy explanations or trite sentiments that I can express that erase the pain of tragedy today when it hits on a colossal scale as it did in 2004 or when we are alone, privately reeling from a personal loss whether the passing of a beloved child, the unexpected advent of cancer, or financial ruin so severe that there seems no recovery.
There is nothing that can be written here that would cause us to wake, when crisis and trauma afflict us, from what we wish was only a bad dream. Death and pain are permanent residents of planet Earth and at times gallop madly through our lives, trampling everything and everyone in their path.
But in spite of all the horror hurled at humanity by our broken and ravaged world, however and whenever it happens, God does not look on passively. While He has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk. He grieves with us over our sorrows; He is pained by our hurts; and He laments our losses as if they were His own. He knows pain and loss intimately even as He Himself looked death boldly in the eye and willingly embraced it for our sakes.
Yet… on the other side of loss, there is hope. On the other side of grief, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is life.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).
Where do you turn when the world turns upside down? Where do you turn when you lose everything you ever wanted or ever needed? Where do you turn for hope?
And what do you say when it is someone else who has suffered so? Do you tell them to “just get over it” and walk away? Do you turn your eyes away, so afraid of facing pain yourself that you try to keep your distance?
May it not be so. If God had done that, we would never have had a Savior. “By this we know love, that (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).
If you are a child of God, your purpose is to be an extension of His heart, a receptacle through which His love may pass and enter a beaten and battered world.
Be a vessel of comfort for someone who grieves. While it’s likely that there isn’t much you can say to make everything okay again, your loving presence in the life of someone who hurts can touch a broken life with comfort.
Be a source of help to someone who is struggling to survive. In your church or in an outreach center near you there may be found avenues for helping others who do not have enough.
God, speaking through His prophet five centuries before the Lord Jesus was laid in a straw-filled manger, said of Christ, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations… a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4 ESV).
Still in the business of lifting up bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks, the tender heart of God even now seeks to bring hope to the islands: the islands spread all over the Indian Ocean as well as the private little islands of the struggling souls of those with whom we work and play every day. Let us then be His hands and feet in this New Year.
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at [email protected].)