When awful things happen
It was on Monday around lunchtime I heard the terrible news about the earthquake which had struck Turkey and Syria early on Monday morning. The earthquake and subsequent aftershocks were felt in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine. As I write, the death toll has risen to more than 5,000 people and the damage to buildings and infrastructure is immense. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned as many as 23 million people in Turkey and Syria will suffer some form of consequences from these devastating events.
When you hear of disaster on this scale, it feels overwhelming and terrifying. Imagine going to bed on Sunday evening thinking of all the challenges of the week ahead. I think of children finishing homeworks, packing their school bags and all the normal routines of preparing for the new week and finding oneself immersed in this tragedy. It’s beyond our comprehension.
As a Christian, you wonder where God is at such moments and, to help process all that has happened, I’m drawing on some reflections of Christelle Hayek, the team coordinator for 24-7 Prayer in Lebanon.
She suggests some truths about God to hold onto when confronted with such enormous suffering.
The most striking for me is that God sits with us through the pain and weeps with us. He didn’t promise a life without trouble in this broken world, but guaranteed His peace and presence with us through it all. Jesus reminds us in John’s gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
God comforts us. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
God heals our hearts. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
God hears our prayers and answers. “In my distress I called upon the Lord, to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)
It’s one thing to write about these truths: it’s another to experience them personally. There are some I know who read these thoughts regularly and who don’t share my worldview or Christian belief.
Some years ago, alongside other Christian leaders in a village where I once worked, we did a series of evenings in local pubs called, “Everything you ever wanted to ask about Christianity but were afraid to.” They were interesting evenings. When we opened the boxes on the opening evening, the overwhelming majority of the questions which cascaded out were about this very question.
How can you believe in a God of love when there is so much suffering in the world? The simple and unsatisfactory answer is that I can’t explain the suffering in the world. I don’t know why at least 5,000 people have perished in this disaster when, just like me, they went to bed on Sunday night expecting to go about their business on Monday morning. I can’t explain it and, even trying to do so, seems disrespectful to all who have been directly and indirectly impacted by these terrible events.
All I can say, from my own experience, is that in the worst moments of my own life, when loved ones have died or been diagnosed with life changing conditions, God’s presence and his peace have been with me. Sometimes, His people have been instrumental in this, not so much by the words that they said, but through kind and thoughtful actions. Food and money and prayers have sometimes come when you are least expecting them and they have been the thing that was needed at that moment.
Don’t underestimate the power of your prayers in these dreadful days for the people of this region. Pete Greig, a Christian leader I greatly admire, suggested praying for 4 P’s that I found helpful.
- People affected: Pray for comfort for those grieving the tragic loss of loved ones, those who’ve lost homes, those injured and scared.
- Peacemakers: Pray for resilience and resources for NGO’s, frontline workers, medics, search and rescue teams etc.
- Politicians: Pray for wisdom to cooperate and communicate well, making good and speedy decisions for those worst affected.
- Pastors: Pray for strength as they process their own trauma whilst also seeking to bind up broken hearts, caring for the poor, arranging funerals and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the coming weeks we will be trying to make our own response as a church to this overwhelming situation. We will be praying for the huge needs people are facing, we will be trying to share our resources at a forthcoming fundraising Lenten lunch of soup and bread on Sunday 26th February and turning to God continually to guide our response.
The blog will be taking a break next week, but look forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
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