By now, most of us have seen the horror of the images from the catastrophic earthquake and horrifying tsunami in Sendai, Japan. Skyscrapers swayed like trees in a March breeze, houses simply crumbled, and crevices split roads open. The raging thirty-foot-high wall of water that raced at 40-miles-an-hour across the Sendai region wiped the landscape clean of houses, cultivated fields, factories, bridges and more. Boats were tossed like toys and in one of the most arresting images, a huge whirlpool developed in the ocean and sucked boats to its center. Nuclear reactors are threatening meltdown and the aftershocks continue.
The latest estimates are that somewhere around 10,000 people have perished in this horror.
Of course, there are scientific explanations for what happened here. This part of Japan sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates of the earth’s crust. The Pacific plate slipped under the North American plate (an event called a subduction) and started the whole series of events.
Earthquake experts are asserting that the 8.9 magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest ever recorded, was so powerful that it shifted the entire earth on its axis by about 4 inches. (Because of the difference in that balance, it also shortened the length of the day just slightly,) Part of Japan moved 12 feet closer to North America, so the nation is wider than it was before. At the same time, Japan has shifted two feet downward.
In one instant, the world literally changed and will never be the same again.
And it’s not just earthquakes that can do that.
Life on earth is ruthlessly unpredictable. The shifting of the plates underneath our personal geography can come in an unseen instant
– with one phone call in the middle of the night.
– when a doctor somberly gives a test result.
– when some part of your body just stops working the way it always has.
– when a spouse says they’re not sure they love you.
– when a car tire hydroplanes on a slick highway.
– when you get notice that the downsizing at work includes your job.
– when your child withdraws to a place you can’t reach.
– when the money you had been saving is taken by an emergency.
– when your hard work fails, your plans collapse and your dream dies.
– when you fail in the one place you never thought you would.
In one instant like that, your whole world can change. The landscape before you may change so dramatically that you no longer recognize your own life.
And yes, it happens to Christians, too. Having faith in Jesus does not give us immunity from our painfully unpredictable world. So, what do you do? Earthquake victims take shelter under something strong or out in the street. Those facing a tsunami move to higher ground. Where can you take your soul when your whole world changes?
Listen to the psalmist:
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 te heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter, he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46:1-7)
There is a firm foundation beneath the shifting plates of the visible world. God remains steady when all else fails. God is sovereign, mysteriously and providentially in control of the biggest mess. God is love and mercy, our ever-present companion in the roaring storm. Those twin truths –sovereignty and love – proven at the cross of Jesus and affirmed in His resurrection, are the stuff of hope. It’s what we look to in the dark and hold to in the spinning.
But honestly… when the world has been stripped bare and your soul laid waste, is there more? This can sound like, “just paste on a smile and praise Jesus.” What do we do with the grief and the mourning that suffocates us? In His gracious kindness, the Lord provides something for that as well. It’s called “lament”. Listen to these honest cries:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—How long? Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol, who will give you praise? I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes….Oh Lord, all my longing is before you, my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me….For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me….do not forsake me, O Lord!….(Ps. 6:1-7, 38:9,10,17,21)
When the world-changing moments come, it may be a greater act of faith to lay your soul bare before God. To cry, weep, rage and question both His sovereignty and His love. When it’s spoken before Him, that can also be prayer, as surely as the affirmations.
And then when you are exhausted from the tears, let the questions take you to Him. Then rest in His everlasting arms. For even in the mysteries of your soul’s deepest anguish, your God remains your Father.
Even when the world changes in an instant, never to be the same—it is still in His hands. And so are you.