Monday, March 21, 2011

Faith Works 3-26-11

Jeff Gill

"I have surely seen the affliction of my people…and have heard their cry"


There are not words to describe what has happened, and tragically is still happening in Japan.

Still happening, not so much because of the nuclear power plant situation, but because in the bitter dregs of a Japanese winter, many of the survivors are hanging on to life in the face of damp cold and lack of water or even food. This, after seeing what will likely total tens of thousands of their friends and neighbors and immediate family members get carried away by a wall of water, if they hadn't been crushed by falling buildings at the outset.

To endure all that, and then feel life slipping away as you wait for help, or even to be a hale and healthy relief worker who has too little to offer the living, and overwhelming numbers of the dead staring coldly back at you . . . it is too much.

Then add the atomic anxiety on top of that.

"Theodicy" is the subset of theology that wrestles with the question "How can a good God let evil occur?" Theodicy takes many forms, but it can readily boil down to "Why, O Lord, why?"

We live on the surface of an uneasy Earth. There is nothing stable or timeless about even snow-capped mountains or endless ocean vistas. Certainty is not actually built into bedrock.

You could wish, I suppose, that we lived on a stable, featureless ball made of simple, sturdy, homogenous material, a ball bearing just soft enough to push tent stakes into, and a neat ribbon of water around the middle. Of course, if it doesn't spin, you don't have day and night; if it doesn't orbit the sun, you don't have stability in your distance from the light & warmth it provides. If the earth doesn't have a molten core and vast plates nudging around on the surface of the crust . . . the biology for dummies version of all this is: if we have a planet with no earthquakes and volcanoes and thunderstorms, we have no life, or at least life like us.

Which is a version of taking on theodicy by saying "You wish the world were different, and if you were the Creator, you'd handle things differently? Check out Job, chapters 38-42. You don't understand all the myriad complexities involved, and why some things must be this way."

The more personal dilemma is that you run up against the enduring question, is freedom worth pain? Especially when it's my freedom at the expense of another's pain? Do there have to be tsunamis for human creatures to have free will?

A very unsatisfactory answer is "yes." Because any other fix we imagine to Creation requires another fix and another and another, and you always end up, going that way, with a preordained puppet theater, eminently safe, but horrible in its own claustrophobic way.

So people of faith look on natural disasters with a mix of empathy, and commitment. Whatever this means, however initiated, we're all sure of one thing: we are called upon at such moments to help. In New Orleans we sent help, and went ourselves by the hundreds of thousands, with many now shifting north to Nashville for rehabs and rebuilds.

Overseas relief efforts are for many religious bodies already at work; this is why general giving is really an ideal way to help, since existing funds went out first to help Japan, and who knows what's next?

Whatever your organized religious tradition, there's a group your fellowship works with where your dollars can back up your prayers. My own tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has the renowned "Week of Compassion" program, which was taken up just before the Japan disaster, but supports an office which responds & co-ordinates all year 'round:

They are also part of an effort known as “One Great Hour of Sharing” which is a special offering given in Presbyterian, UCC, and American Baptist churches, and at you can find your denominational emphasis & opportunity to give at the “Get Involved” tab. Methodists know they can count on their United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR, which you can contribute to through

Catholic efforts are largely co-ordinated through Catholic Relief Services, online at while the Episcopal Relief & Development agency is at

If you are familiar with the cooperative efforts of Church World Service, such as the annual CROP Walk, check in at for their ecumenical efforts. Many evangelical Christian groups are working through Second Harvest Japan,, and of course The Mennonite and other Anabaptist "peace church" traditions have for their assistance to get across the Pacific.

What ever your beliefs, act on them, and reach out, and heal, in prayer and practical assistance. "Bear ye one another's burdens," which is what it all comes down to.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.