"We are all OK" was the message when I opened my email on Friday morning, March 11. The message was from my son in Tokyo and he was reassuring me that the he and his family had been spared the disaster that had happened in Japan while I slept.
I read Jason's email before I knew anything about the 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami that struck the northeastern coast of Japan Friday afternoon Tokyo time. I do not normally watch morning newscasts and this horrific event occurred during the early morning hours of Atlanta's Friday morning. Therefore I knew nothing about it until I read his email.
I immediately called to verify the safety of my son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. Since my son has lived in Tokyo for several years I have come to understand that they experience earthquakes on a regular basis but this one was the worst earthquake in history. Jason said this one "was a doozie."
When the shaking began Jason left his desk at work and went outside. When the tremors subsided he went back inside but when the first after shock struck he explained to his co-worker that he was leaving to check on his children and wife. The first sign of the extraordinary impact of this earthquake was the fact that all trains stopped. That would be equivalent of closing every expressway and most surface streets around Atlanta. Folks in Tokyo use the trains in much the same way we depend on our automobiles.
After a 2 hour walk from work Jason, Keiko, and the children were home. Television, the internet, text messages, Twitter, and Facebook informed them of the tragic consequences of the natural disasters and the unfolding story of the damaged nuclear reactors. All of this was 150 miles away. They went to bed that night but left a bag packed with emergency provisions at the front door in case they needed to evacuate during the night.
Confusion and chaos continues as this is being written. The scope of the devastation unfolds even as we watch the still developing story of the damaged nuclear reactors. The death toll is growing. Entire cities have disappeared. Thousands of people are missing. Search and rescue efforts are challenged beyond belief. Snow is falling in the worst hit areas. Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated. Shortages of essential supplies and food are increasing in the worst hit areas. Experts are discussing the potential effect of the radiation that is being released.
I am joyful that my son and his family (and other friends and acquaintances) in Japan are safe. I am grateful that they suffered nothing more than minor inconvenience and a bit of anxiety. But my heart aches for the multitudes people who have suffered unimaginable loss. I cannot imagine the pain that is borne by so many as they struggle to live out of this tragedy.
There are some who see this as God's judgment on the people of Japan. One popular radio talk show host suggested that this was a message from God. Earthquakes are natural phenomena. Tsunamis are the result of such eruptions in the ocean. God is not "punishing" people when these things occur no more than when getting a flat tire if you run over a nail or get sick if you don't wear proper clothing when it is cold and wet.
I cannot explain suffering among the people of the earth. But this one thing I know--God is not "settling a score" or making a point by inflicting pain and loss upon God's children and all of Creation. I am certain that God's heart is breaking while witnessing the dramatic and life changing events of the past few days. The order of things and the role human beings play in history combine with many other unknowns to produce many mysteries. Some results are good and some are terrible. But I am convinced that God is not pulling the strings on every detail of our lives.
In the words of the song: "Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand. But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know Who holds my (and your) hand."
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," March 21, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]