by Quay Yam Kem
1 November 2009
Recently, at my workplace, volunteers were busy packing foodstuff and clothing in aid of victims of the Padang earthquake. In the Philippines, tropical storms Ketsana and Parma brought about deadly landslides and massive floods and have claimed nearly 1000 lives. The worst is yet to come, with the impending typhoon Lupit putting the nation on alert. Rescue and relief units and supplies are positioned in areas where the typhoon is projected to hit. Many people have been displaced by these natural disasters, which seemingly are endless, bringing about much grief.
When tragedy strikes, whether small or big, questions and doubts will surface to challenge our faith. More so if it strikes close to home, the big question “Why?” will be voiced. Why does God let them happen? How can we come to terms with a loving God when bad things happen to good people? The Bible does provide answers but frankly, we may not fully understand.
In the account of Adam and Eve, death came because of the wilful disobedience of man. When sin entered the world, God said that nature itself would work against the people. “Cursed is the ground because of you…Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you…And to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:17-19). Every person will return to the dust from which they came. Whether we succumb to old age, or something else strikes us first; nature will have its say. Either way, we still have to live in the world gone awry.
Mark 4:35-40 relates an incident where Jesus saved his disciples from a natural disaster, when a storm hit them on the sea of Galilee. As the story unfolds, the disciples were terrified finding their boat swamped in great danger and woke Jesus up. But Jesus was asleep at the back of the boat on a cushion, apparently oblivious to their frantic cries. “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to drown?” Of course, Jesus quiets the storm with a word, but then He chides the disciples: “Why are you so fearful? Don’t you even have faith in me?”
The crises of life in the face of difficulties, trials and suffering can be compared to stormy seas as they come upon us when least expected. Personally, I have been ‘hit’ by one such storm some decades ago. Like the disciples out at sea, fear gripped me putting my stability and security ‘off-balance’. “This is wrong!” “What will happen to my plans and dreams for the future?” All of which then had just crumbled under my feet. Added to the confusion, there were also emotional strains – the feeling of anger to the point of anguish, hurt, frustration, exasperation, loneliness (the list goes on) and even resentment of God. Again, the “why” factor emerges in the midst of adversities. “God, why have You forsaken me?” My thoughts, back then was why don’t the earth just open and swallow me up and do me justice by putting me out of my misery altogether! That would be the end of all my worries. Period. I suppose such rage is normal and being only human it is a natural outburst of accumulated emotions.
In Mark’s account, just after Jesus calmed the storm, He asked His disciples, “Where is your faith?”
WHERE WAS MY FAITH? The days following my ‘storm’ I sought out to God looking for comfort, answers maybe. I prayed incessantly and eventually regained my composure, followed by a sense of tranquillity. “And when you draw close to God, God will draw close to you” (James 4:8). Instead of asking “why” and finding someone to blame, I examined myself and recognised the need and urgency to set my life in order. Days spent in meditation resulted in acknowledging that my main priority is my relationship with God. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: For the Lord God is my strength and my song, And He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12: 3).
We need to turn to God, to trust Him even in times of turbulence. I draw my strength from the drama of Job. During his tremendous trial, Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in him”. Job’s unwavering trust in God is admirable. We need to have that similar kind of trust. One that knows the God who did not spare His own Son will never cut us off. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, though we enter death itself! The God who spared not His own Son also rescued His Son after he went through that valley. He promises to rescue us, too. “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about You, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you” (Isaiah 41:10). Such comforting words indeed!
Most of the time, we go through life from one storm to the next. At least, it does for me. One comfort I can draw is that during storms I can take heart in knowing that Jesus has power over the storms of life. He might be asleep (as in Mark’s account) but He’s in complete control. We need to trust Him. Taking a line from the hymn, “ It’s a long, long journey, so stay by my side. When I walk thru’ the storm, Lord; Be my Guide. Be my guide.”
Today I remain a constant recipient of the manifold blessings of God. Just being in the midst of the fellowship of brethren in Klang has been a joy to behold. Many saw me through troubled waters and I am much appreciative of everyone of them. Somehow, the challenges faced with tragedies are abated by familiar faces of those whom we love, and who loves us. For that, I personally owe a deep gratitude to my kind brothers and sisters, both in the flesh and in the church for being there for me in my weaker moments. They are a force to be reckoned with. “Let love of the brethren continue.” (Heb. 13:1). Perhaps, one of the finer moments I need to be most thankful to God was the time I witnessed Chien-Chern being called to the Bar. Tears welled up within me when he was robed in front of the judge and admitted as an advocate & solicitor. Tears not of sadness, but more so one of relief. My storm has receded a long time ago, but I felt again the Lord’s hands upon us. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” (Isaiah 59:1).
Let’s integrate God into our lives. Continue to lean on Him. Therefore when disaster strikes, God is there in our midst, bearing our suffering and working with us. We can be found standing with Him, not blaming Him, but making a positive difference.