During this past week Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most violent storms ever recorded, ripped through the mid-section of the Philippines and virtually destroyed the city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte. Thousands perished and neighborhood after neighborhood was destroyed. We all grieved as we saw the faces of people who had lost loved ones and were now suffering in the aftermath of the storm. The stories of the worst of human behavior followed as well as heroic stories of people watching out for and caring for one another.
This quickly takes me to the point I want to make in my weekly comments to you: What "good" can we possibly derive from a horrible experience like this? Pundits and philosophers alike are standing by with criticism of or denial of an all-powerful God who certainly could keep a tragedy like this from happening.
After hearing the news of this violent typhoon, I began to think of the people in the path. Is there anyone I would know? Are there friends, acquaintances or anyone that I would know?
Here's why I would know of them: A few months ago I travelled with one of our senior pastors (who is assigned to serve our members and ministers in the Philippines) to that island nation and spent three days in Tacloban. There I met with our two elders and a number of our church members. Given that personal contact, now I was wondering how they were faring. Did they survive? My heart and mind raced anxiously, wondering about their well-being. We prayed for their safety and well-keeping. After a few days of anxious emotions, we finally heard that our two elders and everyone else associated with the United Church of God survived the storm. We praised and thanked God for that.
We then asked about other acquaintances and heard reports about survival and a fatality. We unfortunately did not hear good reports about property damage, but then, when your life is spared from tragic circumstances, there is nothing more important. I value LIFE more than anything physical.
What can be done?
Our thoughts then turned to what we could do to help in the aftermath. There is a lot of help needed as families lost their homes or sustained tremendous damage. Through our church's Good Works Program and LifeNets, a non-for-profit humanitarian organization, we are already providing survival support and will work on rebuilding. All this has brought focus on caring for others as we help with horrific loss.
A few days ago I spoke to my local Rotary Club here in Cincinnati about my personal knowledge of the area and what needed to be done. They stepped in with great generosity to help financially in a special way. A major cargo carrier through US Embassy contacts is providing transport support for immediately needed shelter items such as tarps to keep out the elements. Members of my Rotary Club offered to pay for the needed materials.
Also, friends in Japan who were victims of the massive earthquake two years ago and received aid now reciprocated by sending money and started a clothing collection for children. Feelings of inspiration and gratefulness for this community spirit of helping one another is beyond words.
One more thing: I have friends from years past who are now in another Christian fellowship with related beliefs called the Living Church of God. I called and asked them about how members of their fellowship fared. My inquiry was warmly received and I found a mutually kind spirit of deep care for each another. We have now genuinely and sincerely pledged to work together for people suffering in the same geographical area.
To me, these experience and manifestations of the milk of human kindness represent a significant expression of Christian response. A crisis and tragedy brings people together. Part of me wishes that we could practice that goodness in our everyday conditions, but a crisis does give us perspective—we can learn lessons and experience what we should be doing more in normal times.
In short, while I grieve at the suffering and loss, I also rejoice in the good.
The reality of our environment is that we live in a world subject to what we experienced last week. It has always been and will continue until a time when a new world will replace this one. That is our ultimate hope...and represents a hope highlighted in times of disaster.
In closing, consider these words that Paul wrote in Romans 8:20-24:
"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope..."
Yes, good can come from tragedy. For those who wonder why our loving God would permit something of this magnitude from happening, I invite you to send for or read online our free Bible study aid Why Does God Allow Suffering? God is a personal, loving and merciful God, and this study aid will help you find answers.
Meanwhile, please continue with me and those in our fellowship of the United Church of God in praying earnestly that God's Kingdom come, and that He will continue to provide relief and protection for those afflicted in the Philippines.