For nearly a week now I have been watching the tragedy caused by the earthquake and tsunami unfold in Japan. I have also been following the incredible human tales of suffering, heroism, fear-mongering, and apathy widely reported in its aftermath.
Some experts have loudly proclaimed that the destruction is punishment for some grave “sin” that the Japanese committed. The American media “pundit” Glenn Beck implied that the earthquake was a message from God to follow the Ten Commandments. On the other hand, Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara called the earthquake “divine punishment” for the “egoism” of the Japanese people. Although the governor later apologized for his insensitive comment, one thing is clear: as humans, we are such a ridiculously conceited species that every natural disaster has to be a result of something we did or did not do in our insignificant lives.
Soon after the earthquake and tsunami, reports began to come in about “miracles” – lives that had been saved in the midst of overwhelming death: a four-month old baby clinging on to dear life, a 70-year old woman nearly freezing inside her home for four days, a 60-year old man found ten miles out at sea clinging to his rooftop for two days.
In a country of 127 million, when roughly 13,000 or 0.01% of the population perishes it is called “punishment”. When 1 out 13,000, or roughly 0.01% of the dead survives, it is called a “miracle.”
Why is one punishment? Why is the other a miracle?
Why of course, don’t I know! Death is punishment. Life is a miracle. Plain and simple.
Today on television I saw haunting images of a man who just stood there wearing a hard-hat, dumbfounded in the midst of absolute destruction. At the time of the earthquake and tsunami, the man was not at his home: by some stroke of luck, he was at the fire station, although he was not supposed to be there. His wife, son, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren were at his small home in the town. They were in a home which had now been completely reduced to rubble. The man wandered around refusing to believe that his entire family lay in front of him in a stony grave. Then while the cameras were still rolling, it struck him.
“I can’t take it. I lost everything. Why did I go to the fire station?” he sobbed inconsolably. Even from the comfort of my living room thousands of miles away, I could not meet his gaze or offer myself an answer. Here was a man who wished he had been dead.
Now, my dear friend, tell me with your certitude what “miracle” saved this man? What “sin” condemned his grandchildren?