On Japan

What can one say on such occasions? Tragedies like this tend to render us speechless and numb. And that is not a bad thing. Better to meditate, ponder and pray than start immediately pontificating. A week has now passed and the horrors keep unfolding.

The earthquakes and tsunami have so far resulted in around 20,000 deaths, with the figure expected to keep climbing. The final number may be just a tenth of the 2004 figure for Indonesia when a similar pair of disasters stuck. But both numbers are far too high.

It is obvious that there are many things believers can do in these situations. We can certainly pray, and pray again. We can give financially as well. And for some, we can be there and help out in very practical ways.

Despite all the tangible things we can do, there will be questions that continue to haunt us. As always in such situations, a million questions arise, and very few answers, it seems, can be found. Believers cannot help but ask some hard theological questions.

One which always comes up, but can seldom be answered decisively, is if all this in any sense can be understood as the judgment of God. With a number of major natural disasters occurring recently, I have discussed these matters at length elsewhere. Readers are advised to go to these posts for more thoughts on this:


So, can we see God at work here, either in judgment or some other way? It is altogether possible, but I certainly cannot make any absolute claims here. Mind you, a case for divine judgment could be made if one wanted too.

Japan is largely a pagan nation, at least when it comes to biblical Christianity, and it has its share of morally and spiritually destructive practices and beliefs. It is clearly no hive of godliness, righteousness and morality,

Abortion was legalised in Japan in 1948. Around 300,000 abortions are performed there each year, but that number has been as high as 1.2 million per annum. That is a lot of blood flowing, and the lives of the innocents are crying out for justice.

However, that of course can be said about so many other nations as well. They too really deserve some divine recompense for all the shedding of innocent blood they are involved with. So given that not all the other abortion-rich nations are facing similar calamities, one has to proceed with caution here.

Then there are things like the grotesque, sexually explicit Japanese Phallic Festival which has been held for centuries now, where sexuality gods are called upon, if not worshipped. Even children are involved in this. To get the full impact of this rather debauched festival, see the photos here: http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/the-japanese-phallic-festival.html

But once again, the same can be said about plenty of other nations, including but not limited to the West. Sexual perversion and depravity is rife in large parts of the world, and if this calls for God’s swift justice, we could do no better than start with Sydney, San Francisco or Amsterdam.

And we must also recall that over 300 churches have been impacted by this tragedy, with many pastors and believers killed or missing. So if this was an act of judgment, then what about them? We must of course recall what Jesus said about God causing the sun to shine on the good and evil, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust.

Many other things might be mentioned. It seems that American atheist groups are demanding that all aid be given to atheist or secular groups, and not Christian aid groups and charities. Yeah right! And just how many atheist charity groups are there please?

We must remember that even rather secular groups like the Red Cross began as explicitly Christian groups. Wherever we find tragedy striking, we can always expect Christians to be there, often first on the scene, up to their ears in hands-on involvement.

That has been the case since the earliest days of the Christian church. Indeed, in large measure that accounts for the rapid growth and expansion of Christianity. When a plague or pestilence would strike an area, usually the pagans would get up and hightail it out of there.

But the Christians routinely stayed behind, tending the sick, the dying, and the needy. Their faith was not just pie in the sky stuff, but a faith which met the very real needs of very real people in very real predicaments.

Mention can also be made about all the media hype about nuclear oblivion. It is too early to comment fully just yet, but it seems that things are under control, and people are likely to get more exposure to radiation walking through Grand Central Station (with its radiation-emitting granite walls) than being in Tokyo.

Plenty of other figures can be mentioned here in this regard. It has been said recently that the highest radiation levels detected in Fukushima Prefecture was 30 microsieverts. Perhaps that sounds scary, but bear in mind that a single hospital CT scan produces almost 7000 microsieverts.

This situation of course must still be closely monitored, worked on around the clock, and prayed about diligently. But the anti-nuke activists should be ashamed for seeking to turn this national tragedy into an opportunity to score cheap political points.

As already noted, there will likely be far more questions than answers here for some time to come – maybe forever. But those who do know their Lord know that God is too wise to make a mistake, and too loving to be unkind. Indeed, it is exactly because he loves us so much that he often will intervene in our selfish lives, seeking to get our attention.

He knows that if our lives are not built on the rock, then we are instead simply on sinking sand, and that is not a good place to be when the storms of life come along. Thus out of his great love for us, he allows us to be shaken, so we can see what our foundations are really like.

He wants to break us free from all the false security, false gods, and false idols which we so very much turn to and shelter in. He wants us to turn to him, to depend on him, and find our security, comfort and fulfilment in him.

And in order to do that, he may sometimes use drastic measures to get our attention. Indeed, as the rightful ruler of this universe, he has every right to shake our world so that what is of him alone comes forth.

As the writer to the Hebrews put it, “‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken – that is, created things – so that what cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27).

If we don’t do a regular shake up of our world, in mercy he will often do it for us.

[1175 words]

22 Replies to “On Japan”

  1. The only cases in the Bible where God has taken someone out of destructions path completely was Enoch, Noah and his family and Lot and his daughters. God doesnt have to cause natural disasters but according to Matthew 24 ‘these things must first come to pass’. There is some reality to sin causing destruction from God, especially when God speaks of Ninevah that their wickedness has come up. Jesus implies that Jerusalem was torn apart because the Israelites didnt recognize the time of their visitation.

    We are all like Jonah, sent into a sinfull pagan world to preach a message of repentance as a warning before Gods destruction comes. Those who hear the word of the Lord and repent are saved, those who ignore it stay where destruction happens… but God always sends people to warn because his desire is we be saved, not because we are fearful of our houses falling down but because we are convicted of our life built on sin which causes our spiritual houses to be on sand not rock.

    Jesus said that anyone who hears him whom God has sent will be saved, and Hebrews says that God used the prophets but in the last days He has spoken through His Son, and John’s Gospel declars that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

    These earthquakes and natural disasters are HUGE to us, but according to God these are things that must come to pass before the end is able to come, and we like Enoch who according to Jude preached a warning, Noah who built an ark as a testament to their unbelief and Jonah who was sent to Ninevah, Naham, John the baptist, Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James and now us are charged with a mission – make disciples, preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, suffer with Christ so we can reign with Him.

    Josh Ferrara

  2. Dear Bill. Japan is an earthquake prone nation and resisted the Christianisation of their country so I wondered whether this has contributed to the way they regard human life – as cheap and dispensable. Japan has one of the most ageing populations on the planet because of the high abortion rate. Yet even though they don’t seem to respect life in the womb they revere the elderly. I saw one woman tenderly giving her frail, aged mother water after the earthquake and thought even though she is probably not Christian she still believes what the commandment of Moses said ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’. They also strongly resisted the Christianisation of their country and many Christian missionaries who went to Japan died cruel deaths for the faith. Even today there are comparitively few Christians in Japan. I believe Mother Teresa of Calcutta went there and was received very politely but it did not result in many conversions. Yet having said all this the Japanese people have acquired patience and acceptance of adversity which is truly remarkable and an inspiration to the world. Their suffering must be terrible and we must pray for them. Japanese Christians will also surely offer up their country’s pain to God for the sins of the world. It will also make them stronger and more united as a people. There is indeed a lot to think and wonder about because of this terrible tragedy.
    Patricia Halligan

  3. Bill,

    Hi, there. You may not remember me. I had visited your site over a brief period of time a few years ago and participated in some discussions of creation-evolution and related issues. It’s good to be back again after a several-year hiatus, due mainly to spiritual struggles I’ve been facing.

    I don’t have much to contribute on this topic, except to say it’s all very sobering indeed. The Japanese people definitely need our prayers and compassion. I have been praying for them. I’m not personally in a position to do more, but my heart goes out to them. One feels so impotent at times like this and, as you say, it’s another reminder–we seem to be experiencing many these days–that we’re not in control; God is, and all of our lives are in His hands and continue only by His mercy.

    My main reason for commenting now, though, was actually something else. I recall, in the midst of one of those science-related discussions of several years ago, you replied to a particular commenter who had criticized something you had said with an honest acknowledgement that sometimes the work you’re involved in can be wearisome, lonely, and difficult, that often you see few tangible results and would appreciate people’s prayers to be faithful to the Lord in the calling He’s given you. I periodically experience similar feelings. You’re not alone. Criticism is, unfortunately, one of the occupational hazards that comes with being involved in the battle, and I just want to encourage your heart.

    I appreciate your efforts. I, and many others, benefit from what you do. The Lord grant grace and strength to enable you to keep on until He calls you elsewhere. Our world needs more committed Christians like you, brother, who seriously seek to understand and apply a well-thought-out, Biblical worldview as a legitimate part of discipleship and what it means to be a Christ follower. Sometimes it seems there are too few Christians these days who take seriously the hard work of the development of a Christian mind in all areas of life, including in the realms of society and culture. So again, may the Lord bless you. I’m praying for you. Grace and peace.

    Lamar Boll

  4. Bill, many Christians I know keep telling me that these various natural disasters are proof that we are living in the “last days”. I try and tell them that according to the Bible we have been in the last days now for 2000 years and that there have been earthquakes for at least 4500 years (since Noah’s Flood). They tell me that these disasters are getting worse and more frequent. I tell them that the world is more densely populated now so more people are affected and we also have instant global communications which means we see it all now. They remain unconvinced. What is your take on this question?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  5. Exactly right Ewan

    We are to occupy till he comes. No one knows when he will return, so instead of spending all our time date-setting, we should be active in what we have been called to do. Jesus could return real soon, but then again, he may not.

    Just as the anti-nuke greens actually seem to rejoice in every nuclear incident, so some Christians overly obsessed with endtimes seem to rejoice in every new disaster. That is not a good attitude to have.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Agreed Bill, but is there any evidence at all that natural disasters are getting more frequent and is this something the Bible tells us we should expect the closer we get to the end?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  7. In our technologically advanced world, a lot of things that seem to be caused by nature, may not indeed be.
    HAARP Earthquakes
    HAARP Japan
    HAARP Earthquake war
    Now I am not going to categorically say this is all true, but you have to wonder what sort of mind thinks these things up.
    I digress, whatever caused the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, it has left behind utter devastation. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected.
    Hopefully we will hear of some miracles that God did in this time of disaster.
    For whatever reason, God has allowed this to happen, reminding us that time is short, and the need for repentance and salvation is now.
    Jeffrey Carl

  8. Thanks Ewan

    Yes I have read others who say, for example, that the number and intensity of earthquakes today are not necessarily any higher or greater than in previous times.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  9. Ewan and Bill – I might be one of those that Ewan might get into such a discussion with if the topic should come up because I think that maybe the time is short. However my view for all that is remarkably similar to Bill’s I suspect. The suspicion that the time is short should not change the way we behave because we don’t know how much time we have. Even if Jesus is not coming back for millenia yet, I could be run over by a bus tomorrow, so I better not be wasting any time, had I? (Or perhaps there will be another big earthquake and I will be among the fatalities?) Our Lord set us a task, so let’s be about it!
    John Symons

  10. Sorry, Bill, but parts of this piece come across as racist, xenophobic and judgmental. The theology of natural disasters has always been a weak point in our justification of our faith to others and our explanation of God’s justice. This article does little to assist our cause.

    I think we need to extend compassion, empathy and a helping hand to the Japanese people, 500,000 of whom are now homeless in freezing conditions. Many of them are children and aged people. Blaming the victim is never a good look, but doing so at this dark time is especially shameful.

    Don Phillips

  11. Thanks Don

    Sorry, but let me call your bluff. Anyone who has actually read this article will know that I clearly said that:
    -we need to pray for and do all we can to help the Japanese;
    -we simply cannot know for sure what the divine purposes are here, including judgment;
    -even if divine judgment were part of the equation, this could be applied to plenty of other nations.

    So I am afraid it is your comment that does not “assist our cause” – or any cause for that matter.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. Jonathan James has written an article, originally in relation to the Indian ocean tsunami, but updated to reflect this disaster.

    Tim Pearce

  13. On radiation: this graphic on radiation levels is quite informative: http://xkcd.com/radiation/

    (note: linked page is useful, but rest of site is an eclectic webcomic which ranges from perceptive to amusing to elitist to crass, so browse further at your own risk)

    Andrew White

  14. We watched in disbelief as news of the tsunami unfolded. We saw people of one of the beautiful races of our earth become victims of devastation on an apocalyptic scale, houses, vehicles swept away on a relentless tide. We were told thousands were killed and missing. We saw explosions at the nuclear plant. Admidst the chaos I was struck by the calm stoicism and orderliness of the survivors in the face of mortal terrors.
    To me it seems irrelevant whose side they were on in the War. That they celebrate the phallus I accept as an ancient primal custom observed by various peoples according to their culture. I remember the children, some of whom, we are told, are mindful of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    We should give what we can to help. We have seen a preview of an apocalypse and if ever there was a need to pray and intercede for souls, this is it.
    Thanks to Jeffrey Carl for the HAARP links. I shall seek more information on these activities, especially in light of recent occurences such as flocks of birds falling dead from the sky and the honey bee collapsed colony syndrome.
    Rachel Smith

  15. Re assertion that Japanese strongly resisted Christianity: Christian missionaries were originally very successful in Japan with many many conversions of both ordinary folk and those of high rank. Unfortunately, the military elite and some others, saw Christianity as a political threat in a time of political turmoil. Imperial Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi violently and ruthlessly repressed Christianity leading to many matyrdoms, some very horrible. Some christians continued to practice in secret and with great difficulty, especially around the area of Nagasaki. They emerged again once the Meiji restoration was under way over 200 years later and over generations, had tried to pass on the faith despite national isolation and a complete lack of educated pastoring. Japan traditionally endured periods of terrible and violent political turmoil. Extreme cruelty was often used against enemies. Japan, has also been, in many ways, a very moral culture and beauty, delicacy of manners and good character have been prized. I think that prayer for our fellow human beings in their terrible bereavements and the upending of their lives is all that is required beyond material charity.
    Anna Conway

  16. Hi, Bill,
    Thanks for your incisive thoughts on this subject.
    May I share some thoughts on this subject. The absence of looting and the orderly and “others first” behaviour of the Japanese during the recent earthquake/tsunami are certainly a brilliant contrast to the shameful incidences that occurred in Haiti, China, Queensland and Christchurch and other places. However, like many people who could be very kind and lovely to their own family and kins yet cruel to others, the Japanese are no exception. As I could be condemned as being insensitive to mention this at this time, I would not elaborate on the atrocities committed. Whatever they might be, be assured that Jesus our Lord has died for their sins and yours and mine. We are not to be judged by how much or how little sins we commit, bur rather by whether we believe in the Christ Jesus. Hence, it is difficult to say that the tragedy that struck Japan recently is a judgement of God, especially “over 300 churches have been impacted by this tragedy, with many pastors and believers killed or missing”, as mentioned by you.
    I believe the disaster is more likley brought about by natural and human causes, as mentioned by so many of you. In such a tragic moment, it is my prayer that our Japanese friends will see that they are no masters of the universe or their own invention, and start looking to Jesus for the true meaning of life.
    SK Leong

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