How (Not) To Speak of an Earthquake

I’ve forgotten long ago why we keep giving him credence in American public discourse, but Glenn Beck spoke up again. This time, in his ignorance, he said that the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis were works of God. On his radio show this past Monday, Beck said:

“I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes — well I’m not not saying that either! What God does is God’s business, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you this — whether you call it Gaia* or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.'”

Really? Is this really an accurate portrayal of the God we serve? When we act with the agency given to us by God, we are then punished for how we do it? Do we really believe that this is how God lives and moves in the world? God won’t save a mother from cancer, or a nation from hunger… but will cause an earthquake that irreparably destroys the life and livelihood of entire communities?

I have to imagine there’s a better way. And I have Skye Jethani to thank for helping articulate it. In a recent response, he says:

“Is the Japanese earthquake and tsunami an ‘opportunity for the church’ as some have said? Yes, but not the selfish sort of opportunity. It is an opportunity for the church to weep and repair; to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who need his healing presence.”

For me, these two quotes represent the difference between brokenness and redemption. It’s the difference between “I know why this happened and God did it.” and “I don’t know why this happened, but God can redeem it.”

There’s no way we could ever know why suffering happens. But there is a way we can respond to it. Right now the Japanese people don’t need our judgment and condemnation. They need our love and service. is giving you the chance to donate $5 to the American Red Cross and they will match it.


* Beck grossly misuses the name Gaia in his rant. Gaia is an ancient Greek goddess who represents Mother Earth. It has no associations in Asian or Japanese mythology. Just because it sounds Asian, doesn’t mean it is.

Japan and the Silence of God

As we continue to hear about rising death       tolls, pending nuclear meltdowns and entire communities reduced to nomads, it comes as no surprise that religious communities are starting to ask (and rightly so) ‘Where is God in all of this?’

Shusaku Endo was a prominent (and underrated) Japanese author in the mid-20th century. But his most widely-read work that he wrote (Silence) deals primarily with the silence of God in life’s most abhorrent tragedies. There is one particular passage that I’ve been drawn back to in the wake of the unspeakable tragedies that continue to happen across the Pacific.

In Silence, Endo portrays the visit of a Portugese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined and prays: “The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? … Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be sitting outside of your house surveying damage from the earthquake when the ocean comes barreling down your street. I have to imagine that at some point we’ll find the limit to our endurance. I have to imagine that the prayers of the world can only take us so far. But the thing that we hope with all of our beings is that there’s something other than the stubborn silence of cold darkness that meets us on the other side.


P.S. I watched this video right before I wrote this. Check it out. It’s pretty intense.

Rob Bell, Japan and Hell*

I hate to bring up the Rob Bell thing again. I know it’s tired. I know everyone’s said what they have to say on the topic (including me). But with the constant stream of terrible news coming out of Japan in the last 48 hours, it just seems appropriate to talk about Hell.

In case you’ve been completely under a rock, here’s what you’ve missed: On Friday, Japan experienced what scientists are now calling a 9.0 earthquake (4th largest since we started keeping track), which brought on estimated 30 foot waves, and now nuclear reactors failing left and right. The Japanese government estimates 10,000 dead. Most of the country is without running water and electricity. Hospitals can’t function. Parts of Tokyo are being evacuated because of the nuclear reactors leaking radiation. If you want to look at Hell… Japan is a good example.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t need to picture a far off pit of fire and torment to envision Hell. It’s here. It’s in our midst. We look around our world and see Hell in places like Japan. Or in Libya where a government is actively killing its own people. Or down the streets of any U.S. city where families are divided by divorce, where careers are lost and dreams deferred, where new generations of kids continue to grow up without fathers.

We don’t have to hate on Rob Bell for saying there’s no one in Hell. It’s all around us. However, the one message of hope that we’re yearning for with all of our being is that there’s something more. That there’s a force in the world that is more powerful than our brokenness. That the God, who is love in and of God’s self, will win.


* Can you tell I’m excited for the book? Good grief…

%d bloggers like this: