Monday, January 03, 2005

The Elephant in the Living Room

Bigwig at Silflay Hraka writes about a new hymn composed for the United Methodist Church's tsunami relief effort: "O God, that Great Tsunami" (to the tune of "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" aka Bach's "Passion Chorale").

I can't decide whether I love the title for its evocative "Sinners in The Hands of Angry Wave" imagery or whether the clunky attempt at up-to-the-minute-relevance just gives me the willies. Mind you, for what it is the hymn isn't all that bad, despite the Yoda-speak of "We can't their bodies find." And God knows--literally--that we need more hymns that mention sewage.

Here are the words, which are actually an adaptation of a 1998 hymn, "The Storm Came to Honduras," composed to highlight relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Mitch.

O God, that great tsunami has stunned us one and all;
Our neighbors reel in anguish while homes and cities fall.
O God of wind and water who made the sea and sky,
Amid such great destruction, we mournfully ask "Why?"

How many folk have perished? We can't their bodies find:
Life will not be the same now for those they've left behind.
More than a million mourners are grieving to their core;
O Jesus, Friend and Savior, you suffer with the poor.

Economies are ruined and lives in tatters lie,
Sewage is washed down-river while lonely orphans cry:
O Spirit, send your comfort and give us faith that cares.
For when our neighbors suffer, our lives are bound with theirs.

I'm of two minds as well. On one hand, good for the UMC for their relief efforts. On the other hand, I'm similarly creeped out by the idea of a "Tsunami Hymn." (And this is likely the only hymn in history that uses the phrase "Economies are ruined," or has a line about sewage, which Bigwig already mentioned above.)

Or maybe I'm a little skittish about injecting God into the subject.

Laer at Cheat Seeking Missiles points us to this piece in Spiked, in which writer Mick Hume says:

If some crackpot preacher suggested that the South Asian disaster was God's vengeance for the sins of the tourist trade, there would be justifiable outrage. Yet if today's eco-preachers imply that it is somehow Nature's revenge for the arrogance of humanity, we are supposed to feel humble and nod along, head bowed.

I don't care for the notion that the tsunamis were God's vengeance, though the comparison above is certainly one worth thinking about. But I must not let myself leave God completely out of the picture.

The elephant in my mind's living room is this: "Why does God allow these things to happen?" I can't give an answer. In fact, I'd be skeptical about any answer that didn't boil down to Job's response to God. Any response I could make would be speaking of things I do not understand. But I have to believe that God is still in control; that he is not powerless.

A great book if you're in the mood to ponder these things is Philip Yancey's Disappointment With God, in which Yancey delves into the questions raised by the story of Job. Yancey writes that Job is not really a book about suffering, but a book about faith in its starkest form. (It was through reading this book that Job became my favorite book of the Bible.)

Faith is easy in easy times. But faith isn't for the easy times. Faith is for those difficult times when our mere human reasoning throws down the gauntlet and demands answers. I think my only answer is that God is God and I am not. I cannot explain why he allowed this to happen. I cannnot explain why he allows pain and suffering of any kind. Flannery O'Connor once wrote that a God we understood would be less than ourselves. But I know that in this crisis, we are called to be God's hands and feet to the world.

I think faith is my only answer, and I pray it's enough.


At 1:19 PM, Blogger The Anchoress said...

Ugh. Makes me shudder. I'll link to this later today! :-)

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

"Faith isn't for easy times" - good point. Worthwhile things are difficult, not easy



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