by: Aaron Walsh
With recent days placing our nation in an hour unique to her history, I hope to communicate over the following weeks and perhaps months some of the essential issues we must work through, that we might respond rightly to what is a defining moment for the New Zealand Church. As our land attempts to regain her footing following the February earthquake in Christchurch, the unfolding events have left a permanent mark on my heart and an indelible mark on our small nation. It has truly been a national disaster in every sense of the word—it is not just one city’s burden, but has rightfully become the burden of a country. What has happened in that beautiful city is forcing us to confront, on a corporate level, how to navigate through waters commonly misunderstood and poorly communicated: the appropriate response to a national crisis.
Tears have stolen our eyes many times as images and stories from a destroyed city have confronted us with grief; we have also proudly wept as we’ve observed self-sacrificial love emerge from the people of Christchurch and the greater family of Aotearoa. We have fallen in love with the church of Jesus in the city as she has displayed His heart to a broken community—the response has been heroic and Godly. Many of those on the front lines are friends who are objects of our greatest love and respect, our hearts swelling with admiration towards their response. On a personal level, I have found myself thanking God for allowing me to be associated with such noble men and women.
Yet in the midst of all this, my heart has also been unsettled. To say it clearly, my distress has no origin in the response to the crisis. The trouble I have been feeling is rooted in the statements concerning God’s role in the crisis. Many ideas and opinions have been publicly offered to bring clarity to confusion, two of which I’d like to address.
One of the city’s historical landmarks and oldest congregations, the ChristChurch Cathedral, suffered such incalculable damage, it was one of six sites of greatest concern in the search-and-rescue efforts following the quake. A few days after the event, the Rev. Peter Beck, Dean of the Cathedral, made a statement that has resonated deeply with many: “[The earthquake] was not an ‘Act of God.’ This is the earth doing what it does. The act of God is how we love each other, how we reach out to one another.” While I wholeheartedly agree with the fingerprints of God being left throughout the city by men and women who have loved like Jesus, I do have much hesitancy in removing the sovereign activity of God out of the equation.
The other deeply grieving message has been a flippant declaration that this was indeed a judgment of God. I have witnessed self-proclaimed prophets indicate, with a sense of smug self-justification, that this is what happens to cities who don’t listen to their words. God is portrayed to them as an angry, belligerent Being devoid of mercy and love.
My posture in writing this is not to actually comment specifically on the Christchurch earthquake, but rather the challenge therein for us to consider our response to a face of God most of us have not wanted to acknowledge or consider. I believe these events have unveiled a potential flaw in the theology of the New Zealand Church; it has become popular to believe that God has nothing to do with the earthquake in Christchurch. Personally, I don’t feel like I have enough clarity to make such a statement. But what I do know is that the God of the Bible has used natural disasters to awaken a nation to His love. These events have revealed that we don’t have an image of God that allows for discipline and judgment.
This is not to suggest that that now is the time to be proclaiming from the rooftops that we are under the judgment of God. People must be given time to mourn, to recover and to rebuild. What is of utmost importance in coming weeks, months and years is how we respond to God. His jealousy over this land is immense; His gaze is upon us—our response cannot be underestimated.
Though this is not a popular message, it is one that I deeply convicted about. A statement that I recently read by R.C Sproul sums up some of my own pain and wrestling:
“You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true,
not want you want the Bible to say is true.”
If ever these words are pertinent; it is now.