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The Japan Disaster — “What is Man…?”

My wife and I were privileged to visit the Hawaiian islands for the first time recently—in fact, just a week or so before the Japan catastrophies. The islands give abundant evidence of volcanic eruptions and lands formed at least to a degree by lava flows (yes, on one calm day a tour-guide warned of the danger of tsunamis!).

But one surely comes away from such a trip with great admiration for the beauty of creation, on the one hand, and with considerable respect for the destruction that “nature” can cause, on the other.

It was less than a week after our safe return (thank You, Lord!), that we witnessed those horrific scenes on our televisions with the earthquake(s) in Japan and resultant tsunamis (some minor ones also on Hawaii and the coasts of Oregon and California). In Japan thousands of people have perished—buildings, houses, cars, even sizeable boats and ships tossed about as toys by the careening waves.

Japanese FlagOne conservative news commentator was heard to say that witnessing these events makes man “appear insignificant.” We know what he means, don’t we? While the Creator God has given man “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28), these tragic events underscore how limited that dominion is. Simply put, man is far from being in charge or in control of what God has created and over which He has ever since exercised sovereign control!

With all this, one Scripture that comes to mind is the eighth psalm. After extolling the glory of God on display in His creation, the psalmist goes on to ask: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?…” (8:3)

Man in his God-given dominion role has done and continues to do great and wonderful things. He has constructed supersonic planes to “touch the face of God” miles above and around the planet; he has built huge ocean-liners (including our cruise ship!) to ride the mighty seas; he has constructed nuclear powerplants, harnessing atomic energy for the use and betterment of society. And the list goes on and on….

Yet in the wake of what happened in Japan, one can only ask, “what is man” in the face of the “acts of nature”?! And despite all man’s accomplishments, it is clear he is absolutely helpless and powerless when the earth quakes, the winds blow, the ocean waves and tides move.

Why is this so? What happened to mankind’s divinely-given dominion?

Fore and Aft—A Spiritual Tragedy!

What happened is recorded for all to read in Genesis chapter 3! Mankind’s fall into sin was tragic both for himself (“…in the day that you eat of [the forbidden fruit] you shall surely die”—Genesis 2:17), and also for the whole of God’s perfect creation which (simultaneously with man’s fall into sin) came under the “bondage of corruption,” even as it “groans and labors with birth pangs” awaiting with mankind its ultimate deliverance (see Romans 8:18ff).

Here’s how one exposition of the eighth psalm puts it:

“Through the fall into sin mankind’s fellowship with God was broken, and their dominion over the universe was diminished. We can still use the intelligence God has given us to gain a partial understanding and control over the world in which we live. But human beings no longer have uncontested dominion over the earth. The peace which ruled in Eden is gone…. We are killed by our own machines and poisoned by our own pollution. Thousands of people perish in earthquakes and other natural disasters. Inevitably the day comes when each of us must return to the ground from which we were created” (The Peoples’ Bible, Psalms, Vol. 1, p. 65f). [To this commentary we could add an observation of our own. The line “we are killed by our own machines and poisoned by our own pollution” is prescient of the disasters even now multiplying in Japan due to nuclear power-plants disintegrating and spewing out toxic atomic debris upon her people!]

It is sad—more than that, a spiritual tragedy—that so many (who experience firsthand such natural disasters or, if their life is spared, witness the same secondhand on television or skype screens) are inclined to do the opposite of what the Creator God intends.

What do we mean? This, dear reader: far from being accidental “acts of nature,” the groanings and upheavals within the created world should be recognized for what they indeed are: “acts of God” calling sinners to repentance.

The Creator/Redeemer God unleashes and allows such destructive events upon the human race as preliminary judgments upon a sinful, fallen world. All “acts of nature” are screaming attention-getters. They are precursors to one grand, cataclysmic event at the end of time: that final judgment, when Christ Jesus—who came into this fallen world to rescue and redeem sinners!—shall return to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). “…For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17f).

What has happened in Japan is a call to all people on the planet—not just those directly involved!—to repentance and faith in the one true and living God and His Savior-Son.

Consider such Scriptures as: “He who builds His layers in the sky, and has founded His strata in the earth; who calls forth the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the face of the earth—the LORD is His name” (Amos 9:6). At the same time, we find undying (!) comfort in the fact that “the [same!] LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, than the mighty waves of the sea” (Psalm 93:4). The same LORD “rule[s] the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them” (Psalm 89:9).

And do consider the eighth psalm (cross-referencing Hebrews chapter two) most carefully. It makes crystal clear that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ of God. As such He was and is the world’s Creator who has “everything under His feet….” He, the eternal God, came into this world for the purpose of saving fallen mankind FROM the sin and evil of this fallen world and FOR the next, the paradise of heaven, where all His believing children live to praise Him for eternity—saying both NOW and THEN: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

“Praise the LORD!… Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all the depths; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word…. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 148)

Psalm 8

1 O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have made him to have dominion over the works
of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson,
 Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”