2011/03/20           [ 「主よ、なぜですか」 の英訳]"Why, Lord?" 
―Crying From  the Ruins―  In remembrance of the victims of Higashi Nihon disaster Psalm 6:1-11

We have passed ten days since the unprecedented earthquake and tsunami that assaulted the Pacific coast and interior Tohoku region and Northern Kanto region, and this morning we are meeting the eleventh day. It feels much longer than the exactly 10 days that have passed. With the exception of the two members of our congregation who experienced the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, which killed more than 100,000 people, this is the largest scale damage and destruction caused by a natural disaster that we have seen in our lifetime. Even here in Tokyo, we felt shaking so strong we almost could not stay on our feet.

Immediately following the earthquake, a tsunami of heretofore unseen proportions attacked a huge swath of the Pacific coast in the Tohoku region, swallowing towns and people. For those of us living in Tokyo, we merely witnessed it through the cathode-ray tubes of our television sets, but the menace of nature rendered us speechless.

After that, on and on until we wanted to cover our eyes, images came hurtling toward us. The burning petrochemical complex in Chiba prefecture, the entire city of Kessennuma ablaze as though it had experienced an air raid, the damage to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Before we even had time to be shocked by the fire at the petrochemical complex, before the television screen faded to black after the sea of fire ravaged Kessennuma, before we could even catch our breath, there was the astonishing image of the Fukushima nuclear power plant exploding. But more than anything, that unspeakable number of victims and missing… The possibility that it was more than 20,000 people, according to numerous media reports.

The survivors, having escaped from this danger, have had their homes taken, their loved ones taken from them. The damage is on such a scale, the victims are so many, that we can not send enough food, potable water, blankets, kerosene. The transportation infrastructure received such a heavy blow that even as it is being restored little by little, we are unable to secure enough gasoline to transport the supplies they need.

It was such a heavy blow that everything has fallen into dysfunction. Who could imagine that Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is known for its medical rescue missions to Third World nations, would send 50 staff members to Japan? We are that much damaged and dysfunctional.

On top of all of that, a merciless cold front is assaulting the affected area. The Sankei Newspaper commented that it was “just like a game of Japanese chess problem (tsumeshogi).”

I am one who has seen affliction
under the rod of God’s wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long.
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has put heavy chains on me;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
he has made my paths crooked.
He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
he bent his bow and set me
as a mark for his arrow.
He shot into my vitals
the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughingstock of all my people,
the object of their taunt-songs all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
(Lam. 3:1-15, NRSV)

Those of us living in Tokyo cannot possibly understand what the people of the Tohoku region have been through. And yet, even in Tokyo we are experiencing a millionth of their suffering in terms of, among other things, the shortages of kerosene and gasoline, shortages of food products, and rolling blackouts. This is especially affecting shut-ins, the elderly, and infants. Many foreigners, including missionaries, are escaping Japan. Among the victims are those foreigners who can not leave and who do not understand even a word of Japanese. Tokyo Electric Company’s homepage, Hachioji City Hall’s announcements are all in Japanese [Tokyo Electric Company has since added English, Chinese, and Korean pages]. The general public has fallen into a panic and its selfish hoarding has caused an unnecessary shortage of supplies for the people who need them most. It’s shameful. Seitoku Kindergarten, which is next door to our church, has cancelled almost itsentire last week of this school year because of uncertainty over whether they could secure enough gas to run the school buses or enough food to provide school lunches.

The Psalmist cries out:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord〓how long?
Turn, O Lord, save my life;
deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
they grow weak because of all my foes.
(Psalm 6:1-7, NRSV)

I do not take the position that this earthquake is God’s wrath. I do not think that this event was a punishment like the flood in the story of Noah’s ark. However, through this earthquake, I have come to understand the Psalmist a little better. He was suffering so much that he became trapped in the thought that, “is this not God’s wrath and punishment.” No matter how much he searched for God, he could not find God; as much as he called on God, he could only hear God’s silence.

He cries out anxiously.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord〓how long?

With this cry, I am also crying out. “LORD, how long?” Believing in God, living in faith, is not a theological word game. We believers also raise our cry. We cry out with the man who was swept away by the tsunami clasping a photograph of his grandchildren to his chest. We cry out with the cries of the victims, with the groans of the bereaved families. “Why, Lord?”

Already I have been asked by several of my friends the difficult questions, “Does God exist?” “Does God protect us?” If I try, I can answer them with the sound argument, “It is not right to call the God of which you speak〓a God that you can command〓God. You are bringing God down to your level, and making yourself into God.” However, in these circumstances,making such an argument is meaningless. Furthermore, to say that God has nothing to do with the forces of nature, to completely separate the two, to embrace deism does not help either. Or, in the opposite direction, to take a theodicy-like position, to defend God’s relation to the movement of nature, does not help. It is impossible for us finite human beings to defend the infinite God.

My soul is crying out to you, O God! Lord, I cannot understand. Tell me, why?

I might be scolded by God, “back off, human,” but to God, who is deeply compassionate, it is permissible to raise your voice. The Psalmist often groaned to God like that. When we pray, “Father, have mercy,” we confess that we are God’s children.