As I was preaching on “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favours!”, the waves were rushing to shore. As I was enjoying a fellowship meal with the church folks, the tsunamis were beginning to claim lives. Perhaps I should have preached from the book of Ecclesiastes.
Penang (Malaysia) has never experienced tsunamis before. Therefore the 66 Malaysian dead is already 66 too many. Unfortunately the number pales in comparison to what could be a total death toll of 100,000 or more.
We were aghast at the hundreds of children killed in Beslan, and pained by the continuing death of innocents in Iraq. But God seems to need little help to take lives in the thousands in one fell swoop.
Recently a good friend asked me what should be included in a curriculum for young working adults. Surprisingly I was stumped, surprising because this has been my primary ministry target group for years.
Instead of rattling off my usual list of topics, like vocational discernment, realistic spiritual disciplines, etc., I finally said that the most important thing I would try to convey to struggling young working adults is that life really has meaning. And that it really meant something to try to live out Christian values in the marketplace.
When I said that I had in mind the thousands of a new generation of working stiffs who are being chewed up by the work schedules of an economy more and more defined by globalization. Perennially tired and stressed out, they constantly wonder what life is all about.
Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that before we even try to nurture our young believers in anything, we must first ensure that they know that life has meaning, that there is a God, and that He has revealed Himself to us in the historical person of Jesus Christ. Otherwise why bother?
But does life have meaning? The recent tsunami catastrophe begs the question yet again. Young and old alike were swept away. The killing waves didn’t care if you were rich or poor, good or bad, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or happy hedonist.
Are we fooling ourselves, propping up our sanity with our convictions about meaning, morality, and about God? Are pessimists more honest?
In his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Michael Eaton reminds us that “pessimism literature” is hardly new. He tells us of works like the ‘Dialogue of Pessimism’, a 14th century Babylonian work, that proposes suicide as “the only answer to the problem of life.”
Most of us are probably too cowardly to take our own lives. But there are many forms of suicides. Workaholism, drugs, the unbridled pursuit of pleasure, well, there is more than one way to die.
If there is no God, if this life is all there is, if all reality is confined to what we can perceive with our senses, then the pessimists carry the day. This is precisely the message of Ecclesiastes. If there is no heaven, and all that is “under the sun” is all that there is, then life really has no ultimate meaning and we should make the best of what we have before we die.
Of course the human spirit protests against the notion that life has no ultimate meaning. The popularity of movies like The ‘Matrix’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ speak of the age old beliefs that there is more to life than meets the eye, that life, though hard, has meaning, and that the good guys will win in the end.
What we have to struggle with is the question of whether such sentiments are merely wishful thinking, myths to see us through the dark night. There are no easy answers. Especially in the wake of a disaster of the magnitude of the recent tsunami catastrophe.
In the face of the personal crises I have faced in my life, and in the face of global crises like the tsunami tragedy, I find myself thrown back to the historicity of the Christ event. Jesus Christ was a historical person. He is no myth. He really walked on the dusty roads of Palestine 2,000 years ago.
More than that, this same historical Jesus, died, and rose again on the third day. If death is the ultimate and inescapable madness, here was the only person to have conquered it. I know it is an incredible claim, to die and rise again. But I have gone through the evidence for the resurrection again and again, every time I faced a major crisis of faith in my life, and still find the weight of the evidence sufficient and convincing.
I approach the end of 2004 cold, stunned and paralyzed by the magnitude of the tsunami tragedy. I have no easy answers for myself or for anyone else. There are many, many, many things that God has not told me.
But I do believe that there is more to life than meets the eye, that life, though hard, has meaning, and that the good guys will win in the end. I know this because the God of the universe has made an appearance in history and has demonstrated that it will be life, and not death, that has the last word.
Good Friday and Easter cannot come too early in 2005.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan