It is an age of earthquakes. Upon us now is a terribly troubled time.
The recent Japanese earthquake is particulary alarming, not only because of its size and effects, but because Japan is a very sophisticated country. This speaks to the vulnerability of other advanced, industrial nations. It wasn’t like the tsunami that struck Sumatra (Indonesia) in 2004 and killed more than 300,000 people. Those third world southeast Asian environs are characterized by massive populations concentrated in areas of poverty, inadequate infrastructure, careless governments, and general ignorance and abuse. Such a catastrophe, there, is not so terrifying to the West as is this current disaster in Japan.
Tide of 1,000 bodies overwhelms Japan. By JAY ALABASTER and TODD PITMAN, Associated Press TAKAJO, Japan – A tide of bodies washed up along Japan’s coastline Monday, overwhelming crematoriums, exhausting supplies of body bags and adding to the spiraling humanitarian, economic and nuclear crisis after the massive earthquake and tsunami.
It seems devastation is closing in on the world like a long awaited enemy. Human government is powerless before Nature. This is a most unsettling prospect. It is proper to say, nonetheless, that the strength and scope of disaster, both human and natural, are increasing–in their impact and in their frequency. An age of anxiety is upon us, even a time of terror.
In ancient Hebrew cosmology, of course, the concept of sudden creation is accompanied by the counterpart of sudden destruction. The cataclysmic end of the world seems to have been in the vision of the prophets since the world’s beginning. Just consider these few verses:
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
For he spake and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. Psalm 33: 6, 9.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the hight; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with a fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. II Peter 3: 10.
It is a recurring theme throughout the Bible, Old and New Testament. There is no denying this apsect of scripture, whether one is disposed to interpret it literally, metaphorically, or otherwise.
Hollywood has certainly taken full advantage of the entertainment value of global terror, human or natural. mass disaster is a box office winner almost everytime. Movies like Independence Day (1996), Volcano (1997), the current blox office killer Battle Los Angeles 2011, and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) bring home the remarkable tragedy of cataclysmic ending to all we know.
Religion is certainly a benefactor of disaster as well. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between religion and entertainment. End of the world notions have always been the most profound of religious sentiments. Even the children’s move The Dark Crystal (1982) was able to combine religion and entertainment in a most convincing albeit mystical manoeuver. In the 19th century, literature had its take on the subject, but, unlike other writers, Edgar Allan Poe actually believed it. He took the religious basis of cataclysm completely seriously. My research as a Harvard graduate student resulted in a text, The End of the World in Poe (2009), (which, for the moment, is open to some online reading).
Notice, today, however, that these great disasters are occurring at centers of mass, concentrated population. This is perhaps the most compelling factor to consider. Has anyone heard of 8.9 earthquakes in the Gobi Desert of western China? No. Instead there was an 7.1 earthquake in Quinghai Province (2010) killing hundreds, injuring thousands. And the Haitian quake (2010) which killed over 300,000, leaving millions homeless and in dire want.
Disaster seems aimed at mass populations. Something about masses of humanity tempts nature to destory. What is the proper way to describe these circumstances?
Again, the ancient Hebrew account is pertinent. Mass concentration of humanity seems improprietous. The metropolis has a bad name, from the beginning. The command given to humanity at creation was simple enough: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” Genesis 1:28. But, after the Flood, man again manifest he aversion to his Creator, and concentrate his efforts in a metropolis called the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The Lord intervened, and broke up the rebellion, scattering man “upon the face of all the earth.”
In Jewish orthodox lore, even today, there is the thought that concentrated iniquity draws fire, either from man or from HaShem (the Lord). These things are difficult to determine or to evaluate, but, the sentiment is alive today. What is the cause of disaster? Dare we ask Job? Or Jesus? Can it in any way be diverted? Is there anything man can do to avoid it, or protect himself from it?
We can look to one intense verse of scripture, Psalm 91: 7-10:
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at they right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.
Because thou has made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation;
There shall no evil befall thee…
An irresistable appeal, indeed. Yet, as we consider it more carefully, we have to realize that “evil” may not mean exemption from pain or disaster, but from simply from the reward of the wicked.
These things are deeply troubling, but it is more than appropriate to ponder them. Not only do we have incredible media coverage today, but, disaster is indeed more frequent, and larger, and more and more lives are lost. The most basic reaction should be one of grave concern.
The Lord through Moses warned the Israelites as they came to inherit the land of Cana’an. They were not to behave like the heathen before them, “that the land spue you not out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.” Leviticus 18:28. No, we cannot judge our fellowman. But, we are given a divine “heads up.” I think we should really take a second look at what’s happening in our world.