By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.” — Psalms 46:1-3
The season of typhoons and other destructive natural calamities had already begun. These past two weeks we had witnessed through the mass media two among the worst natural calamities in recent times: the powerful Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the devastating earthquake in China, wherein thousands of people died and still missing and countless properties were destroyed. This is not to mention typhoon Cosme that also killed several people and destroyed millions worth of properties in Central Luzon, Northern Luzon and the Cordillera Region.
In Biblical times, natural calamities are viewed as God’s judgment over human wickedness. Or, to put it in another way, they are popularly regarded as natural consequences of human sinfulness. This is true in the case of the story of the Great Flood during the time of Noah (cf. Gen. 6-9), and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah during the time of Lot (cf. Gen. 19). For it seems unbelievable that God is the one causing this natural calamities or what theologians would call as natural evil, given the fact that countless innocent lives are being sacrificed. Besides, the perpetrators of these crimes against the natural world, like the big time loggers, are not the ones directly affected when calamity strikes since they live in sheltered homes and communities.
God as shelter and strength
The Psalmist declares that God is not the cause of natural calamities, but rather our shelter and strength and ready help in times when troubles come to us. The Psalmist says, “God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.” (Ps. 46:1-3)
Natural calamities should serve as reminders for us to realize that there is indeed limit to human power and arrogance. We may be able to cut all the trees and destroy our environment to enrich ourselves; We may be able to arrest, torture, or kill all those who are politically opposing us; We may be able to arrogantly glorify ourselves and build our own beautiful image by manipulating statistics and mass media in order to cover up our corrupt and evil ways; but when calamities strike; nothing, neither wealth, power, nor glory, could ever deliver us from the fury of nature and the judgment of the natural world.
An open letter from Myanmar
Let me share with you for our reflections some of the contents of an open letter forwarded to me from a friend and colleague, Dr. Anna May Say Pa, president of Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT) located in Insein, Myanmar. She wrote the letter in the light of the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The letter says in part:
Once, there was Thabyekyaing village, a quiet coastal village in Labutta township, Ayeyawaddy Division. Once, the laughter of children filled the air as they played football or toke-si-do in the fields and yards. Once, men went out on fishing boats or worked in the fields. Women planted rice, fetched water and firewood and kitchen fires burnt brightly.
Once, on Sunday mornings, the church bell would ring and people would gather to sing, praise and worship God and listen to the pastor, Rev. Maung Bay’s sermon or that of his son, Pastor Klo Htoo. Once, on Lenten days the monastery gong would sound and the Buddhists would go to hear the Sayadaw’s sermons while observing a fast. Once, the village was shady with fruit trees, the gardens with vegetables and the fields green with rice plants or yellow during harvest time.
Now, there is an eerie silence over what once was Thabye Gyaung. The sound of laughter, song and raucous shouting is stilled. The trees, the fields, the houses, school, church, monastery, clinic are no more. Now, what remains is death and destruction, bloated bodies, shattered lives.
On the night of May 2, the Cyclone Nargis with gale force winds, rain and sea water that rose to 17 feet and higher destroyed the village and all the life that had made up that village.
The pastor, Thra Maung Bay died in that disaster. Once, in 1992 Thra Maung Bay had faced flood waters of political in nature in what is known as Bogalay Ayay-Akin (Bogalay Affair). Pro-democracy forces had infiltrated the delta region from across the border. Thra Maung Bay was interrogated, tortured and sent to prison.
But once released, he went back to his village and people, and ministered to them as best as he could in spite of his broken health. His son, Saw Klo Htoo, following the steps of his father went to seminary and became a pastor. But on that fateful night, Pastor Saw Klo Htoo also died. Mrs. Maung Bay survived as she was visiting relatives in Rangoon at that time. Now, she is alone, without family, home and village.
This family’s tragedy is replicated in the areas struck by Cyclone Nargis, Haingyi Island, Labutta, Bogalay, Daydaye, Pyapon, Mawlamyinegyun and Rangoon, and nearby towns. The latest government figure of deaths (12 May ’08) is 85,000. The final figure will surely be higher. Relief work is going on but at a slow rate. Relief goods are accepted but not personnel with expertise. Some camps are experiencing medical problems. Some people still in isolated pockets are without food and water. In Bassein, there are over 2000 survivors in Ko Tha Byu Camp with more arriving every day.
Cry for bleeding, suffering Burma – she is so small, her people struggling so long for survival. It seems as if not only political forces but God Herself/Himself is determined to teach us some sensible lessons. Sermons nowadays sound like platitudes. Our land and our people are being put through the wringer, squeezed dry till there is no more life juice left. Cry with us, cry for us in solidarity in our despair.#