The last few weeks have been an onslaught of natural disasters with Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the earthquake in Mexico City. Our hearts break for those living in the effected areas, but what should be our response? Do we send in teams with the Gospel, offering truth and hope, but neglecting the real needs of the people left in devastation? Or do we focus our efforts only on donating money and assisting with cleanup, never offering the hope of Christ that can bring true healing and peace to the deep scars of trauma and loss? What do the people in Texas, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean need more, the Bible or bottled water?
As a junior in college I had a crisis of faith as I began my nursing school clinical rotations. My theology at the time was that Christ came to die for my sins so I could go to heaven. And, being up close for the first time in my life to raw human pain and suffering, that was no longer holding up as sufficient. I began to question the goodness and love of God.
While painful, that season of life was transformational. During a summer retreat with my campus fellowship we studied the servant songs of Isaiah, a collection of prophecies about Christ. In Isaiah 61:1-3 we read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,….to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (If this passage sounds familiar, it is the one Jesus reads in Luke 4 at the beginning of his ministry, following with the words, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)).
In the months that followed that retreat God showed me that His plan was not just to save me so I could go to heaven, but to redeem all the brokenness that entered the world through sin. He not only knew the pain, injustice and suffering that was going on, He had, through Christ, already presented the solution. In his book, Kingdom Come, author Allen Wakabayashi writes, “When Jesus came to bring the kingdom, everything that God had made was in the scope of what he came to change. The Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the kingdom as a creation-wide intervention where God would come make right all that had gone wrong. Sicknesses would be healed, sins would be forgiven, enmity would be eradicated and the created order would be put at peace”.
Wakabayashi uses the analogy of Aslan in the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. In that story it is always winter, but never Christmas. However, when Aslan returns, the snow begins to melt and springtime breaks through. We see the same in the life of Christ. Wherever He went, the winter of the evil in this world was melted, and a glorious taste of the springtime of His kingdom was given.
So, a Bible or bottled water? Or, perhaps both….
A recent article by Lausanne shows the power of a holistic response. The committed, sacrificial, and long term response by Japanese Christians to the areas of Japan effected by the 2011 tsunami have had profound impact on individual lives, on communities, and even changed the very word for Christian in the language. These Christians weren’t serving physical needs as a method to convert people. Instead they were genuinely bringing the springtime of the kingdom to the communities around them.
As you consider your response to the suffering caused by the natural disasters this week, or the suffering in the lives of your neighbors, co-workers and friends, I encourage you to reflect on the Lausanne article and on the words of Isaiah 61: 1-3. Consider how you might bear witness in word and deed to the healing and redeeming love of Christ, and spread the springtime of His Kingdom everywhere you go.