Death, Disasters, and Our Response

“In the midst of life we are in death. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” is a line often quoted during funeral services. Although it is not a quote from the Bible, but from the Anglican prayer book, it is a true statement of fact. A fact we tend to overlook and forget until a disaster strikes like the current death and destruction in earthquake devastated Nepal.

nepal bldgs2The number of dead bodies recovered keeps climbing, has passed 5,000 and may reach 10,000. Another 10,000 are known to be injured. Half a million people have lost their homes. Who knows how many dead or injured are still buried under the hundreds of collapsed buildings. Who knows how many thousands of injured will still die in the makeshift hospitals or first aid stations. We don’t need to know the numbers to realize tens of thousands of families are suffering and in desperate need.

I’m writing this in the safety and comfort of our home 11,000 kilometres from Nepal. I look out my study window and see a faint tinge of green in the tops of some trees, and grass is beginning to sprout in some places on the ground. Spring is here and all is well. You may be reading this in similar pleasant and safe circumstances.

What about us? What is our responsibility as followers of Jesus in the face of this distant but, nonetheless, real disaster?

As soon as I read the news on my computer, I prayed that those who were suffering and dying would sense God’s presence. I prayed that Nepalese Christian believers would take the opportunity to minister to others. I started to pray that people in non-affected areas would send help, but then stopped short, and sent an online donation to a disaster relief organization working in the area. Then I finished my prayer for others to do the same. I didn’t send a large amount, you know how it is around tax time, but if every Christian family in Canada sent what I did, it would make a very significant amount.

And then another thought crept into my mind. A death toll climbing to possibly 10,000 is terrible to imagine, particularly in these devastating circumstances. But even here in relatively safe North America, “in the midst of life we are in death.” The number of people in North America dying each year in vehicle accidents is far greater than the number who died in Nepal this week—more than three times greater. Car crashes kill 35,000 people every year.

These deaths also cause much collateral suffering. Those who die are fathers, husbands, mothers, wives, siblings, and children. Survivors of car crashes are sometimes severely injured, with lifetime disabilities. Even the family members who were not directly involved in the accident sometimes lose their home, can’t finish their education, or in other ways suffer the destruction of their plans for the future.

We, as believers, have a responsibility to these people too. To pray and to help in whatever way we can. And if, or when, this kind of disaster hits our own family, to turn instantly to God and look to Him for help, for comfort, and for guidance for the future.

One more thought about death. In North America, 2,700 babies are murdered every day through abortion at various stages of pregnancy. That’s one million per year. During the late 1970s and early 1980s the abortion rate was nearly double what it is now. Had these multi-millions of babies lived, they would be in their late thirties or early forties right now. Would one of them have discovered the cure for cancer? Or for ebola, diabetes, lupus, mad cow disease, HIV/AIDS? Or even influenza or the common cold?

This ongoing, manmade disaster requires a response from us too. Millions of women who thought an abortion was the easiest way out of a dilemma, but now wish they had not let the doctor kill their babies. They now need comfort, love, and kindness from us as they grieve their loss, and forgiveness from God that He is quick to give to those who ask.

The focus of this column is on our Christian responsibility to bring relief to disasters. But we also have a responsibility to help prevent disasters. Provide better, stronger housing in less dangerous areas, promote safer driving habits, and for women planning the death of their babies, provide loving counselling on  life oriented, alternate options.