Myanmar, also known as Burma, is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. But on Saturday, her pain and poverty were multiplied beyond measure.
A 120 mph cyclone, now being called one of the most disastrous storms in history, created a 12 foot tidal wave that, in the words of one survivor, “jumped out of the ocean” and surged across densely populated delta areas. Today newswires are reporting 24,000 confirmed dead, and another 41,000 are missing. Over a million are without homes and survivors are facing critical food and health issues. Some fear that the death toll could go above 60,000.
This is the kind of disaster that causes some to raise their fists against the heavens, while others fall on their knees begging for mercy.
Some of us barely think twice about the groans of families on the other side of the world. Others assume that such disasters only occur to those who deserve them.
But assuming that victims of disaster deserve such pain more than we do might be a dangerous thought.
I’m reminded of a conversation between Christ and his disciples. The Gospel writer Luke tells us that someone told Jesus that, “Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem.” Jesus responded, “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than other people from Galilee?” …”Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God. And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish.” (Luke 13:1-5).
On first impression, these words may sound harsh. But could they be some of the most insightful and loving words we have ever heard? Could Jesus’ response be exactly what we need to avoid detaching ourselves from the plight of others by assuming that they are more deserving of suffering than we are? Is it possible that, more than anything else, we all need once again to be humbled before our God so that we can find, or rediscover, our life in Christ–and a larger heart for others in the process?
Isn’t it when we see ourselves as more than victims, deeply loved, and faithfully provided for, that we can really begin to care about the pain of others? Isn’t it only then that we will be able to identify with Jesus as he cried over the plight of his own people saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me” (Matt 23:37).
I don’t think I’m wrong to hear in “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem” “Ohhhhh Myanmar, Myanmar.” What the Bible says about Jerusalem isn’t just about Jerusalem. God chose Israel, to make a loving example of her, to show how he loves the people of Myanmar, Iran, and all the people of the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we can live under the weight of international suffering–or even our own sometimes for that matter. Only God can bear such awareness. But feeling no pain but our own… doesn’t seem like a good alternative–especially for those who have embraced the mission of Christ.
What about you do you also wonder what to feel when you read or hear about what others are enduring? Have you faced the decision of whether to let the suffering of others push you to God or away from him? If to him– have you found that it changes the way you look at yourself– and others?