Prime Minister John Key has called the earthquake on February 22 as possibly our country’s darkest hour. But it wasn’t an hour, it was a mere 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds of phenomenal unthinking power that will demand months, possibly years, of our thoughtful, purposeful and prayerful response. Those 15 seconds have fundamentally changed our lives and the foundations of our second largest city – maybe forever.
Everyone who was here in Christchurch has a story from those seconds. Some are harrowing and painful stories of friends killed, family members missing, horrific injuries and loss of homes, businesses, cars, land and precious possessions. Christchurch is just a village and everyone knows someone who died, everyone knows someone who has lost their home and everyone has lost something.
And then there is Japan. An earthquake four times as long, 9.0 on the Richter scale and followed by a staggeringly destructive tsunami. How can we begin to understand that level of destruction and force? How do we respond?
We start by accepting this wasn’t God’s fault. No one was behind the earthquake, no one caused it. There is no one to blame. The force that caused so much devastation is actually essential to life.
The tectonic plates around our planet ensure the stability of our planet’s water supply and without them we might well be like other planets without water and life. The existence of the tectonic plates and their movement help maintain global temperatures, maintain our biodiversity and enable our planet’s magnetic field which ensures a protective field from lethal cosmic rays. We need these forces to sustain life on planet Earth but these same forces can, in seconds, cause such tremendous damage and suffering.
Rather, we find God in the hands of the rescuers and the care of our neighbours, the tears of those who weep and the goodness of those who so generously and compassionately have come to help.
The hands and words of God are being shown in neighbours cleaning up each other’s back yards, bringing food, sharing meals, providing a cup of tea, telling their stories and asking, “Can I pray for you?
As we move beyond the initial emergency and mourning phase, we as followers of Christ need to be part of the future shaping of Christchurch. We can’t leave this to multi-nationals who may want to come in and buy up cheap inner city land, the Westfields or the city council and government. As followers of Christ we must be what only the body of Christ can be. We must have the goals of God, show the same concerns as Christ and act in the same ways as Christ.
We will have the opportunity, a privileged opportunity, to form that bears the name “Christ-church.” A city for young and old, a city that has green spaces, is ecologically friendly with bike ways and safe parks for all (check out Zechariah 8, Luke 4 and the shape of the eternal city in Revelation 21 for ideas of what is important to God in a city). Christchurch could be a city that is not built around retail malls and high-rise carparks but around people and communities.
We will have the opportunity to shape a city that shares Jesus’ bias for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless and ensures that, unlike the distribution of port-a-loos in the days after the earthquake, our poor and voiceless are cared for and given priority, like Jesus gave them priority.
And finally we have the opportunity to join hands with Christians of all churches across the city, with the support of Christians across the country, to show that our modus operandi is to be like Christ, the servants of the city. The churches won’t lead the way, that is not our job, but we can serve the city. We can influence our communities by caring for those in our street. We can point to the aspirations of scripture for a city and the priorities of Jesus for the poor and marginalised.
When John Key called this possibly our darkest hour he was alluding to a wartime speech of Winston Churchill. Churchill ended by saying, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” The question that lies before us is not whether this is our darkest hour, but whether this will be our finest hour. That will be determined by what we do in our communities andwhat we advocate for.
For an excellent message by Oxford Professor John Lennox on “Why the earthquake,” see the earthquake resources section at www.spreydon.org.nz.
• Alan Jamieson is pastor of Spreydon Baptist Church.