Tuesday, March 15

Japan: The Unreported Catastrophe

The massive earthquake that hit off the coast of Japan triggered a tectonic shift that moved the sea floor dozens of feet - resulting in a huge wave that hit the country's coastline only minutes after the main impact of the quake. In the aftermath, journalism has blurred into the sensational, as nuclear power plants experience one-in-a-million scenarios and declare nuclear emergencies, thousands are declared dead or missing, and the fragile world economy floats, waiting for impact from the potential devastation of its 3rd-largest contributor. Video feeds show cars, boats, houses, and planes that were picked up by the tsunami and smashed into bridges, buildings, and homes, crushing signs of society in a moment. Tens of thousands are without homes, and even as I write, the world stands poised to potentially face a nuclear catastrophe that would put Chernobyl to shame.

But there is another story that I have not seen reported - a story whose metaphors, to me, are far more compelling than fields of devastated homes and whose impact dwarfs a nuclear meltdown.

Alongside each natural disaster in the course of humanity comes a potential crisis in the faith of mankind. Some are able to see and understand the hand of God in all things, including catastrophes of nature... but some, upon witnessing the suffering of mortality, look to the sky and wonder, "Why?"

Their questions are heartfelt and sincere. Why would a loving God allow such massive suffering to occur? How could He stand back and watch as Saints and sinners are swept away, leaving families torn apart and dreams ravaged? Why doesn't He intervene on our behalf, if He truly loves us, and has the power to help us? Why do bad things happen to good people?

In the wake of the tidal wave that destroyed Japan came a wave of doubt, anguish, and despair that, with instant global communication, swept the entire modern world without warning. People as far away as the UK and Norway felt its impact... and as I write no number has even been begun to count the casualties of faith. Countless men and women, watching the story unfold through newspaper and television, will turn to the sky and curse God, or decide to simply deny His presence altogether. And while the ravages on the economy, human life, and infrastructure will prompt immediate reconstruction, rebuilding faith, in some cases, may never happen.

Families will be torn apart, lives destroyed, dreams shattered as members of humanity lose faith in their Creator. But, unlike the wave that left only devastation in its wake, there is another side to this story. Because while some of humanity questions the existence of a loving God in the face of adversity, others turn to Him, and grow stronger and stronger in their faith.

All over the world, men and women who haven't prayed for years feel a desire to kneel and approach God, imploring Him to bless their lives and give them hope and understanding. They find peace in doing their part to help rebuild a ravaged world - to open their homes and checkbooks for people they don't know - the nameless brothers and sisters of humanity - with an assurance that their monetary investments will never bring a physical return. Others turn from their sins and ask God to help them rebuild the infrastructure of their lives - abandoning alcoholism to return to a family, resolving feuds and fights, and combining to help change the world.

So what is the answer? If He truly loves us and has the power to alleviate suffering, why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?

The answer is this: He doesn't.

In God's eyes, all things work together for the good of those that love God and serve Him. The earthquake in Japan, like the personal catastrophes that happen every day, gives me an opportunity to choose - to turn to Him and grow in faith, or turn away. To reach out and help my fellow men, or to simply continue life as if nothing had ever happened. And in that choice lies the essence of mortality. This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God... and what we do and who we are in this life determines our relationship with Him.

I'll continue finding ways to help with the physical devastation of Japan. People need food, clean water, shelter, and safety to regain their lives. But, as I do, I know that a greater crusade will be gathering the invisible casualties of faith - finding ways to heal the brokenhearted, lift up the downcast, and raise the spiritually dead. I'm just another guy who happens to write here on (Gay) Mormon Guy. Someday, when the books are opened, I hope that I can read of the miracles that are happening and will take place as men and women of faith turn to God and do their part to rebuild their spiritual world. Hopefully, when my name is mentioned, I'll be able to say I did my part.


  1. I know a lot of Mormons that agree with you. In fact, I agree with the macro elements of what you are saying. I love God, and I know that He loves me. I know that God loves each and every one of his children. I also know that He is the only one that can truly understand, truly empathize.

    However, as I live with difficulties {I am bipolar and experienced postpartum psychosis] and tragedies {I have a 3 yo daughter trapped in a body that doesn't work but a mind that does} I know that such statements are always simplistic.

    At such times as these, it is indescribable what happens in the hearts and minds of people. It is not our place to judge where peoples' hearts and souls are, no matter what they say or do. There are times when the application of the Atonement extends to our environment, our history, the chaotic horror that strikes in the night. Capacities can be breached even if we are doing the very best we possibly can.

    Mental illness is a case in point.

    I can see how it makes sense and your literary point to distill things down to a simple choice. I am so glad you make the choices that you do. However, there are factors in responding to a crises that are simply beyond turning toward God and turning away.

    I guess what bothered me the most is this: God does let bad things happen.

    I understand that you are speaking in an eternal religious sense. So am I. It will literally take eternity for me to add up all the trillions of things happening to my daughter every day and weigh it out against all that we learn from her condition that is good. The Japanese people are feeling very much the same way right now. It does no good to call a bad thing something it is not.

    What I do agree with, and what most people interacting briefly with a tragedy try to do, is to extend goodness. Whether it be prayers alone, or a smile. It doesn't really help tragic heroes to comfort them about their circumstances.

    What does help is simple acts of good. Helping a child in front of them. Picking up something someone else has dropped. Such things felt and seen repeatedly can recondition any heart to remember that life-in its ecstasies and agonies-is essentially good. Those sweet spots are savored due to the depth of experience from the bitter tragedy.

    I do not mean to go on and on. Tragedy is just something that I understand, and it is easier to help others understand when it is not in my personal life about my own experience. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there.

  2. JBS:

    I don't just write things because I believe them. I write them because I know they're true... usually because I learned them the hard way. I have more than enough personal experience with trials and tragedy in my life to call this my own... and that is why I still, truly and sincerely and with all of my heart and soul, believe what I wrote. God loves me and while difficult and painful things will happen, they are essential parts of my life to teach me the things I need to learn to return to Him. And it is the same with all those who are righteously following Him. It says it in the scriptures over and over. All things work together for the good of them that love God and serve Him. Even if the jaws of hell gape against thee, know my child that my kindness shall not depart from thee... All these things shall be for thy good and give thee experience. Men are that they might have joy.

    Sometimes here on (Gay) Mormon Guy I write about things that are general statements. This one is not. It is an eternal truth that I know to be central to the gospel and central to faith. This is the good news of the gospel - that man has been set free and there is meaning in the chaos of mortality. The paralysis your daughter faces has a purpose that will ultimately give her, and those around her, the opportunity for exaltation in a way impossible otherwise. If God could teach us any other way, He would. But He values our happiness, in this life and the next, too much to allay the suffering that allows mankind to come closer to Him.

    God does not allow bad things to happen to good people. Painful things? Yes. Difficult things? Yes. Things that make us question the very purpose of our existence? Yes. Because in the thralls of our suffering our hearts are opened to experience the changing power of God... and it is worth it. Not just in eternity, but in this life. And I can say that from experience.

  3. I have always felt that God loves his children and we cannot confuse what he "does" with what he allows to happen for his own wise purpose. The flip side of all this distruction is the out pouring of love and the humbling of people. When 9/11 happened people huddled in their churches (no matter their religion) and prayed for those that died, those injured, those left behind, their country, their families and themselves. We see similiar feelings of humility after every major disaster. I don't know why God takes one person and leaves another, but "I know that God loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things."

  4. Gay Mormon Guy, you're amazing! Your level of honesty and your perspective are off the charts. Thank you for filling a void in the dialogue. You must be an exceptional human being.

  5. Autumn:

    While it may seem sufficient to say that God allows some things to happen, and directly does others, He is ultimately in control. Whether by His hand or the hand if his servants (the earth, His followers, the waves of the sea), it is the same. As we look at each circumstance, we learn about His nature. He allows men choice so that they can prove their loyalty to Him and become exalted. But most natural disasters are not caused by choice... and their effects far outweigh the consequences in which God usually involves Himself. If He will answer a child's prayer for rain, and send rain, how can we honestly say that He just let a tidal wave crash into Japan. He is omnipotent and omniscient... and, as such, all things that happen on the natural side of the Earth are His doing - whether He set the clock and let it run its course, or caused it to happen at the exact moment. And there are plenty of examples of natural disasters which are sent by God, each with the goal of anything He sends - to help His children come to Him.

    I can't claim that I know all things, either, but I know that God is all-powerful, and that He is the ruler of the earth and sky and the waves upon the sea. And, whatever happens and whatever faces me in my life, He loves us and wants us to return to Him, and will do anything in His power to make that happen.

  6. Just found your blog and I am intrigued and crying all at the same time. After spends a wonderful morning in the temple praying for people all over the world, I am in tears reading your passionate words of wisdom. I am so uplifted to read about someone who is struggling and finding a purpose with life. May God Bless you and those around you!


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