IT'S difficult to find encouraging things to say in the wake of a destructive earthquake or some other tragic occurrence. The suffering and loss are often devastating. And yet at such times we frequently see wonderful illustrations of heroism and strength. We see an outpouring of compassion and practical help from people who may not have been physically touched by the tragedy, but who have been touched profoundly in other ways. Sometimes in the most trying circumstances we catch the clearest glimpses of man's real nature as the expression of the divine nature, of divine Love itself. But how could divine Love, God, allow calamity? How could He permit suffering? Does God exist? And if He does exist, is He helpless to prevent disasters? In the midst of catastrophe such questions naturally tend to arise -- even if not consciously articulated -- and they require persuasive answers.
I've been helped to find answers by looking at the ministry of Christ Jesus. To Jesus, tragic human conditions weren't an indication of God's absence but rather an opportunity to prove His presence. And so he healed sufferers and reformed sinners. The Bible even tells us of an occasion when he calmed a storm at sea.1 He exercised God-derived authority over whatever would deny man's true status as God's blessed, spiritual likeness.
We may feel that what Jesus did has no bearing on our own lives and that in any event so-called ``natural disasters'' are unavoidable. While it would appear that such occurrences are a fact of life, Jesus' ministry points clearly to the availability of divine power to avert tragedy. And his ministry illustrates a fact brought out so clearly in the book of Psalms: ``God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.'' The Psalmist goes on to say, ``Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.... The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.''2
Our most important work, then, could be to understand better that God is Love, infinite Love, and that He doesn't allow evil to thrive, but rather excludes it, as Jesus showed.
It may be argued that there are forces of nature over which we have no control. And yet the message of the Bible is that we can gain dominion over evil; that victory over tragedy is possible because God is supreme. To me, this statement by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, is at the heart of the issue: ``The central fact of the Bible is the superiority of spiritual over physical power.''3
Clearly, we have a long way to go in demonstrating the practicality of spiritual power, but isn't this ultimately where we find refuge -- in God and His might? As Mrs. Eddy says succinctly, ``Man's refuge is in spirituality, `under the shadow of the Almighty.'''4
We sometimes tend to get too comfortable with material living. It's easy to slip into a pattern of thought that pushes God, Spirit, into the background. It's tempting to feel that life will go along pretty much the same way with or without God, and that something called ``spirituality'' has little connection with day-to-day reality. But when the usual order of things is jolted, we gain a different perspective. What seemed so solid and reliable is seen as fragile. What appeared, perhaps, to be an acceptable, albeit materialistic, mode of behavior loses much of its allure.
This is not to suggest that God sends tragedy to punish us. God is invariable Love, who cares for His creation. The true nature of creation, including man, is totally spiritual, expressing His nature as pure Spirit. The need for us all, then, is increasingly to bring our thoughts and lives into harmony with spiritual reality through worship of divine Spirit -- God -- alone. The demand is to have one God, in obedience to the First Commandment, by expressing -- and embodying -- more of the qualities that derive from God, qualities such as purity, love, wisdom, integrity. Then we'll more consistently prove that God is All, and that He cares for man eternally.
Tragedy is not God-sent, and it must inevitably lessen as individuals and humanity as a whole understand God better and anchor their lives in a love for Him, in a love for Spirit. Spirit is our defense and a sure foundation on which to rest our hopes. And Spirit provides for every need.
Simply saying this doesn't diminish the plight of those victimized by disaster. And any one of us would need more than lofty words if faced with great loss. But it is a comfort -- and a practical help -- to know that divine Spirit is our constant refuge and provider. It's the very power of Spirit, of pure Love, that impels the selfless giving we see in times of tragedy and that brings to light the wisest solutions for all concerned.
Human experience has its challenges, to say the least. And we need to view our fellow beings, as well as ourselves, with the utmost compassion as we strive to meet those challenges. But humanity is not helpless. Anchoring our lives more deeply in Spirit, we'll feel its presence and prove its care. The might of Spirit can be seen to overrule the supposed forces of matter as we all recognize more clearly the spiritual, indestructible nature of true creation and the supremacy of God's government.
``God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God.''5 The Psalmist's words may mean little to us in the midst of catastrophe, but they speak of reality in its truest sense, the divine reality that we can take modest steps to prove through our faithfulness to Spirit.
1See Matthew 8:23-27. 2Psalms 46:1, 2, 7. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 131. 4Unity of Good, p. 57. 5Psalms 62:11.