This Sunday, I just couldn’t bear church service any longer.
These last days, I followed the horrible news from Japan closely: First, the strongest earth quake, in recorded history causing a tsunami that swept away half a city. Together these two disasters already took at least ten thousand lives. Then comes the nuclear melt down, or not melt down, the news and officials contradict each other, but even the most harmless descriptions of what happens in Fukushima sound horrible.
And then there’s also still Gaddaffi, who slaughters his own people and injustices we don’t even see anymore because we’ve become so used to them. Oh, and I have my Abitur (final German high school exams) coming, which doesn’t really scare me, but should actually have all my attention right now.
So this Sunday morning I’m watching the news and again I’m praying for Japan, praying for the nuclear plant not to melt down but I’m also just f*&%ing afraid of what the speaker is saying next, because all he’s saying conjures a worse and worse picture in my mind. The speaker of the German government talks about how we can’t have a tsunami in Germany and that nuclear power is only a „bridge technology“ meant to be replaced by alternative energies in a few years, but does not say how we ever get passed nuclear energy if we allow the owners of these plants to take all the profits while the state pays for the damages and for the development of alternative energies. The opposition is being critized as „lacking sympathy for the dead and politicising this catastrophe because of the near election“ for demanding we finally shut down our own nuclear plants.
Devastated and looking for solace I went to church – where we sang praise. Songs glorifying God for his awesomeness. One after another. We sang these songs without ever specifying what we praised God for, or explaining how we could praise and not mourn in these moments. The sister leading the service prayed to open the service and in that prayer she expressed her worry and desperation over the state of Japan, but in the liturgy there was not a mention of mourning.
We read out Psalm 91, 7-8 and it sounded like mockery to the dead and homeless in Japan:
A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked
(in the translation she had „wicked“ was translated „pagans“!)
So that’s our answer to suffering in the world??: Luckily it didn’t hit us.
Of course I’m happy this didn’t happen in Germany, and probably I should thank Gott for it. But I can’t and won’t. I’m not the psalmist who is in the middle of danger and is happy to have gotten out of there. I just see the ten thousand und I refuse to give thanks.
The sister who was leading the service had planned the liturgy before the disaster, of course, and didn’t even realize how her songs and texts sounded under these new circumstances. She just wanted to thank God from the bottom of her heart.
But I couldn’t and wouldn’t.
After three songs, I just stood up and went out, my mum ran after me, but she understood how I was feeling and that I couldn’t go back inside. She went back and I took a walk. In the forest I wrestled with God and mourned for the Japanese.
God can bear my charges and consoles me. But right now, I don’t want to be consoled. Consoled sounds a lot like fleeing from the grim reality. Just hoping for other times, for the kingdom of heavens, for apocalypse to happen. Apocalypse, which some evangelicals imagine a lot like what’s happening in Japan.
I don’t want to be consoled. I want God to justify himself. To wrestle with me, to tell me the answer to theodizee, the answer to Jesus cry: „Eli, eli, lama sabachtani?“
This catastrophe happened in the beginning of lent, in which we remember and prepare ourselves for the suffering and death of our redeemer. I like this time, because it is the time of the liturgical calender we become more conscious of the suffering around us and are challenged to become followers of Christ who suffered because of injust humans.
But even following Jesus won’t prevent natural catastrophes (though it might stop nuclear disasters).
Were there earth quakes in Paradise?
When I had left the service someone said she also couldn’t thank and once she said this many people agreed with her. They spontaneously changed the liturgy and were silently and outspokenly mourning to God.
I love my congregation for being so open and the sister who was leading the service was willing to change everything once she realized what was going on. I also wrote her a mail explaining my behaviour. She hasn’t yet responded, but I think, we are reconciled.