I refuse to give thanks

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?

Post Scriptum:

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.

Comments (7)

  1. joe

    Thanks, I felt very similar this morning. I also walked out of a sermon which focussed on the blessings of having a bible in the vernacular.

    Although remembering our own dead, sick and dying seemed appropriate, almost everything else seemed rather sick in the face of (possibly) tens of thousands of dead in Japan.

    I couldn’t hear the sermon because words were spinning around in my head from the Beatitudes – we describe ourselves as blessed because we live in a land where there are no earthquakes or tsunamis, yet Jesus said that those who mourn, those who weep and who are hungry are already blessed. I find it incredibly hard to think of people in this situation as blessed, and if that is blessing, I’m not sure I want it.

    On the other hand, faced with the enormity of a broken world, it is hard to know what to say or do other than the usual things you do. I’m not blaming people for praising God in the only way they know, I just can’t do it.

  2. Pingback: a place of mourning « The Theology of Joe

  3. Frances

    My Dear Friend in Christ,
    This is troubling. There is much suffering in the world and what has happened is a great tragedy and everyday people are victims of enormous injustice, poverty, and nature. Pray without ceasing. I myself do not have two pennies to rub together. I am so grateful that we have enough to eat, good friends, the kindness of strangers, and God’s grace. I will never stop mourning and praying about the tragedies that are reported daily, but there is much to be thankful for. God is with us even in our darkest hour, and he is certainly working miracles in Japan.

  4. Joshua Brockway

    I was in a set of meetings through the weekend, so the flexibility of the worship setting wasn’t an issue….

    Yet, two things come to mind: First, we have culturally rejected lament and Second, we also haven’t read Job in a while. I think there we finally get the picture of critique of God without the threat of losing faith. In other words, shaking our fists at God is not a rejection of God.

  5. SteveK

    For my church of the homeless and mentally ill, we have sorrow and mourning all the time. Our people die, get horribly sick and are abused by many different people. Yet we must remember who God is and give thanks for what He has done, no matter what the tragedies. We also have a time to mourn and a time to lament, every week. But we must balance that out.

    Life is a balance, and our worship times should reflect that. It sounds to me as if you are reacting to a constant imbalance in your worship, not just a current one.

  6. Ben

    SteveK, yes. this was just the trigger moment for something that has moved me for a while now..
    And we engage into a new discussion about mourning in our congregation these days.

  7. Werschevsky

    Hello- I am new here and this is my first comment. First, I want to thank whoever started this website–good resource. Secondly, this post/article was refreshing. However, a couple things came to mind upon reading:

    Yes, Gaddaffi is a ruthless ruler; but so is his opposition. The U.S. military is the party responsible for 1) Gaddaffi being in power and 2) what will soon be a new dictator(s) in power. To place the blame for suffering squarely upon Gaddaffi’s shoulders is to neglect the coercive force of horrendous world leaders working behind the scenes–all so that they can get cheap oil.

    Following Jesus will stop nuclear meltdowns; there will still be non-followers out there, and unless there is complete and total destruction of all technology, the non-believers and the technophiles will ensure that we have subordination to a technological system (cf. French theologian and sociologist Jacques Ellul).

    When the Apocalypse comes, it is not going to be fun for all. The fact of the matter is that many will suffer. From an environmental standpoint, the longer we overpopulate the earth and knowingly or unknowingly destroy God’s creation for the sake of “wealth,” the harder and more painful things will be when a great change finally arrives.

    In your post, I found this to be one of the most poignant lines:

    “So that’s our answer to suffering in the world??: Luckily it didn’t hit us.”

    That seems to be the way people these days–selfishly.

    Anyway, glad to have found this website.


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