Like many of you, I’ve been watching video of the tsumami that destroyed towns in northeastern Japan, and have been stunned by the immensity and power of the water. Pray for the people; their anguish will last a long time.
The loss of life is devastating and the lost will be mourned. More than 11,000 have been confirmed dead. Perhaps it seems in poor taste to recall the houses, vehicles, businesses and whole towns lost, but walk with me. First, they will be bitterly missed by those who lived a long time in those communities, and especially by those who depended on the security of a home and have no equal resources. So, too, as we age, it’s hard not to think about the items, places and thing we’ll leave behind: these are our visible legacy, and tied up with the idea of “leaving the world better than I found it.” The houses, street life and communities washed away destroyed the accomplishment of generations that died long before the earthquake and tsunami. Time and fortune are the great destroyers.
As a Christian, and a Protestant at that, it’s hard not to think about what has been lost in the faith but, unlike a natural disaster, the losses are of our own making. To try and overcome the errors and abuses in the middle ages, Protestants have developed a particular attitude towards it. In short, remove anything that stands between us and an imagined, pure, undivided Apostolic Age. For many low-church Protestants, God revealed all that was necessary for salvation in the scripture, and then has been curiously mute since. Or perhaps God is heard to speak, but centuries of Christians past are thought corrupt, superstitious and untrustworthy. Few would say as much, but the implication is there when “the truth” is carefully traced through a particular line down the ages. Universalists, too, have been guilty of this.
But our tradition also offers some ways, here in the form of question, to make some sense of the enormous and ambiguous past. (I’m thinking of the touching stories of “memorabilia” hunters who glean the ravaged areas for photos and other irreplaceable artifacts.) First, does the thrust of a particular Christian community honor God’s love and glory, or obscure God’s being? Next, do the virtues cultivated in a particular Christian community lead to happier and richer lives in its members, and non-members nearby? Also, is a particular Christian community able to allow predictable — it need not be limitless — spectrum of views without coercing minority opinions? And, last for now, does a particular Christian community value a reasonable and practical approaches to measuring claims to truth? With these ways in mind, it’s possible to step back and now ask: what guideposts should we first put back up? what lost homes restored?
(As for Japan: keep up with the news at NHK World.)