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14th February 2023

In response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria that have claimed the lives of thousands, George Makeen, Executive Director of SAT-7 Arabic Channels, offers this reflection on hope in times of chaos.

Last Sunday, I was watching some news before going to bed, and there was a painful report on the suffering of Syrian families living in poorly equipped camps and struggling with severe weather conditions. I spent a night full of nightmares, only to wake up and find reality was more terrifying, with news and images of the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria early on Monday morning. Facing such tragedy, pain, and fear made me feel so hopeless and helpless. What can be said or done for people who had already lost everything, only to find an “act of God” adding to their misery?

Humans are wired to find a meaning. Our brains refuse to accept chaos and developed so as to create narratives that help us to go forward. Maybe this is why in such times of pain we can’t simply accept our destiny; we try to find something or someone to blame, or try our best to make sense out of complete nonsense.

In the face of such tragedies, we find people who blame God or decide to ignore Him altogether. They suppose that if He cared, He would not allow such evil to happen to those who have already experienced too much pain. Others go the other way and start to defend God, trying to blame the wickedness of people or seeing end-time signs in every disaster. They simply wish for an explanation that helps them to move forward, regardless of the extra pain such arguments cause to those who are suffering.

In the book of Job, we find Job’s friends trying to explain an inexplicable disaster by throwing accusations at the suffering Job and defending God against their friend’s complaints and rejection of his destiny. Were they trying to comfort Job, or themselves? We know only that they caused him more pain and brought God’s judgment on themselves.

Job himself wanted a good reason for what had happened to him. He wished for an answer to the many questions he had. Such an answer wouldn’t change the reality of his loss and pain, but it would make sense of his senseless world. Like all humans, Job wanted a story that would support a coherent worldview.

After a long silence, God finally appears on the scene, and instead of presenting Job with an answer, He throws a series of questions at him. God calls Job to stand firm, like a man, and answer these questions, which have to do with the mysteries of creation and how it works, or the chaos underlying the world he knows and the meaning of it.

One would expect that God’s response would make Job complain even more, but he is amazingly reassured by God’s response, and in a great confession of repentance and faith he says:

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3b-6 ESV)

I believe that what comforts Job is the recognition of his position as a limited creature, compared to the indescribable knowledge and power of the Creator. As Christian believers, especially those of us from the reformed traditions, we are raised to think of our position as God’s adopted sons and daughters, our value as His precious kids, the crown of God’s creatures, and the source of His pleasure. While all this is biblical, it can be dangerously misleading until it is set within the full picture in which God is the center of everything. He alone, and not we, is the ultimate reference point for the whole universe.

Every human needs such a reference point; we can’t live under the crushing weight of being the center of the universe. Even atheists need such a reference; a big cause they live for. As believers, we are thankful that our reference point is a loving, living person. Yet, with all His love and care, He remains the unexplored God, and we are comforted best by remembering that and not acting as if we can understand all His purposes and ways.

I find that my best chance is to be human. To weep with those who are weeping, to wish for a better and more just world, to expect I can make a difference and reflect His love to many. To trust that only He can make life out of death, peace out of chaos, and meaning out of a broken world.

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