Chinese Church Voices

What Not to Say When Disaster Strikes

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Last week a 7.0 earthquake hit near Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan province. At least 19 people are now confirmed dead and over 247 people were injured. Rescue operations are ongoing. Jiuzhaigou is a popular travel destination and the earthquake hit at a time when many are on holiday. Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from the area.

News spread online immediate following the quake, and many Christian groups poured out prayers for the victims online. However, as the author of this article from Gospel Times notes, some Christians did not express compassion for the victims, but rather condemnation. Some Christians, on hearing news of disasters in general, rush not to sympathy and love, but rather judgment.

The author of this article, a Christian from Fujian province, helpfully reminds Christians of the compassion that needs to be shown to others when disaster strikes.

Things Christians Shouldn't Say When Disaster Strikes

On August 8, 2017, at 9:19pm, a 7.0 earthquake struck Jiuzhaigou County, Aba Prefecture in Sichuan Province. As of 8:10am on August 9, after preliminary verification, more than 12 people were killed and more than 175 wounded in the town of Zhangjia in Jiuzhaigou County as a result of the earthquake. At present, rescue work is still in progress. Experts predict the death toll will rise.

From 9:30pm last night [August 8], many bloggers were sharing news about the Jiuzhaigou earthquake. Many Christian brothers and sisters as well as their social media contacts were continuously praying together for the earthquake victims. They were earnestly hoping that rescue workers could save the victims and evacuate more people. However, every time a disaster like this occurs, a very small number of Christians will make inappropriate comments. When disaster strikes, Christians must not speak inappropriately. Here are some common inappropriate comments:

"These people met disaster because they worship idols"

This is the most common comment in Christian circles, that the cause of the disaster is the idol worshippers who do not believe in the Lord, and therefore the disaster is punishment. The vast majority of the so-called "gospel messages" talk like this. The conclusion is that there are a thousand and one examples that all say that we must believe in the Lord in order to avoid natural disasters. So, the purpose of such comments is clear—to use a disaster in order to write an article that denounces the absurdity of idolatry and to validate the gospel of Christ.

But, throughout all of human history there are constantly natural disasters. For example, on May 29 in 525AD, there was an extremely powerful earthquake in the city of Antioch, a strategic city for the early church. Around 250,000-300,000 people were killed and the church of Antioch declined. This shows that both Christians and non-believers will suffer from natural disasters. Christian brothers and sisters in no way receive a "golden get-out-of-death-free card" because they believe in the Lord. The death of the body is a natural law for humanity as a result of the Fall. Therefore, these sorts of Christian remarks are not only not in line with reality, but also aren't effective for evangelism. They only give a cold and crazy impression [of Christianity].

"These people are sinners, so they are being punished"

Some Christians believe in the Lord, but notions of "karma" still run strong in their bones. They see the disaster and immediately think that people are suffering because they did something bad, so the disaster is punishment. In fact, victims of suffering are not necessarily being punished because, after humanity sinned, death also came. Whether someone is a Christian or a non-believer both will encounter such things. As Ecclesiastes says, "It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3).

Moreover, we are actually not any more moral than the victims, nor have we done more good works. Those people who talk all day about karmic retribution actually have more debased hearts than many victims. Luke's gospel points this out: "There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5).

Just because we may not have encountered this kind of suffering before it does not mean that we are luckier than them, or that we are more just. If we do not follow the will of the Lord, what we encounter may be even more terrible.

“There was an earthquake; the end of the world is coming”

Many Chinese Christians are deeply influenced by extreme views of eschatology. Whenever a natural disaster takes place, they will recklessly hype up news that the end of the world is coming [in that moment]. In reality, our modern news media is quite developed and anyone with a computer and a cell phone can make themselves aware of what's going on in the world. Unlike in the past, news of natural disasters and man-made disasters in a certain region of the world will quickly spread to the rest of the world, giving the impression that the world is in chaos. Add on some overblown hype and many people will think that the end of the world is coming. In fact, historically there have been more and more natural and man-made disasters being reported, but it's because of the development of media. Yet, because of this people mistakenly think that this is an era of particularly numerous disasters.

Eschatology is in line with the Christian faith, but we ought not to over-exaggerate and become unhinged over nothing. The end of the world and Jesus' second coming is a mystery. We cannot know [the date or time] clearly. We don't need to panic unnecessarily at the coming of Jesus and world disasters. The day we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have the assurance of eternal life. Even if we encounter great suffering in the world, what we need to do is to study the Bible more, pray, fellowship, serve, follow the Lord's teachings, preach the gospel of the Lord, love each other in the Lord, and glorify God and bless others in the world.

In the face of the disaster, Christians by all means must not consume the suffering of others and babble on with inappropriate remarks. Those who do, not only lack in love, but also in positive worth; instead they leave a bad impression for others. In fact, as long as Christian brothers and sisters do whatever they can the best they can, that's enough.

We can pray for the mass of people in the disaster area to show our compassion for them. If a church or an individual needs some guidelines, then the best thing to do is to offer their own love and to work with other groups to offer funds and essential goods to victims of the disaster. Perhaps they could also go to the disaster area to participate in [relief] services, medical care, reconstruction, and other such beneficial work.

Finally, I hope the readers of this article take the time to pray the following prayer:

Loving heavenly Father! Jiuzhaigou in Sichuan province experienced ​​a strong earthquake that put local residents and many tourists in harm's way, and even caused casualties. We ask that you would have mercy on these troubled compatriots, whether or not they know you. And, for those who do not yet know you, that you may save them.

May you help the trapped and be with them. May they be safe. Give them the will and ability to survive, that within the prime search and rescue time of 72 hours they would be helped by the rescuers and thus pulled out of danger.

Lord, we ask you to lead all the search and rescue personnel, whether they are armed police officers, rescue specialists, or other volunteers. Give them all wisdom and ability so that the rescue work can be carried out smoothly with the hope that they will be able to find the trapped as soon as possible and rescue more people.

Lord, you are full of compassion! We ask that you comfort the relatives and friends of the victims to ease their broken hearts. Make them strong so that they will be able to start a new life. We also pray that you choose them to rely on your strength to have good lives now and in the future.

Oh Lord! When disaster comes, we all know that life is limited, that we are small, and are especially in need of your salvation. May your Holy Spirit touch all those who do not yet know you. Let them become your children, and after they pass from this life, enjoy rest in the kingdom of heaven!

Original article: 灾难来临,基督徒不当说的话 (Gospel Times)
Edited and adapted with permission.

Image credit: Gospel Times
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