All of us have heard the grim news. A 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan last Friday. The massive temblor struck at 2:46 p.m. local time and did significant damage to highways, homes, and factories. Amazingly, although they suffered damage, major buildings near the epicenter - designed to withstand Japan's frequent earthquakes - did not collapse. But the worst was yet to come.
If the earthquake was the blow from a heavyweight boxer's left hand, the roundhouse right came from the devastating tsunami that came shortly after the earth had buckled. Seawater, mud, houses, automobiles, and debris of infinite varieties rolled over the island nation. Lives were snuffed out by the thousands.
Now the world is watching in fear of the possibilities for still more devastation from damaged nuclear plants, aftershocks, exposure, and disease. Aid is pouring in from nations around the world. The Japanese are exhibiting great discipline and composure in the face of their ordeal. Chaos will give way to order again.
The story of so tragic a situation as this is best told not with numbers and sweeping statements but with personal stories. Mr. Arakawa's is such a story.
On Sunday, 60-year-old Hiromitsu Arakawa was rescued. The small house he and his wife lived in was ripped from its foundation in the first wave of Friday's tsunami. As the two of them tried to keep their heads above the flood and rubble, he saw his wife dragged away and beneath the surface. He managed to cling to the roof of their floating house and finally to scramble onto the roof.
Late Sunday morning, nine miles south of his hometown of Minimisoma and nine miles out to sea, he was found and saved. The man who had ridden atop his former dwelling for two days had survived. Now he can live - live to grieve his wife, live to find a way to start over, live to mourn the rest of his townspeople who are gone. There is little that we could call celebration in his story of survival.
Such will be the stories these survivors will tell. They will carry unimaginable memories of terror, loss, and pain of heart. That we sense something of their bereavement and sadness is testimony to the likeness to God we all bear in our basic compassion for one another. It will drive the generous donations many will give to try to alleviate the suffering and to empower a degree of healing.
So the true measure of Japan's earthquake-tsunami is less in terms of science's Richter Scale or corporate losses and more as family members, friends, and strangers who died suddenly. For the rest of us, the measure comes as profound sympathy, generous help, and prayers for healing over time.
"Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, 'Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!' and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup - where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" (James 2:14-17 MSG).
Rubel Shelly has preached for the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville since 1978. During that time, he has also taught at David Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. To contact Rubel or to subscribe to his newsletter, Fax of Life, send email to faxOfLife@woodmont.org