Pastoral Perspectives

Even When The Mountains Be Shaken

I confess I was rather upset when I first heard the news that some suggested that the recent earthquake in Sabah was possibly the result of a group of tourists who had stripped themselves naked on the peak of Mount Kinabalu a few days before the tragedy struck. As much as I understand that Mount Kinabalu is a revered national monument and considered sacred by Malaysia’s Kadazan Dunsun tribe, I think that such knee-jerk reaction would offer scant comfort to the bereaving families.

Furthermore, if it is true that the spirits were “angered” by those culturally disrespectful foreigners, then shouldn’t those rocks fall on the latter rather than those innocent students, teachers and mountain guides? Why should it be their family members who have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one because of another’s pursuit for cheap thrills?

However, upon further reflection, one can understand why some would possibly arrive at such a conclusion about the cause of the earthquake. After all, in a more animistic worldview, mountain spirits and local deities are often believed to be capricious. Their wrath is not necessarily an expression of holiness nor does it always have something to do with morality and justice.

In addition, it seems that it matters little who pays the penalty for the transgressions. So long as someone or something does, even if it is done so unwillingly or unwittingly, the sins would have been consider atoned for. This would explain why the offering of animal sacrifices is such a common practice in many religious rituals even today. This is because at the heart of it all, the sacrifices have more to do with appeasing the gods rather than receiving forgiveness and being reconciled with the divine being.

If one were to examine the different worldviews, you will find that forgiveness from God is actually rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. After all, if you hold to an atheistic worldview, human beings are merely a product of biological evolution. There is no one we need to be ultimately accountable to since there is no Creator or Judge. In and of itself, such a secular outlook would also logically mean that there is no absolute moral law since a bunch of atoms and molecules cannot exactly be relied upon to define what is of essential worth and meaning. Furthermore, given that there is no one who will judge us, there will neither be justice beyond the grave for those who have suffered great injustice here on earth.

On the other hand, in the eastern religions, god is perceived to be the only one ultimate reality permeating all that exists in this world rather than as a personal divine being. For their adherents, they believe that our human condition is a cycle of misery and opportunity. The goal is to break off from this karmic cycle in order to attain bliss or nirvana – which essentially means the individual cease to exist as he becomes one with the cosmos. Performing good works, practising meditation and pursuing a life of asceticism are all means to achieving that end. But for all its purposes, being forgiven is not part of what is being promised.

As God’s people, let us continue to pray that many will desire and experience the forgiveness that can only be found in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. No other worldview tells of a holy God who loves us so much that He willingly died for us in order to save us from our sins and to show us forgiveness (Jn 10:18, 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10).

In addition, we are reminded by the writer of Hebrews that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:1-4) and that the Old Testament sacrificial system was but a shadow pointing towards something better that is to come. Indeed, only Christ, the sinless Saviour who came in the flesh qualified to die as our substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. And when we repent of our sins and come to faith in him, we will receive forgiveness (2 Cor 5:19-21, Eph 1:7). Our hope is certain because God’s Word is truth and has never failed. And with history showing us that Christ has risen from the dead, we can take heart that our labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).

Admittedly, on this side of eternity, we will not be able to fathom why in God’s sovereignty, an earthquake in Sabah, or for that matter some natural disaster in Nepal or elsewhere should lead to such painful loss of lives. In the end, our confidence must rest solely upon God’s character and promises such as Isaiah 54:10 that speaks of how even “though the mountains be shaken… God’s unfailing love for you will not be shaken”. And as Os Guinness so beautifully puts it “We may be in the dark about what God is doing, but we are not in the dark about God.” Not when God has so graciously revealed himself fully in the person of Jesus Christ.

Rev Edwin Wong

June 28, 2015