I’m no connoisseur of disaster movies. I admire special effects, though, and occasionally Hollywood delivers scenes of volcanoes or floods or tornadoes that are genuinely scary. Nothing like what amateur videos have captured of the Japanese tsunami, though. I saw one yesterday that I’ll never forget—a quiet, dry street transformed into the Colorado River in flood, carrying cars and boats and ultimately houses away. My body temperature fell five degrees.
Why does this look so much more fearful than anything Hollywood ever produces with its millions of dollars and technical skills? What’s the difference?
Real disasters are quiet. No scary music. Just the grinding of water and some distant, high-pitched cries.
Real disasters are dirty. Dust flies in the air, the water looks poisonous (probably is), and all kinds of flotsam are flying.
Real disasters don’t involve human agency. When you watch the water roll in, whatever rescue dramas unfold seem puny, a sideshow. Raw power is on display, and we are helpless. We stare.
Real disasters raise questions about God. Where is he? Why does he permit this? Any believing person, and most unbelieving persons, find themselves wondering. You can’t help it. Whatever theology you’ve constructed to deal with the tragic power of nature, you have to take a refresher course.
At the very least, you’re called to remember how far beyond our powers the universe is. As God asked Job:
Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?