Real Disaster Movies

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?


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6 Responses to “Real Disaster Movies”

  1. Karen Heyse Says:

    Wow….it is all so true, what you wrote.

    I too, was captured by the images and videos that are somehow beyond our ability to imagine, yet there it was unfolding in someone’s real life.

    Many people are asking the big “WHY” questions…….we need to be prepared to help answer them with wisdom and grace. God is still on the throne and is still wanting to draw people to Himself

  2. JJ Says:

    And next is the threat of a radioactive cloud! There won’t be any videos of that one, but scarier in the long term. Everyone around here is making plans for leaving if things don’t change…

  3. Jun Gonzaga Says:

    When we saw some videos of what was happening in Japan, we stopped work and we prayed, no we cried. Perhaps because of the horror we felt and our fear for our country, considering the many millions of our countrymen living in shanties near the shore and waterways.

    Last Monday I have the privilege to share from the article of NT Wright, “God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil”, written just after the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004 which killed almost a quarter of a million people. We had a very interesting discussion on Rev. 21:1, “… and the sea was no more.” The immediate reaction from the group was, “You mean, Tsunami will be no more!?” Somehow, our discussion helped us veer away from the philosophical WHY.

    Thanks for your insights.

  4. Loon’s Linkage (March ’11) « The Common Loon Says:

    […] light of tsunami devastation in Japan, Tim Stafford observes why video footage of a natural disaster can be far more frightening than any Hollywood […]

  5. David Graham Says:

    Videos from the devastation in Japan have indeed been most impressive.

    I no longer have any theological problem with natural disasters. The more we learn about our world, the more the difference between “good” and “bad” gets blurred (as far as humans are concerned). We know that certain conditions are necessary for life to occur on this planet – the numerous items listed when scientists talk about the Anthropic Principle. Some forces that can be destructive for humans can be beneficial for nature…and for humans. Take volcanic eruptions, for example. Yes, they kill people and animals. Yes their ash can cause respiratory problems. But the ash from volcanic eruptions can also produce very fertile soil that makes farming quite profitable.

    To use another example, during the Medieval Warm Period (900 – 1300 A.D.), the global warming that led to one part of the earth being blessed led another to be cursed. What helped give rise to warmer summers, a lengthened growing season, good harvests, and plenty to eat over in Europe resulted in prosperity. At the same time, this warming period produced savage droughts and helped destroy the Maya in Central America and Tiwanaku in South America.

    Whether talking about volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, lightning or other natural disaster, divine punishment need not be invoked, nor hand-wringing questions about “why” they occur. They are simply part of the natural order. Thus any biological being in a living world of active, renewable geology and atmospheric changes is going to live with risk. It is unavoidable. As C.S. Lewis put it in “The Problem of Pain” we humans often suffer because we are not spirits – we have materialistic bodies. “If matter has a fixed nature and obeys constant laws, not all states of matter will be equally agreeable to the wishes of a given soul, nor all equally beneficial for that particular aggregate of matter which he calls his body. If fire comforts that body at a certain distance, it will destroy it when the distance is reduced.”

    And that’s the world we biological human beings live in: a world of risk. There is no way to eliminate the risk without also eliminating the many complexities of the natural world that make life possible.

    Is God a micromanager of life (as is the view promulgated in both Old and New Testaments)? Or is God a macromanager who creates systems and allows things to play out, resulting in benefit to some and harm to others?

    The former position leaves one constantly asking questions of “why.” The latter leaves one far more relaxed. The question no one can definitively answer is, “If there is a God, which view is correct?”

    • timstafford Says:

      Thanks for these thoughts. Very well put, though I don’t quite buy your black-and-white contrast between God as micromanager and macromanager. Way too simple, I’d say.

      Tim Stafford 2114 Beverly Way Santa Rosa, CA 95404 707 526 5902 blog:

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