April 12, 2011
I recently preached a sermon about suffering making use of the story of Louis Zamperini as told in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. (For a while you can access the sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent here). At one level the story is of a man who was abused and tortured in Japanese camps for prisoners of war during WWII, who then had the grace to forgive his tormenters. That same grace is what is required in the face of the devastation wrought by the earthquake in Northern Japan (also part of the sermon). The sermon was not primarily about Japan, but was deeply troubling to one parishioner who had spent the past two weeks trying to locate her friends and family and who found the combination of mention of past atrocities unhelpful in a time of great need. Apparently there had been some suggestion in parts of the blogosphere that the disaster which has afflicted Japan is somehow recompense for past sins. Apparently we have to say and keep saying that such a theology of disaster that is bound up with blaming the victims for whatever befalls them has no legitimate place among Christians.
Whenever we find ourselves in a time of trouble putting our energy into blaming someone else for our distress we have being given a clue that we are looking in the wrong place for a solution to our discomfort. In blaming others for their own distress, we appear to be attempting to justify ourselves for our own lack of compassion, response or understanding. To blame the Japanese for their suffering after an earthquake, to blame victims of HIV/AIDS for their illness or to blame the poor for their poverty are out of order for followers of Jesus.