I was with a bunch of moms and preschoolers this afternoon when we received an urgent phonecall asking if we were all ok. Uh…yes, said clueless us. As it turned out, an earthquake had hit Sumatra, and the tremors were felt here by people working in and around the city. Thousands of people were evacuated from their offices, a major situation in placid Singapore.
We took the news calmly. One of the kids asked “How come there are earthquakes in Singapore?” Which set off a 5-minute Q&A about plate tectonics, seismic waves and Singapore’s proximity to the Ring of Fire. But as that conversation was happening, a completely different thread was going on in my head. What if we had felt the tremors? What if the building we were in had caved? What if these little ones had been injured or worse?
I couldn’t help but recall this pronouncement by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” There’s an apocalyptic feel about our age – the climate crisis, the droughts, earthquakes, storms, floods, hurricanes and other freakish episodes. Not that I can say for sure we are in the endtimes – no-one can. But this I know, every day we live brings us one day closer to the end. And then comes the hard question: do I know what happens after that? Is it just nothingness? Are we reincarnated? Or is there in fact a heaven and a hell?
Big, fat, hairy questions. And once the tremors stop, once the practicalities and distractions of daily living return, we can forget to reckon with them. But reckon we must, because they are of ultimate and final importance.
And say you have reached a conclusion about what happens after you die. Will you have the courage, discipline, faith to live everyday life aligned that conviction? I remember reading somewhere about a man who makes all important decisions in a graveyard. Morbid perhaps. Wise, certainly.
So as much as I don’t wish earthquakes on anyone, I recognise the terrible truth that sometimes it takes a catastrophe to bring me back to basic questions, to remind me of professed truths, to force me to reckon once again with what I believe about life and death, and how I will act in the light of that. Don’t let this pass without doing the same.