We were in Shimla, India recently for AsiaCMS’ Board meeting. On 25th April, 2015, we experienced tremors in Agra, India and later followed the unfolding drama of the Nepali Quake on TV. In a globalized world, Christians worldwide struggle to respond theologically and practically to calamities. Where is God during enormous human sufferings? What should be the Christian response to untold sufferings inflicted on innocent poor communities? Here, I offer humbly a biblical reflection in solidarity with our Nepali friends as they reach out in practical love and a call for Christians globally to assist through our prayers and financial support.
As I watched in horror the unfolding sufferings arising from the earthquake in Nepal, I am reminded of Paul’s description of the groaning creation in Romans 8. Some Christians will say the disaster is God’s judgment on the world. Historically, such views have led to the church being seen as interested only in people’s spiritual needs. Others see the church as primarily responsible for responding to people’s immediate and physical needs, forgetting the deeper longings of those who are hurting. But Romans 8 shows the Gospel seeking to engage meaningfully with the total needs of the whole person to redeem the world for Christ.
Heirs of the whole creation (Rom 8:17-28)
Romans 8:17-28 shows the extraordinary mission of God’s people within His overarching plan for the rebirth of His entire creation. We are God’s children, and therefore His heirs (17a). In the Old Testament, God’s people were promised Israel as an inheritance. In the New Testament, Paul says the church will inherit the world.
Many Christians have drawn wildly inaccurate conclusions from this. Some have seen the church’s task in mission as a triumphalist mandate for us to rule the world: “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War”. This desire motivated the crusades and the colonisation of heathen worlds. Then there are those who reject the world, their motto being “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” Their church has nothing to say to injustices, and other social problems of society: It is only interested in building spiritual communities.
A Triple-Groaning Reality (Rom 8:17-22)
Romans 8 speaks against such misinterpretations of the church’s mission and points us to a genuinely Christian involvement with the world. The passage presents a triple groaning: The world’s (19-22), the church’s (23-25), and the Spirit’s (26-27). As we seek to respond biblically to the aftermath of the Nepali Earthquake, we need to be guided by the Groaning Spirit in His leading of the Groaning Church in the midst of a Groaning Creation.
Let’s look deeper into the passage: the creation is (19) good but incomplete; (20) good but presently in bondage; (21) good but awaiting liberation; (22) good but pregnant with the future world that is to be born from its womb. The present creation will give birth to the “new earth and new heavens” out of the groaning of the existing earth. This Christian view of the world leaves no room for simplistic exploitation or idolatry. We do not rush in knee-jerk reactions to solve the problems of the Nepali victims, thinking that is sufficient. Neither should we fold our arms in despair, thinking that there is nothing we can do. Romans 8 points us to a church that bears the pain of the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Incarnational Ministry of the Church in a Broken World (Rom 8:23-25)
What then should be the church’s biblical response in times of unprecedented sufferings and disasters? The church may be tempted to withdraw, analyse the world’s problems, and perhaps try to solve them from the comfort of her four walls.
But that isn’t Paul’s way. In verse 23, he moves from the Groaning Creation to the Groaning church: “not only so, but we ourselves.” For Paul, the church is totally involved in the suffering world, bearing in itself the same conflict, incarnating in its own life the glory and the shame, the tears and the hopes of the whole creation. If the world is groaning in birth pains for the new world to be born from its womb, so the church is also in travail, groaning as she waits for her own adoption. Notice that Paul deliberately uses the same words for the church as are used for the world: “groaning” in verses 22 and 23, “longing” in verses 19 and 23. The female image of the church, groaning in travail, is placed as it was within the female image of the world. Our temptation is to spiritualize so that we don’t need to be involved with the sufferings of others.
The image of the church in mission is that of a pain-bearing community. In the aftermath of the Nepal Quake, our world is in travail. It is blighted by poverty, homelessness, displaced communities, orphaned children, devastated villages, dead and missing loved ones. Should the church isolate herself from the travails of the lost, the least and the last?
The Groaning of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:26-27)
Whenever the church groans, there is clear hint of life within, that there is yet a third level of groaning: “In the same way, the Holy Spirit.” (v26) In talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit today we are used to the idea of the Holy Spirit’s power enabling Christians to rise above the world’s pain. But that is not Paul’s idea, for what is true of the world and the church is true also of the Spirit. Within the groaning of creation and the groaning of the church, God, this strange God, is groaning also.
More specifically, whenever we receive updates on the Nepali disaster, we long to bring to it justice and peace, the Shalom for which people are yearning. But we do not know how to do it from a distance. These problems seem beyond our feeble resources. We do not even know how to pray, or what to pray for (v27). In our speechlessness, we have the assurance that the Spirit is doing what we cannot do.
Given the groaning of creation, what is our view of the world? To be ruled, or to be rejected? Paul says, God is redeeming His world and we are to participate in it. Christians, of all people, must love the world as God loves the world. The incarnational church says we need to live among the people we seek to reach, learn to love in word and deed. Otherwise, our gospel proclamation will be discredited.
Given the groaning of creation, what is our view of God? We have assumed for too long that we know God, and we know what the word God means. This passage holds a startling picture of God as Creator AND the Incarnate One who is at work to bring healing and hope within the world – the one who suffers and dies, and rises again as the beginning of the new creation.
Paul’s picture of God is very much a Trinitarian picture of God the Father and Son and Spirit working together. This is not a Deist God who stays aloof in heaven while victims suffer on earth. As we think about this God, we must repent from our superficiality in conducting our religious activity without really allowing the true God to use us. But it also means that a distinctively Christian response to the sufferings of the world is God-centered, resulting in practical actions.
Join AsiaCMS Nepal Quake Fund
Through global networks such as AsiaCMS, the church can collaboratively raise funds from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Pakistan and India to strategically respond in solidarity and practical love. AsiaCMS has 10 Mission Partners on the ground serving in Kathmandu as well as rural communities in Nepal. Our South Asia Coordinator, Stephen Edison, who previously served in Nepal, will be providing leadership for AsiaCMS support from Delhi, India. Another seasoned Mission Partner, Tang Po Kau, who previously served for 8 years in Nepal, will be coordinating support from Hong Kong leaders and make regular visits to Nepal in the next six months. In addition, we have Senior Nepali church leaders associated with the National Christian Fellowship of Nepal who will be providing grassroots responses. Please pray for AsiaCMS Mission Partners: Manoj and Anjali Pradhananga; Ram Prasad and Kesari Shrestha; Bhibin and Romi Shakya, Milan Kumar Magar and Nu Akasha Seng; and Marama and Diki.
In the light of Romans 8, what is God saying to you and me with regard to our responsibilities towards those who are suffering from the Nepali disaster? We must give sacrificially. We must pray compassionately. Ultimately, we must live out the message of Hope in a broken world. With the spiritual vacuum created by Nepali disaster, we pray for our AsiaCMS colleagues in Nepal that God will lead them to respond appropriately. Please consider giving to the AsiaCMS Nepal Quake Fund.
If you wish to contribute, make a bank transfer:
Account : AsiaCMS Berhad
Account No : 359-418407-101
Bank : HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad
Swift Code : HBMBMYKL
Reference – Nepal Donation “your name”
Or make a cheque payable to ‘AsiaCMS Berhad’ (write ‘Nepal Donation on the back) and send to:
10, Jalan 11/9,
46200 Petaling Jaya
For donors in India, please make a cheque payable to:
‘Asia Collaborative Mission Services India’ (write ‘Nepal Donation’ on the back) and send to:
Asia Collaborative Mission Services India
Ansal Palam Vihar,
Gurgaon 122017, Haryana.
Phone: +91 9999236249
Or make a bank transfer:
Account: ASIA COLLABORATIVE MISSION SERVICES INDIA
Account No: 2996101003473
Bank: CANARA BANK
IFSC code : CNRB0002996
MICR code : 110015181
Customer ID : 96257331
Reference – Nepal Donation “your name”
For enquiries, call 03-79319849, or email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All donations will be acknowledged via email or post if a forwarding address is given.
Dr Tan Kang San is the Executive Director of AsiaCMS, which has its head office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. AsiaCMS also has co-mission partners in various countries in Asia.