Kiwi folk singer Jess Chambers captures the mixed blessing of life in New Zealand in her song ‘Island’:
I live on an Island. Close to the sea … Sometimes the earth moves … We live on an Island. Made from the same dust we walk over … We live on this Mountain. Forget ourselves, think we are greater. Sometimes the earth moves …
In November 2016, a 7.8 magnitude quake in New Zealand ruptured at least six fault lines. In the following week, more than 4000 aftershocks were recorded across the top of the South Island and Wellington.
GeoNet Director Dr Ken Gledhill asked, ‘Are earthquakes scary? They certainly can be. I’m not trying to downplay tragedies or anxiety. I encourage us all to consider what we can do about it. We can’t stop the earth from shaking; more earthquakes will come. If not now, someday. New Zealand’s beautiful mountains were created by earthquakes and uplift. Earthquakes are why, in part, our country exists.’
So, while we’re rattled by earthquakes — not just literally but emotionally — we’re also aware some of New Zealand’s most impressive scenery owes its existence to tectonic forces. And the same can be true of the impact of stressful forces on our lives.
Sometimes the earth moves from under us in life and we find ourselves feeling like people do after an earthquake: fearful, worried and anxious. In Jess Chambers’ words, we ‘forget ourselves [and] think that we are greater’—but ‘sometimes the earth moves’.
When we lose a loved one, when we’re diagnosed with a significant health condition, when we suffer a setback at work or in an important relationship, when our finances stretch beyond breaking point … stressful forces come into play and life becomes unsure.
Some say suffering is a huge challenge to the Christian faith. ‘How can you believe in a God of love who allows bad things to happen to good people?’ is a question often asked. And yet, when we read the New Testament we see suffering is viewed as a very normal experience for a Christian.
But just as the beauty of New Zealand is forged in the forces that move to shape our land, so the character and internal beauty of our lives is forged in the forces and challenges of life. As Paul writes in Romans chapter 5 verses 3–5: ‘... We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us …’.
One person responds to suffering with bitterness, but another responds with gratitude for the support of loved ones and the chance to re-examine their priorities. The former may spend their time in self-pity, regret and even anger; the other may come to experience the transformation of a renewed and even healing perspective on what matters most in life.
None of us is sufficiently great or powerful to cope on our own with all that comes our way. The good news is: we don’t have to—God is ready to help us. Invite God to be part of the everyday of your life. Nurture that relationship. Enjoy God every day, knowing that when the earth moves, God will not.
All passages are from the Contemporary English Version
Christina Tyson has been a Salvation Army officer (minister) for almost 30 years.For 16 years she was involved in Salvation Army communications, and now works with her husband as pastors of a Salvation Army church and community centre in Newtown, Wellington.