December 26, 2004 will go down in history as one of the most tragic days of the last 250 years. An unbelievably strong earthquake (9.0 according to most sources) struck near the island of Sumatra sending out waves of disaster that reeked havoc on the coasts of countries from Thailand to the horn of Africa.
As I write these words, the death toll stands at a mind-boggling 157,000 with as many as 16,000 missing and feared dead. Our holiday TV screens have been transformed from parades and football games to gruesome scenes of bodies stacked on beaches and macabre billboards filled with the faces of the missing.
As so often is the case, in the midst of stories of intense human suffering and the loss of life come stories of hope and inspiration. A young child is found alive floating on a mattress. Another story has surfaced of people who actually ran toward the scene of the disaster while others were running away. Disgredarding any concern for their own lives, these heros rescued several people and then simply disappeared into the crowd of survivors seeking neither the spotlight of fame or the boon of financial reward for doing what they considered to be what any caring person would do.
The outpouring of aid and support from the world community has been stunning. Billions of dollars have been pledged from nations around the world with billions more coming from private donations.
But there is a troubling rumble making its way from weblogs to the mainstream media. It is the rumble of people on the far left and the far right who would seize this moment of human suffering and attempt to turn it into a platform for politcal posturing.
From the left, we hear the extreme environmentalists say this disaster points to our collective lack of concern over global warming. The theory goes that because we are allowing the polar ice caps to melt, the resultant rise in sea levels caused this tsunami to be much worse than it might have been.
Another theory says it is our drilling into the earths crust and the emptying of its contents that caused the earthquake which unleashed the waves of destruction. This theory completely ignores the fact that the earths crust is anywhere from 14 to 60 miles thick. The current record for drilling depth is just over 7 miles. Please pardon the pun but we literally haven't even scratched the surface let alone drained the core.
Also on the left, we hear the antiwar crowd comparing the amount of money the United States is spending on disaster relief to the amount of money being spent in an hour or a day to sustain our forces in Iraq. This view sees the United States as creating a disaster in Iraq rather than stopping the human suffering of millions under the rule of a murdering dictator. They just can't understand whether the United States is setting people free from tyranny through military strength or we are helping to relieve peoples suffering through humanitarian aide, we are still the good guys.
Some on the left are even using this occasion of human suffering to decry the captialist system. They accuse the United States of being "stingy" and "slow to respond." The Bush haters talk about the Presidents "smirk" as he speaks of the suffering and they blast him for not moving fast enough in response to the tragedy.
Unfortunately, the left is not alone in its shameful use of human suffering for political purposes. Those on the far right are already howling about tax money being used for relief efforts. They say the government is stealing from the average citizen in order to send money to the disaster areas and they demand all relief efforts be funded with private donations.
This argument totally ignores the fact the government budgets a certain amount for disaster relief (an amount we have not yet exceeded) and that since we are a Constitutional Republic with a representative form of government where "we the people" give power to the government taxation is not stealing. We the people go to the polls and vote for those who will make decisions concerning how we will be taxed and what that tax money will be used for.
But I digress....the point I am trying to make is right now, in the face of human suffering which is beyond the average persons ability to comprehend, is not the time to engage in political discussions about means or methods. Fellow human beings have died on a massive scale and untold lives have been ravaged by this tragedy.
The Christian worldview sees all human life as precious. It is a worldview that calls for compassion, not catty commentary meant to sway people politically. It calls for us to roll up our sleeves to work together and to reach out our hands to help the survivors get back on their feet. Can we please stop keeping score in the political arena long enough to collectively step into the arena of God's love for humanity? I pray that God will help us to keep our eyes focused on the people who are suffering rather than eyeing opportunities for political capitol.