Any discontent I might have had about living in a small house quickly turned to contentment after the Indonesian tsunami of December 26, 2004.
Who can forget those images on TV the day after Christmas, when a surge of water some ten stories high swept into Sumatra? The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that triggered the tsunami was so powerful that it was felt simultaneously in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, and the Maldives. More than 230,000 people died who lived in 14 of the countries around the Indian Ocean.
Indonesia was the hardest hit country. My husband spent a month there doing relief dental work, and he brought back dozens of heartbreaking pictures and video footage of people who were left with no homes. Some pictures showed survivors standing on bare tile floors where their houses had once stood. Others had placed flags in the ground where they knew their homes had been to show that they were reclaiming their land. It was all they had left.
Looking at the pictures, I felt guilty. Our warm little house looked pretty good by comparison.
Earth’s changed face
The Indonesian tsunami is just one of many natural disasters that have damaged our earth in the past ten years. Not only that, they have also changed the face of the earth and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives.The European heat wave of 2003 killed some 70,000 people. Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008 killed 138,000 people, many of them schoolaged children. Haiti’s violent earthquake in 2010 killed nearly 160,000 people. And Typhoon Haiyan last November killed more than 5,000 Filipino people.
This earth, with all of its disaster scars, is a far cry from what it was at Creation. On the sixth day, the Creator stood back and looked at all He had made, and “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
And while there are still some very beautiful places on earth today, back then everything was perfect. It’s certainly not that way today, and it’s only getting worse.
Our skies, once bluer than blue, are often dirty with pollution from factories and fossil fuels. Our oceans, once crystal clear, are now polluted with oil, garbage, pesticides, and plastics. Our soil, once rich and balanced, is now depleted and contaminated with lead, heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides, and even sewage. Animals that peacefully coexisted in Eden now live as predator and prey. Our once-calm atmosphere is too often raging out of control with tropical storms, tornadoes, and blizzards.
And then there’s us—humans. Once created in the image of God, we now battle heart disease, cancer, obesity, birth defects, infections, viruses, aging, and a host of other ills. And many of us have minds and emotions that are so warped that we maim and kill our fellow human beings without a twinge of conscience.
A groaning earth
The status of our earth today reminds me of the text in Romans 8:22 that states, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” With each new natural or manmade disaster, our old earth groans under the weight of its brokenness.
Maybe you’ve done your own share of groaning, too: when you lay awake at night in pain, longing for daylight to come; when you sat at the bedside of a dying loved one, wishing desperately that you could stop the inevitable; when you tried to grasp the finality of a broken relationship, you may have asked yourself, “Where is God in all this pain and suffering? Where is the One who created all this?”
According to the Bible, God is right there, groaning with you.
Luke tells a story about the day Jesus approached a town and met a funeral procession at the city gate. It was the funeral for a young man, and his mother was in the crowd of grieving people. She was a widow, and this was her only son—so her grief was doubled. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry’ ” (Luke 7:13). And then He raised her son from the dead!
When Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, died, Jesus grieved with them too. At the tomb, “when Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.” And then the Bible says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:33–35).
He wept. He cried with them!
Hope for a new earth
But God is doing more than groaning with us. Much more! He’s preparing a new earth for us to inhabit!
The state of our present world would be overwhelmingly discouraging if it weren’t for a text in the Bible that describes its future. It’s a vision that God gave the apostle John.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ ” (Revelation 21:1–4).
We know what the new earth won’t have. It won’t have anything that hurts, kills, destroys, or contaminates. But have you stopped to consider what the new earth will have?
- Are you battling an illness or disease? In the new earth, you’ll have a new, immortal body!
- Do you miss loved ones who have died? In the new earth, you’ll spend eternity with them!
- Do you struggle to learn new things or have a hard time remembering what you’ve learned? In the new earth, you’ll have a brilliant mind!
- Have the years slowed your pace? In the new earth, you’ll have endless energy!
- Are you (like me) leery of bears and cougars when you go hiking? The Bible says that in the new earth “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together” (Isaiah 11:6).
- Do you look in the mirror and see the wrinkles the years have brought? In the new earth, you’ll be forever young!
- Are you tired of often feeling gloomy or sad? In the new earth, you’ll be eternally happy! “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Homesick for home
A few years ago, I received a letter from my dad. Among other things, he talked about a newfound homesickness. He said, “Have you ever had the feeling that something just wasn’t right in your life? Like maybe you weren’t where you should be? You can’t quite figure it out, but you have that unsettled feeling deep inside that keeps tugging away at you from time to time.”
As I was reading about the new earth this morning, it struck me: No wonder I sometimes feel that way. I don’t belong here! I’m not home! We never feel complete when we aren’t home. We’re on a journey, and it won’t end until Jesus welcomes us into His presence.
You can have the incredible opportunity of being welcomed into the presence of Jesus someday. There you will say a final goodbye to all disappointment, fear, pain, heartache, and death—because sin will be no more. Surrounded by unspeakable beauty and overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace, you’ll know that you’re finally home.