At 09:15 on 21 October 1966 I was seated at my desk in Mrs Wilson’s class at Castel Junior School in Guernsey. If the weather had been fine that day I would have cycled to school, passing houses, vineries, and fields. Before going into class I would have been able to look out to sea from the school playground. I didn’t know until later that day that many children of about my age had perished while seated at their desks in another school many miles away on the mainland. The view from that school playground in the Welsh village of Aberfan was not of the sea, but of the tip of coal mine waste that at 09:15 on 21 October 1966 would slide down the hillside and engulf the school.
The fiftieth anniversary of the tragedy of Aberfan was remembered today across the UK, and there was a minute’s silence across Wales at 09:15 (click for news article). Many people will have been overwhelmed with grief for the sudden and tragic loss of the lives of 116 children and 28 adults. The waste tip may have gone from Aberfan but its legacy will never leave.
Disasters continue to occur, and while the magnitude of each varies in terms of loss of life and property the question that will often be asked is: “Where was God when this happened?” I guess that it is easy for humans to blame God for everything, even when they don’t believe in Him. Those who do believe can reel off the same old explanations, none of which matter a hoot to those who don’t believe, and are unlikely to help those who have suffered loss. Strangely, it is those with a deep faith in God who often have the greatest understanding of suffering knowing that God suffers with them and that God suffered for them.
We all know that life can end in an instant. None of us knows whether we will be here tomorrow, yet most of us have a reckless disregard for eternity. Even followers of Jesus live their lives as if God isn’t watching, and for the most part without any consideration for those who will die without knowing God. If the church isn’t growing because people are not being saved then I am afraid that the church isn’t working. People are dying without being introduced to Jesus because evangelism is not taking place through the church or in the daily lives of church members. How are we going to explain this to God?
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NLT)