A month ago I was in Nepal. Here is something I wrote the day of the earthquake.
“Another earthquake will probably happen soon.”
I didn’t think too much about it when he said it to me. I was exhausted after a hike to Shivapuri—a beautiful peak in the hills surrounding the Kathmandu Valley—and could barely keep my eyes open on the bumpy journey back into town.
I was fond of our guide. He was quiet but friendly and we chatted for a good portion of our 15-mile hike. It started when I asked if he’d ever seen a tiger in the wild. He had. I barraged him with questions about Nepali wildlife and the Himalayas for the next few hours.
Kathmandu is densely populated. Buildings upon buildings upon buildings. When you run out of “out”, you have to start building “up” and that was what worried him.
Every seventy or so years, a massive earthquake hits Nepal. The fault line that produces the splendor of the Himalayas also produces earthquakes. He knew they were overdue for another one and that when it happened, the buildings would come tumbling down and the damage would be catastrophic.
He was the first person I thought of when I woke up this morning. My phone was binging over and over, so I begrudgingly rolled over and picked it up. An earthquake hit Kathmandu—a big earthquake. Two plates in the belly of the earth shifted and the top of the world trembled. The official death toll at that moment was 111, but I knew it would be much higher. Just a month earlier, I had seen the buildings upon buildings and I shuddered as I imagined them tumbling to the ground.
The second person I thought of was a group of people—the children at an orphanage we had visited. They lived a high rise building on the outskirts of Kathmandu, surrounded by green fields where they ripped and ran and played soccer. What if their building collapsed? My stomach churned.
Right about then, my wife came into the bedroom with our 7-month old son for my favorite ritual—him crawling around on our bed in the morning with a million watt smile and eyes full of curiosity and wonder.
It was a beautiful day—70 degrees, cloudless. My brother in law was getting married in a few hours and I was performing the ceremony. We had much to be thankful for.
It was a strange moment.
Here I sit with my son as he crawls over me, smiles at me, babbles to me. Moments like that make faith easy. Of course it’s all going to be ok. Of course there is a God of infinite love and goodness at the heart of things. How else could I explain a moment like this?
But on the other side of the world, fathers are digging through the rubble for their sons. Many will not be found.
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.”
That’s what Frederick Buechner says and in moments like this I don’t know what else to say. How do we hold it together—the beauty and tragedy? Some look at the world and see only the veil of death. Some see only the beauty of creation. But how do we glimpse the beauty of creation through the veil of death? Is it even appropriate to do so?
I got out of bed and went outside to give myself some space to process things.
“God—please give me the eyes of Easter.”
That was the prayer that came to me over and over. The eyes of Easter have seen tragedy—they’ve gone to hell and back. They’ve bore the full burden of reality, in all its misery and suffering. They do not look the other way to preserve the saccharine bliss of naiveté. They stare death in the face.
And yet they are eyes that have glimpsed an empty tomb—an empty tomb that makes promises so big and deep and wide that the hopes of those who glimpse it are forever haunted by intuitions of resurrection.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Nevertheless, I’m asking for them.
I have no bulletproof syllogism for why you should. I can understand if you think it irrational and irresponsible, because I’ve seen the world from behind those eyes too.
I can only say that when I glimpse the world behind Easter eyes, I see something that makes sense—something that makes sense of both beauty and tragedy. Creation groans in its bondage to suffering and death. Things weren’t supposed to be this way. Something is terribly wrong. Damn the indifference of those who say otherwise.
But there is also so much beauty, so much love, so much wonder. The problem of good has just as much bite as the problem of evil. Is the empty tomb too good to be true? My Easter eyes tell me it’s too good not to be true.
Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. What do you see?
I see an empty tomb.