Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Friday, March 25, 2011

Greater Love Has No One Than This…

… to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

We held our breath last week.  750 technicians were evacuated from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Only fifty remained behind to fight the fires and man the pumps, a desperate struggle to keep Daiichi’s six reactors from melting down and blanketing the Japanese homeland with lethal radiation.

Fifty men.  Faced with fires, melting reactor cores, hydrogen explosions, and intense gamma and beta radiation.  They knew, of course, what had happened to the technicians at Chernobyl, Ukraine a quarter century earlier: 28 died from radiation exposure; 19 were killed by infections resulting from radiation burns; 106 developed serious radiation sickness, costing them their lives during the ensuing years. 

Why they fought: Nuclear fallout harms little ones
But the Daiichi Fifty stayed, and fought.

We don’t know their stories yet, nor the extent of their injuries.  But we can be pretty sure what their motives were.  If the wind had shifted onshore, as it often does, a nuclear meltdown and fire could have killed millions, and exposed many millions more to doses of radiation sure to result in thyroid cancer and other debilitating diseases. 

There is something about a story of intentional, voluntary self-sacrifice that grips me all like nothing else.  You too, right?  Whether it’s a Dickens novel, a Harry Potter story, or real-life firefighters racing into the stricken towers of Lower Manhattan, our deepest core trembles at the sight of the one who knowingly lays down his life for another.

People from many faith communities feel this deeply.  But I think that Christians in particular see this impulse as more than just astonishment at selflessness and nobility.  Rather, we think that standing in awe of one who freely lays down his life is somehow what we were created for.  It is built into the created fiber of humanness.  And this, of course, is because at the core of our faith is the story of God, freely laying down his life for his creation. 

Why they fought: The elderly have suffered enough
But if we are created to venerate the few who give their all for the many, the inverse is also true.  It revolts us when the few cause harm to the many, when powerful elites exploit the powerless masses, and when dictators open fire on their unarmed  civilians.  This, of course, is why the Clothesline Report exists.  With the powers unleashed since the dawn of the Industrial Age, we see how – even though we often mean no harm – our practices and patterns can have devastating consequences for those on distant shores, and especially the poorest and least able to adapt. 

In recent decades, this was vividly illustrated by acid rain and the destruction of the protective ozone layer.  The pain was generally felt thousands of miles from the activities that caused it. Fortunately, in both these cases, nations recognized the problem and reversed course before it was too late.  And in our time, we pray it’s not too late to reverse course and counter global environmental degradation which threatens the natural balances on which all people -- and all creatures -- rely.

Can they recover? Tsunami: yes. Meltdown: no.
Perhaps my faith community will rise to take its rightful place in this struggle.  Our sacred scriptures say:  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Maybe we will seriously reexamine what it might mean for us to lay down our lives for the most vulnerable in this fragile ecosystem we call home.  And this week, perhaps we will take inspiration from the Daiichi Fifty.  We honor these people, not because they are uniquely valiant, but because they are doing what we were created for.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood


  1. Thanks for calling attention to the principle of sacrifice, very fitting as we move into the Easter season. I hope their full story is written soon.

  2. Thank you DrsMyhre. Some of our readers follow your blog, listed among "Links we Like." We see there many of examples of people laying down their lives for others. We take much inspiration from you.

  3. I am troubled about you statement that the Christian story is "the story of God, freely laying down his life for his creation"

    Sort of a weak statement which misses the point of his self-sacrifice doesn't it? It was much more than dying for his creation. The central event of the New Testament is the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the sins of the world.

    Hie atoning death, therefore, can not be used as a principle of "inspiration" for us to emulate. His death was "out of our league". He died as a sinless Substitute for mankind which is radically sinful. The "inspiration" in His death is for us to acknowledge our sin and rebellion against a Holy God and to trust that His death was for me and the only thing which can save me.

    To use Christ's Passion as a example for us to "save" the "fragile ecosystem" is at best a categorical error, and at worst, to demean the self-sacrifice of Christ to save the human race which is under the wrath and curse of God.

  4. Dear John, I found this site which lines up completely with my views concerning co2. Please consider these view points in light of God's faithful providence that he works "all things for good" even the buried treasures of carbon for our use which are restoring the atomosphere to it's orignial co2 concentration through our use. God's foolishness is wiser than our wisdom!

  5. John....have you and your audience seen this video series?

  6. John, Not sure you meant to say what your last sentence states.
    Judi Coover

  7. A tragically beautiful story but truly puts our calling in the world into perspective.

    Much love,