… 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.
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|
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.|
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. ElwoodFollow @John_Elwood