12,000 houses in Christchurch need to be demolished according to an estimate. A significant proportion of those are on land on which no further houses should be built. Ever. In the normal course of events, once insurance and Earthquake Commission (EQC) payouts are made, those who have to walk from the land will be out of pocket. For some that loss could be more than the price of the land so that while some might be able to start again the process of securing their own home, where people are out of work or in senior life there would be little or no hope of owning a new home again. One can then multiply the bleak outlook by estimating the number of people looking to rent homes versus how few homes for rental will be available. Every which way, the outlook, if it unfolded strictly according to the obligations represented in the paperwork of insurance and mortgage contracts is very bleak for thousands of people.
But today the NZ Government will announce that it will buy thousands of damaged properties at the valuation of those properties prior to the first earthquake in September, 2010. With plenty of flat, safe(ish) land available in other parts of Christchurch, the affected homeowners will be able to resume their home ownership elsewhere with more or less similar equity to what they had last year. If this announcement comes to pass as predicted most if not all Kiwis will applaud it as a fair and proper response of the government to a difficult situation wrought by nature's forces and not by human folly.
I have been thinking that, perhaps too easily, we do not think about how extraordinary this response of the government will be. In a parallel activity a similar extraordinary action is taking place in Europe as Greece is rescued. Arguably that action is more extraordinary as Greece's financial problems are not the result of nature wreaking havoc.
Governments do not have to do anything other than govern. It is nice when they play by the (just) laws they have inherited from the past or which they have made in the present. But they have the power to do pretty much as they please. They can shoot their citizens, raze towns to the ground, place their poor in camps and forget about them, all such things occurring in recent and present times around the world. Though we might expect our democratic government not to shoot us, we cannot expect it to help some citizens with what amount to huge financial gifts while refraining from helping all citizens with the same largesse.
Here in NZ and over there in Europe, governments are doing what they are not required to do. They are reaching out with generosity, going the extra mile and giving without expectation of return. In short, they are acting out grace not justice, mercy not deserts.
Is this the outworking of the gospel buried deep in the psyche of Western culture, despite its outward profession of loss of faith in the God of Jesus Christ? Is the Kingdom of Grace coming to Christchurch via a government led by a self-acclaimed agnostic?