Earlier this year, thousands of workers crowded into a huge building known as the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This building housed several clothing factories, where workers endured deplorable working conditions not uncommon in many developing countries. As the workday unfolded, the building suddenly began rumbling and shaking. However, this was no earthquake, but the imminent collapse of the shoddily constructed building itself!
In a disaster from which recovery would take weeks, and is still not complete, a large part of the overloaded structure shuddered and fell in a cloud of dust and debris, trapping hundreds of people. Photos of the scene show stark images of the horror the workers were subjected to. They will never forget the sights, sounds and smells that they experienced.
Rescue efforts were mounted immediately and continued for days as rescue workers and officials tore through the rubble searching for survivors. The death toll ended at 1,127, with thousands more injured. The building owner and the builder have been arrested and charged with causing or contributing to this tragedy. This poor country has a record of poor quality building catastrophes resulting in injuries and death, but this incident is the most costly in human suffering so far.
As in most tragedies, the causes become very clear soon after the fact. In this case, basic standards of construction were ignored. Greed prevailed over concern for the safety and wellbeing of others. When time honored standards are abandoned and concern for others is ignored, the scene is set for disaster.
The Bible has much to say on these subjects. In the Old Testament we find instructions about building safety. “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet (a railing) for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it” (Deuteronomy 22:8). The principle is clear: in building a structure, do what you can to prevent injury.
Many scriptures illustrate God’s concern for workers, the poor, for widows and orphans. For example, Deuteronomy 24:14 states:“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates.” This is very plain instruction to treat employees well. Continuing further, it says, “Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it” (v. 15). Then it states, “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge” (v. 17).
In the New Testament, this theme is continued as Jesus described the Kingdom of God in a parable using the analogy of a vineyard. The book of Matthew records His teaching: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers… for a denarius a day…” (Matthew 20:1–2). Later in the day he hired other workers “…and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went” (v. 4). Notice, the vineyard owner paid a fair wage, setting us an example.
In many ways the collapse of the building in Bangladesh symbolizes the condition of this world and the society that mankind has built for the past 6,000 years. It is inherently defective because it is not based on the immutable laws of God. This society will collapse as certainly as did the Rana Plaza.
As we consider the plight of poor and underprivileged workers in third world countries—and the unemployed and underemployed in the economically troubled developed countries—we should do what we can to prevent problems and to assist in alleviating suffering. Yet in reality, the only lasting answer to these intractable problems is for Jesus Christ to return, in power and glory, to establish His Kingdom, which will right the wrongs and usher in a millennium of peace and prosperity for all. God speed that Day!