WHERE IS GOD WHEN THE WAVE WASHES OVER YOU?
March 31, 2019…. Fourth Sunday in Lent
1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and it is dyed like a garment.
15 Light is withheld from the wicked,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
We should count ourselves fortunate to live in this beautiful Shenandoah Valley, nestled securely between the protective walls of the majestic Blue Ridge and Alleghany mountain ranges. Few of us have ever known what it’s like to endure a natural disaster.
Oh, we’ll get the occasional flash flooding that leaves some ugly stains on our basement rec room carpet. And there are those random storms with wind gusts that overturn our deck chairs and deposit some shingles on our driveway and knock out our Facebook surfing for a few hours.
Most of our encounters with the deadly devastation of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and wildfires come from the safe confines of our Lazy-Boy recliner watching the play-by-play commentary of Jim Cantori. And for this we should be eternally grateful and humble.
However, it’s been my observation that we Shenandoah Valley Christians, viewing such destruction at a high-definition distance, tend to develop a certain smugness. We who have never had the wave of natural disaster wash over us find it easy to glibly ascertain God’s role in such calamity:
DOES GOD ALLOW NATURAL DISASTERS…
To inflict judgment?
That’s the immediate conclusion many draw whenever we see a weather-related catastrophe of immense proportion.
After all, didn’t the Lord use nature to inflict punishment on his enemies in the Bible? Look at the Exodus of Moses-the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. And that obscure passage in Numbers 16 when Korah and 250 of his cohorts incited a rebellion against Moses, and God caused a huge sinkhole to form and bury them alive—just swallowed them right up!
And, let’s back up a bit—how about all those degenerate folks at the time of Noah whom God chose to engulf in the granddaddy of all floods?
Surely God is still in the business of inflicting such pain upon sinful folks today!
At least that’s what evangelist Pat Robertson had to say about the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, killing 300,000 and leaving some 1.5 million people homeless. Robertson said God smote Haiti because their population supposedly swore a pact with the devil to gain their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th century.
Robertson often claims to know what God is thinking in the aftermath of such catastrophic events.
Yes, there are many people who share Robertson’s viewpoint that God uses natural disasters to bring the hammer down on people today from New Orleans to Japan to other godless points in-between.
Could it be, though, that God occasionally makes mistakes in wielding his wrath?
Many of you remember the Flood of 1985 in these parts. I was serving a charge of UM churches in Mt. Jackson at the time. We sent a team of folks over the mountain into West VA to assist in the cleanup along the South Branch of the Potomac River.
I’ll never forget the amazing pictures Bill brought back of this one community where two churches, a cemetery, a general store and several homes had been completely washed away…and yet, still sitting on a spit of land right smack dab on the opposite bank of the river was the local honky-tonk beer joint totally unharmed! Now how do you explain that?
Does God allow natural disasters in order to inflict judgment? What do you think?
Does God allow natural disasters….
To ignite goodness?
Now, do you want to hear something that’s really way out there? Check out this writing by British philosopher David Bain:
The second century saint, Irenaeus, and the 20th Century philosopher, John Hick, appeal instead to what is sometimes called soul-making. God created a universe in which disasters occur, they think, because goodness only develops in response to people’s suffering.
To appreciate this idea, try to imagine a world containing people, but literally no suffering. Call it the Magical World. In that world, there are no earthquakes or tsunamis, or none that cause suffering. If people are hit by falling masonry, it somehow bounces off harmlessly. If I steal your money, God replaces it. If I try to hurt you, I fail.
So why didn’t God create the Magical World instead of ours? Because, the soul-making view says, its denizens wouldn’t be – couldn’t be – truly good people.
It’s not that they would all be bad. It’s that they couldn’t be properly good. For goodness develops only where it’s needed, the idea goes, and it’s not needed in the Magical World.
In that world, after all, there is no danger that requires people to be brave, so there would be no bravery. That world contains no one who needs comfort or kindness or sympathy, so none would be given. It’s a world without moral goodness, which is why God created ours instead.
So, does God allow catastrophic natural events in order to ignite goodness in us, to provide a proving ground that we might learn how to care for others? Interesting question….What do you think?
Does God allow natural disasters…
To emphasize fallenness?
Now if you’re looking for a truly theological explanation as to why we have cataclysmic convulsions in nature, this might be a good place to hang your hat.
In much the same way that God permits evil people to commit evil acts, God permits the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. The Apostle Paul states in Romans 8:19-21:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Yes, the fall of humanity into sin had effects on everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to “frustration” and “decay.” The DNA of sin will continue to taint the world about us until Christ returns to restore all things to God’s intended purposes and glory.
In the meanwhile, God allows natural disasters to emphasize the fallenness of his creation. It’s simply the nature of the world you and I live in, and we have to deal with it.
What do you think? Is that a satisfactory clarification?
I’m sure all of these explanations swirl through Job’s mind as he encounters calamity in his own life. This man of tremendous faith loses everything…and I do mean everything!
Why does God allow such disaster? Ultimately we, like Job, are left with a mystery. There is no one satisfactory answer.
Faced with suffering, I am amazed at Job’s responses: He arises, tears his robe, shaves his head, and falls on the ground in worship:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” -Job 1:19-21
When his wife implores him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job responds, “You are talking like a foolish woman! Shall we accept good from the Lord and not the bad?” – Job 2:9-10
And Job, though filled with burning questions, does not turn away from God.
Nor should we….
Here are some further questions:
CAN GOD USE NATURAL DISASTERS…
As a catalyst for introspection?
It is kind of sad that we call natural disasters “acts of God” while never giving God any credit at all for years, decades or even centuries of peaceful weather. We know that in the beginning God created the entire universe and the laws of nature. And most natural disasters are the result of these laws at work and sometimes colliding.
Every day people suffer, and every day people die. A catastrophic natural event simply concentrates the misery of persons on a grand scale. The sheer numbers often shock us.
But if there’s any silver lining, any grace, to such periods of great suffering and loss, it is that they jar us from our spiritual complacency. They give us impetus to draw closer to Christ. They force us to take a long hard look at how precious and fragile life truly is, and to make changes in our way of living to reflect that.
Yes, God can use natural disasters as a catalyst for introspection, for leading us into a deeper, more meaningful life. Can God use natural disasters….
As a commission to compassion?
Last week in Beaufort, NC, I met a couple who were volunteers with our UM Committee on Relief. They had been there for several months doing roofing and other home repairs for needy persons in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which had devastated that region last September with high winds and horrific flooding.
A tornado had claimed this couple’s retirement home in Oklahoma. They had always felt a calling to do mission work but felt they had too much holding them back. So now that they no longer were tied down to their sprawling brick ranch home, they took the plunge. They used their insurance money to purchase a 5th wheel travel trailer and joined UMCOR. They had since been traveling all over the US, helping wherever there was a need.
Yes, God can use natural disasters as a commission to compassion, compelling us to leave our comfort zones to be the voice, the hands, the feet for Christ in places that are devastated and divided by pain, grieving with those who grieve, and doing what we can to alleviate their struggles.
Can God use natural disasters….
As a conversion to hope?
Once again, there is an affirmation!
Philip Yancey writes, “Secular unbelievers resign themselves to the extinction of the planet millions of years from now when the sun flames out like a dying match. In contrast, Christians place their hope in a time when death, ‘the last enemy,’ will be destroyed, when God will sort out evil from good and death from life, and resurrect both bodies and souls in a final resolution: ‘I am making all things new.’” [quoted in Philip Yancey, The Question that Never Goes Away, p. 44-45]
It is this God-given hope that has enabled persons to rise up from the depths of despair and rebuild their lives upon solid rock, finding a resiliency to live again rather than simply exist.
The deepest disaster can become a birth to hope.
And yet, it involves arriving at a place of trust, of placing one’s life and future in God’s hands.
Ultimately, we, like Job, have to come to terms with that option. Job is able to affirm with great assurance, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth!”
It’s fascinating how Job, this unfortunate man who deserved suffering least yet endured it most, arrives at this place of trust. He finally gets his requested audience with God. God tells him to man up and listen. And God proceeds to give job the longest recorded lecture in all the Bible.
Yancey notes, though, that “while giving Job a tour of the natural world in magnificent poetry, God never addresses the Why? question. In Frederick Buechner’s words, ‘God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway.
He says that to try to explain the kind of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a littleneck clam…God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself.’” [quoted in Philip Yancey, The Question that Never Goes Away, p. 43]
For Job, simply knowing that God cares for him is enough. He doesn’t need answers. He only needs presence—God’s presence. And that’s enough hope for him to carry on.
Kelly Clem was the pastor of Goshen United Methodist Church in rural eastern Alabama back in 1994. It was Palm Sunday. They were halfway through the worship service when a tornado dropped down and destroyed the entire church.
Twenty people were killed. One of the victims was Kelly Clem’s beautiful little 4-year-old daughter Hannah. She found her daughter unconscious at the rear of the collapsed sanctuary underneath an overturned pew. One cannot imagine her horror and her grief.
At a worship service the following Sunday on the same church grounds in front of the destroyed sanctuary, a bruised and battered Kelly Clem told her congregation, “I’m not feeling very theological right now, but I know I don’t blame God. God has been with us throughout all of this. God did not make this happen.”
Some 25 years later, Clem has been through a long journey of healing physically, emotionally and spiritually. She has helped many others in the aftermath of storms throughout the South and Midwest.
She says, “When I talk to people about storms, I say to them that storms take on many forms. And no matter what the storm is, what caused it, God is with us in the storm. God is with us through the storm just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples in the stormy sea. God never leaves us, and God is there throughout the storm and in the recovery from the storm.”
Where is God when the wave washes over you?
He is with you….
He is with you, in that storm, and beyond….