Monday, October 17, 2005

Monday Humdinger #2

Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds,
The thundering of His pavilion?
Behold, He spreads His lightning about Him,
And He covers the depths of the sea.
For by these He judges peoples;
He gives food in abundance.
He covers His hands with the lightning,
And commands it to strike the mark.
Its noise declares His presence;
The cattle also, concerning what is coming up.
At this also my heart trembles, And leaps from its place.
Listen closely to the thunder of His voice,
And the rumbling that goes out from His mouth.
Under the whole heaven He lets it loose,
And His lightning to the ends of the earth.
After it, a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice,
And He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.
God thunders with His voice wondrously,
Doing great things which we cannot comprehend. --Job 36:29-37:5

The Lord is stirring His people today to ask some very intersting and DIFFICULT questions! Our worship yesterday included the Chris Tomlin song "Indescribable." I received this email this morning asking about the song. . . .


In the first song on Sunday AM were words to the effect that God directs every lightning strike. I immediately was drawn to the event during the summer where a group of boy scouts was struck by lightning with at least one death resulting, and then to this year's string of natural disasters—the earthquake and tsunami in southeast Asia, the hurricanes in the Caribbean, the earthquake in Pakistan, etc. Would you care to address this issue? Did God direct that fatal lightning strike? Or the earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, etc.? Or is the song theologically unsound? Yes, God is powerful, but are these displays of his power? Are they "acts of God?"

Was it a display of God's power when lightning struck a church steeple, and the church burned down? Was this a display of judgment against the congregation? Or the pastor? Did Benjamin Franklin's invention of the lightning rod somehow thwart God's use of lightning against church steeples?

God permits bad things to happen. We live in a fallen world. He knows bad things will happen. He knows the future. Does he cause bad things to happen?

So how would you respond to these questions? Here's my response. . .

Dear Friend,

Funny you should ask these very difficult questions today. I was just reading in Lamentations 3:25-28 on Saturday at our elder retreat. . . .

Lam. 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.
Lam. 3:26 It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD.
Lam. 3:27 It is good for a man that he should bear The yoke in his youth.
Lam. 3:28 Let him sit alone and be silent Since He has laid it on him.
Lam. 3:29 Let him put his mouth in the dust, Perhaps there is hope.
Lam. 3:30 Let him give his cheek to the smiter, Let him be filled with reproach.
Lam. 3:31 For the Lord will not reject forever,
Lam. 3:32 For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion According to His abundant lovingkindness.
Lam. 3:33 For He does not afflict willingly Or grieve the sons of men.
Lam. 3:34 To crush under His feet All the prisoners of the land,
Lam. 3:35 To deprive a man of justice In the presence of the Most High,
Lam. 3:36 To defraud a man in his lawsuit — Of these things the Lord does not approve.
Lam. 3:37 Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it?
Lam. 3:38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?

From this text it appears that God causes grief, not willingly or arbitrarily to crush us under His feed, but so that He might show compassion. Both good and ill go forth from the Most High.

These verses lead me to Isaiah 45:7-9. . . .

Is. 45:7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.
Is. 45:8 “Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness; Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it.
Is. 45:9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker — An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

And then to Amos 3:6. . .

Amos 3:6 If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?

Job said in the midst of all that was happening to Him which included some natural disasters (the fire of God in Job 1:16) "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord." In other words, Job attributes all that is happening to Him to God!

I believe that these Scriptures and others teach that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, good and bad, blessing and calamity, woe and weal, mercy and judgment. He sends the rain to water the earth, does he not also send forth the lightning bolts? In many acts of God, we see a mingling of His mercy and judgement. What to some is mercy, to others is judgement. Oftentimes, Satan and other evil men are also at work in these happenings. . . . but God is still sovereignly overseeing, ordaining and even directing their actions to accomplish His and our ultimate good. (Joseph, Job and the crucifixion of Jesus all come to mind here!)

In all this, God remains free from guilt, sin and evil. How? Because according to Ephesians 2:1-3, we are all under God's just judgment and deserving of His wrath. God is not unjust in wiping out all but one family in Noah's flood or allowing thousands to die in the latest Tsunami or earthquake. God is merciful in giving us the breath we breath today and so very much more. This is not just my perspective, this is Jesus' perspective when He was asked about a "natural disaster" of His own day. . . .

Luke 13:1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Luke 13:2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?
Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
Luke 13:4 “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?
Luke 13:5 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Jesus is saying that we all deserve judgement and, unless we repent, we'll receive it!

So, what are we to make of lightning that kills "innocent" Boy Scouts? We are to say as Paul did in Romans 11:33, "How unsearchable are His judgments and how unfathomable are His ways!" If lightening destroys a church, we ought to refrain from saying that God was judging the pastor or the congregation. It's impossible and improper for us to assign a one-to-one correspondence to these things. "His judgments are unsearchable and His ways are unfathomable."

I don't always like the answers I find in Scripture, but then I look again at the Gospel, where there, too, I see the mingling of God's mercy and judgement. God forsakes His own Son in judgement in order to accomplish His mercy. He causes (Acts 2:42: "according to the predetermined plan of God") this calamity to bring about my eternal good. I don't know what God is doing with hurricanes and other natural disasters, but I do know that He is doing something. It's not my role question Him or to explain Him or to redefine Him, but to trust Him.

All that to say, I believe that the song "Indescribable" is biblically sound and a good reminder to us that God is God and we are His creatures. God is in the heaven, doing whatever He pleases and working all things after the counsel of His own will to accomplish His glory and our good (Ephesians. 1:11).

Finally, I want to be clear that this is my humble perspective based on my study and understanding of the Scriptures at this point in my life. Other Biblical Christians have differing views on these matters. I have read and think I understand these differing views, but just can't stomach them. There's a part of me that would like to embrace these differing views that blame natural disasters solely on a broken universe because, quite frankly, they make me feel better about God, but I believe Scripture teaches the "harder" view I've outlined here. I recognize in myself always the desire and temptation to believe things that I want to believe because they make me feel good or because they put my mind at ease. The more I study the Scriptures the more mysterious and wonderful and terrible God becomes. (I have been comforted by the fact that C.S. Lewis presents Aslan, the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia in this same way: wonderful and terrible.)

I welcome your thoughts and hope that my response spurs your own study of the Scriptures. I appreciate the inquiry.

Humbly. . .. Tim

P.S. : John Piper recently addressed some these same issues in a recent issue of World Magazine. Here's the link. . . . Who Answers to Whom?


Tim Weaver said...

This is an awesome topic. I also defer to God's ways, understanding, and judgments are much higher than ours. I usually comfort myself by viewing it from a slightly different angle which is that God sees the eternal and His plans are eternal.

He is forming our character and working in this world for eternity and the things that He does/allows (view it how you like) are with eternal good in mind. The Boy Scout could be called 'home' because he had fulfilled exactly what God had called him to do and anything else on this life ouwld be pointless suffering when compared to perfect delight in the presence of God.

Is 46:9-10 "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."

It will be an awesome thing when from heaven we look back at the seeming tragedies of this life and see how God glorified Himself through each one.

Of course all this is much easier to write than believe when the tragedy comes to my house, but I figure that I better preach this to myself today in the small things so that when the huge storm comes by God's grace I will stand in loving belief that He is still good.

Brianna Heldt said...

Thank you for posting this email. I struggle with these sorts of questions often, as the Lord continues to open my eyes and my heart more and more to the suffering here and around the world. One thing I DO know is that the Lord is good and sovereign and compassionate and loves these people, and as believers we need to be offering the hope and love of Christ to this hurting, suffering world.

It seems like sometimes one of peoples' first instincts will be to explain why something happened (with the hurricane you heard a lot of "this is God's judgement" from high-profile Christians in the media, for example.) But I believe that as Christians we need to be primarily acting out of compassion, which should prompt us to action and to help the suffering (and to mourn with those who mourn.) Sometimes I have taken things that may very well be true, and unintentionally it has led me to not care or love or help as deeply as I could have. I wholeheartedly believe God is in control--yet that doesn't mean that I'm not part of His plan to help the needy or the oppressed or the orphaned or the lost.

I guess my random thought is that in seeking out Biblical answers to explain certain things in life, I need to not let my heart in any way harden towards the victims of these calamities, be they hurricanes, earthquakes, poverty, disease, etc.

Jeannett Gibson said...

I agree, Tim. We tend to quickly find the "why" to things that go on around us...but we really have NO IDEA what God's intentions are, and to even guess at them seems ridiculous when you stop to think about it. And to even question what His puropse was is even more absurd. I can't help but think back to times in my life when I thought that something was a catastrophic event (personally, not natural disasters) and now, I look back and realize that they were really the best thing in the world. The understanding usually comes with time and maturity, but in these bigger cases, I would think that it won't be until we are home in Heaven that we will ever really know the answer. We can ask God "why" when we're all done falling to our knees in humble worship of His Glory.

Joe Pollon said...

I have heard it said that in our generation, it is impossible to find the specific sin for which the judgment has been delivered. As we distance ourselves from G-d we sin in ignorance, so he mercifully spares us the direct consequence we would otherwise deserve. Our forefathers, having greater contact, awareness and knowledge of G-d, incurred his direct judgment. Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land for striking the rock in anger-a seemingly minor offense. One with direct contact receives direct judgment. Working with 200,000 volts provides awesome power but one mistake and you’re toast. At our level, we just get a little reminder of who we’re dealing with.