Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Tornadoes, Terrorism, and Other Reasons we need a Sovereign God: Part II
As I write, the clean-up from terrible storms that tore through the south three weeks ago continues. Two weeks ago when seeking to address these storms, and other current and terrible events from a proper God-centered perspective, no one was aware that this same region of the country would continue to reel from the effects of storms in the upper mid-west, which in turn caused massive flooding along the southern Mississippi River, and in turn have forced officials to intentionally flood lesser populated areas for the sake of cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA, in a game of “lesser of two evils.”
Our God on the other hand, knew of these events even prior to creation! Furthermore, the Scriptures declare that His good and sovereign purposes are accomplished in such things. And this truth, whether applied to national crises such as storms and terrorism, or personal crises such as my own family has sometimes faced, gives the kind of assurance to believers that only a sovereign God can give.
Still, these blanket statements of God's complete control over all things beg further questions in our minds. How can such horrific events as the Japan nuclear disaster, or the perishing of newborn babies, or the flooding of entire town and subsequent washing away of history be part of the plans of a God who is always good?! Admittedly, no final answer to these questions can be given on this side of eternity. Yet even in the midst of this uncertainty, the Scriptures declare that there are things we can know for sure, and things in which our hope must lie, not only during crises, but throughout every moment of our lives.
In Deuteronomy 29:29, Moses sucinctly describes this juxtaposition when he says to the people of Israel: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." The first phrase of this statement speaks poignantly, if bluntly, to our present situation. Put simply, Almighty God is not obligated to explain Himself or His actions to any of us! There are things that take place in this world in which lie God's "secret things." The Hebrew term here translated "secret" means, in its verbal form, "to conceal." Whether it is because of our self-centerdness, or because God knows we would never understand anyway, He has chosen to keep certain of His purposes hidden from us. As I said in the last post, the ultimate why question simply cannot be answered.
And never have such Biblical truths been more profoundly driven into my own heart than in times of personal and family crisis! On a Sunday night almost 6 years ago, my then-pregnant wife went into pre-term labor. Sixteen hours later, our son Seth was born just before noon and five weeks early! Early reports were not good, and we sat, as do many new moms and dads in this situation, on "pins and needles." It would be fifteen days before he would be allowed to go home, and in that time period, a myriad of tests, and painful procedures such as spinal taps would have to be performed. Today, he is a healthy, 5 ½ year-old little boy who is the delight of his father’s heart, and full of energy. But in the midst of that crisis, the uncertainty and anxiety were palpable. Additionally, as I ponder the wonderful way our trying story ended, I’m acutely aware of young parent’s whose stories do not end on such a joyful note. I have pastored those families, and officiated at those funerals where the casket in front of me was unnaturally small. As always, the question comes: Why?
In such a situation, both sides of Deuteronomy 29:29 are imminently applicable. First, just as God isn't obligated to explain why He allows the things he allows. To speak bluntly, His reasons for this are His business!
Still, we have yet to look more closely at the other half of this verse: "but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." My wife and I have learned through the above and other examples that while God chooses to keep some things to Himself, He does not want us totally ignorant. But while such events may tempt us to search for knowledge of the events themselves, God uses such events to steer us toward knowing Him. God doesn't want the United States to know why we have experienced an historic number of terrible storms, or why we continue to live anxiously in the current environment of terrorism, just as God didn't want me to know why we had to helplessly watch our second-born son spend more than two weeks in NICU. But through all of these things, He does want humanity to know Him. And when we know Him, we learn other things the Word has revealed:
Our Dependence: Isaiah Chapters 13-23 describe the future of a number of powerful nations that existed in the prophet's day. . . powerful nations, I might add, that either longer exist, or have barely survived to the present day in a severely weakened state! In this section of Biblical prophecy, God through his servant Isaiah predicts the destruction of Babylon (13:1-14:23), Assyria (14:24-28), Phillistia (14:29-32), Moab (15:1-16:13), Damascus (17:1-14), Ethiopia (18:1-7), Egypt (19:1-24), and a host of other nations. The political context of these passages suggest that Isaiah, through these predictions, is warning Judah not to enter into alliances with these countries to shore up its own security. This is also consistent with the overall political nuance of Isaiah's message: "Trust in the Lord, not in alliances with foreign and pagan nations." The point is simple: Judah will not find security in any nation, only in God!
With that said, the question must always be poised as to where our hope lies. In the wake of a natural disaster or attack of terror, some will hope in the cooperation of local, state and federal government. Still, even the most efficient coordination efforts cannot totally prevent the damage. Some may even hope in the return of Christ.(In fact, I hear there are a few expecting Him to make His entrance this Saturday, but I digress onto the ridiculous!) But while Scripture commends such hope, it does not do so on the basis of escape from the hardships of life. In addition, the second coming didn't prevent believers along with unbelievers from feeling the wrath of last month’s storms.
Similarly, while waiting on my son’s health to improve years ago, I was forced to continually ask myself whether the greater portion of my hope lay with the excellent physicians and nurses who treated him, or in God who at this very moment continues to allow his now-healthy heart to beat. During any crisis, be it personal, national, or somewhere in between, the first step to finding peace is to realize that we are often more vulnerable than we think we are! Such a realization will compel us to look to God alone.
Our Responsibility: We may not know why God allows calamity, but even the one casually aquainted with Scripture knows what God expects of us when such clamity strikes. It is during times like these that the public at large is able to see the feet, hands, and compassion of Jesus Christ Himself through the presence of His church. And God commands that we act, not only as His mouth, but as His hands and feet.
Bob Foster is a walking example of this principle. Struck blind in an auto accident, Bob could have spend the rest of his life asking why. Instead, he asked what. And over the past several years since his accident, he has walked the halls of nursing homes in Howard County, ministering to residents there, and leading over 40 of them to faith in Jesus Christ! In short, we may not know all that God is doing through crises, but the text of Scripture is clear as to what our responsibilities are during such times.
Our Calling: Some things God doesn't intend for His people to know. Other things He wants us to know! And Deuteronomy tells us that those revealed things are for the purpose of our observing "all the words of this law." I don't know all the reasons God allows intense trial, but none of that allows me to abdicate my responsibilities as a husband, father, neighbor, citizen, and pastor! Sometimes, we simply don't know what God is up to. We do, however, know from the Bible what He wants from us in obedience, and those requirements don't change in bad times.
Our Confidence: Moses tells us that the things God has revealed have been given to us "and to our sons forever." My last post dealt more specifically with the neccesity of believing in a sovereign God, but this emphasis must be reiterated again. Promises of a secure eternity, the end of sin and death, the final, triumphant return of Jesus Christ and the subsequent inauguration of an eternity of the glory of God are things we can be confident in only because the God we serve has declared the end from the beginning! It is illogical, not to mention unBiblical, to claim that God has somehow lost control of His creation, yet at the same time claim absolute assurance of His promises in Scripture. You simply cannot have one without the other!
This requires believing the hard truth that God really does control all things. It requires believing that although he is not responsible for sin and evil, such things are used, even against the will of those who perpetrate them, toward the advancement of an ultimate good. As Rick Warren has simply stated, we aren't in heaven. We are on earth! And this means that heartache, destruction, pain, death, sadness, sickness, perversion, crime, poverty, injustice, confusion, and other issues will always be with us on this sin-sick planet. But the Word of God tells us that even these things are under His control. Such a truth may be difficult short-term, but in the long run, it is the only basis on which we base our confidence in His promises, and cry along with John in absolute certainty, "even so, come Lord Jesus!"
For Further Reading:
Bray, Gerald. 1993. The Doctrine of God: Contours of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: Intevarsity Press.
Packer, J.I. 1973. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
McCullough, Donald W. 1995. The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Ware, Bruce A. 2003. Their god is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.