This week included two separate experiences. I read from Job and I had a vivid dream of an earthquake. Let me link them here in a single reflection on God’s greatness in the face of human self-confidence.
I’ll start with the earthquake dream. In the dream I saw a hillside in motion as I looked out through a moving window. Then the building I was in collapsed sideways as one wall gave way. A frightening image followed by a quick wake up!
My point in mentioning this little nightmare isn’t to make much of the dream itself but to share how it launched my reflection on the ways we view disasters: our earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. These acts of God, or, in the common coinage of today, natural disasters, are events that threaten our personal security. They make us realize just how small we are in the face of massive and overwhelming forces that readily crush our otherwise secure spaces.
What came to mind is how our modern point of view disengages these events from God’s rule of the universe. That is, the Bible always owns the linkage between natural events of just this kind: that God forms the storms, rules the earthquakes, and owns the seashores of the world. He even goes so far as to claim that every sparrow is under his care and every hair on our head is numbered. There are no surprises in God’s universe: he rules over every event. Whether the tsunami in Indonesia, the many earthquakes throughout the world, or the great storms like Katrina. Yet the naturalistic impulse of our modern world is to describe these huge events as if a scientific description of how they came about removes the divine role in having them happen.
To say, for instance, that tectonic plate movements led to an earthquake doesn’t displace God’s role in directing that earthquake—it only explains how he did it. To treat a low-pressure system formed off the coast of Africa as a strictly “natural” event just because we can trace its movements with satellite images is biblically naïve. There has never been a storm, a fire, a quake, or a flood in the Bible times that God didn’t own as part of his realm. Elijah ruled the weather in Israel under God’s direction for three years. The storms and sequential tragedies that plagued the Egyptians in Moses’ days were signals of God’s rule. The promise of future earthquakes as a sign of Christ’s return tells us that the supernatural connection is not yet broken.
What we cannot do is assign a specific meaning to these events, as did at least one prominent public minister in recent days. He pronounced Katrina to be God’s judgment on New Orleans. The man might have had some credibility if he had prophesied six months beforehand that God would soon bring about a major hurricane against the city. But to make his claims afterwards, to a city that held a cross section of sinners and saints, was to kick people once they were down, at a time when grace and compassion was needed rather than blame-casting. Even if God was judging New Orleans (that is, some who live in the city) in a unique way, we need to let him convict those to whom any lesson is offered. To offer a broad-brush post-event charge is just not convincing. I’m sure that if God regularly set up storms and earthquakes to judge sinful cities as a direct consequence for their sins more than a few cities that are currently prospering should have long since disappeared!
So how do we link the power of God to the power of natural forces? Job’s narrative offers a key insight. As God, in chapters 38-41, charged Job with impudence for his questioning God’s goodness, most of the features involved “nature.” God asked Job to explain how the earth was formed and operates, how the animal kingdom carries on under divine directives, and how the weather runs through its courses.
In the middle of this listing comes a unique charge that addressed humanity in particular: “Look,” God told Job, “on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand” [40:12]. In this cryptic saying God challenged Job to do what God alone can do—to bring about human humility. Only if Job could achieve this miracle would God feel obliged to answer him: “Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you” [40:14].
What can we learn here? Without reviewing all of Job’s narrative and theology here, I can at least remind readers that Job was unjustly charged by his erstwhile friends with being struck down with terrible tragedies because of his sins. We learn, in fact, from the narrator that Job was blameless and that the charges were mislaid. But we also learn that God is not apologetic for what Job endured and that through the tragedies Job’s soul grew and prospered.
We can also learn that nature brings us God-defined tragedies. What if my nightmare about an earthquake proved to be a premonition of a coming event? And in such an event both Christians and non-Christians were spared in some cases, and struck dead or injured in other cases? Would we then be able to say “I have a lesson from God for you!” God forbid!
But we can be certain that God is an expert in humbling us. And in our humility we will at last cease blaming God for events in nature that are byproducts of Adam’s fall; and then begin to acknowledge that he is God! His purpose, both in allowing tragedies and in giving his graces, is to expose pride as an ultimate barrier to his love. A barrier only God can remove, sometimes with a tender touch, and sometimes with hard surgery. The proper response to a tragic event is to call on the God of all mercies. As C. S. Lewis put it, pain is God’s megaphone. If some event helps us listen to him, trust him, and follow him it can never be called a tragedy of nature. Call it, instead, a divine tragedy that offers pathways to life through the humility it brings us. Even when it’s an earthquake, a hurricane, or a flood.
Thank you for your message this week! As always, you dig deep and make me think. Whether God chose New Orleans or Thailand for his particular wrath, for me the point is “what can I learn from this”? Hopefully, I can learn from reading about the event either in the news or in my Bible and not through personal experience. It’s when I think I understand all things Biblical, or my life in general, that my life becomes self-sufficient. Why would I need God when I can figure it all out with my human reasoning? Thank you very much!
It’s at those times, like Job’s friends, when I think I know how to “fix” others’ problems, or explain what God is doing, that I surely will begin to experience the storms of life–the wind, the earthquake or fire, or hopefully (mercifully) a still small voice.
Let’s pray that we all are so open to His voice that we will be receptive to his nudging and that we won’t need a tsunami to get our attention.
Thank you, my dear friend, for your gentle reminder that GOD is in control at all times. This is further evidence that we must trust GOD in all things, and listen when he talks to us. Too often in our busyness, we think we can rationalize the day to day occurances in our lives. We need to be still and listen and GOD will tells us what we need to know, and offer comfort when we need it most.
I am reminded of a passage in Proverbs that has helped me “refresh” my spirit:
Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of GOD.
I pray that all who read your message today gain knowledge from it and choose to seek understanding from GOD and not try to rationalize it away.
ahhh! the wisdom books!
Job – How to suffer
Psalms – How to pray
Proverbs – How to act
Ecclesiastes – How to enjoy
Song of Solomon – How to love
I am unable to make sense of my chaotic past..there is no meaningful analysis i can muster. my first lesson in trusting God..thanks to the book of Job.
“Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of GOD.” thank you ron.
The fear of God…I am studying the life of Moses with bible study fellowship, I would love to hear a sermon on such an important topic. a life saving topic to be sure.
me? i attempt obedience, i do what i know i’m asked to do, i leave the results to him…and, oh yes. i pray.
gentle readers, seek him while he can be found,
he will reveal his will to you.
Our God is a Mighty God, Worthy to be Praised.
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me…” John 6:38-39
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
“…don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” John 15:19
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” 1 Corinthians 3:18-19
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
1 Corinthians 1:25
“The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” 1 Corinthians 8:2
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Colossians 2:8, 20-23
“…avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and have gone astray from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20
“Stop trusting in Man who has but a breath in his nostrils.” Isaiah 2:22
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” 2Timothy 4:3-4
“God is Spirit, and His worshipers will worship in Spirit and truth.” John 4:24
“In later times, some wil abandon their faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons….” 1Timothy 4:1
I didn’t know you blogged! In fact I found out, just now, by reading Glen’s blog, “Christ The Truth,” who is a former student of Paul Blackham (Glen is on staff at “All Souls” in the UK). Anyway, I am glad to have found it, I have you linked to my blog now; and will be sending my readers over here. Although I must say, my purpose for blogging has now become diminished 😉 , since quite a lot of it, over the last 3 yrs has been to expose people to what you exposed me to, Affective Theology.
This post on Job and your dream is an excellent meditation on God’s purpose and power; and I can’t help but see the matrix of grace and nature at work here—i.e. God’s grace redemptively reversing the “forces of nature” as a “megaphone” to a lost and dying world.
I am very excited to have come across your site, Ron!
Yes, Bobby, I’ve been in the blogosphere for a while now, but I’ve only been active (i.e. trying to meet a once-a-week commitment) for a few months. That began when Jack, a good friend from my days at Warren Community Fellowship, asked me to provide some regular food for thought. Anyway, thanks for the link from your site: I’m honored. Let me say that I’ve visited your site in days past (I’m usually a silent guest at sites) and have been very encouraged by your work: keep it up!
Thank you, Ron! Well you know I will be a regular here, and I look forward to further postings! I was also pleased to have found Warren Church’s archive, they have many of your sermon’s listed. Keep spreading the goodness! 🙂