Bernie Diaz, September 5, 2017
Virtually everyone in the U.S. knows by now what kind of damage, pain and suffering Hurricane Harvey has caused to the southwest region of Texas- predominately in the Houston area, where nearly four dozen people have died, 50,000 plus families have been left homeless and the cost of this storm, which has resulted in the most extensive flooding ever seen perhaps in American history, may rise eventually to $200 billion.
Now what? Hurricane Irma – which may be as big or bigger than Harvey, is making its move through the Caribbean islands south of Puerto Rico and Florida as I post this blog, which are now bracing itself in a state of emergency for its possible landfall this weekend or so.
Where is God and What is He Doing?
There are no crystal balls of course, to answer the question of “Why do we face certain tests, trails and tribulations like hurricanes, tornados and cancer?” There are people who have either denied or despised the faith of Christianity because they cannot answer or come to grips with the parallel question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
This may be perhaps the most difficult and challenging issue that apologists or defenders of the Christian faith are faced with, being what theologians call, ‘theodicy’, or the problem of evil, pain or suffering in the world. This is what many of them claim is their greatest argument against the faith, as they say that either God is not very good to permit such disasters and tragedy in the world, or that that He’s not all that good, or that He’s not powerful enough to do anything about such calamities, which is actually what some liberal Christians teach.
The problem is that although they mean well, they just don’t understand God or his Word, and so faithless Christians and skeptics want to take Him off the hook for everything from earthquakes and the holocaust, to Hurricane Harvey.
Some years back, a former local newspaper columnist and friend of mine who I worked with on television- an avowed agnostic if not atheist, in the wake of another storm wrote: Faith in a way, makes it harder to understand the maddening capriciousness of natural disasters, or even man-made cataclysms like wars and terrorist attacks. Why would an omnipotent God do this to someone?
That’s a fair question. According to Luke’s gospel, a number of observers once posed the same question to Jesus Christ about God’s sovereignty and will in the wake of a massacre of Galilean Christians as well as a seemingly random event of a tower in Siloam collapsing upon and killing 18 citizens (Lu. 13:1-5). This could have been described as a 9-11 and Harvey type incident of its time, leading others to think as per Jewish custom that the sins of the victims may have led to their demise.
That speculative question led to a most astonishing yet revealing response from the King of the world…. Wait for it……………. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What? Really….
If one is a Christian who takes God’s word and gospel and his or her faith seriously and ponders a bit, this answer makes sense. How? One must have a kingdom and redemption mindset, a mind as Paul called for the Colossians to have, which is to be set, on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2). Why? The next two verses in that passage of scripture give us a clue: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
In other words, we who are born-again believers and disciples of Jesus, have already died to our old sinful-selves and now have heavenly perspectives, a faith “hidden in Christ” that looks to glory rather than the temporal evil, pain and suffering that occurs here on this fallen and sin-cursed planet.
Jesus essentially told those Galileans then, and us now, that 150 to 200,000 people are dying every day on earth, and what matters most is not the particular circumstance of their death or suffering- that is God’s domain in providence, but rather their turning to God and trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior, that will bring eternal life, hope and meaning now, in the midst of suffering.
What hope are we banking on? While I don’t pretend to offer you a comprehensive answer to each and every event or tragedy that has occurred, or even in your family, many like Oswald Chambers have weighed in on the idea that, “God does not tell us what he is going to do. He reveals who He is.”
So, with that in mind, I like millions of Christians over history, answer the question of pain and suffering with Romans 8:28, which reads:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
This my friend, is a promise for Christians with three different answers to the question of why, as in, “Why Hurricane Harvey?”
- God is Sovereign in the Why (He works all thing together for good..)
When theologians say God is sovereign, they mean that he is absolute in His reign, kingdom and authority over the world and is all powerful, present and knowing in his providence or circumstantial work in the world. In other words, God controls everything, including nature (Isa. 45:5-8; Amos 3:6).
Fortunately, as we pray for Hurricane Irma to be diverted, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus exhibited that same authority on earth. We read in Mark 4:39, that Christ “arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace, be still!’ And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”
God controls category four or five storms as well as your life and mine (Psa. 139:16).
- God Has a Promise in the Why (who love God and are the called…)
God’s promise is for His own (Ro. 8:28-31), meaning that his promise is conditional. It is a promise made only for his adopted children, those he has justified, redeemed and reconciled to himself by his sovereign grace and the repentant faith of forgiven sinners. In other words, this promise is not for everyone. The non-Christian or unbeliever cannot claim this promise for themselves and all things do not work together for their good.
This reality is another attention-grabbing motive for the lost to find Christ as God changes their heart. Lastly…
- God Has Plans for Us in the Why (according to his purpose.)
There are several great men and women of the faith whom God has used mightily to suffer well, with the hope of glory in front of them as they endured great trials and tribulation as a means of bringing glory to God as well as strength and comfort to others, from Job and Joseph (Gen. 50:20) to Jesus and Joni.
God’s glory manifesting itself amidst his control over evil and suffering was never more evident when he healed a blind man from birth. On that occasion as was the case with the tower of Siloam, the disciples wondered whether the man’s sin or those of his parents resulted in his loss of sight. Jesus replied to that query by saying in John 9:1-3; “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
Have you ever thought that one of the more significant reasons that God allows pain and suffering, is because it is a primary vehicle in which God can ‘reveal’ or display his healing power, mercy and grace? It stands to reason that the blind man had to be born that way in order to be healed by Jesus. Who gets the praise and glory for that? Did not this man come to saving faith as a result of his condition and then healing, as the rest of John 9 teaches?
Someone once said, that God’s sovereignty is best seen in the rearview mirror. That is a simple and profound statement. I mentioned Joni, as a great hero of the faith. You won’t find this contemporary heroine in your Bible but you can find or read, see or listen to Joni Eareckson Tada’s powerful testimony, where you find that at the age of 17, a careless dive into shallow water left her a quadriplegic.
She was interviewed on national television about her story and asked whether she had ever doubted her faith in the mist and aftermath of the tragic accident and suffering. This woman now in her 60’s answered:
If God told us the reasons why anyway, it would be like probably pouring million gallon truths into our one-ounce brains. We couldn’t contain it all. But when I look at national tragedies or even personal tragedies, sometimes I think these things are like God’s way of, like, wake-up calls, like yellow lights blinking, like red flags waving. Like what are you doing with your life? Where are you going? Do you not know that this parade of life as you enjoy it is not going to last forever? And what will you do when you face the other side of your tombstone?
What wisdom. It is as if Mrs. Tada had sat next to Jesus when he spoke to the Galileans in Luke 13 in the wake of the calamity of the tower. What do we hang on to as we face hurricanes and cancer? God, his Christ, gospel and promises such as found in Ro. 8:28. That is our rock and refuge in a storm.
When Tada was asked in her interview what carried her through her storm, she remembered the ministry of Christian friends and said;
“One of the first bible versus anybody gave me was out of the New Testament, 1 Thess. 5:18. And it says there, In everything, give thanks, for this is the will of God and Christ Jesus concerning you. I said, say what? You can’t be serious. I mean, I don’t feel thankful for this. No way. And my friend said, ‘Joni, wait a minute. It doesn’t say you’ve got to feel thankful. Trusting God has nothing to do with trustful feelings. It says give thanks. And so, take a step of faith and do it.”
We who are in Christ, can and must do the same today and as we prepare for storms and their opportunities, be ready to rest in, show and share Jesus Christ.