Editor's Note: After large natural disasters, it is natural for people to ask, "Where is God in this?" The following article addresses this question. It is adapted by permission from a message presented by Tim Senn at The Bible Church of Little Rock in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.
All of us have been stirred by what we've been seeing on television or reading about on the Internet this week, as we've heard about individuals and families affected by Hurricane Katrina. This event is already being referred to as the greatest natural disaster in our nation's history. And, as is often the case when a calamity like this occurs, people are wondering about where God fits into the picture.
The Scriptures say that God actually speaks to us through storms, through catastrophes and through disasters like Katrina. The question is: Are we listening? Are we paying attention to what God is saying to us?
What are we to think of our God as we consider the devastation of Katrina? And how are we, as His followers, to respond?
We teach our children to pray at mealtime, "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food." But events like this force us to reexamine that assertion. Is God great? Is God good? If God truly is great, could He not have prevented this disaster? And if God truly is good, wouldn't He want to prevent this kind of devastation? We have friends, co-workers and family members who are asking themselves that question this week.
My conviction is that God is great and God is good, and Hurricane Katrina has done nothing to change that. In fact, I believe we are called on, as followers of Christ, to worship the God of the storm and to see that God is to be glorified as the God who is at work in the midst of these events. There are 12 ways we can do accomplish this in the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina:
First, we must respond by acknowledging God's sovereignty. Consider what the Scriptures teach in Job 37:5-13:
God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend. For to the snow He says, 'Fall on the earth,' and to the downpour and the rain, 'Be strong.' He seals the hand of every man, that all men may know His work. Then the beast goes into its lair and remains in its den. Out of the south comes the storm, and out of the north the cold. From the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters is frozen. Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud; He disperses the cloud of His lightning. It changes direction, turning around by His guidance, that it may do whatever He commands it on the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen.
In 1992 our family faced a disaster of our own when my brother was almost killed in a car accident. I had just become a Christian, and I remember well-meaning people telling me that the accident was not God's will and that God had nothing to do with that event. But I realized that that God knew it was going to happen because He knows all things. I realized that He could have prevented the accident, but He chose not to do so. Like Job, I had to come to a place where I said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21 ).
I may not understand Gods plan and purpose for events like my brothers' accident, or Hurricane Katrina, but that doesn't mean He doesn't have a plan or a purpose for those events. That reality is where we find our comfort.
The second way we need to respond to Hurricane Katrina is to revere God's power . As we have heard and read accounts of this storm, it's amazing to consider its scope. Katrina cut a path that is the size of the United Kingdom . The hurricane treated telephone poles as if they were toothpicks. Structures that we would think of as immovable were tossed around like playthings.
Behind the storm, we must see the all powerful God who directs the wind and the waves. Psalm 104:4 tells us that God makes the wind His messengers. Psalm 147:18 says, "He causes the wind to blow and the waters to flow." Who controls whether a levee holds or gives way? God does. Consider Psalm 135:6-7, which says,
Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; Who makes lightnings for the rain, Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.
It's astounding how many times the Scriptures speak of God being in control of the storms. We need to take heed of this and reverence His power.
A third way to respond to Katrina is to take comfort in God's plan . As followers of Christ, nothing can touch us that God has not designed, and whatever He has designed is for our good and for His glory. Joni Eareckson Tada, who herself has experienced the personal calamity of being a quadriplegic has said, "When we learn to lean back on God's sovereignty, fixing and settling our thoughts on that unshakable, unmovable reality, we can experience great inner peace. Our troubles may not change. Our pain may not diminish. Our loss may not be restored. Or problems may not fade with the new dawn. But the power of those things to harm us is broken as we rest in the fact that God is in control."
Fourth, we should trust in God's wisdom. We should not look at these cities that have been destroyed and think that, somehow, they deserved it more than we do. We should not attempt to speculate that there is some specific sin or evil about these cities that merited God's judgment in this storm. That's not true. God could as easily and as righteously destroy our city tomorrow.
It's a mistake to think that God had nothing to do with the storm. But it's also a mistake for us to act like we know exactly what God was doing. We might see a bar or a casino that was destroyed and think, "God was bringing judgment." But there were churches that were destroyed as well. We must trust God's wisdom and not speculate for ourselves things that we cannot comprehend, or worse than that, to charge Him with injustice. God knows what He is doing.
As Job declares after his dialogue with God,
"I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
Fifth, these disasters should increase our knowledge of God. In some way that we can't fully understand, God has ordained to allow evil for His own good purpose. These events remind us of attributes of God like His power or His holiness.
Wouldn't we be impoverished in our knowledge of God if evil did not exist? For example, how would we know mercy or compassion without sin and suffering in our world? How would we know the grace of God without the existence of evil? Neither could we know His justice, or His judgment, or His wrath.
Even though we don't understand these disasters, we should be thanking God for the opportunity for Him to reveal himself in ways that we never would have known. That's what I'm asking this week: God what are you trying to teach me about yourself?
Sixth, we should adopt an attitude of humility. Disasters should remind us that these are occurring because we are a sinful people. Isn't it true that before the fall of man, there would never have been anything like hurricanes or tornadoes or floods. We all deserve these things, and when you look at it from this perspective you realize, God, you are just in what you do. As a sinner, I deserve these things and I have no reason to complain about your justice.
Seventh, we should receive God's invitation to grace. These disasters are God's invitation to us to wake up and see what's important in life—our spiritual condition. Because of our sin, God is blending judgment and mercy anytime a disaster occurs.
C.S. Lewis writes, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Maybe you've been deaf to God lately. Maybe you're an unbeliever who's been deaf to God your entire life. These kinds of situations should wake you up and lead you to think, "Am I prepared to face the greater judgment that's coming?"
Amos 4:6-12 tells us that God sends calamities so that we might repent and turn to God. And God is saying to us today that, as profound as the needs are physically, as profound as the needs are financially, economically, educationally, your deepest need is to be made right with Him. Your deepest need is to be saved, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, to turn from your sin, so that you can withstand the greatest judgment the world will ever face—when Jesus Christ comes again and separates all peoples.
Rather than saying, "Weren't we fortunate that we were spared from this storm," we should be saying, "God, show us your mercy by turning our hearts to you, because these things could happen to us at any time."
Eighth, we need to express compassion and mercy. The Scripture tells us we need to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15 ). These disasters should cause us to cry as we see stories of people who are separated from their families.
The sovereignty of God does not call us to react by saying, "They just got what they deserved." Or "God is in control, so it doesn't matter that people are suffering." It absolutely matters. God has a heart for those who are suffering. God has entered into our suffering, and He has suffered Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He tells us that the way He will show His compassion is through us. We are His hands and feet as we reach out with His love and His grace to meet physical needs we see around us.
1 John 3:17 says, "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" Isn't this clear? If you see someone in need, and you don't give to help meet that need, what good is your faith? This is a wake up call to us as Christians.
Ninth, we need to reorient our priorities. How encouraging it was to see a television report about a woman who had given birth in New Orleans on the day of the hurricane, who had been stuck in the hospital for four days, with little food or water. The reporter urged her to blame someone for what had happened, but instead she clearly said that if you have faith in God, you can get through anything. I said, 'Praise God' to the TV!
This past week my family talked about what we would take in our car if we had to suddenly leave our home because of a similar calamity. All we could come up with was our photographs—that's all we would want. If we had our lives, that is all that really matters.
Calamities should shake us and lead us to ask, "What are we pursuing every day? What are we giving our lives to? Why am I working so hard to gain things that God says are only temporary?" We need to hear God's voice by slowing down, and seeking His kingdom. We need to serve more, pray more, read more, evangelize more, fellowship more.
Tenth, we need to remember the sufferings of God's Son. When you suffer, don't think that God doesn't understand your pain. God has suffered in the person of His son. He suffered more than any person who has ever suffered, and I can say that because it wasn't just physically, but He suffered the wrath of God for our sins.
Next, we need to place our hope in God alone. We put our hope in so many things. We put our hope in houses, in cars, in jobs. And when a disaster comes and takes all those things away, we are reminded that the only proper place for our hope is in God alone. It's true that we can put our love and joy in other people. God says that. But when it comes to hope, the Scripture says, hope in God alone. And the reason we can do that is because of what He promises to bring out of our sufferings. Romans 8:18 tells us, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
And that leads me to my final point: We should desire heaven. When we suffer, we ought to think, God you never intended me to live forever on earth. When you start to get a longing in your heart for a world to come, for a city whose builder and maker is God, that's good. No matter how much we suffer, how much we hurt, we know we have something to look forward to!
Copyright © 2005 by Tim Senn. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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