Tsunamis, God and us

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“Tsunamis, God and us”

December 30, 2004

The shockwaves of the recent tsunamis are still reverberating around the globe.  Including here in Australia.  What questions has yet another major natural disaster provoked in our minds?  And what answers have we pondered?  Or have we once again put such painfully difficult questions into the too-hard basket, feeling almost too numb or helpless to give any deeper response?

Our hearts go out to all those personally affected.  And we try to imagine “what ifs”: what if we had been holidaying at Phuket, relaxing on the sand, the moment that massive wall of water came sweeping in with its catastrophic force?  The scenes of terror and horror are almost unimaginable. 

As Christians we must not avoid asking the hard questions in such situations.  Yes, we are called to action, to help with the relief effort, to pray for the suffering ones.  But we are also called to discern the purposes of God, even in such tragedies.  To ponder prayerfully what message God is seeking to communicate to His people and to the nations of the world through such a natural disaster. 

If as God’s people we turn away from such profoundly difficult questions, are we not saying by our silence (apathy?) that such natural disasters are nothing other than natural phenomena that strike down helpless victims with incredible fury from time to time? 

We certainly believe that we can hear His voice through the nice and pleasant experiences of life.  And we aren’t hesitant to say so.  When God shows His mercy by drenching our dry, thirsty land with soaking rain, we raise our voices in praise to the Father of mercies.  In the rain we hear His message of love and kindness: “I care for you and for My creation, no matter how undeserving you are in your wickedness.” 

If we believe God speaks through such gracious interventions in our lives and in the life of our nation, why are we so slow to believe that He also wants to communicate to us through His more terrible interventions?  Through natural catastrophes as earthquakes and tsunamis?  Certainly in Bible times, God spoke to His people through such forces as hail storms and earthquakes.  God sent His servants, the prophets, to interpret such events to His people as we can read in His Word.  What about today? 

Perhaps a part of our problem in secularised Australia is that our thinking even as believers has indeed become secularised.  Instead of living with a God-centred worldview, we become infected by the secular mindset if and when we allow the news media to interpret such natural disasters based on their de-Christianised beliefs and attitudes.  Earthquakes and tsunamis become nothing more than natural phenomena to be observed and studied scientifically.  So, effectively,  God gets completely silenced or shut out of the picture.   Is that how God wants His people to be?  Just taking the safe road lest we might be accused of saying something hurtful?  Hardly.

Sadly that’s where too many of us choose to leave it.  Avoiding controversy, doing everything possible lest we upset someone or say the wrong thing.  Lest we become unpopular.  God save us from this gutless, insipid Christianity that is forever keeping us walking on eggshells around the people of this world, including church-goers!  If there’s ever a time to hear God speaking to us, through the highs and lows of life, it’s now.  He is speaking.  He is not silent.  Let us also not be silent, or allow fear of people to silence us. 

God is the Lord over all creation, the Master over all the forces of nature, the Lord of His church.  God is both alive and actively involved in this fallen world.  And in all He does, He works purposefully and intentionally to accomplish His holy and eternal purposes.  Which being interpreted in our present situation means, that He is directing all the forces at His fingertips including the natural forces of His creation to accomplish His holy and glorious purposes.  These truths are givens.  Indisputable.  Reliable. 

We must, therefore, say without fear of misunderstanding that our faithful God continues to communicate important messages to us through such natural phenomena as earthquakes and tsunamis.  Either we believe this, or we relegate God to a heavenly hideaway where He sits on His throne indifferently or even helplessly observing all such natural phenomena on earth. 

A true Christian faith rooted in the Holy Scriptures must reject this latter conclusion.  God is speaking.  God is active and intervening in His creation . . . in our world.  But what is He saying?  Can we know?  Certainly, but not by hunting down one or two isolated verses in the Bible;  but by seeking to know Him as He has revealed Himself through the pages of Holy Writ. 

What God will say cannot but reflect Who He is.  In other words, it’s not just a question of looking up “earthquake” or other terms related to natural disasters in our Bible Concordance.  That’s a part of the picture but not the whole picture.  We must go deeper by asking the question: Who is this God in whom we have put our trust?  What is He really like?  The answer to these most important questions fills all 66 books of our Bible. 

Among the many answers given, the Scriptures declare God to be the righteous Judge and the merciful Saviour… and so much more;   but these twin-truths are fundamental to our understanding of God and His ways.

As the holy, righteous Judge of all peoples including you and me, God speaks words of warning, displaying His power in order that we might fear Him and walk in His ways.  For our salvation!  And this dovetails with His self-revelation as Saviour of the world.  Which means that when He gives warning messages, when He displays His irresistible might in the forces of nature, He is summoning His creation to turn to Him in order that He might show them His mercy and grace.  In order that they might turn from their sin and find refuge in the shadow of His wings. 

Thus earthquakes and tsunamis are shockingly visible warnings to all people everywhere,  from the Judge and Saviour.  We cannot say that those who have been worst hit by these recent diasters are being judged for some specific evil.  But we must hear in the earthquake and tsunamis the voice of God the Judge ringing out to all people everywhere: “Be warned.  Come to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.  Save yourselves from the far greater devastation that I will one day bring upon the creation.” 

This is a hard word, but when we hear the pleading voice of love and mercy behind the hard word, God is speaking both as Judge and as the Saviour of the world.  How often Jesus’ disciples heard this message from the lips of their beloved Master: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Fellow-believers and fellow-ministers of the Gospel, we ourselves need to hear this message from Almighty God even before the world does.   “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)  Our God is both our coming Judge and our Saviour.  If we are only hearing “nice and easy” messages from God, we need to change channels.  We’re not tuned into the channel of God’s true Word.  God pleads with us: “Stop playing the fool by disregarding My commands.  Return to Me, My people, and be saved!”

Our God is far more than just our loving, kind, wonderful Father from whom we receive lots of gifts, the One to whom we can come with our worries and problems.  He is certainly all that.  (This truth must not be confused with that corrupted vision of God as a glorified Santa Claus.)  But He is also the God whom we are taught to fear – not with a fear that paralyses the spirit and gives rise to hopelessness or inaction, but a fear that stirs us to definite, deliberate action – to throw off our rebellious, sinful ways and to choose to follow in the footsteps of our Master.   (John the Apostle writes in 1 John 2:6 “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”)

As we reflect on God’s works in His creation, even amid our tears and even our fears, we must hold fast to certain non-negotiable truths concerning God’s holy character and His ways. 

Firstly, our God is the true God of perfect mercy and grace.  He does not permit or plan any natural disaster to strike down thousands without feeling the pain deep in His own heart.  Therefore, His people should be in the forefront of helping the victims of such disasters.  We must be known as people of mercy and compassion, not as those who prefer to pronounce judgment.  For, though God is Judge, His heart is a heart of mercy, longing to save.  Is this not how God delights to reveal Himself to us?  “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” (Psalm 145:8) 

Though doubtless we God’s people could or should be doing a lot more in offering practical help in times of great tragedy, thankfully not a few of our brothers and sisters are right there on the frontline, even in the firing line . . . for Jesus’ sake.  Such sacrifice among suffering communities sends a very powerful message to all who have ears to hear that our God, while He may permit such heavy blows to fall on some communities, nevertheless He invites them to flee to Him for eternal safety and rest.  This is an incredibly different God to the gods to whom the nations turn for help.

Secondly, God has warned us that the time is short.  None of us can read God’s Word with our eyes and ears open and miss God’s message through earthquakes and His different powerful weapons and the inescapable message: the end of the world is near at hand.  Now is the day of salvation.  Now is our opportunity to call upon the Lord: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

If we God’s people do not heed His loving warnings, dreaming that His response cannot be anything but the gentlest stroke on our shoulders, we are setting ourselves up to feel the full force of His earthquakes – whether figurative or literal, small or large.  Let us not cancel out the possibility that God could shake us to our very foundations by using His heavy hand of chastisement in order to save us from the more dreadful consequences of our sins.  It is better to be judged and chastised by God in the here and now, leading us to turn back to Him, than to suffer eternal loss before His throne.  (All of us need to listen to God’s voice speaking through such Scriptures as 1 Cor.3:11-15 and Revelation, chapters 2 & 3.)

Lastly, to those of us whose instinctive response to hurricanes, tsunamis and the like is to point the finger of judgment, God has this message: Jesus and He alone is the Judge.  (Note the following Scriptures: Acts 10:42; Rom.2:16; 2 Tim.4:1.)  It is not our place – whether within the body of Christ or to our nation – to spend our days pronouncing judgment on the “sinners” of the world or within the church. 

While we are to warn others that the Judge of all men is soon coming, we must first and foremost of all allow God to judge and search our own hearts so that He might lead us in His everlasting way.  And as we do this in private, then in public our primary responsibility – together with our good deeds of mercy – is to point a confused and anxious people to the One who alone can offer them a certain hope in the face of the fearful ferocities of earthquakes and tsunamis.  May God empower us to give a definitive reason for the hope that He has placed within us, in a spirit of Christlike meekness and humility.

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