My Dear Friends,
I have been wondering these past days what thinking people (we should all be thinking people!) made, and are making, of Hurricane Katrina. The devastation is mind numbing and hard to take in. Thousands killed; hundreds of thousands left homeless; children bereft of parents and parents of children; a great city and many smaller communities utterly devastated. The catastrophe is colossal. Where do we begin in our thinking?
The answer the Bible gives is deeply humbling and deeply uncomfortable for men and women of no faith or imagined faith: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” (Amos 3:6). The God of the Bible is no helpless bystander, idly regarding the world he made and continues to rule. Indeed, the New Testament tells us that everything conforms to God’s plan and purpose (Ephesians 1:11). He is the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity. He is incontestably sovereign in all he is and does. We cannot escape from acknowledging that all events, however unfathomable to us, are contained within God’s glorious, gracious and good purpose. As we survey the devastation caused by Katrina we must put our hands to our mouths and say, “It is the Lord.”
Our fundamental problem is that too often we think of God in our own terms. We make him conform to our categories, our sinful, fallen, self-oriented categories. We do not want to be confronted by a God who is not “tame” and compliant, who will not adapt himself to suit our wants. The God of the Bible is not such a God. In Psalm 50 God rebukes his people with these words, “you thought I was altogether like you!” What a searing indictment. And yet, are we not as guilty of making God in our image as these ancient Hebrews were? God is other than we think. He is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth who acts as he pleases (Psalm 115:3). This can be, sadly, as much a problem for professing Christians as for unbelievers. There is the temptation to retreat into idolatry in the face of great disasters like Katrina and say, “How cruelly Mother Nature can treat us!” Mother Nature! There is no such thing as “Mother Nature.” Nature is God’s creation, fallen indeed, “red in tooth and claw,” but His creation, bound always to do His will. One of the pivotal moments in a believer’s life is when he realises that God is God, whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts. I say this is a pivotal moment because it brings us to cry out with Paul, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out” (Romans 11:33). God will not always explain himself to us.
To some this makes God some kind of cosmic fiend. What kind of God would embrace such an awful event as Hurricane Katrina within his purposes? Well actually, the same God who embraced the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah within his purposes and who earlier deluged the world in a universal cataclysm! But pause for a moment and think with me about this God. He is the God who spared not his only begotten Son but gave him up for us (us!) to die as a sin-bearing sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. The death of Christ in our place, bearing the condemnation our sin deserved, is the revelation both of the astonishing love of God for sinners and the holy resolve of God to punish sin justly. Through his death, our sin has been taken away; through faith in Christ we are justified with God and reconciled to God. What appeared to be the most evil of all acts was used and purposed by God to bring living, eternal hope to a world heading for the nightmare prospect of a lost and God-less eternity. Truly, God’s ways are not our ways.
Like you, I have no access into the mind of God regarding this awful event that has brought such devastation to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I have dear and precious friends in Mississippi and I know that as they survey the disaster and in measure experience the disaster, they are saying, often through tears, “He does all things well.” Now we see through a glass darkly, but one day face to face. In the interim we are summoned to live by faith and not by sight; to be humbled under God’s mighty hand; to be awakened to the urgent necessity of preparing to meet our God. “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD (the covenant Lord) and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).
Yours in the faith of the Triune God