Over the last 10 days we have all been moved by the stories, pictures, and video of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Thousands of people have lost their lives, thousands more have lost all of their worldly possessions, and there continues to be tremendous uncertainty and unrest throughout the country. While watching these events unfold from afar, perhaps you, like me, have asked a lot of questions:
- How will Japan possibly recover?
- How will those communities be rebuilt?
- What will be the effect on the generations to come?
- What can I do from 10,000 miles away because I feel pretty helpless?
Most of us have these pragmatic questions rumbling through our minds, but perhaps there have been even deeper theological questions that you’ve considered as you’ve watched the devastation. Maybe questions like:
- If God is good, then how can He allow these types of natural disasters to happen?
- If I believe that God uses every circumstance to bring about His will, then where do these types of events fit?
- Can God receive glory from something like this? If so, how?
These are fair and honest questions; Questions that, when asked by faith, can deepen our intimacy with Christ. As we examine these questions, I pray that although imminent and concrete answers surely elude us as we consider a tragedy of this magnitude, we will none the less see God clearly for who He is.
There are places throughout the Scripture where we see the human soul laid bare asking hard questions while thoroughly perplexed over the harshest of circumstances. We see places where men and women are crying out to God for answers to the curveballs in their lives. One of the clearest examples of this is found in the book of Job. Turn to chapter 1 and let’s look together at several passages of Scripture. In the first chapter of Job we are reminded of Job’s plight. He was a wealthy man who, along with his wife, had been blessed with 10 children and vast resources. The Scripture records that Satan comes before the Lord and the Lord says in verse 8:
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said, to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.”
Satan ultimately destroys all that Job has – stripping him of his home, children, and possessions. Yet notice carefully how Job replies in 1:21:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The trials don’t stop there for Job, however. Satan, upon stripping Job of home, children, and possessions, seeks permission from God to strip Job of his health. In 2:7-8 we read,
“So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in ashes.”
Then in verses 9-10 we read his response,
“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
Throughout chapter 3, we begin to see Job’s heart in the midst of the insufferable suffering. Now look with me at verses 20-26 as we hear Job cry out to God with the all important question:
“Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groaning are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
Job is no different than any of us. Faced with the most trying of circumstances; circumstances that were similar to those in Japan, he cried out “Why?” “Why was I even born?” “Why can’t I just die for I am in despair?” The Lord hears the cries of Job and in chapters 38 through 41 we see God’s response. Let me read you a few verses from these chapters:
Job 38:4-7, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”
Job 38:19-27, “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war? What is the way to the place where light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?”
For four chapters, God responds to Job with words like these. Words that were intended to teach Job an all important lesson. The lesson being that God is the all powerful creator and sustainer of the universe, and is therefore sovereign over all of His creation.
As we come to the end of the book, we see Job’s response in chapter 42. Look with me there:
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: “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 uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and make it known to me.’ I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
What can we learn from Job’s response?
Job was content in recognizing that God doesn’t always reveal the meaning to life’s circumstances. Therefore, we cannot explain all our personal tragedies nor the tragedies that take place on a global scale. There are plenty of passages that remind us of God’s infinite wisdom and the fact that He simply has not chosen to reveal the meaning behind all our circumstances and His actions. Let me share 3 passages with you that you can file away for future reference and study:
Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of God, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.”
One scholar very aptly said:
“No one has known the mind of the Lord or has been his counselor. As Creator, he acts alone and uniquely. Therefore, his judgments and ways are inscrutable. The human attempt to reduce the ways of God to knowledge that we can manage and comprehend is a violation of God’s right as Creator.”
Now we must be careful here or we will come to the conclusion that everything negative we see is pointless just because we can’t discern its meaning. Just because circumstances and suffering seem pointless it doesn’t mean that they are.
Joseph – (Genesis 50:20, “…you meant evil against me, but God mean it for good…”)
Suffering of the saints – (Hebrews 11:35-38, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wondering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”)
Job found comfort by submitting to God’s sovereignty. We recognize in chapters 38-41 God rebukes Job for Job’s own good. God, although forthright in His response, shows His mercy by showing Job His sovereignty. Upon being reminded of this we see clearly Job’s response in verse 2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” When we recognize that God is God and we are not…when we settle in our minds that God does not owe us anything…when we recognize that God holds the earth together and that nothing happens outside of his purview…there is comfort.
As a parent there is a season where I exercise dominion over my children. They look to Julie and I to have their all of their needs met. During that season it’s interesting to see how they respond in times of fear or uncertainty. Maybe it’s a bad storm. It’s comforting to be in the presence of the one you are leaning on, even if you don’t know the outcome of the circumstances. Job was comforted like a little child who calls out to his father in the midst of a storm.
We too can find comfort in God’s sovereignty and here’s why:
Because God used the most corrupt and despicable act of wickedness in all of history to be the means by which He might be glorified and that we might experience the greatest joy.
Turn with me to Acts chapter 4 and let’s look at verses 27-28 for just a moment. [The verses come in the context of a prayer offered up by believers upon release of Peter and John who had been beaten and flogged for preaching Christ. And it is in the midst of their prayer we hear these words.]
Acts 4:27-28, “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
God in His sovereignty planned and predestined that Christ would:
- Experience physical pain beyond our imagination
- Experience emotional heartache by being rejected by men
- Experience wrath and judgment as he bore the spiritual pain we deserved
Therefore we can find comfort and rest in God’s sovereignty, for God used the most heinous act ever committed to be the means by which we could experience the greatest joy.
So where was God when the earthquake rocked Japan and the tsunami reaped havoc on both people and land alike? He is in the same place he was when they took His Son and crucified Him on the cross, the same place he has been every day since the beginning of time – Seated firmly, immovably, victoriously upon His throne!!!
I am sure that some of you are experiencing suffering, pain, and chaos in your lives today:
- For some of you it is a physical crisis…your health is fading.
- For some of you it is a family crisis…your family is falling apart.
- For some of you it is a relational crisis…a meaningful relationship is broken.
- For some of you it is a financial crisis…and you’ve fallen on really hard times.
- For some of you it is an identity crisis…you are at war with yourself.
I pray that we will run into the arms of our Father, acknowledging that we may not find answers, but where we will find comfort in the chaos for He did not spare His Son in order that we might experience the deepest of joys – even in the midst of pain.
William Cowper penned these words in the midst of his own personal anguish:
LIGHT SHINING OUT OF DARKNESS
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Romans 8:31-32, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let us come to Him and say – It is Well with My Soul!
 Beale and Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (p. 679)