David Jeremiah - Disaster: The Fear of Natural Calamity
Have you noticed how fear tries to take root in those moments when we feel the most uprooted? Natural disasters make it hard to remember that God is still firmly in control, even when the world around us feels anything but firm. So, how can we cast aside our fear and find comfort in God when it seems that our very lives are on shaky ground? I'll tell you as we consider, "Disaster: The Fear of Natural Calamity," the first in a ten-part teaching series that explores the question, "What are you afraid of"? Facing down your fears with faith. Believe it or not, disasters reveal at least four rock-solid truths about God and even more about how we should respond to him.
Every year, the news brings us yet another reminder that the natural forces governing this planet are troubled and unstable. Yes, nature is gorgeous and inspiring, but it's also monstrous and inhuman. In 2004, it was the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230.000 people. In 2005, we encountered Hurricane Katrina, and who can forget 2010, the earthquake in Haiti that cost another 220.000 people their lives. The tsunami in Japan at least 15.000. Natural calamities rage in our world, costing us countless billions of dollars, and more significantly, hundreds of thousands of lives. We are all familiar with these events, but natural disaster raises many questions, questions about the nature of our security, about our fear of the uncontrollable and especially, about the character of God. These questions need answers, but I'd like to open our discussion today by telling you about a biblical character who experienced two natural disasters in the space of 24 hours and his name, of course, is Job.
The first few verses of the Book of Job tell us about the man, tell us about, first of all, his faith. The Scripture says that "he was a man who was blameless and upright and feared God and shunned evil". He's also distinguished as a man of great fortune. The Bible tells us that he had possessions, 7.000 sheep, 3.000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, a very large household, and the Bible says that this man was the greatest of all the people in the east. Job was also a family man. The first chapter of Job tells us that he raised sons and daughters who were close knit. They held incredible birthday parties every year, and the Bible tells us that every time they had a birthday party, Job would offer a sacrifice to God on behalf of his children.
Oh yes, Job was a man who had great faith and fortune, and he was also a great family man. It began during one of those birthday feasts that I talked to you about with the sons and daughters, all gathered together, laughing and enjoying each other's company. A messenger comes to the family home and approaches Job with disturbing news. Sabean raiders have descended upon the estate, hijacked Job's cattle, killed all of his servants, and this messenger is the only one left alive so that he could come and tell Job what had happened. Yet, even before he has finished with his account, before Job has taken it all in, the door opens and another messenger stands there. He is pale, his eyes are wide as he whispers, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants". And the third messenger brings news that the Chaldeans have raided and stolen the camels, killing the servants and yes, only one is left to come with the bad news.
While Job is trying to make sense out of this and form some sort of recovery plan, the last shoe drops. In verse 18 of the first chapter of Job we read, "While he was still speaking, another also came and said, 'Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their older brother's house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the wilderness.'" Does that sound familiar? "A great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you"! Can you imagine taking in such news in the course of one day? He was devoted to his children, he was constantly bringing them before God, but for all of his intercession, they have died in one fell blow. He faces ten fresh graves and an aching silence from heaven. "Why, God, why"? And there is no answer.
Since Bible scholars believe that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, we now know that the problem of natural calamities has been with us for as long as man has walked upon the earth. The Bible doesn't gloss over the tougher questions in life. It doesn't leave out the difficult stories. We're invited to stand with Job in the cemetery, looking down at the ashes of his dreams, and along with him to ask God, why? The first question that this story and all natural disasters provoke is this, what do these recurring disasters say about God? "Natural Disasters and the Reality of God". Let me say to you this morning, my friends, that if you came thinking that I was gonna answer all your questions about disasters and why they happen, I cannot do that, nor can any other person do that because that would involve looking into the very heart of God and knowing what God knows, and I can know that. But just because I cannot know everything does not mean I shouldn't take the things I can know and use them to help me comprehend, at least in some way, why these things happen, and how we should respond.
So, let me tell you some things about God and disasters. First of all, God cannot be divorced from disasters. Some people say that the way you handle the questions of disasters and calamities in the world is just to say, "God didn't have anything to do with it". This explanation goes something like this, God created the world, but he's not involved in the operation of the world. If you've ever studied theology, you know that this is the doctrine of deism. Deism believes that we have a Creator God, and that we have a God who will judge us someday. But the interval between creation and judgment, God is silent and inactive and has nothing to do with anything that's happening in the world. He is an absentee God.
When I was finished with my deal with cancer, now almost 20 years ago, my oncologist asked if I would be a part of a debate with a rabbi who had the same disease I had. I'll never forget that. And we got to get up and talk about our cancer and our faith. He wanted to go first and so he did. And he got up and he said something like this, "People ask me all the time, do I pray to God about my illness". And he said, "I tell them no, since I know God had nothing whatsoever to do with my being sick, why should I expect that he would ever have anything to do with my getting well? I don't pray to a god like that because my god has nothing to do with going on on this earth". Then I got up and told everybody how good God had been to me, and how he healed me. All I remember at the end of the event was I was standing there with Donna and there was a whole line of people waiting to talk to me. And out of the corner of my eye, I looked over and he was over there all by himself because nobody wants to talk to somebody who doesn't believe God's involved in the world today. What would be the purpose of that?
Another way we extricate God from responsibility for disasters is to blame all of them on Satan. Does Satan have something to do with evil in the world? Absolutely, but we know from our study of Job that Satan cannot do anything without God's permission. And if Satan has to get permission from God to do what he does, then God is still in control, and he reigns in the affairs of men. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign, that he reigns in the nice moments, and in the moments that aren't so nice. Let's look at some of the reasons why disaster can exist in a world that God controls. First of all, God employs the elements of nature in the operation of the world. God didn't just create the world and then go off and leave it to run by itself.
The Bible teaches us that the God we serve is a hands-on God who's involved in every detail of life. In fact, I want to read to you a passage from the Book of Job where Job describes God's involvement with the issues of the world. Here it is, and I'll put it up on the screen, but I'll read it to you. "For God says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth'; Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. By the breath of God ice is given, snd the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, That they may do whatever He commands them On the face of the whole earth".
God does that. God's involved in the details of every day, in the weather, in the natural things. We do right to pray to God over those issues. But not only does God employ the elements of nature in the operation of the world, we all know from our study of the Bible that sometimes he employs the elements of nature in his opposition to evil. I mean, we're hardly out of the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis when we are introduced to a flood that God sent upon a sin-blackened world, sparing only Noah and his righteous family. God sent fire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, and he sent a fierce storm to get Jonah's attention and bring him to repentance so he could go to Nineveh and preach the gospel.
Men and women, I don't know all the answers to this, but I want to tell you, when we distance God from responsibility for the things that go on in our world, we are claiming more than we know. For listen, if God is not in control of the world's disasters, then how can we depend on him to be in control of our lives and our future? Either he is involved in all of the world's operation, or he is not involved in any of the world's operation. God cannot be divorced from disasters. Number two, God cannot be discredited by disasters. One thing we often overlook when we're reasoning about God and things that we don't understand is that the massive deaths that were caused by disaster cannot discredit God any more than a single death can discredit him. We know who brought death into the world, and it wasn't God.
And we must remember that every one of the people who died in the Haiti earthquake would eventually have died anyway. And the fact that they died simultaneously is really no more tragic than if their death had been spread out over the next several decades. It's just that the sudden and unexpected simultaneous deaths shock us more. Death is in our world because the devil is the prince of death. And one of these days, he will be gone but right now, he's still at work, is he not? God cannot be divorced from disaster. He cannot be discredited by disaster. Notice this one, he cannot be defined by disaster. Listen carefully, in the aftermath of every disaster we often hear something like this, "Well, I could never believe in a God who would allow such awful things to happen to his creatures". And those who define God solely by the evil he allows overlook the flip side of their complaint.
Yes, there's evil in the world, but there's also an enormous amount of good. If God is not good, as they claim, how do they account for all of the good we experience? Is it fair to judge him for the evil and not credit him with the good? Number four, God cannot be defeated by his disasters. When disasters happen, we are sometimes tempted to think like this, "Oops, God lost it, slipped out of his hands. He no longer in control. God tried to do this thing and it didn't work". Now, I mean you don't have to go very far to realize that can't be true because God doesn't have oops in his vocabulary. The Bible says that when things happen in our lives and we don't know what's going on, and we can't figure it out, and we're looking around thinking, "What was that"? God is working. We don't know what he's doing. We may not find out in this life, but you can be sure of it, he is working.
Now, let me turn the page as we come around the circle here. We've talked about disasters and the responsibilities of God. Now, I want to talk about natural disasters and the responsibilities of man. In the midst of pain and grief, how should we respond? What does a disaster say to me, what does it say to you? When we see these things happening around our world, what do these disasters say? Well, we can pick up some clues from the Scripture if we look carefully. First thing that disasters should do is teach us to repent of our sin. When you read about people losing their lives, and fires, and floods, and hurricanes, and tornadoes, and tsunamis, do you ever wonder when you hear about them if they were prepared to meet their God? Does the question cause you ever to examine your own readiness? I mean, God uses disasters and tragedies to accomplish his perfect will in us and through us, and sometimes he uses tragedies to bring us to himself in the first place.
So, disasters teach us to repent of our sin, and they also teach us to reflect on God's goodness. You say, "How can a disaster help you reflect on God's goodness"? Hang with me here. When I watch reports of the natural disasters as they are instantaneously delivered to us by the media, my first thoughts are the many lives lost and the many families torn apart, but I have also found myself experiencing a sense of gratitude that my family and people I know were not touched by these events. And I have to tell you, sometimes I feel guilty about that. But I have come to understand that it is proper to be grateful that I have been saved even while I mourn for those who have been lost. If we wait until there are no losses before we are grateful to God for what he does for us, we will never be grateful one minute in our lives. God's blessings abound, my friends, and they are the norm and its proper to be grateful for them at all times, regardless of what the circumstances might be.
Number three, disasters teach us to respond to the hurting. Listen carefully, when disasters happen, we should not be so concerned about the answers as to why. We should be asking God, "How can we help"? Surely, one of the things that should happen when disaster happens is we should reach out to the hurting. If the body of Christ doesn't do that, then pray tell, who will? Number four, disasters teach us to remember God's promise. God has given us a spectacular, all-encompassing promise that provides the ultimate cure for our fear of disaster. I'm gonna to read it to you and then make a few comments about it. Revelation 21: 3 and 4, "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away'".
Disasters remind us that God never intended for this world to be our final home. In fact, these disasters put within us a hunger and a longing for a place where there are no disasters, where there is no death, where pain, and suffering, and crying, is a matter of history, not a present experience. Disasters teach us to remember God's promise. And finally, disasters teach us to rely on God's presence and his power. We began this message by telling the story of Job. Job got through that. You know, if you read the book, it's a long arduous process but along the way, Job has his moments of strength and power. Along the way, Job can cry out in victory like he does in Job 13:15, "Though he slay me, yet I will trust him".
Later on in the 19th chapter of Job, we hear him speaking these words, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me"! How many of you know that often when you go through difficult times and times of suffering and pressure, you have a view of God you could never have had before? He draws close to you. You don't just know about him, now you know him. He becomes your present helper in the midst of the distress and out of it, you grow to be somebody you couldn't have been without it.