The tsunami that hit 12 different countries on Sunday, December 26 has left so much devastation in its path. Every day we see new pictures and video of the massive power and widespread devastation caused by the tsunami. 24 hour news networks are chronicling the stories of lives lost, villages and tiny islands that have been decimated, and families that have forever been changed. Just this past week a man was discovered out at sea who had been adrift for 15 days after having been washed out to sea by the tsunami. The agonizing sorrow and widespread heartache are almost too much to bear…even for those of us who are so far removed.
During the past few days the reports of damage and devastation have been joined by a new take on the tragedy. Questions have been raised about the meaning of the devastation from all around the world. I’ve read articles from Israel, Australia, Great Britain, Thailand and beyond commenting on the meaning and God’s involvement, or lack of involvement, in the tragedy.
Connie and I watched Larry King Live late last week as he raised the question, “Where was God when the tsunami hit Sumatra?” Larry King was joined on the program by religious leaders: a Christian minister, a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, a Muslim Imam, and a New Age guru named Deepak Chopra. It was interesting to listen to the religious leaders address the question raised by Larry King. They approached the question from diverse perspectives. The Christian minister, Dr. Al Mohler, said, “Although we don’t always understand God’s acts, Scripture teaches us that God is sovereign, there is not a random act in the Universe.” Deepak Chopra said, “God had nothing to do with this. God is love, His actions are loving, and this tragedy stands in opposition to everything God is.” The other religious leaders fell somewhere between these two points of belief.
I’ve read many articles since I listened to the broadcast on CNN. I have to tell you that if I would have simply read each article and listened to each commentator with absolute confidence that they knew what they were talking about then I would be standing before you today absolutely confused.
Many Muslims in Indonesia are saying that the tsunami was a judgment of God upon their land. An article in the Washington Post this past week quoted a Muslim Imam saying,
‘ God is angry with Aceh people, because most of them do not do what is written in the Koran and the Hadith,’ the collected sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad, explained Cut Bukhaini, 35, an imam. ‘I hope this will lead all Muslims in Aceh to do what is in the Koran and its teachings. If we do so, God will be merciful and compassionate.’ (Washington Post, “In Angry Waves, the Devout See an Angry God.” Edward Cody, January 5, 2005)
In the same article another Muslim, a college professor in Mathematics, was quoted as saying,
Ansufri Sabow, 34, another member and college lecturer on mathematics and Islamic studies, said the tsunami could “cleanse the sins of the people” as well as caution them. “God has warned us,” he said. “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.”
One article that I read this past week had each of the world’s major religions commenting on the tragedy of the tsunami and how they view it through the lens of their faith. A Buddhist professor was quoted,
Among coastline Buddhists in Thailand and Sri Lanka, two of the hardest-hit areas, there are many weather gods to both blame and propitiate with assorted prayers and offerings. “But when the time comes to make sense of it all,” says Donald Lopez, professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Michigan, “Buddhists will look to the idea of karma and ask what they did, individually and collectively, that a tragedy like this happened.” Their main concern will be to generate good merit that can be transferred to the deceased as a positive force in their next lifetime. To this end, families will go to a temple to pray or have a special ceremony performed by a monk acting as an intermediary in the transfer of merit.
So, for the Buddhist, the essential thing to do in the wake of the tsunami is to ask what they did to cause the tragedy and what can they now do to accumulate enough good Karma or “good works” to assure that in their next life they will not have to pay such a high price.
Many are trying to find answers in the wake of the most powerful tsunami to hit land in our lifetime. How do you find answers when there are so many different voices screaming in our ears? How do you make sense of such devastation? Are we merely victims of a violent creation? Did the accumulation of our collective bad “Karma” cause the Burma and Indian tectonic plates to shift 60 feet along a 1,000 mile ridge in the Indian Ocean and displace trillions of tons of water to the shore? Is God sovereign over everything except science or the seas?
There is another question that I’ve pondered this past week as I watched the mudslides in La Conchita, California where more Americans have died than in the Sumatra tsunami. Why doesn’t Larry King come back this week with another program called, “Where was God when the mountain poured into the neighborhood?” More than 30 people are either dead or missing because of the storms in California and yet I don’t hear the same questions being raised by the media.
This past week so much snow has fallen in Nevada that avalanches are threatening lives. Raging floodwaters in Utah and Arizona have taken lives. There has been flooding in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana that has taken lives and caused millions of dollars of loss to property. Which TV personality will raise the question, “Where was God when the rains fell?” Alongside of these tragedies there will be 29,000 children who will die today because of preventable ailments, illnesses that vaccinations could protect them from if they could afford them.
I want to address the problem of pain and God’s sovereignty as we open God’s Word this morning. Is God truly sovereign over all or are God’s hands tied when it comes to the tragedies of our lives? Did God wake up on the morning of December 26, tune in to CNN or the FOX News Network, and shudder with what He saw? Is God limited in His power over the elements and ailments that affect our lives? Those are great questions, important questions that we need answers for before our own personal “tsunamis” come ashore in our lives. Let’s begin. Turn with me to Mark 4:35-41 and let’s begin our study.
35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:35-41 NIV)
Jesus had been teaching by the Sea of Galilee when evening came and He told His disciples that they should go to the other side. They got into a boat and headed across the sea. We need to understand that the Sea of Galilee is really more like a large lake than an ocean or sea. The Holman Bible Dictionary describes it this way.
A freshwater lake nestled in the hills of northern Palestine. Its surface is nearly 700 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, some thirty miles to the west. The nearby hills of Galilee reach an altitude of 1,500 feet above sea level. To the east are the mountains of Gilead with peaks of more than 3,300 feet. To the north are the snow-covered Lebanon mountains. Fed chiefly by the Jordan River, which originates in the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains, the sea of Galilee is thirteen miles long north and south and eight miles wide at its greatest east-west distance. Because of its location, it is subject to sudden and violent storms which are usually of short duration. The Holman Bible Dictionary)
While Jesus and the Disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee one of the violent storms that are so prevalent came and tossed the boat to the point where the Disciples feared for their lives. Jesus was exhausted and asleep when the storm came, but the Disciples woke Him up and said, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up and spoke to the storm, rebuked the waves, and said, “Quiet! Be still!” The winds ceased, the waves calmed, and the boat couldn’t get a breeze to carry it to shore.
I’ve thought about this story for the past week in light of what has happened in the Indian Ocean and the storms that have troubled hearts in America. Does Jesus have power over the Sea of Galilee, but not over the Indian Ocean? Is Jesus a regional god with power only in certain areas of creation or is He the Lord of all, the Sovereign King of glory throughout all of creation? If He is the Sovereign King of glory who possesses all power, does He just not care about us? Can Jesus still calm the storms or are there some things that He simply lacks the power to do anything about? Those are important questions.
Let’s talk about the issue of God’s power. The Bible teaches that God is all-powerful, He is omnipotent. The Bible also teaches that God is Sovereign; He is absolutely in control of everything in His creation. Dr. Al Mohler is right, God is Sovereign even though we don’t always understand why He does the things that He does. The fact that we finite creatures are incapable of understanding all of the actions of our infinite God does not negate the fact that God, in His awesome power, has acted, and still acts in creation.
Genesis 1 tells us that God created everything in all of creation. He put the seas in their place. He placed the tectonic plates over the floor of the earth. He did all of this and more. God not only created everything, but He sustains everything in His creation. Hebrews 11:1 tells us,
3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)
There is not a breath that you or I have ever breathed that He did not give as a gift of His gracious hand. He provides the gravity that keeps you from floating into space. He causes the rains to fall and nourish the land. He fuels the sun that brings life and vitality to His creation. He takes care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. All things are under His control. Hannah spoke volumes when she prayed,
6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. 7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. (1 Samuel 2:6-7 NIV)
God is in control. Do I understand what He is doing? Sometimes I see His hand at work and I marvel. There are other times when I see things happen or go through experiences and I wonder, “Lord, what are You doing?” I wonder because I do not understand His ways. When I lack understanding I can either trust my understanding or I can trust God’s character that has been revealed to me in His Word.
God taught me a wonderful lesson about my lack of understanding when Annie was about 2 years old. She was sick and I took her to the doctor. The nurse said, “We’re going to need to draw some blood to see if her infection is viral or bacterial.” Annie and I walked down to the Lab and she was sitting in my lap just as content as could be. The nurse came over and took Annie’s finger. She didn’t even flinch. Then the nurse pricked her finger and her head swiveled around to look up at me with absolute horror written all across her face. She let out a blood curdling yell and I heard her loud and clear. She was saying, “What are you doing? Don’t you care about me? This woman is hurting me! Make it go away!” Annie didn’t climb down out of my lap and leave home that day. I held her in my arms as she cried and screamed and snubbed. I stroked her hair. I told her I loved her and that it would be alright.
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what we need when pain shatters our hearts? We don’t need to join the TV talking heads as they rattle on about matters of theology that they have no clue about. We don’t need to turn our backs on God and conclude that He doesn’t care about us. We need to climb up in our Daddy’s lap and let Him hold us. We need to trust Him in the midst of our pain. He will lead us through the storms of life my friends.
Could God have calmed the Indian Ocean on December 26th? Absolutely. For some reason He chose not to and tens of thousands of people died. Could God have held back the mountainside in California? Without question. For some reason He didn’t and people died, others lost their homes. Could God have sustained the dozens and dozens of people that I have loved, that you have loved, but who died? Certainly. For some reason He chose to take them home. Let me ask you a question: Could God have stopped those who beat, mocked, and hung His only Son on the cross? Oh, you know the answer. Of course He could have, but He didn’t. He allowed His Son to die the cruelest of all deaths. I will assure you that there wasn’t anyone standing around the cross that day who said, “God has a purpose in this horrible injustice.” Nobody quoted Romans 8:28. They were broken and shattered and lacking in understanding.
When it comes to pain I have to raise the question: “Can God…Yes He can!” Will He? I do not know, but this I do know. I will join the chorus and congregation of the three Hebrew boys who stood before the King that was about to put them to death if they didn’t bow before His false idol. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said,
16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV)
“He can deliver us, but even if He does not…” Even if He does not I will not walk away from the One who has given me life, who has sustained my life every moment that I have been alive, and who has provided eternal life for all of those who will trust in Him as Lord and Savior.
When we go through difficult times in our lives we will adopt one of two postures. We will either take the posture of Job or we will take on the posture and demeanor of Job’s wife. Let me explain to you what I mean. A tsunami of pain swept over Job’s home, heart, and soul one day and destroyed everything of meaning to him. He lost his kids, he lost his livelihood, and he lost his health. I’m grateful that Job wasn’t a Buddhist or he would have spent the next many years of his life trying to figure out where his Karma had gone wrong. The Bible tells us that Job was a righteous man. He didn’t do anything to bring about the catastrophe that he was going through. As Job was sitting in the rubble of his life he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him…”
Job’s wife wasn’t on the same page as her husband. She saw the devastation of their lives, she watched her husband sit and scrape his sores with a piece of pottery, and she said.
9“Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:9-10 NIV)
Which will you choose today? Will you stand with Job and accept the wondrous blessings as well as the hardships that God allows into our lives or will you turn your face against God and stand with Job’s wife? Dear friends, your pain may be intense and you may wonder if there is any meaning at all in this life, but don’t turn away from the One who has given His all, His only Son for you. He will lead you through the pain and calm the storm of your heart.
Before we go this morning I would like for us to consider something else about all of the turbulence going on in the world. You can’t watch the news without hearing stories of war, crazy happenings in the weather, etc. What does all of this mean? Well, there was much going on in Jesus’ day as well. People were wondering what all of it meant. The Disciples’ asked Jesus what the signs of His coming would look like and Jesus said.
3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains. (Matthew 24:1-8 NIV)
Jesus said these things must happen. They are signs, they are birth pains, announcing that Someone, the Savior, is coming. When a woman gets ready to have her baby she begins to experience changes in her body. She feels some pain and over the course of a few hours or many hours the pain increases and intensifies before the baby finally arrives. And so it is with the coming of the Savior. These things that we are experiencing are not merely coincidence or the mere shifting of tectonic plates, they are signs that Jesus is coming.
When we hear news reports of war breaking out in the world we should think to ourselves, “Jesus is on His way.” When we hear of famines, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, etc. we should think to ourselves, “Jesus is on His way.” He is on His way and we are closer today than any generation that has ever gone before us. We are closer to witnessing His coming today than we were yesterday.
Will we be ready for His coming? Will we be found faithful when the Lord comes back for His people? That is the real question we need to be asking ourselves today. Are you walking with God? Have you accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life or are you still resisting His call? I want to encourage you this morning to settle this matter before you leave this sanctuary.
There have been horrible tragedies throughout time. In Jesus’ day Pilate was persecuting Christians, a tall tower fell in Siloam and killed some people and many were wondering if it was the sin of the people that brought these things about. In Luke 13 we read,
1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 NIV)
They were no better or no worse than any of those asking the questions, but Jesus wanted everyone to take note of what had happened so that they might realize how fragile life is, how short like can be. If we know that our life can end any minute then we are more likely to take care of the important things of life now. The horrible tsunami, mountain slide, avalanches, and other calamities should cause all of us to stop and consider our own lives. We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We are not even guaranteed the rest of today. Won’t you come to Jesus this morning so that when your time comes He will come to you and welcome you into His eternal Kingdom?