Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God in disasters

To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field.
Joel 1:19

These words were written after a devastating plague of locusts swept through Israel. It appears that what followed was drought, famine, and wildfires in the wake of the agricultural loss. Joel calls upon the nation to lament and mourn. But he also uses the thoughts brought on by the present tragedy to focus the attention of Israel upon two very crucial theological truths: 1) the vital need for repentant prayer brought on by these events. The nation MUST turn to God in times of extreme loss. 2) The opportunity to consider God's greater judgment. Any tragedy is a chance to shudder at the potential calamity coming in the final judgment known as the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:15).

Here is why this is important. A disaster is something that is usually caused by circumstances outside of human control. That is what makes it a disaster. Disasters are the result of a natural event (an earthquake, a storm, a flood, a locust swarm) that we cannot manipulate or escape. We cannot even foretell them accurately. And the widespread destruction leads to a tragedy on a massive scale. Disasters point to the helplessness inherent in our humanity. They force us to accept our limitations and our spiritual and physical need. Large scale disasters bring us to spiritual openness. And that is one hope that can bring triumph from loss and tragedy. It is a good thing in terms of human understanding to need the help and mercies of God. We can neglect Him when our lives seem to be the product of our own industry. But when we realize that they aren't, profound theology rises to the forefront of our hearts.

When we have nowhere to turn but to God, it is there we understand that our sense of being "in control" was only there by His mercy and provision. And when God restores us, we may never see our lives quite the same way after tragedy. This is why it was not cruel of Joel to use the occasion of the plague, drought, and fire to preach about God's future judgment coming upon the entire world. It helped to increase perspective.

Difficulties are often God's way of increasing our periphery to include Him. We get a kind of tunnel vision when we make our daily lives solely about human culture and modern thinking. But when God is always there, known to be superintending and guiding us as we live in the world He made for use to use for His glory, it makes nothing mundane and everything important (even losses) for His purposes, glory, and goodness to us.

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