Whose storm was it?

Last night the rain pounded and the winds roared as we cleaned up from dinner, but it wasn’t until a friend texted my wife, “Are you guys alright?” that we realized we had been near ground zero.  The National Weather Service said it was an EF2 tornado with 125 mph winds.  Descending a few miles southeast of us it carved a gully of destruction that damaged 40-50 homes and took down 8 buildings.  Many others had smaller problems: loss of electricity, water damage.

tornado 2“Hello Job.”

That’s what I said to Pastor Charlie this morning when I phoned him after learning that the basement of his new house was flooded for the 3rd time in several months.  This time it was mud too.  So lets pull up our conversation about Job and how God is sovereign from last Sunday and put it on the playing field: Who was behind last night’s vicious storm–the tail end of a killer that originated in Mississippi and took the lives of 7 as it careened up the East Coast?  If God wasn’t charting its course, who was?  Satan?  No one?

Our main options are…

  1. God is weak and couldn’t stop it
  2. God is strong but limits himself in the case of human free will
  3. God is strong but limits himself in the case of the devil’s free will
  4. God is strong and rules over everything–including Satan, evil people, and all suffering whether it be caused by “natural forces”, people, or Satan.

#1’s out of the question since the Bible says God is Almighty.  So is #2–at least in this case because there’s no human “free will” we can blame for inciting a tornado and assigning it a path.

#3’s more promising when we remember Job.  He suffered two meteorological disasters (lightening strikes killed animals and shepherds, and a sirocco killed his children) after God gave Satan permission to test the man.  But can we just can blame tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes on the devil?  Does Satan borrow God’s weather gear and use it without His approval?

Jesus said sun and rain are God’s: …He gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).  The songwriter claims that God does …whatever pleases Him…, then goes on to give a weather example: He causes the clouds to rise over the whole earth.  He sends the lightening with the rain and releases the wind from his storehouses (Psalm 135:6-7).  Not only is tame weather in his hands but the fierce.  He (the Lord) …displays his power in the whirlwind and the storm.  The billowing clouds are the dust beneath his feet (Nahum 1:3).  Again, the songwriter claims that …fire and hail, snow and clouds, wind and weather… obey him… (Psalm 148:8).

Scripture never says the devil can rule weather.  But if God is ultimately behind such violent stuff, why?  Why were some buildings in White Horse flattened last night?  Were they bad people…, worse than neighbors who emerged unscathed?  Jesus raised the same question in Luke 13: were people murdered by Pilate or those crushed by a falling tower, worse sinners than those not killed?  “No,” He answers.  No matter what our understanding of God’s sovereignty, in most cases we miscalculate if we link suffering with punishment.  Job’s suffering wasn’t God punishing him for some fault; God Himself said Job was the godliest man on the planet.

You might find it strange to be comforted knowing God ordained a storm, the speed of its winds, the amount of its rainfall, even its path.  But wouldn’t it be horrifying if it was ultimately in the hands of someone bad, or someone who doesn’t love you?  Spurgeon saw God’s fingerprints on everything and every event:  I believe that every particle of dust that dances on the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes–that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens–that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is as steered as the stars in their courses.  The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence–the fall of …leaves from a poplar as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

God looks you and me in the eye and says, “I love you.  I have plans for you.  I want what’s best for you” (Romans 8:28).  And then tells us we have cancer.  Or gives us a pink slip.  Or opens the door as a husband leaves.  Or we get mugged.  Or a child goes back into rehab.  Or we can’t have children.  God never sins–or tempts anyone to sin (James 1:13).  He is fighting a war with the devil and everywhere winning the war despite appearing to lose a battle here and there.  Satan, and a friend’s sinful choice, and a husband’s lousy commitment all amazingly serve God’s purposes and fit in his wider plan.

I wonder if one of the main reasons we long to exonerate God when bad things happen, is that we like to be comfortable and happy and assume this God who loves us would have the same agenda for us.  But He doesn’t.  He is here for His own glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)–and again and again HOW WE SUFFER GLORIFIES HIM; He is here for our good (Romans 8:28); and He is here to make our faith muscular, to build up our endurance (Hebrews 10:36) which comes from the workout we get when life stinks (Romans 5:3-4).

When the devil tests us, he’s determined to destroy us.  When God does it Himself, allows the devil to–or someone else, He’s determined to develop us.

In 1980 a Bible college student near Chicago was arrested for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.  But he’d had a dream the night of the crime and believed it was about that crime.  Approaching the police, they believed he was the culprit.  Sentenced to 40 years in prison, he served 3 before being released.  Eventually DNA testing proved it wasn’t him.  In his book he wrote…

I have come to realize that we cannot judge God’s purposes, nor where He places us, nor why He chooses one path for our lives as opposed to another. The Bible itself is replete with accounts of divine action (or inaction) that does [sic] not seem fair, that does [sic] not make sense except when viewed in light of God’s perfect plan. Thousands of Egyptian children were massacred while a baby named Moses was spared. Jacob was a liar and a thief, and yet it was he, not his faithful brother Esau, who received the blessing of their father Isaac and of God. On one level it makes no sense that God would allow His Son to die for the sins of Humankind. But God has a plan—a perfect plan.

Is wife abuse Christian?

Here’s the story that raised the question: In 2012 American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested in Iran and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  Since then his wife Naghmeh tirelessly worked political, religious, and social connections to win his release.

Last November Naghmeh emailed supporters that she was backing out of all public appearances for a season of prayer and fasting, admitting that her pastor husband had abused her physically, emotionally, and sexually (pornography addiction).  Twelve days later she released a statement saying she regretted her admissions.  “I was under great psychological and emotional distress.”  Yet five days after Saeed’s release on January 21, Naghmeh filed for legal separation–and a restraining order to make sure her husband doesn’t try to snatch their two children.

Franklin Graham wrote, “Other than God, no one knows the details and the truth of what has happened between Saeed and Naghmeh except them.  There’s an old saying that there are at least two sides to every story. I can tell one thing for sure–not everything that has been reported in the media is true.”

Probably not.  But something fishy is going on.  Saeed admits he’s not a perfect husband (when accused of something, why do we say that?  To admit to something that’s true of everyone only makes the claimant sound less convincing), but claims, “Much of what I have read in Naghmeh’s posts and subsequent media reports is not true.”  Perhaps, but Naghmeh’s claim that the abuse started early in their marriage is buttressed by the fact that in 2007, Saeed attended eight court-ordered anger management sessions and was put on probation for a year.  The charge?  Misdemeanor domestic assault.  It’s possible something’s been made up or exaggerated, but since domestic violence is so severely under-reported, it’s likely the charges have at least some merit.

I once had a man tell me that if I teach men to lead their wives, it will lead to domestic violence.  Well, all I have to teach is God’s wisdom–I don’t have any of my own.  And God says, “…the head of the woman is man…”   Here’s the thing, what that headship looks like is sometimes poorly exemplified by Christian men.  It should look like this: For husbands, this means love our wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  …husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28)

To help men understand what this kind of leadership and Jesus-like headship looks like, I often talk about being “shepherds”–not just men who are put in charge, but men who are given responsibility.  In other words, my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is that husbands will one day answer to God about how well they cared for, protected, provided for, and led, their families.  One of the false conclusions some husbands make is that leadership means making sure everyone falls into line (although that ability with children does matter for elder candidates–see 1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).  Not so.  Yes, God tells wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1), but never tells husbands to make sure their wives do.  Scripture does tell husbands about wives, …never treat them harshly (Colossians 3:19).

Pastor Abedini comes out of a Middle Eastern Islamic Persian culture–where a husband’s leadership is quite authoritarian.  Violence is permitted–implied in the Iranian Civil Code that governs marriage, and confirmed by the rare consequences for a husband who hurts or even kills his wife.  In his 2004 study of domestic violence in Iran, Dr. Ghazi Tabatabaei, concluded that 66% of all Iranian wives are assaulted in their first year of marriage–either by their husband, or an in-law.  I wonder if the US government had already alerted Naghmeh back in November that her husband’s release was imminent and she got scared.  Especially if verbal abuse was ongoing on their phone calls and Skyping.

How did Jesus treat his wife?  Beat her for not doing what he wanted?  Backhand her?  Threaten her?  Yell at her?  Demean her?  Betray her by watching unknown women undress?

Jesus died for her.  To mirror the kind of love Jesus has for His bride, a sinful Christian husband loves (an action–not just an affection) his wife and doesn’t raise a hand to his wife, mock her, shout at her, or substitute online strippers for her.  Just as the church treasures the other Partner of its covenant, so a husband treasures her.

Perhaps Pastor Abedini is innocent of everything.  Or maybe he abuses his wife but is convinced he doesn’t.  Recently my wife and I were talking about people having blind spots–not believing they are a certain kind of person, or behave a certain way.  I asked her, “So, what are my blind spots?”  Yikes.  Husband, maybe you should ask your wife?