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.
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…
- God is weak and couldn’t stop it
- God is strong but limits himself in the case of human free will
- God is strong but limits himself in the case of the devil’s free will
- 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.