Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
he casts down to the earth with his hand.
There is a lot of controversy right now about whether or not hell is real.
But there is much less doubt about whether or not tsunamis are.
This raises a couple of questions. Is a tsunami an “act of God,” as the insurance companies tell us? And if so, is his role active or passive?
Assume for a minute that he is passive. Then we want to know why he didn’t prevent the tragedy in Japan. And if he is active, we want to know why he caused it.
We can safely say he cares about it, which makes it harder to argue he is passive about such things. No one wants, or needs, a passive God. And clearly the scripture says he is not:
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
(Psalm 90:5-7 ESV)
Yet even then, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).
So consider for a moment his active role in all this.
Here are the options:
- He was judging Japan for some sin we don’t understand.
- He was teaching us all a lesson we don’t yet understand.
- He was extending a grace we will never understand.
I’m opting for all of the above.
I’m not saying Japan’s sin is greater than our own. I expect we are as materialistic and unbelieving as they are. Who knows when we might get our turn? But the truth is, every individual and every nation rests under the justly deserved wrath of God. We are all creatures in rebellion.
This includes everyone washed out into the sea and everyone sitting around sipping coffee this morning. We don’t understand the sins of others, and we barely understand our own outside the Spirit of God who convicts us and draws us to himself.
But sin is in the world. And God is in the world too.
And that’s the lesson we don’t yet understand, although a tsunami sheds some light on it. The power of God and the fragility of man are fairly clear here. His purpose, less so.
In the face of such suffering we can choose doubt, of course. Even unbelief. But any faithful response begins with the certainty that something good can come of even this great sorrow.
Is the church being called to be channels of grace? Is Japan being prepared for a spiritual awakening? Will emptiness give way to hope?
I have no idea. But that’s why I commit myself (and the Japanese) to a faithful creator, who gave his own Son to reconcile us to himself. Such grace is beyond our comprehension.
Even now the faithful who died are better off. The faithless, none the worse. And the living? Perhaps more willing to give. Or to receive. Grace abounds in our poverty of spirit and light is brighter in the darkness (Matthew 5). I just don’t understand how.
But this I do know: any point of pain or flash of joy is the work of God in some way and to some end. Even hell itself.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
(Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV)