Theology for Tsunamis
Dr. Jim Denison
On December 26, scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu forecast a massive tsunami within 15 minutes of the Indonesian earthquake, but did not have phone numbers to call to warn those in Southeast Asia. None of the countries most severely affected had a tsunami warning system or tidal gauges to alert people to the wall of water that followed the massive earthquake.
So in Sri Lanka, crowds came to the beaches to watch the sea after word spread that it was producing larger-than-normal waves. Thousands of children watched. People collected fish brought in by the waves. Then the worst natural disaster in recent history struck. Most of those who died in the floods could have been saved, if they had been warned.
Does God know the future? No one blames me for the tsunami–I could neither predict nor prevent it. Could God? If he could, why didn’t he? If he could predict and prevent your problems and pain and suffering, why doesn’t he? This morning, what causes you to ask God, “why?” Here’s how our text answers your question.
Did God know this would happen?
Joseph’s experience with God’s providence proves three facts beyond question. Let’s set them out, then see how they relate to our questions today.
First, God knows what we should do.
The Lord is clear: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” (v. 13b). God has a will for our lives, and it is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
He knew what Adam and Eve should do in the Garden of Eden; what Noah should do with the approaching Flood; what Abraham should do to find the Promised Land; what Moses should do to lead his people there; what Joshua should do to cross the flooded Jordan and capture fortified Jericho; what David should do to defeat Goliath; what the fishermen should do to “fish for men”; what Paul should do to take the gospel to the Gentile world.
Second, he knows when we should do it.
“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” (v. 13). The same night the Magi left, the angel came. God brought his word to Joseph when he needed it. If he had given this word to Joseph earlier, he might have left before the Magi arrived. Then the Gentiles would not have worshiped the Christ, and Joseph would not have received the gifts he would need to support his family in their exodus to Egypt. God never reveals his will before we need to know it.
“So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” (v. 14). Joseph wasted no time in obeying the command. It is well that he did so. It is only five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The Magi left that night, and did not return to Herod the next day. Herod sent messengers to inquire, which reported that the Magi were gone and the child missing. Herod then gave his murderous order the same day.
“Where he stayed until the death of Herod” (v. 15). God knew what he should do, and when he should do it.
Third, he knows why we should do it.
“Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (v. 13). The threat was very real. When Herod came to the throne, he slaughtered 300 court officers, his wife Mariamne, her mother Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater, and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.
God was right: “He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (v. 16). With this result: “Rachel [was] weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (v. 18). Most historians think 20 or 30 children were massacred that day, the first martyrs of the Christian era.
So it is clear that God knows the future:
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
He is the Creator and Lord of the universe: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
He knows the future, and has the power to do whatever he wills to do. So we must ask: why does tragedy occur? If he is all-knowing, he knows a tsunami is coming before it appears. If he is all-loving, he would want to prevent such disaster. If he is all-powerful, he could. So, why did he allow this tragedy? Why has he allowed your pain?
Why does God allow tragedy?
We live in a fallen world. Our planet is not the way God intended it to be, or the way it was in Eden.
“God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways” (Genesis 6:12).
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22).
Now we live in a world where four hurricanes can strike Florida in a single season, and Mt. St. Helens can explode, and an earthquake can strike Southern California, and a tsunami can devastate Southeast Asia. Not because God caused it–because this is a fallen planet. Is this the case for your pain?
We are fallen people. Some of our suffering is the result of our misused freedom. Other suffering is the result of the misused freedom of others, as with Herod and the murdered children. Evidence is growing that tsunami warning systems were not in place because governments and wealthy individuals chose not to spend the necessary funds. Of course they did not know what we know now. But some of the pain we experience in life is the fault of fallen people. Is this the case for you?
Our enemy is real. Satan was behind Herod’s attempt to murder the Son of God, and didn’t give up until he led Judas to betray our Lord to his death. Jesus warned us that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He afflicted Job, hates God and his people, and is still a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Is Satan involved in your suffering?
God uses suffering to refine our faith.
“I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another” (Isaiah 48:10-11).
To learn the flavor of tea, we drop it into hot water. To discover the contents of a bottle, we put it under pressure.
God uses suffering to bring us to himself, to teach us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). How would God use your pain to grow your faith?
God uses suffering to reveal our witness.
“For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may prove genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
We prove our faith is real in the hard places. A couple I know and love who lost their little baby and trusted God anyway; a woman who died of cancer but thanked God for the years he gave her to live; a seminary student whose wife left him and his handicapped little girl, but who serves the Church today. How could you use your pain to honor Jesus?
On the basis of these theological facts we ask: What do we do when the tsunami comes?
Determine the source of your suffering. If there is sin to confess, do so immediately, claiming the forgiving grace of God (1 John 1:9). If the sin belongs to someone else, choose to pardon and forgive, for their sake and yours.
Turn to God in faith: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). God can give us peace which understanding cannot produce. But we must trust in him.
Claim his presence in the pain: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Know that he will give you the strength to endure: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Ask him to redeem this suffering: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Claim a better future: “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-5). One day there will be no more sin or terror or war or tsunamis. There will be a day with no night, joy with no pain, victory with no defeat, light with no darkness.
The Lord’s Supper is God’s presence and promise in bread and cup. The sin which crucified Christ is here; the peace God gave Jesus in the Garden and on the cross is here; the presence of God in the pain is here; the strength to endure is here; the redemption of suffering is here; the future at his table in paradise is here.
There will always be a Herod, a tsunami, a cross. But Friday leads to Sunday, death to life, Calvary to Easter. This is the promise of God.