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The 2004 Tsunami. Why?


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(Preached The Day After 2004 Tsunami)

John 9:1-3

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Of all the things that differentiate us from animals, perhaps the deepest is our ability to ask “why”! For hundreds of millions of people, this last week has been a week of asking why. Asking why is part of being human.

The disciples asked why.

Why was this man born blind, Lord? Is it because of his sin, or his parents sin?

They sought a rational explanation.

And this week has felt pretty irrational! Night after night, we have seen grieving people, shattered communities, frightened children, broken homes, even towns swept away.

At 9/11, we have a way to trace the cause to terrorists, or western repression, whichever you favour.

At Africa's aids crisis, we can find our way back to corrupt politicians, or human lust, if we wish.

But this time (2004 Tsunami), it seems our options for assigning blame are somewhat limited!

Of course, whenever we ask why, we are not really looking for a scientific explanation. Any more than the betrayed wife is looking for a real explanation when she asks why. Perhaps, like her, we are asking 'How could you have done this to us?'

So when we ask why, it is no help when the scientist says:

“The plates moved. We live in a universe which seems sometimes benign and sometimes malevolent, but actually it is simply a physical machine, of which we are a part. To ask why in the sense of 'how could you have done this to us?' is meaningless.”

But you will have noticed, that as a world, asking why this week, has not been the only indication of our humanity.

In response to the crisis, people have put their hands in their pockets, they have foregone their own pleasure or their own need, they have donated to a cause from which they have no hope of return. They have been content to see the money go, without even a word of individual thanks.

The problem for those who say 'I can't believe in a God any more', is that signs of God's presence are all around us.

The scientific materialist cannot explain why we feel it is worth risking life and limb to pull a stranger from the water.

Neither can he explain why we are not happy to wash our hands of the whole situation - given that its impact on our own lives is materially insignificant.

Neither can he explain why we do not dispense with the old and the weak, given that they are no longer useful to any society.

Neither can he explain the sense of violation and horror that we feel at the sight of even one dead child. There is, after all, no threat to our own children here.

Neither can he explain why so many millions of people across the world feel they must donate their money to see some of these people relieved and re-homed.

He cannot even explain the infinite value of one human life, much less explain why we behave as if it matters!

The disciples came from a tradition which assumed that all suffering was caused by man's sin. Their rationale was - it can't be God's fault, therefore it must be his fault, or his parents fault, or somebody else's fault.

Jesus answer was surprising and revealing! In simple terms he said 'it wasn't his fault, it wasn't his parents fault. This man was born blind, so that the work of God can be seen today.'

Then he made this man see ... the glory of God ... and everything else.

Presumably the man could have thought to himself:

'So let me get this straight - I've stumbled around in the dark since the day I was born, been laughed at, been worried about the future, been injured walking in to things, ever since childhood, just so that Jesus could have his moment of Glory. I'm just some kind of demonstration case.'

There was all kinds of ways he could have taken offence. But no ...

John 9:38
'He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshipped him.'

You'd have to speak to him to understand what he saw in Jesus, and what exactly it was he believed. But somehow, this man arrived at the conclusion that IT WAS ALL WORTH IT!

The Book Of Job, in the Old Testament, is all about suffering. But we are told the meta-narrative – the story beyond. We note that Satan is involved, there is a challenge to goodness, there is some kind of test happening, God's glory is somehow dependent on a man's response.

We read that amidst Job's suffering, he maintained a stoical quietness, a determination to hold on to what he believed about the goodness of God. Even when his wife told him what to do!

“The reason is, you've done something really bad.” say his friends. And his wife.

A huge part of the book has Job saying 'I want to know why!'.

Now you might think that at the end, God would tell Job the whole story - about Satan's involvement, about this challenge to God's belief in Job, about this kind of test.

But, surprisingly, God doesn't explain that. And I think it is because God still knows that this explanation can only be understood when viewed with the right perspective. If God had explained the situation to Job, as it is explained to us in the first few chapters, then Job's response, almost certainly would have been....

'So, it's all some kind of game, is it? Which somehow you have to win, and we have to be the pawns? Somehow, I don't think it was all worth it!'

So God doesn't follow that route at all with Job. Instead we see a long challenge from God to Job as follows .... (skim read it below to get the sense and the thrust of it)

Job 38:1
And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm.

He said:

2-11
"Why do you confuse the issue?

Why do you talk without knowing what you're talking about?

Pull yourself together, Job!

Up on your feet! Stand tall!

I have some questions for you,

and I want some straight answers.

Where were you when I created the earth?

Tell me, since you know so much!

Who decided on its size? Certainly you'll know that!

Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

How was its foundation poured,

and who set the cornerstone,

While the morning stars sang in chorus

and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean

when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?

That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds,

and tucked it in safely at night.

Then I made a playpen for it,

a strong playpen so it couldn't run loose,

And said, 'Stay here, this is your place.

Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.'

12-15
"And have you ever ordered Morning, 'Get up!'

told Dawn, 'Get to work!'

So you could seize Earth like a blanket

and shake out the wicked like cockroaches?

As the sun brings everything to light,

brings out all the colors and shapes,

The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—

they're caught in the very act!

16-18
"Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things,

explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death?

Do you have one clue regarding death's dark mysteries?

And do you have any idea how large this earth is?

Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

19-21
"Do you know where Light comes from

and where Darkness lives

So you can take them by the hand

and lead them home when they get lost?

Why, of course you know that.

You've known them all your life,

grown up in the same neighbourhood with them!

22-30
"Have you ever travelled to where snow is made,

seen the vault where hail is stockpiled,

The arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness

for times of trouble and battle and war?

Can you find your way to where lightning is launched,

or to the place from which the wind blows?

Who do you suppose carves canyons

for the downpours of rain, and charts

the route of thunderstorms

That bring water to unvisited fields,

deserts no one ever lays eyes on,

Drenching the useless wastelands

so they're carpeted with wild flowers and grass?

And who do you think is the father of rain and dew,

the mother of ice and frost?

You don't for a minute imagine

these marvels of weather just happen, do you?

31-33
"Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters,

or distract Orion from his hunt?

Can you get Venus to look your way,

or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play?

Do you know the first thing about the sky's constellations

and how they affect things on Earth?

34-35
"Can you get the attention of the clouds,

and commission a shower of rain?

Can you take charge of the lightning bolts

and have them report to you for orders?

36-38
"Who do you think gave weather-wisdom to the ibis,

and storm-savvy to the rooster?

Does anyone know enough to number all the clouds

or tip over the rain barrels of heaven

When the earth is cracked and dry,

the ground baked hard as a brick?

39-41
"Can you teach the lioness to stalk her prey

and satisfy the appetite of her cubs

As they crouch in their den,

waiting hungrily in their cave?

And who sets out food for the ravens

when their young cry to God,

fluttering about because they have no food?"

39:1
"Do you know the month when mountain goats give birth?

Have you ever watched a doe bear her fawn?

Do you know how many months she is pregnant?

Do you know the season of her delivery,

when she crouches down and drops her offspring?

Her young ones flourish and are soon on their own;

they leave and don't come back.

5-8
"Who do you think set the wild donkey free,

opened the corral gates and let him go?

I gave him the whole wilderness to roam in,

the rolling plains and wide-open places.

He laughs at his city cousins, who are harnessed and harried.

He's oblivious to the cries of teamsters.

He grazes freely through the hills,

nibbling anything that's green.

9-12
"Will the wild buffalo condescend to serve you,

volunteer to spend the night in your barn?

Can you imagine hitching your plow to a buffalo

and getting him to till your fields?

He's hugely strong, yes, but could you trust him,

would you dare turn the job over to him?

You wouldn't for a minute depend on him, would you,

to do what you said, when you said it?

13-18
"The ostrich flaps her wings futilely—

all those beautiful feathers, but useless!

She lays her eggs on the hard ground,

leaves them there in the dirt, exposed to the weather,

Not caring that they might get stepped on and cracked

or trampled by some wild animal.

She's negligent with her young, as if they weren't even hers.

She cares nothing about anything.

She wasn't created very smart, that's for sure,

wasn't given her share of good sense.

But when she runs, oh, how she runs,

laughing, leaving horse and rider in the dust.

19-25
"Are you the one who gave the horse his prowess

and adorned him with a shimmering mane?

Did you create him to prance proudly

and strike terror with his royal snorts?

He paws the ground fiercely, eager and spirited,

then charges into the fray.

He laughs at danger, fearless,

doesn't shy away from the sword.

The banging and clanging

of quiver and lance don't faze him.

He quivers with excitement, and at the trumpet blast

races off at a gallop.

At the sound of the trumpet he neighs mightily,

smelling the excitement of battle from a long way off,

catching the rolling thunder of the war cries.

26-30
"Was it through your know-how that the hawk learned to fly,

soaring effortlessly on thermal up-drafts?

Did you command the eagle's flight,

and teach her to build her nest in the heights,

Perfectly at home on the high cliff face,

invulnerable on pinnacle and crag?

From her perch she searches for prey,

spies it at a great distance.

Her young gorge themselves on carrion;

wherever there's a road-kill, you'll see her circling."

40:1
God then confronted Job directly:

"Now what do you have to say for yourself? Are you going to haul me, the Mighty One, into court and press charges?"

3-5
Job answered:

"I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me. I should never have opened my mouth!

I've talked too much, way too much. I'm ready to shut up and listen."

6-7
God addressed Job next from the eye of the storm, and this is what he said:

"I have some more questions for you, and I want straight answers.

8-14
"Do you presume to tell me what I'm doing wrong?

Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?

Do you have an arm like my arm?

Can you shout in thunder the way I can?

Go ahead, show your stuff.

Let's see what you're made of, what you can do.

Unleash your outrage.

Target the arrogant and lay them flat.

Target the arrogant and bring them to their knees.

Stop the wicked in their tracks - make mincemeat of them!

Dig a mass grave and dump them in it—

faceless corpses in an unmarked grave.

I'll gladly step aside and hand things over to you—

you can surely save yourself with no help from me!

15-24
"Look at the land beast, Behemoth (Ref to Hippo? Dinosaur?).

I created him as well as you.

Grazing on grass, docile as a cow—

Just look at the strength of his back,

the powerful muscles of his belly.

His tail sways like a cedar in the wind;

his huge legs are like beech trees.

His skeleton is made of steel,

every bone in his body hard as steel.

Most magnificent of all my creatures,

but I still lead him around like a lamb!

The grass-covered hills serve him meals,

while field mice frolic in his shadow.

He takes afternoon naps under shade trees,

cools himself in the reedy swamps,

Lazily cool in the leafy shadows

as the breeze moves through the willows.

And when the river rages he doesn't budge,

stolid and unperturbed even when the Jordan goes wild.

But you'd never want him for a pet—

you'd never be able to house-train him!"

1-1
"Or can you pull in the sea beast, Leviathan, (Ref to Crocodile? Whale?)

with a fly rod and stuff him in your creel?

Can you lasso him with a rope,

or snag him with an anchor?

Will he beg you over and over for mercy,

or flatter you with flowery speech?

Will he apply for a job with you

to run errands and serve you the rest of your life?

Will you play with him as if he were a pet goldfish?

Will you make him the mascot of the neighbourhood children?

Will you put him on display in the market

and have shoppers haggle over the price?

Could you shoot him full of arrows like a pin cushion,

or drive harpoons into his huge head?

If you so much as lay a hand on him,

you won't live to tell the story.

What hope would you have with such a creature?

Why, one look at him would do you in!

If you can't hold your own against his glowering visage,

how, then, do you expect to stand up to me?

Who could confront me and get by with it?

I'm in charge of all this - I run this universe!

12-17
"But I've more to say about Leviathan ,

the sea beast, his enormous bulk, his beautiful shape.

Who would even dream of piercing that tough skin

or putting those jaws into bit and bridle?

And who would dare knock at the door of his mouth

filled with row upon row of fierce teeth?

His pride is invincible;

nothing can make a dent in that pride.

Nothing can get through that proud skin—

impervious to weapons and weather,

The thickest and toughest of hides,

impenetrable!

18-34
"He snorts and the world lights up with fire,

he blinks and the dawn breaks.

Comets pour out of his mouth,

fireworks arc and branch.

Smoke erupts from his nostrils

like steam from a boiling pot.

He blows and fires blaze;

flames of fire stream from his mouth.

All muscle he is - sheer and seamless muscle.

To meet him is to dance with death.

Sinewy and lithe,

there's not a soft spot in his entire body—

As tough inside as out,

rock-hard, invulnerable.

Even angels run for cover when he surfaces,

cowering before his tail-thrashing turbulence.

Javelins bounce harmlessly off his hide,

harpoons ricochet wildly.

Iron bars are so much straw to him,

bronze weapons beneath notice.

Arrows don't even make him blink;

bullets make no more impression than raindrops.

A battle axe is nothing but a splinter of kindling;

he treats a brandished harpoon as a joke.

His belly is armour-plated, inexorable—

unstoppable as a barge.

He roils deep ocean the way you'd boil water,

he whips the sea like you'd whip an egg into batter.

With a luminous trail stretching out behind him,

you might think Ocean had grown a gray beard!

There's nothing on this earth quite like him,

not an ounce of fear in that creature!

He surveys all the high and mighty—

king of the ocean, king of the deep!"

In the book of Job, God is clearly saying to him, and to us - you are too small to understand the big picture - so you need to trust me.

If God were speaking to us maybe the questions would be different.

Do you know how a thought arises in your own brain?

Can you explain how the universe is not infinitely large?

And just how does magnetism exert a force across a vacuum, pulling using nothing!

We are very small, and we cannot contain all the plan of God in 3.5lbs of grey jelly inside our head!

But in Jesus Christ we get a crystal clear picture - not of the big picture, and the reasons why the world is the way it is, but a clear picture of God interacting with the world he has created.

Somehow, he allows his creation to cause him suffering. Somehow, in the centre of his own suffering, he is able to look out across the crowd and focus his compassion on others - on those who torture him (Father forgive them.), on his friend, on his mother, (Behold, your mother. Behold, your son)

A very long time ago, St Augustine, after struggling to understand said these words,

"credo ut intelligam" - I believe in order that I might understand.

One day, we will understand that it is all worth it. We will see how this is possible. But today, we have to trust that God is good, that he has compassion on all that he has made, and that he knows what he is doing.

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