Thursday, September 08, 2005
In the Wake of Katrina
Though I have not been able to follow the news as close as many, it truly is amazing when nature is unleashed by the hand of God. Many today speak of an "act of God" and do not take the term seriously, but tend to see that phrase in relation to nature itself. God is simply "the force of nature". However, in the Scriptures we see a very real and personal, as well as sovereign God. I warn those of you who read on that this will not be the "God loves you and has a plan for your life" approach to dealing with the issue surrounding the devastation in LA, MS, and AL. This disaster was not something that God simply "allowed". In short it is by His divine and sovereign decree.
Some have asked, as they did after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "Where was God when all these things were going on?" They presume to think that God had absolutely nothing to do with those things then and that a good and loving God would have nothing to do with the terrible things that went on last week. However, we saw that the wind and the waves were both working together to bring about the tremendous devastation we viewed and those in the "big easy" experienced. When we look to the Scriptures we find that God is the One who is in charge of those things, specifically the waters of the seas. Notice Job chapter 38 how God acts and does and is not responsible to anyone, yet He is the One in complete control from the beginning:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge?
3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 "Or who shut in the sea with doors, When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it, And set bars and doors;
11 When I said, ‘This far you may come, but no farther, And here your proud waves must stop!’
Notice who it is that has formed the seas and set their boundaries. Notice who it is that sustains those boundaries. Notice who limits the advancement of the waves of the ocean. These are all rhetorical questions given to Job in his interview with God. God is the One who founded and did all these things, not Job and not any other creature! God in His mercy holds the waters back from sinners. He gave a promise to Noah in Genesis 9 that He would not destroy the earth again with water. Yet when He gave the word the fountains of the deep broke forth and the windows of heaven were opened and the earth was flooded. He judged the entire world in the day of the flood except 8 and today there are more localised flooding that are evidences of His hand. Katrina, was indeed a judgment upon the ungodliness of the area. Though there were undoubtedly some of God's people in the area, Bourbon Street and the festivals of Mardi Gras and other worldly and down right depraved parties (the homosexual festival scheduled for just a few days after Katrina hit was canceled) were some of the testimony that the people had tolerated and even endorsed outright and open sin in their streets. This particular area is known for "Fat Tuesday" followed by their mockery of repentance in "Ash Wednesday". God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness everyday (Rom. 1:18). Men suppress this knowledge of the truth concerning God. They don't want to see clearly that God is a righteous judge and lest we who have found grace in the sight of God think we are superior, we must realize that His grace abounds in not allowing the flood waters to overtake us as well, for we deserve no less.
Jesus spoke of some people who perished in Luke 13:1-5. In these two instances He mentions some Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices and He also speaks of eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. He then ask a very penetrating question to those listening: "Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?" Lest someone think in my writing that I view those who live in the areas devasted by the hurricane, as worse sinners than I or anyone else for that matter, that is not the case, as I will show shortly. Jesus is simply going to make a point that sinners deserve punishment and every moment that they live is mercy from God. Just as Jonathan Edwards preached,:
You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his band, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies. God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God's vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
We so often think we have accomplished our own preservation or our own salvation, when really we have done nothing, but it is God who sustains us. Jesus' own words from Luke ring down 2 millenia to us today, "I tell you, no; but unlessyou repent you will all likewise perish." We are no better than those who perished before Pilate, in Siloam, Pompey, Mt. St. Helens, Indonesia, or Louisiana. We have simply been spared by God's mercy and been given opportunity to repent.
Jesus makes the point by illustrating what He means in verses 6-9 of the same chapter. There He speaks a particular fig tree that has been planted and when the owner of the tree continues to see that it produces no fruit, he tells the keeper of the vineyard to cut it down. But the keeper desires to work with the tree and see if it will produce fruit. He asks for one more year and digs around it and fertilizes it. He then states, "if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down." Jesus no doubt may have Israel in mind in this parable. However, the application we can see clearly. It is His patience and longsuffering towards us that keeps us from being swallowed up by the grave and experiencing the wrath of God. Oh how sinners need to see their sad state, mourn for their sin, and have godly sorrow that leads them to repentance. Oh how our churches need a touch of godly sorrow and repentance, instead of justifying sin and making light of it. We would do well to realize that God's judgment is not limited to those outside the church but also to those inside the church as well (See Acts 5:1-10; 1 Cor. 11:27-32).
Sinners would do well to heed the words of Edwards as he continued:
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
May God bring His elect to Himself through this "shaking those things which can be shaken", and may He do it through the glorious proclamation of His gospel and love of His people to those who so desperately need Christ. This event not only occurred by the judgment of God, but will also be seen as the mercy and love of God towards those who are His elect. We who are His must see this opportunity to proclaim His truth and demonstrate His love to those who have been effected by the hurricane. Even in the state I work in people have come here for shelter. The Charlotte Coliseum has been opened and numerous hotels are caring for people. Christians rise up and be the means God uses to accomplish His purposes in Christ Jesus. May God grace us grace and wisdom and use us in this hour for His honor and glory. Amen.