In a world that has largely dismissed God as irrelevant, antiquated or dead, it seems strange that one of the few things God still gets credit for are natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and landslides are deemed “acts of God” – just read your insurance policy.
An “Act of God” is a legal term for events outside human control for which no one can be held responsible. Insurance companies use it to identify things they don’t cover in their policy and in Queensland this has lead to public outcry as it has left many without insurance cover.
All this talk of “acts of God” has not been good press for God or for the gospel. It only serves to reinforce a strongly embedded view within Australians that God is a wrathful overseer, inflicting unfair retribution on wayward humanity. But that is not the God we know and love, and it is in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. He taught of God’s unfailing goodwill to all and said God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Many ask: Was Japan’s earthquake a retributive act of God? Did he send the rains and floods into Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland as judgment? Did he shake Christchurch for their sins? We answer a resounding, “No.” That is not the God Jesus represented.
Yet, we are left with questions. While science can help us understand why natural disasters occur and Jesus helps us appreciate God is not causing disasters, we still struggle to understand why God allows them to occur.
So why do natural disasters happen?
Answers are not straight forward, but the Bible does give strong hints to where the answers lie. It explains how the natural world is held in the grip of decay and groans under the weight of this bondage. It explains how creation is waiting in the hope of liberation, transformation and freedom (Romans 8:19-22).
Here the Bible depicts the world not as fixed or settled, but in the process of becoming. Using the image of childbirth it suggests that ferment, unrest, confusion, and disarray are to be expected as the process of history unfolds.
In a similar vein Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come . . . There will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:6-7). He confirms that natural disasters are to be expected in a world still developing and becoming all it was designed to be. In fact he goes on to say that these are just the beginning of the birth pains.
Jesus encourages us to take a long term view of God’s plan for the world. It began in the Garden of Eden thousands of years ago, it peaked in the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth a couple of thousand years ago and only God knows how much long it will be before the end will come.
Until that time, Jesus was very clear about what he wanted us to do.
Those who exhibit true “Acts of God”
Once we appreciate that natural disasters are not “acts of God” but the consequences of complex earth systems still incomplete and awaiting liberation (although they are exacerbated by imperfect management by us humans) we can begin to see what true “acts of God” are – the actions of those who follow Jesus in loving others.
Today in Japan on the frontline of care are many who follow Jesus. Amongst them is the Salvation Army with their slogan, “Combating natural disasters with acts of God.” Think about that. It is brilliant.
“Combating natural disasters with acts of God” helps redefine “acts of God.” It reinforces the point that “natural disasters” are not caused by God. It refocuses “acts of God” on the actions of people one to another.
Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and the like will keep on happening, we can’t stop them. But we can, in the name of Jesus, make a difference to those who suffer. Let us pray that God will grant us, and our fellow believers across the world who are helping in disasters, grace to love and care just as Jesus would.
Have you ever experienced an “Act of God”?
Stephen L Baxter
Have you ever gone to an event and felt completely under-dressed for the occasion? Or have you been somewhere where you feel totally out of place? Maybe you have had the privilege of meeting a very important person face to face and felt utterly out of your depth. That is the picture the writer of the book of Hebrews has in mind when he explores the reality that Jesus is our Great High Priest.
In the back of the writer’s mind is the picture of the grandeur of the awesome creator God and we are being ushered into the throne room of this Supreme Being of the universe. How would we fare? My guess is we would feel completely under-dressed for the occasion, totally out of place, and utterly out of our depth. We wouldn’t know where to look or how to conduct ourselves! We would be totally at a loss.
This is the reason we still need a priest today. Although all our sins have been forgiven, each day we still need to live in relationship to the Almighty God. And if we have a small glimpse of the majesty of this God, we will understand that we would be somewhat uncomfortable in God’s presence. We still need a mediator or priest, one who bridges the gap between us and our Creator.
We wouldn’t know where to look or how to conduct ourselves!
As human beings living in a fallen world we have many needs. We face discouragement and doubt, temptation and guilt, opposition and persecution, suffering and trials. How can we know that God cares for us in any of these struggles? How can we find mercy and grace to meet us at the point of our need? As we come before God’s holiness in our brokenness, what right do we have to expect anything other than condemnation and judgment? We not only need to know that through the work of Jesus on the cross our sins are forgiven once and for all, but also that we are in constant need to be renewed in relationship every day.
The writer of Hebrews shows how a lack of appreciation of the ongoing priestly work of Jesus for us each day not only robs us of a great part of our Christian heritage, but means we will remain an immature baby Christian. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people live boring Christian lives or are dropping away.
Christ’s work as High Priest is relevant to our lives, not just in the abstract sense that we know his death has paid the price for our sins, but in the earthy reality of our daily lives. Here in the midst of our struggles and weakness we have the resources available to meet and deal with our stress, doubts, sin, guilt and depression. Jesus not only deals with our sins, but meets our need when we are tempted in our weakness (Heb 2:18; 4:15), are in need of mercy and grace (Heb 4:16) , are discouraged and doubting (Heb 6:17-20), are accused by Satan (Heb 2:14-15) and are wearied by opposition (Heb 12:3).
Knowing we have a Great High Priest who understands our journey in all its weaknesses gives us a basis to endure, without growing weary or losing hope.
I pray that you might hear the encouragement of the book of Hebrews and take advantage of all Jesus our Great High Priest has to offer.
Stephen L Baxter
At Hobart Baptist, we are currently working our way through the book of Hebrews, perhaps the most difficult book to understand in the New Testament apart from Revelation. One commentary describes Hebrews as “a delight for the person who enjoys puzzles.” So although the logic and flow of thought are unusual for most modern people, careful and patient study yields rich results.
Written as a work of encouragement for a church under pressure, and drawing heavily on Old Testament themes, it focuses in on Jesus and explores the implications of his humanity and divinity for day-to-day practical Christian life. It aims to lead us down a path of faithful and confident trust in Jesus Christ.
However, in arriving at a place of faith and confident trust, Hebrews stretches our perception of Jesus causing us to think again of who he is and what he has done. What we find is that there is a vast difference between Jesus, as we conceive of him, and who he actually is. We discover that the mystery of Jesus, God becoming human, is full of mystery. It reminds us that God is never exactly like we imagine. As author and pastor, AW Tozer, said “The child, the philosopher, and the religionist have all one question: ‘What is God like?’” The answer to that question is not limited to what we can imagine.
As the prophet Isaiah records God saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways;” (Is 55:8) and Paul wrote years later, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor 1:25). God, the one and only Creator God, is incomprehensible to us creatures and is capable of surprising us at any time, any place and in any way. Such is the mystery, sovereignty and freedom of God that we are required to hold loosely the way we see him.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom”
No matter who we are, our image and conception of God is filtered through the limitation of our human imagination and moulded by our needs, experience, dreams and wishes.
Our journey through Hebrews tests, prods and challenges our preconception and calls us to allow our understanding of God to be remoulded, reframed, renewed and refreshed. It invites us to allow our reasoning to be still and hearts to wonder. To fix our thoughts on Jesus without trying to categorise, explain, prove or nail down who he is, but allow ourselves to be swept into the beauty of who he is and all that he has done for us.
What our minds find incomprehensible our hearts recognise and acknowledge. Hebrews encourages us to keep our hearts in awe and worship so as to safeguard us from the arrogance of thinking we know all about God.
I would be interested to know if your perception of Jesus has changed while studying the book of Hebrews.
Stephen L Baxter