It’s been a crazy six months around the world as far as NATURAL DISASTERS go. And lots of people are wondering what God’s DOING. Perhaps none more so than Swedish newly weds Stefan and Erika Svanstrom, who’ve just returned from a four month honeymoon.
They got married on Nov. 27 last year, and headed off a week later. Their first flight landed in Munich, where one of Europe’s worst ever snowstorms delayed them for a day at the airport.
After a quiet month in Thailand, they travelled to Bali, where they were caught by seasonal monsoon rains.
Off to Australia, in Perth in February of this year, where the Svanstroms narrowly escaped deadly bush fires.
After that they travelled to Cairns, where category 5 Cyclone Yasi had them evacuated from their hostel to a nearby shopping mall. They slept on a cement floor with other evacuees.
A few weeks later, the Svanstroms were visiting friends in … Brisbane, where the city was mopping up after the massive flooding of the Brisbane River devastated the city centre.
From Brisbane, they decided to fly to NZ. They were at the airport waiting for a flight to… CHRISTCHURCH, when they got a call from worried relatives advising them a 6.3 magnitude earthquake had struck the city. They ended up in Auckland, and drove down to Christchurch where they could only see the airport because of the destruction.
“Next stop was… Japan, where they experienced the earthquake of 11 March while eating lunch in Asakusa in northern Tokyo.
They’ve recently returned home, still in good spirits, and grateful for their lives.
It’s quite funny, isn’t it, when you think about the slim probability of those events randomly happening to one couple. But it’s not funny, of course, to those who’ve been affected much more deeply by those disasters. Who’ve lost loved ones, or lost everything.
And the natural question for people in the midst of all that is “What’s God DOING? Where IS he? WHY???” “How can a loving, powerful God let such terrible things happen?”
Of course, it’s not A NEW question. It’s been asked for thousands of years. By people of every religion. In every part of the world. Including God’s people, the Jews, stuck in Babylon in 6th century BC.
And these words from the prophet Isaiah are God’s answer to THAT situation SPECIFICALLY. But also, more GENERALLY, to those questions MANY OF US have about why God allows suffering. And whether he’s really in control.
The ONLY God
And the refrain God keeps singing, again and again. (Perhaps you picked it up). Is THIS. “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” He’s the ONLY God.
He’s the only God who CREATED. 44 v24.
I am the LORD, who has MADE ALL THINGS, who ALONE stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,
And because he alone CREATED, he’s uniquely qualified to ACT in his creation. To DO AS HE PLEASES. And into Ch 45 we get a long list of the things God’s CHOOSING to do. And then down in v5, we get the chorus.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.
Then again, in the very next verse. God ACTS as he does FOR A REASON.
6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting MEN MAY KNOW there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and THERE IS NO OTHER.
Or jump down to the end of v14. Even the NATIONS will recognise it. The Egyptians who REFUSED to recognise God BEFORE.
They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, ‘Surely God is with you, and THERE IS NO OTHER; THERE IS NO OTHER GOD.'”
Again, at the end of v18. The God who created the earth to be inhabited says
“I am the LORD, and THERE IS NO OTHER.
And just in case you haven’t got the message yet, jump down a bit further to v21. The God who foretells the future says
I, the LORD…there is NO GOD APART FROM ME, a righteous God and a Savior; THERE IS NONE BUT ME.
Which really should be ANSWER ENOUGH to all our doubts and questions. What’s God doing? Where is he? Why does he allow suffering?
Because he’s the ONLY GOD. He is THE LORD and there is no other. YOU’RE not God. HE is! Case closed. Too often our complaining and questioning of God is because we think we know better. Because WE want to be God, and aren’t willing to let GOD be God.
The REVEALING God
God’s declaration that he alone is God SHOULD be answer enough. But God doesn’t leave us there. We don’t DESERVE an answer, but he gives us one ANYWAY. He’s a REVEALING God. Look at 45 v18. God is completely self-sufficient. Needs nothing. Needs no one. Never gets lonely, or hungry or tired or frustrated.
And yet he created the world to be inhabited. He didn’t NEED us, but he MADE US ANYWAY. V18.
18 For this is what the LORD says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.
And then, because he made us for A PURPOSE, he COMMUNICATES himself to us. He tells us WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS. V19.
“I am the LORD, and there is no other. 19 I HAVE NOT SPOKEN IN SECRET, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have NOT said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.
It’s important to God that we GET HIM RIGHT. That we UNDERSTAND what he’s on about. What he’s doing. And how he wants us to respond to him.
And so that means it should be important to US TOO. God has spoken to us through his Word, and through his Son. If God REVEALS himself that means WE SHOULD LISTEN. Nothing is more important than hearing what God says about himself, and about his world, and about our place in it.
How well are YOU listening?
The SOVEREIGN God
So if God’s a REVEALING God, WHAT does he reveal about himself? The next point is that he’s a SOVEREIGN God. He’s IN CONTROL of EVERYTHING.
First up, he’s in control of HISTORY. Ch 44 v25. He tells his prophets what will happen, and then he brings it about.
And of PARTICULAR interest is his plan to restore Jerusalem. V26.
26 He carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
The Jews stuck in Babylon have NO problem with THAT bit. It’s the NEXT bit they struggle with. The WAY God’s going to do it. He’s sovereignly going to use CYRUS, king of the Medes and the Persians. See there in v28
28 who says of CYRUS, ‘HE is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ‘
Jewish national pride had already suffered a blow when ONE foreign king conquered them. Babylon. Now God was promising that ANOTHER king would come along and boss them around.
And it was almost beyond belief that God would call him “MY SHEPHERD.” That was his term for ISRAEL’S rulers. For Moses, and David and the Judges.
But not just SHEPHERD. Have a look at v1 of Ch 45.
“This is what the LORD says to HIS ANOINTED, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him:
Anointing with oil was what only happened to Israel’s priests and kings. A sign of God’s empowering with his Spirit. And equipping them for the task. And it came to mean a term for God’s CHOSEN ONE. It’s where we get the title MESSIAH from – which means “Anointed ONE.”
And here God’s saying that the foreigner CYRUS will be HIS ANOINTED. His Chosen one. His MESSIAH.
And, v2, God will make it easy for him to win. But, all the while, it will be GOD’S purposes that he’s achieving. V3.
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD, the God of Israel, who SUMMONS YOU BY NAME.
And, even more amazingly, God can use Cyrus without him even RECOGNISING it. v4.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, THOUGH YOU DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE ME.
THAT’S how sovereign God is! He can even use unbelieving pagan kings to rescue his chosen servant Israel! He did it with Pharaoh. He did it with Cyrus. And he does it with our leaders today.
And that means that we should be PRAYING for our leaders. Praying for the good ones. AND the bad ones. Praying that God would work out his good purposes through governments even when they DON’T acknowledge him.
For example, this week’s federal budget announced the funding of 1000 new school Christian chaplaincy positions! From a Prime Minister who refused to swear on the Bible when she was inducted because she’s AN ATHEIST! But God uses political agendas as tools for his GREATER agenda – that people might come to recognise that he’s the one true God, and there is no other. And we can give thanks that he’s using government grants and school chaplains to DO that. And pray it will continue. Prov 21:1 puts it this way
The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.
He did it with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and he did it with King Cyrus of the Medes and Persians. In 539 BC Cyrus invaded Babylon. We read about that in Daniel 5. A short time later, he REVERSED Babylon’s foreign policy, and sent Israel home. And the city walls and the temple were re-built. We read about THAT in Ezra.
It all worked out. But at the time, it must have sounded RIDICULOUS! Israel would have been saying, “What’s God THINKING? What’s he DOING? Why THIS way? Why not raise up a nice JEWISH rescuer. A JEWISH shepherd. A JEWISH Messiah.”
But God did things this way FOR A REASON. V5.
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 SO THAT FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE OF ITS SETTING MEN MAY KNOW THERE IS NONE BESIDES ME. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
That’s why God does EVERYTHING he does – so that people would RECOGNISE him. That there are no other Gods.
It’s why he does OBVIOUS things, and NOT so obvious things. You can’t put God into a box. You can’t thank him for the rainbow, but then say he’s not responsible for the FLOOD. He’s responsible FOR IT ALL. Even if we CAN’T explain it. . Look at God’s incredible claim in v7.
7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.
God’s responsible for IT ALL. Just because we don’t UNDERSTAND it, doesn’t mean he’s not BEHIND it. God IS responsible for the Japanese tsunami, and the Christchurch earthquake, and the Queensland cyclone, and the Brisbane floods.
He’s responsible for GOOD government and BAD government. He CONTROLS just presidents AND brutal dictators. He forms light and creates darkness.
And sometimes we get to see some bigger picture. Sometimes we’re just left scratching our heads. But, at the very least, we know God’s ULTIMATE purpose in it all. 45:6
6 SO THAT FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE OF ITS SETTING MEN MAY KNOW THERE IS NONE BESIDES ME. I am the LORD, and there is no other.
The problem when we start complaining, or suggesting we know better than God, is that it’s like a piece of pottery complaining to the potter. He MADE us, and he’s got the RIGHT to do it the way he likes. There in v9.
9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’
It’s NONSENSE to imagine such a thing. But it’s exactly the same when we question that God doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Who are YOU to boss me around?” says God. V11.
11 “This is what the LORD says–the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free,
God’s got everything in control. He really DOES!
We SAY it, but so often we don’t LIVE it.
One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is Grand Designs. It’s about average people building extraordinary homes. Last week I watched an episode where the owner lived on site and wanted to know about EVERY MINUTE DETAIL. It made things really difficult for the builder. Always having to explain things and justify himself. It slowed him down, and wore him out.
And I got the impression the builder found it hard not to take it PERSONALLY. He felt like the owner didn’t TRUST him. Always questioning, and checking what he did.
At one point he was interviewed by Kevin McCloud, the host, and he said the hardest thing about the build was having the owner on site all the time. And he made the ironic comment, “It’s just as well he’s here. I’ve only got 25 years building experience, and the architect’s only got 20 years experience. I don’t know how we’d cope without the owner!” In other words, he wished he’d just butt out for a while, and give them some space to DO THEIR JOB!
And it’s the same with God. “Just butt out,” he says, “And let me do my job!”
God’s got everything in control. He really DOES! We SAY it, but so often we don’t LIVE it.
We SAY he’s got it in control. But we try to fix problems ourselves, rather than PRAY. Prayer is our LAST resort, rather than our FIRST.
We SAY he’s got it in control. But we WORRY, instead of trusting him.
We SAY he’s got it in control. But we COMPLAIN, rather than be CONTENT.
So let’s SHOW that God’s got everything in control by PRAYING. By TRUSTING. By BEING CONTENT.
The SAVIOUR God
And let’s keep the BIG PICTURE in mind. In the midst of things we don’t understand, or struggle to see the good in. We’ve got to remember that God has SAVED us.
Lots of stuff we MIGHTN’T get. About natural disasters, and suffering. But God sent Jesus to die in our place. To pay for our sin. To suffer God’s wrath, so we don’t have to. God raised Jesus from death, forgave our sin. And promises us rescue and new life. And ultimately, to rescue THIS BROKEN GROANING WORLD, and RESTORE it for us to live in. Let’s not forget THAT.
Same with Israel. God’s message to Israel, who were doing those same things. The complaining and the worrying. God reminds them that his purpose in the whole plan is TO SAVE THEM. He’s the SAVIOUR God. Jump down to v17 of ch 45.
17 But Israel will be SAVED by the LORD with an EVERLASTING SALVATION; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting.
God’s got something GOOD planned for his people. v18.
18 For this is what the LORD says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–
And that includes his Promised Land. He made it to be FILLED. So that’s what he’s going to DO.
And the right response to a SAVIOUR GOD like THAT is OBVIOUS. V22. You turn to him and be saved.
22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
God’s plan, hinted at here, was MUCH BIGGER than just restoring ISRAEL. He wanted to save THE WHOLE WORLD. Which includes US. Let’s REJOICE in that. ONE GOD for ONE WORLD. United together under that ONE GOD.
And while Israel might have questioned God’s choice of Cyrus. And we might question the way God works out some things in his world TODAY.
Let’s REJOICE in God’s strange choice of a SUFFERING servant. Of a CRUCIFIED Saviour. Of a WEAK AND OBEDIENT Lord.
And let’s rejoice in his strange choice of US. Undeserving. Unworthy. Objects of GRACE.
As Paul thought about the foolishness of his gospel compared to the wisdom of the age. As he thought about the Corinthian Christians, a rag-tag bunch of misfits, compared to the eloquent and gifted pagans around them. He reached THIS CONCLUSION. 1 Cor 1:21
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Praise God for the foolishness of the cross. For the foolishness of grace. For the LORD is GOD, and there is no other!