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Facing Down the Hurricane

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The sovereignty of God in the storm.

Thabiti Anyabwile, his family and his church are facing down a hurricane. A recent post at his blog is titled What Do You Think About God When Calamity Strikes? and in this post he makes reference to another recent tragedy and two different responses to it.

When the 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed a few weeks ago, it raised questions of ultimate meaning. When times of tragedy strike people are always left wondering, “Why did this happen?” and “What does it all mean?” John Piper wrote on the Desiring God blog that “the meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever.” “That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.” In other words, God uses tragedy to point us to the truth that we all deserve to die but that God extends His mercy, at least for time. This tragic event is proof that we all deserved to die. Just a couple of days ago I posted a quote by John Blanchard that seems relevant. He says this: “The judgments of God fall often enough in this world to let us know that God judges, but seldom enough to let us know that there must be a judgment to come.”

Another Minneapolis pastor has contested Piper’s understanding of the event. Greg Boyd, a prominent Open Theist, takes issue with almost everything Piper says. Though he agrees that this event offers an opportunity for theological reflection, he arrives at completely different conclusions. Denny Burk summarizes the differences. “Boyd’s ‘concern’ is not surprising, however, given that the theological differences between Piper and Boyd could not be more pronounced. Piper is a Calvinist. Boyd is an Arminian. Piper is a determinist. Boyd is an open theist. Piper believes that penal substitution is the central meaning of Christ’s atoning work. Boyd maintains that the Christus Victor view is the central meaning of Christ’s work.” Because of their vastly different theology, it is no great surprise that they disagree. But as Burk points out, only Piper’s view can be faithfully reconciled with the testimony of Scripture.

And now Thabiti is looking at the possibility of a tragedy as well. “Right now, the Cayman Islands are preparing for what could be a category-5 hurricane, Dean. Men are at my house boarding up windows and securing the place.” In 2004 a similar storm essentially destroyed the island. “Understandably, people here are filled with fear and questions.” It is worth pausing to consider which understanding of God offers the most hope not just after a tragedy, but in preparation for the possibility of one.

It’s clear to me that when moments like the Minneapolis bridge collapse happen, or category 5 hurricanes come your way, you need to have a rock-ribbed theology featuring the massive and awesome God of the Bible, the God who created the worlds with a word and His Son who rebuked the winds with a word. The same God who rules even over the evil causes of Satan and his minions, and the feeble efforts of men to thwart Him. The Bible’s picture of God is that nothing is beyond his control, not even the places where we live (Acts 17:24-26). And “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

The storm is expected to hit Grand Cayman late on Sunday night. But before then, on Sunday morning, Thabiti has the task and “the privilege really, of telling people … how they should think about their lives right now. And it won’t be much of a stretch, by God’s grace, because we’ll be meditating on what we’ve been meditating on for the entire year of my service here.” He will teach them nothing less than the beautiful truth of the gospel.

God still rules. I can tell the people that the way men messed the world up through sin provoked God to wrath; the disasters of the world are really only one aspect of the outworking of His holy judgment, and not even the infinite outworking. Though God is not in the hurricane, listen for His voice. Listen for His call to repent. And that’s the good news to the lost among us tomorrow.

The even better news to the found is God has not purchased your life with the precious blood of His Son in order to waste it! Whether we perish or survive in this hurricane, God will eternally be glorified. Christ has conquered death and the grave, and He will raise us up victorious. Now let goods and kindred go, this moral life also. There is a far superior one awaiting.

I thank God for men like Thabiti Anyabwile who preach the gospel in the face of tragedy. Looking at the possibility of meeting with the worst of what nature can send their way, they stand firm on God’s promises, knowing there is ultimate meaning even in pain and suffering and tragedy. What a tragic thing it would be to see the storm but to miss the message.

Let’s pray for Thabiti, his family, his church and the whole island, that God would preserve and protect them. Let’s pray that if the hurricane does continue to bear down on that island, that God would use even that tragedy for His glory.

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