Where is God in the Storm?

I cut my teeth on this site by discussing controversial topics. Of course when I began I really had little idea that these topics were controversial. I just began to write about The Purpose Driven Life, The Passion of the Christ and authors like John Eldredge without realizing that anyone other than myself really cared about them. I have now fallen into the somewhat difficult predicament of being expected to discuss ongoing updates to these stories. Of course I rarely mind doing so because I do find this topics interesting. Thus I am going to make a few comments on the appearance of Ashley Smith and Rick Warren on the Larry King Show last night. Incidentally, the transcript is available here.

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Larry King made it clear that he wanted to primarily discuss two things: methamphetamines and The Purpose Driven Life. On the whole the interview and discussion was quite unremarkable. Here are a few important points:

  • It seems that Ashley Smith is going to become the poster child for Celebrate Recovery, Saddleback’s addiction recovery program (even though she has not yet participated in the program). Warren said, “She’s going to be a poster child for Celebrate Recover. Celebrate Recover is the fastest growing recovery movement in the world. It started at Saddleback and now is in 16 state prison systems and tens of thousands of churches all around the world: Ukraine, Russia, South Africa.” Smith is also on an extensive book tour and can be heard speaking at churches around the country.
  • It was easy to note Smith’s absolute reverence for Rick Warren and her ability to “talk like an evangelical.” She has all the Christian lingo down pat now, though she did not seem to use it when the events actually occured. When discussing Nichols she said, “I pray for him every night and hope that he finds his purpose.” When discussing the drugs she said, “He [Nichols] said, ‘You’re not going to do it with me’? And, I said no. Immediately it was — and a calm came over me immediately and I heard God say ‘You can do it now and I’m going to bring you home because you can’t — you can’t beat this addiction without me or you can trust me to take control of the situation right now and I’ll let you live and you can no to it for good.’ And that’s how the whole ‘Purpose-Driven Life’ began.”
  • Smith does not claim to be a new believer, but one who was converted when she was eleven and has been off the path since that time. She made no real mention of sin or repentance but spoke more of mistakes and bad choices.
  • Warren said, “Larry, this is a story of two redemptions. It’s Ashley’s redemption and it’s Brian’s redemption.” Of course I don’t understand how Brian was redeemed, as he subsequently converted to Islam.

There was on exchange that I found particularly intriguing and I would like to discuss it in some length because of its importance. Warren discussed a topic that I hear time and again these days in the aftermath of terrorist strikes and national disasters. Larry King began to ask about whether God was in the room with Ashley Smith while she dealt with Brian Nichols. Here is the subsequent exchange between Warren and King.

WARREN: Well, there are three or four truths. God works through people. We’ve talked about this, Larry, lots of time, like where was God in Katrina?

KING: Yes.

WARREN: Well, God was in the people who were helping them out of Katrina. That’s where he was. He’s in the…

KING: Where was he when the wind came?

WARREN: Exactly, well we know that…

KING: Why did the wind come?

WARREN: Well, we know that the world is a broken place. This isn’t heaven. That’s why we’re to pray thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven because God’s will is not always done on earth.

KING: So, he gets mad and sends wind?

WARREN: Well, no, no, no. I don’t blame — if I get drunk and I go out and I hit a woman in a car with a pregnant daughter with a baby and she dies, that’s not God’s will. That’s evil. And there is evil in the world.

KING: But the wind whose will is that?

WARREN: Well, because there’s evil in the world there are consequences about it and the Bible, I don’t want to get into theology on this but the Bible does say the world is broken.

Now there were two things in this brief exchange that grabbed my attention. The first was Warren’s insistence that Katrina was not God’s will. Warren says that God’s will is not always done on earth, suggesting that these things somehow happen outside of His will. That position is biblically indefensible. Of course Warren attempts to prove it from Scripture, stating that we need to pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” so that God’s will can be done here and now. But this is not at all a satisfactory explanation of the meaning of those verses. What do the verses mean? Here is what others have to say about them:

This is from Lord’s Day 49, question and answer 124, of the Heidelberg Catechism:

“that is, grant that we and all men may renounce our own will, and without murmuring obey thy will, which is only good; that every one may attend to, and perform the duties of his station and calling, as willingly and faithfully as the angels do in heaven.”

Matthew Henry, in his commentary of the Bible, says:

We pray that God’s kingdom being come, we and others may be brought into obedience to all the laws and ordinances of it. We make Christ but a titular Prince, if we call him King, and do not do his will: having prayed that he may rule us, we pray that we may in every thing be ruled by him. Observe, (1.) The thing prayed for, thy will be done; “Lord, do what thou pleasest with me and mine; 1 Sam. iii. 18. I refer myself to thee, and am well satisfied that all thy counsel concerning me should be performed.” In this sense Christ prayed, not my will, but thine be done. “Enable me to do what is pleasing to thee; give me that grace that is necessary to the right knowledge of thy will, and an acceptable obedience to it. Let thy will be done conscientiously by me and others, not our own will, the will of the flesh, or the mind, not the will of men (1 Pet. iv. 2), much less Satan’s will (John viii. 44), that we may neither displease God in any thing we do (ut nihil nostrum displiceat Deo), nor be displeased at any thing God does” (ut nihil Dei displiceat nobis). (2.) The pattern of it, that it might be done on earth, in this place of our trial and probation (where our work must be done, or it never will be done), as it is done in heaven, that place of rest and joy. We pray that earth may be made more like heaven by the observance of God’s will (this earth, which, through the prevalency of Satan’s will, has become so near akin to hell), and that saints may be made more like the holy angels in their devotion and obedience. We are on earth, blessed be God, not yet under the earth; we pray for the living only, not for the dead that have gone down into silence.

William Hendrickson, in his commentary on Matthew, says, “It is the ardent desire of the person who sincerely breathes the Lord’s Prayer that the Father’s will shall be obeyed as completely, heartily and immediately on earth as this is constantly being done by all the inhabitants of heaven.”

When we pray, “thy will be done,” we are not praying that God would somehow not allow evil to happen and that He would overrule the laws on nature which are attempting to smite us with storm and devastation. Rather, we are praying that God would bring us into obedience to His will. We are admitting as individuals that we are evil, sinful, broken creatures who desire to do everything but God’s will. We are petitioning Him to help us renounce our own claims over our lives and give them fully to God, so that we can attend to our duties as Christians as perfectly as the angels do in heaven.

So is there purpose to the storms and seemingly senseless devastation in our world? Listen to what John Sanders says, and do realize that he is a chief proponent of Open Theism:

The overarching structures of creation are purposed by God, but not every single detail that occurs within them. Within general providence it makes sense to say that God intends an overall purpose for the creation and that God does not specifically intend each and every action within the creation. Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurence of evil. The “greater good” of establishing the conditions of fellowship between God and creatures does not mean that gratuitous evil has a point. Rather, the possibility of gratuitous evil has a point but its actuality does not. … When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. .. God does not have a specific purpose in mind of these occurences.

This seems remarkably similar to what Warren says, does it not?

In the aftermath of September 11, Tom Ascol wrote an “>excellent sermon in which he points those who are suffering to the cross. He says that if God was fully present in the greatest act of suffering the world has ever know, the crucifixion of His Son, He is also present in other suffering.

Was the crucifixion of Jesus the will of God? He was the only righteous man who has ever lived. He was innocent not only before His murderers but also before God. His death was the most heinous crime in human history. Did God have anything to do with it? Where was God when His Son was hanging on the cross? Could He have stopped it? Why didn’t He?

God was there, and not merely as a casual bystander. He was the Master of Ceremonies at the crucifixion. Jesus Himself told His disciples as much as He prepared them for His coming death. After the fact, the Apostle Peter spelled it out clearly in his sermon at Pentecost. Of Jesus he said, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;” (Acts 2:23). God was sovereign: they were responsible.

In that wicked, tragic death, God was doing His deepest work of love and mercy. He was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). The crucifixion reveals to us the depth of both the wisdom and power of God. It shows us His love and goodness. It reassures those who have come to know Him through faith in Jesus that He is God and is “for us.” It guarantees us that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

In times of sorrow and when confronted with horrific evil, God’s children should resist the temptation to rest in rationalizations, whether on the right (Islam) or the left (open theism). Rather, we should run to the crucified, risen Savior. Let faith be renewed at the foot of the cross. The certainties revealed there give strength to face the mysteries of life without despair.

And here is the crux of the matter. When tragedy strikes it is always a tempation to proclaim that God had nothing to do with it. Yet God is present in suffering. We know from Scripture that God is not the author of evil. We also know that He has full control over everything that happens in the world. How do we reconcile this? We turn again to Ascol. “Some truth is beyond our abilities to rationalize. That does not mean that it is irrational, but rather that it is supra-rational. It is above reason. We can know it because it has been revealed. We cannot explain it because our minds are affected by the fall.” We will find no better statement than that made in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

The truth is, we don’t really know how or why God allows and even decrees that these things will happen. But we do not need to “let God off the hook” in order to make ourselves or unbelievers feel better. Let God be God and take comfort not in our supposed explanations of how and why He acts, but in the fact that He is always present with us, whether in times of joy or sorrow.