By Reggie Kelly
The incomprehensible magnitude of the recent tsunami tragedy has raised again the pressing question ‘where was God?’ The so-called ‘problem of evil’ is especially intensified in the face of natural disasters where suffering and destruction appear so random and morally undistinguishing. But according to biblical reckoning, natural disasters are not so ‘natural’. That is to say, nature does not act independently of a divine sovereignty that is absolute and all inclusive (Amos 3:6; Mt 10:29 et al.). Are we then to believe that an all ruling providence either sent, or permissively ordained the recent disaster that has created conditions that the moral conscience of the world is rushing to mend? How shall we then answer?
For many who have anguished over this question, the apparent absence of moral distinction in the seemingly random irruptions of nature, so far from being an evidence of divine judgment, is regarded as the greatest possible evidence against the existence of a God of unlimited power and goodness. The ready explanations of modern geological science seem more plausible than the biblical view of nature as an agent of moral judgment under an unlimited divine sovereignty. After all, it is well known that seismic activity of this kind is a commonplace in the greater history of the planet, and is especially predictable in the area around the Pacific Rim known as ‘the ring of fire’. So is the recent tsunami disaster of the Indian Ocean simply another instance of blind brute nature ‘acting up’ according to well known natural laws? Such naturalistic explanation may appear to exonerate God from implication in the seemingly undistinguishing carnage of ‘nature’s fury’; but it would be a loss far greater than the tsunami disaster if the world-view of ‘scientific naturalism’ should prevail to rob the modern world, and particularly the church, of the significance and impact of such a costly judgment and prophetic statement of greater judgments to come.
For those who think deeply or have suffered profoundly, there can be no greater loss than the loss of meaning. To sideline God as helpless spectator in the face of so-called ‘natural disaster’ is to rob humanity of critical divine pleading and instruction; but worse, it is to rob God of the glory of His covenant rule over creation and history. “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate ?” (Isa 24:5). To place the least limit on God’s sovereignty over the circumstances of history and the natural order reduces God to a finite deity whose hands are tied and can therefore guarantee nothing. It is not surprising therefore to find that there is currently a quickly growing movement among conservative evangelicals that is committed to resolve the ‘harsh’ implications of this tension by sacrificing the traditional view of divine omnipotence in exchange for a God of ‘limited’ foreknowledge and power. However, every effort to preserve a more humanistic image of God has resulted in a god of a lesser glory. What is more, a limited omniscience implies a limited sovereignty, and this removes the ground of prophetic certainty. One cannot give up the absolute sovereignty of God without giving up God.
C. S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” If God is indeed speaking through the recent tsunami disaster, it is certainly a very “hard word” that comes at an unimaginable divine cost. The greatest tragedy in any calamity is the loss of its divinely intended significance. If so, then the greatest need of the hour is a self-validating body of evidence that is sufficient to countervail the supposed evidence AGAINST God by the greater evidence FOR God. This is prophecy! The gospel itself is prophetic through and through. “The testimony of Jesus IS the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10b). Therefore, the hope of the world, and the vitality of a faith that can not only withstand the waves of apocalyptic judgments, but raise a standard of irresistible divine evidence, depends on the plumb line of a faithful and incontrovertible prophetic interpretation of events. Prophecy is God’s own self-chosen apologetic. It is the bedrock of faith and certainty. This is our trust and stewardship; we are debtors to give answer. Preparation in the prophetic scripture is not an option; it is a commandment. Apart from the compelling evidence of the testimony of prophecy, the significance of divinely ordered events is lost, and that is the greatest loss of all.
There is mounting evidence that we have crossed the threshold into the time that Jesus called “the beginning of sorrows” (apocalyptic birth pangs). The language suggests a period of world shaking transition in which the kind of sporadic phenomena that would characterize the age in general will begin suddenly to increase in frequency and intensity in significant analogy to a woman’s contractions as she nears the time of delivery. Indeed, mere ‘scientific predictability’ will not prevent hearts from failing in fearful anticipation of what is quite ‘predictably’ coming on the world through the intensifying convulsions of nature. Apart from vital prophetic faith, the tension between popular notions concerning God’s ‘character’ and the unthinkable horrors of natural and moral calamity will prove a strain too great for the faith of many. It has always been sobering to contemplate why Jesus, fully knowing the scripture concerning the triumphant faith of the tribulation martyrs (Dan 11:32-35; 12:7-10), would yet ask the probing question, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
The testimony of the prophetic scriptures is faith’s final answer to the endless array of competing truth claims that dominate the religious and philosophical landscape of the modern world. Above any other form of the miraculous, the most powerful weapon against the wiles of unbelief, and the greatest comfort amidst the overwhelming billows of inexplicable suffering is the prophetic evidence of a perfect and all glorious divine plan. The lamp of prophecy is the one bright light that cuts right through the intellectual and emotional stumbling blocks. Its inherent evidence is essentially unanswerable in its cumulative impact, as the end of the age will show (Dan 11:33; 12:3, 9-10; Rev 11-16). There is no greater proof of the divine sovereignty in history than the evidence of prophecy, and no greater comfort to the believer than the savior’s words “But take ye heed, Behold, I have foretold you all things.” There is no consolation as the consolation that all is safe within the bounds of an invincible sovereignty of glorious divine purpose (“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?”). Where is greater comfort and reassurance to be found than in such hallowed words as “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world?” See that ye be not troubled: for all these things MUST come to pass, but the end is not yet.” He has gone before us in all things, and prophecy is the proof. “Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled.”