The Tsunami and the Sovereignty of God

Defending God’s Deity

SCBO Evangelism Celebration | Cedarville

Let me tell you what my aim is for us together and then try to do it. My aim is to persuade you that when your local radio station calls you or your local newspaper calls you and asks for your Christian response to the tsunami, you will boldly affirm that God reigns over the Indian Ocean from the top to the bottom and from the east to the west. And that you’ll say on the telephone that one of his innumerable designs, one of his just and holy designs in this calamity, is to summon the whole world to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. And that you will say to that reporter at the other end of the telephone line, “If we try to rescue the love and the justice of God in this calamity by robbing him of his sovereignty, we will lose his deity, and with it all justice and all love and all hope.” So, that’s my aim.

God’s Passion for His Glory

This morning I stood here and spoke to the students and I said to them that in order for your heart to have a durable and authentic centeredness on God and on Christ, you must see God as the most God-centered person in the world. And you must see Christ as the most Christ-centered person in the world. And I unpacked that biblically from predestination in Ephesians 1:5, which says that he predestined us in love to be his sons unto the praise of his glory. So, predestination is for the praise of his glory.

And then I unpacked it from creation. Isaiah 43:6–7 says that he created us for his glory.

And then I unpacked it from the incarnation that Christ came into the world for the glory of God, which is why the angels sang at the incarnation, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).

And then I unpacked it from propitiation, or the cross, where Romans 3:25 says that God put Christ forward as a propitiation to demonstrate his righteousness because he had passed over sins. And so, the cross is the upholding and the vindicating of God’s righteousness.

And then I unpacked it from sanctification and Philippians 1:9–10, where Paul prays that we will be filled with the fruits of righteousness that come through Jesus Christ to the praise and the glory of God.

And then I unpacked it from the consummation and the second coming of Christ, where Paul says that the Lord will come with his angels inflaming fire, bringing vengeance on those who do not believe, in order that Christ might be magnified in all those who believe.

So from beginning to ending, God’s motive is God-centered. God’s zeal is for the glory of God. But one of the things I did not argue from this morning is the doctrine of providence. I saved that for you. And so I want to say now that I don’t think it is possible to be a consistent, durable, authentic, God-centered human being and reject the biblical doctrine of the providence of God. I don’t think it’s possible to be God-centered and God-exalting if we follow David Hart and the Wall Street Journal.

The Controversial Doctrine of Providence

For example, he wrote something about three days after the tsunami:

No Christian is licensed . . .

I have to really control myself here because I want to say, “And you issue licenses?” He said:

No Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends.

He has a big article in the most recent First Things, and I’m ashamed of First Things and John Neuhaus, that he published it. On the contrary, David Hart, it is not banal, it is not odious, and it is not blasphemous; it is biblical to say that this serves the secret councils of God and that they are good, righteous, holy, and just.

Sovereign Over Natural Disaster

God is sovereign over natural disasters. Let’s just take a few biblical examples and spread them out and then ask, what do we say to that telephone call? Because I got one of those from NPR, and they interviewed me for 45 minutes and put 15 seconds on the radio, which is typical, and why they’re not worth your time. But for that one woman, it might be worth her time. And so go ahead and do it.

And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand” (Job 1:12).

So, Satan gets permission to beat up on Job. He must get permission.

While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came . . .” (Job 1:18).

Now, come on, pastors. On the telephone don’t wimp out on me. God rules the wind. If the Bible means anything, if God is God, he rules the wind.

“. . . A great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:19–21).

And the next sentence, written by the inspired writer is:

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

This is not hard to understand. It’s just hard to believe God, which is why the world is in the condition it’s in.

Sovereign Over World Rulers

God is sovereign over world rulers. Maybe the next phone call will be about the assassination of the President. What will you say about that? Daniel 4:17 says:

The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.

Proverbs 21:1 says:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
     he turns it wherever he will.

Sovereign Over the Powers of Darkness

God is sovereign over Satan and demons. Mark 1:27 says:

They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

This is not difficult. This is called Christianity. What is wrong with our pastors on the telephone? I was riding home from a morning prayer meeting last week, and here it comes again. It was Minnesota Public Radio interviewing Dean Johnson who is a Protestant chaplain and he’s also a senator in the Minnesota Senate. Three Minnesota boys had just been killed that week in Iraq, and he was being interviewed about how chaplains help families, and she asked him the golden question — just ask me this question — she said, “How do you help the families at a time like this?” He said not one word about God, not one word about Christ, and not one word about prayer. This Protestant chaplain would not say one word.

Tonight, I’m so eager to hear what you have to say because here’s a question I have for you right now, Josh. I’m wondering whether these pastors and chaplains on panels and on telephones are not telling the truth because they just bought into what you said — namely, there’s no use to say it. I don’t think so. I hope not. If that’s the way you’re interpreting him, don’t do it. Tell the truth on the telephone and then go obey what he says tonight. I think I know what he’s going to say.

Sovereign Over Life and Death

God is sovereign over life and death. Deuteronomy 32:39 says:

See now that I, even I, am he,
     and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
     I wound and I heal;
     and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

First Samuel 2:6 says:

The Lord kills and brings to life;
     he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

Or listen to this amazing text in James 4:13–16:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

It is arrogant to say, “I’m flying home to Minneapolis tomorrow,” if I don’t at least think, “Unless the Lord takes the plane down.” It’s the Lord. That’s what it says. You don’t need a PhD to understand the Bible. God is sovereign over life and death. James, the inspired spokesman, says, “Say rather, if the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that. And if he doesn’t, I die.” Period. And if Satan’s involved in my death, he’s on a leash, and he can’t bite me any more deeply than God yanks on him. And he can kill me. I know he can kill me. It says that in Revelation 2:10. Satan kills people, but only on the leash. And therefore at the end of the leash is my God. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Say it on the telephone. Be bold. Be Christian. Don’t be so mealy-mouthed.

We need people who tell the truth even if the truth isn’t enough. I’m so tired of wimpy pastors. I just look anywhere. Because here’s another truth about young people. They want people who are real. They want pastors who stand up and tell them the truth. Why in the world does 59-year-old-with-five-grandchildren John Piper get invited to this school? I don’t know.

Sovereign Over Sickness

God is sovereign over sickness and disability. Let’s just bow down and let Joni Eareckson tell the story, right? Praise God for truth-tellers like Joni Eareckson Tada, that blow young people out of the water with her unbelievable confession when she says, “Praise God for my wheelchair because I have found such freedom in it.” Because she’s read the Bible. She’s simply read the Bible. She’s read it way better than most pastors have read it, evidently. Exodus 4:11 says:

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

Or take that second story of Job. This gets a little clearer. Satan goes back to God and says, “Yeah, right. Skin for skin. You don’t touch his skin, he’ll keep worshiping you, but you touch his skin and he won’t worship you anymore” (Job 2:4–5). So, God says, “Okay, touch his skin. Just don’t kill him. I’ll lengthen the leash a little farther” (Job 2:6). And then it says, “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sores (boils) from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet” (Job 2:7).

Satan is the subject of that verb. It says, “Satan smote Job with boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet.” And then it says:

And [Job] took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:8–10).

And then you get to the end of this book and you wonder, has Job been a faithful interpreter of the providence of God, or has he been giving some bad theology like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have? And you get a resoundingly clear answer from the inspired writer of this book in chapter 42:11, which says:

Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.

That’s not Job talking, that’s the inspired writer. The Lord brought it all upon him, which is why Job was so right to say, along with Matt Redman’s song, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Oh, pastors. Our people need to know God. They need to know God in their suffering and in their dealing with others’ suffering.

Sovereign Over the Forces of Nature

God is sovereign over the wind, and he’s sovereign over the waves.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
     you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
     stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:7).

O Lord God of hosts,
     who is mighty as you are,
     O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
     when its waves rise, you still them (Psalm 89:8).

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:38–39).

And he can do it any day he wants, anywhere in the world. One word from Lord King Jesus and the sea goes flat, or we have no Christ.

There’s not a plant or flow’r below,
     But makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
     By order from Thy throne.

Sovereign Over Disaster

There are so many summary statements in the Bible to this effect. I don’t know how the devil gets away with what he gets away with in our churches. Lamentations 3:37–38 says:

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
     unless the Lord has commanded it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
     that good and bad come?

Amos 3:6 says:

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
     and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
     unless the Lord has done it?

Ecclesiastes 7:14 says:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Genesis 50:20 says:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .

It does not say God used it for good. So many people weasel with that. God is always playing catch up ball with somebody’s else’s mistake, as if he said, “Oops, I’ll fix that. Oops, I’ll fix that. Oops, I’ll fix that.” No way. That is not the biblical picture. You meant it for evil, and God — same word — designed it for good. You had a meaning, and he had a meaning. Satan has a meaning, and God has a meaning in everything.

Don’t buy into Satan’s meaning. Buy into God’s meaning. Help your people not buy into Satan’s meaning of all the events, bad and good, in their lives. Satan wants to ruin faith with pleasure and he wants to ruin faith with pain. And you have read your Bibles. You know the answer to these things and people love to have answers. They get helped. Even young people love answers. Thousands and thousands of them love to get answers for hard problems and questions.

Every Decision Is From the Lord

Proverbs 16:9 says:

The heart of man plans his way,
     but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverb 16:33 says:

The lot is cast (in Vegas) into the lap,
     but its every decision is from the Lord.

I play Scrabble with my wife on our day off. Now, I wish there were a game that had absolutely no luck in it, since I don’t believe in luck. In other words, God decides which letters I pull out of the bag, which prompts me to pray. But I’m married and I love my wife and she can pray and we don’t want to put God in that position. And so, as my hand goes into the bag and I need a U because I have a Q, I don’t say, “Lord, give me a U,” but rather, “For the family and for the kingdom. And if it’s helpful for me to lose today for the marriage, I’ll lose. I’ll be glad. You’re sovereign.”

My point is simply that the Bible says, “The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” I don’t know how you can believe in God and not believe that. How tortured the mind becomes to try to say we have some kind of God in heaven and he is on vacation 99 percent of the time. We are deists if we believe that.

Proverbs 19:21 says:

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
     but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

So, when I got that call, I said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from my Father” (Matthew 10:29).

Jesus couldn’t pull rank on his hearers and say things like, “Molecules, atoms, neutrons . . .” It’s like R.C. Sproul says, “There is no maverick molecule in the world.” Jesus didn’t say that. He couldn’t do that. He had to talk about the most insignificant thing he could think of: two birds in some jungle in Africa, and they just die. They just fall off a limb and become compost. They just die. And he says, “That does not happen apart from my Father.” And we just blabber all around about tsunamis. We won’t say anything. We’re just so scared of . . . what, telling the truth about our God?

A Bridge to Muslims

Do you know what the saddest thing was? The clearest and most resounding testimony to the sovereignty of God of the five people interviewed in this thing was a Muslim. One of the reasons I’m preaching like I’m preaching here is because the Bible has a vision of God that really can win Muslims to Jesus. But it won’t be the mealy-mouthed, American evangelical God. Try to fly that in the United Arab Emirates. Give me a break. They have such a massive view of the sovereignty of God and almost everything else is wrong. They have no Christ. They have no cross. They have no redeemer. They have no substitute. They have no grace. They have no song. But oh, they have seen the sovereignty of God.

Could that be a bridge? Could that be an evangelistic bridge to out-sovereignty the Muslims with the biblical God? Instead of letting them tell the truth about the tsunami, we tell the truth about the tsunami.

When the Call Comes

Here are my concluding three answers to what you might say. Here’s what I would urge you to say. First, you will say:

Ma’am, the first thing I want to say about the 400,000 people who’ve been swept away and the massive devastation that will be there for decades is that God clothed himself, in his Son, with our pain. It’s the first thing I want you to hear. I want you to hear Jesus, ma’am, do you hear me? I’m talking about Jesus Christ. I’m not just a theist. I’m a Christian. God Almighty has a Son. He is God, and he sent him. He clothed himself with flesh and, mainly, he wore pain. Mainly, he clothed himself with tsunamis. God has tasted it. God has worn it. God has entered into it to make a way into it and through it — many are the afflictions of the righteous, but with him, the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19). And therefore, we may take heart that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Nobody has ever been hurt so bad God cannot empathize with them because he entered into it.

I want to say something about Jesus first, right? We just get Jesus in the picture here. Say that to her first, and then you might toss in, if it were true, we put Doug Oyen on a plane within days and sent him to Sri Lanka. And we said, “Doug, take with you two big, massive water purifying systems which you can get on eBay, which we did, and do a 10-day research project. Come back and tell us what the long-term implications are for our church in mercy.” Say that on the radio, if you can.

The Good News of God’s Sovereignty

Second, say this, “If we lose the sovereignty of God, we lose the means by which he can fulfill Romans 8:28.” People don’t think this through. And when you help them think this through, they breathe a sense of relief because they wonder, “Can’t we just let it go? Can’t we just let the sovereignty of God go and talk about his love and talk about his justice and not talk about his control? I mean, wouldn’t that be better? Wouldn’t that feel good and warm and relational?” And the answer is, no. It wouldn’t. It would feel damning because if you pull the plug on God’s power over the world, how’s he going to turn all your mess for good? How’s he going to take the impossible situations of your life and bring hope and joy out of them?

And when you say that to people, they say, “Oh, I wouldn’t want to lose that. I want to take the impossibilities of my life — my cancer, my wayward kid, my broken marriage, my lost job — and I want God to be sovereign over that.” But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t throw it away with your right hand and take it back with your left. You better stay there all the way. This God is God. I only have a minute or two left and I have two things I want to say, but I have stacks of illustrations here. Maybe I’ll give you one.

Have you heard of Nate Saint, the Auca-speared missionary in 1956 killed in Ecuador? He has a son named Steve. Steve is almost my age now. He was, I think, about six when that happened. And he wrote an article about his research into his father’s murder. It’s right there in Christianity Today. And he has a sentence in here that was so absolutely unbelievable that I emailed him and said, “Is that a misprint?” Here’s what he said. He had gone back — as you know, he’s still extensively ministering, making movies, in fact, among the Huaorani, which is what we ought to call them, not the Aucas — and he discovered that there was intrigue in the tribe behind this fluke murder.

There was no plan going on here. They didn’t plan to kill these guys. There was somebody eloping. Read the story. It’s an amazing story. It was September 16th, 1996, and I have this article. He said:

As they described their recollections (people he was interviewing), it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the Palm Beach (that’s a river in Ecuador) killing took place at all. It is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

I read that and I said, “Misprint. Misprint. They left out a negative.” I’ll read it again”

The killing was inexplicable. It was an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.

Do you want to hear my horrible paraphrase of that? “God killed my dad.” And that’s what he said. I asked him, and I said, “Is that what you’re saying? God took your dad?” He said, “Yes.” Now, some people like Steve Saint are massively helped by that. Do you like willy-nilly, irrational accidents as the bottom line of your reality? Or would you rather have an all-wise, all-just, all-good God running the details of the world? And I have so many stories from right off of the pages of my newspaper, but I close with this word.

A Call to Repentance

So, the first thing you’re going to do is get Jesus involved and talk about how he wore the pain. The second thing you’re going to say is, “If you lose sovereignty, you lose God and you lose hope and you lose the ability to make Romans 8:28 work.” And the third thing you say is:

I only know of one situation where Jesus got a phone call like this, and it was in Luke 13:1–5. They called him up and said, “Jesus, have you heard about the Tower of Siloam? It just fell over and crushed 18 people. What do you have to say about that, you and your Father?” To which Jesus said (and this is what they quoted, this is the 15 seconds I got, and I’m glad), “Do you think that all of the inhabitants of Jerusalem are any worse sinners than they? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you also will perish” (Luke 13:4–5).

And they might say, “What? That’s not what I asked. I don’t want you to talk about me and my need for Christ.” Get your reporter involved in this. Say to the reporter on the telephone, “Are you right with God? Because Jesus says the reason there was a tsunami is so that you, ma’am, would repent. That’s what he said, ma’am. Ma’am, are you repenting right now?” Don’t play games as if this is some objective little, panel thing and you’re going to drop your pebble in beside the Buddhist and the Hindu and the Muslim.

No, no. You are there in the name of Jesus. You say, “I beseech you in the name of God. Be reconciled to God, ma’am. This happened in the Indian Ocean because this conversation right now is designed to call you to repentance.”

So, brothers, I close, would you please, I just beg of you, if you don’t believe this, would you go back to your Bibles? And if you do believe it, would you, when the telephone comes, be brokenhearted, because the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep.” Get your person on the plane, plan your mercy, and then tell the truth.