Where Is God?

University Christian Fellowship | Birmingham

One of the truths of the Bible that I embrace with trembling joy, and that our church back in Minneapolis embraces, is the truth of God’s supremacy in all things. The mission of our church, and I would say the mission of my life, is that we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

When we say that we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, we don’t mean we exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things except Hurricane Katrina, or in all things except Pakistan, or in all things except your mother’s cancer, or in all things except your little brother’s leukemia. There are no exceptions. We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, period, no exceptions — all things.

The Supremacy of God

Our lives exist to make God look like he really is — gloriously supreme in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. We didn’t formulate that mission statement with our head in the sand, as though we got it phrased and then went out and bumped into suffering in the world and said, “Oops! We forgot something.” That’s not the way it came into being. We have walked through, in the 25 years that I’ve been there, putting many people into the grave, some of them at five hours old, some of them at five months old, some five years, some five decades, and some eight decades. And many of them have died hard, not easy.

We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. None of us who has lived a few decades would ever embrace this mission without trembling. None of us who’s ever lived in this for a few months has lived in it without tears. We’ve said it dozens of times at our church, and I hope you say it. I hope you learn it, say it, and live it, that the joy we seek — and I’m a Christian Hedonist, so I’m always seeking my joy — is a joy that is always laced with sorrow. No exceptions.

There is no unadulterated joy in this world for people who have their heads out of the sand and love people. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Corinthians 6:10) is a motto at our church. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. How can that be? I wonder if you’re old enough to have learned that mystery. I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I am rejoicing, yet always sorrowful. How can that be? It can be because God is supreme over all things and there is suffering in the world. God is now and always will be absolutely sovereign and supreme, and there is suffering now, though it will come to an end.

The Bible says, “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). You always know somebody who’s weeping and you always know somebody who’s rejoicing, and therefore, you will always be rejoicing and you will always be sorrowful if you love people and you live in the real world. That’s Romans 12:15. You should be sorrowful with those who are sorrowing and rejoicing with those who are rejoicing. You always know somebody who’s rejoicing and you always know somebody who’s sorrowing.

That little phrase from 2 Corinthians 6:10 — “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” — is absolutely key to at least understanding the way I work out my Christian Hedonism. I’m on a quest for maximum joy. And I mean maximum in quality and maximum in extent, which means I won’t settle for any two-bit, half-baked, short-term, 80-year-long joy that lets me down in hell when I’m done with it. I’m not the least bit interested in that. I want a kind of joy that is as deep and high and long as it can be. It better be 80,000 years or I’m not interested. I hope you aren’t either. I hope you’re not so foolish as to trade your soul for 80 years of pleasure.

Remembering Calamity

It came about a few weeks ago that the anniversary of 9/11 happened on a Sunday. We gave a lot of thought to that at our church and what we ought to do with it. These reflections are partly because of that. The first plane, Flight 11, that flew into the tower had 92 people on board. Of course, they all died instantly in a ball of fire. Flight 175 hit the second tower a few minutes later. It had 65 people on board and they all died instantly in another ball of fire.

In the towers themselves, in spite of so many valiant efforts, 2,595 people perished when they fell, including hundreds of those who were going up the stairs instead of down the stairs because they cared about people. Flight 77 carried 64 people when it hit the Pentagon about an hour later on the first attack. Inside the Pentagon, 125 people died. So, 64 died on the plane and 125 died in the Pentagon.

Then Flight 93, with 45 people on board, was turning around, making a U-turn over Pennsylvania when the cell phones started popping and Todd Beamer and others evidently wrestled the controls of the plane from the hijackers and brought it down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and all 45 people died, for a total of about 2,986 people. We thought on that Lord’s day that we would mark that as the thing everybody was feeling. But do you know what happened instead: hardly anybody was thinking about 9/11 that weekend. Everybody was thinking about the week before and New Orleans.

New Orleans was different. Katrina was different than anything this country has experienced, ever. There was a hurricane in Galveston, on September 8, 1900, that killed between 6,000 to 12,000 people. So Katrina wasn’t different in that it killed 1,000 people. The quantities were far greater with other hurricanes, especially that one in Galveston. But it was the first time in the history of this country that a city was totally emptied and so devastated that hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, some of them to our town even in Minneapolis.

So we were thinking about that, and now if we were marking anything, we would be thinking about the earthquake in Pakistan. What is the number of fatalities? Has it gotten beyond 90,000 people taken out in one earthquake?

Living in a Sorrow-Filled World

I want to make sure you don’t think naively about this as though the loss of life was unusual in any of those — 9/11, Katrina, or Pakistan. You know, don’t you, that 50 million people die every year in this world. What would that be? Roughly 6,000 die every hour and 100 every minute.

And here’s the catch. If those numbers weren’t awesome enough, most of them do not die in a ripe old age, and most of them do not die sleeping peacefully in bed. Most of them die young, and most of them die after long struggles with agonizing pain. Millions die because of the evil of man against man.

Sudden calamities shock us only to awaken us to what is happening every single hour of every single day. Thousands perish in misery every day. Probably 7,000–8,000 people will have died before this entire service is over, and they won’t get in the news, though that’s more than 9/11 and more than Katrina. If there’s going to be any Christian joy in this world for people who care about people, it will have to be broken-hearted joy. It will have to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. I don’t know if you’ve discovered this yet, but I assume you have, that the sweetest joys in life are marked with tears, not laughter.

Laughter is good, it does good like medicine, but it’s not deep. You don’t laugh at the deepest moments, you cry, even at the happiest deepest moments. It’s the strange thing the way the Lord has set up our hearts, that we would cry at the saddest things and cry at the happiest things. Laughter comes in the middle somewhere when things are fairly light because we need that kind of relief as well. But the deepest joys are marked by tears, not by laughter. So I think that tear-stained joy is a parable. I think it’s pointing to something that goes like this.

The times of suffering, of calamity, in this world are often the times when God is most needed and most evident for some people. It works that way for some. We usually think that the times of calamity are the times when God is called into question. People go on the radio and get interviewed, and they say, “Where’s God? Where’s God? Where’s God?” But in fact, in the times of the worst calamity, thousands of people find it is the time when God is most needed and when he is most evident. Let me give you an illustration of how that might work.

Out of Darkness, Light

Let’s take the Holocaust, for example, which consisted of six million murders in the Second World War, most of them Jewish people. Or you could take the Soviet Stalinist regime in the Second World War, where not 6 million, but 60 million people were systematically wiped out and sent to the Gulag. And in those days, there’s a person who up until that time had been blind in his 20th century, academic, naive, gamesmanship, playing the language game at the university in relativism, thinking, “What’s good for you is good for you, and what’s good for me is good for me, and there’s no absolute good and there’s no absolute evil. Everybody does his own thing.”

Of course, nobody believes that. It’s an academic game that we pay professors to write books about in universities. They are absolutely without integrity because they don’t live it. They’re playing their games, and along comes an evil that is so horrific that suddenly out of their mouths — these people that are playing these academic games, saying, “What’s good for you and what’s good for me,” and, “I won’t put my good on you and you don’t put your good on me,” and, “I won’t put my evil on you and you don’t put your evil on me” — comes, “No, that’s evil!”

He was so startled that suddenly out of his mouth came a moral judgment. It came out of his mouth with absolute, heartfelt certainty, and he was faced with an absolute crisis of faithlessness. Everything he had been doing in his brain up until that point looked like an absurdity. The thought, “What is evil for you is evil for you, and what is evil for me is evil for me, and there’s no absolute evil,” was totally off his radar screen and now he had voiced, felt, and known beyond the shadow of the doubt there is evil. Call it what you will. You don’t believe it, but it is true.

A Struggle with Objective Reality

Suddenly, he had an absolute and he had a crisis because in his old system, that’s a bunch of chemical synapses just popping funny in his brain, like a primate who’s just a little more advanced than a porpoise. But everything in his soul was witnessing that was absurd. He has to then, if he is honest, come to terms with the question, “Where does this come from? This reality which is clearly not molecules banging into each other here?” Everything in his soul and everything in his mind was screaming absolute reality — “This is wrong!”

He realized there must be right and wrong, there must be good and bad, and there must be beautiful and ugly. There are standards, there is reality, and there are things outside our minds that have objective reality. Where did that come from? And suddenly, people find God in the midst of the worst evil. In other words, there’s no way that they can make sense out of the moral judgments rising up in their own hearts than to say, “Okay, there must be an absolute being who is a person, who has moral ideas and has written them across the universe and across my heart.”

I think there’s a witness. There’s a witness just in the fact that our deepest joys are tear-stained joys. It’s just a vague pointer to what can happen in the worst of times. The question I want to wrestle with tonight with you is, why is there a world with Katrina? Why is there a world with 9/11? Why is there a world with Pakistani earthquakes, or buses that explode and burn with old people in them in Texas, or ferry boats that roll over and drown older people in New York, or floods in New Hampshire, or three little Christian girls that got beheaded a day before yesterday in Indonesia by Muslims? Why? Why? Why?

The list just goes on and on. You are growing up in a world I have no idea what it is going to be. What I would like to do is put under your feet such a rock tonight that you, like the magnificent woman in Proverbs 31, can “laugh at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). That’s my kind of woman. That’s my wife, Noël. When somebody gets a little nervous, and says, “Oh, aren’t you worried about this?” and “Aren’t you worried about that?” She can say, “No.” And when they say, “Why?” she can say, “God.” She doesn’t say it like that; I say it like that.

Evil and the Sovereignty of God

I have two incorrect responses to give you as to why this terrorized, evil world exists, and then I have four that are true. So let’s tackle them.

God Is in Control

Here’s the first wrong answer as to why this terrorized and troubled world exists. It’s wrong to say it exists because God is not in control. The Bible is overwhelmingly clear that God governs everything in the universe from the smallest bird to the largest storm. Let me just read you a litany of Bible verses. Matthew 10:29 says:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Now, if Jesus had known molecular biology, he wouldn’t have used that illustration. He was trying to grope for the most insignificant, unseen, out-of-the-way little bird off in some forest out in a country nobody’s ever been to that dies, falls off the limb, hits the ground, and becomes fertilizer. That does not happen apart from your Father. We would talk about molecules. We would say with R.C. Sproul, “There are no maverick molecules in the universe.” God reigns over the orbit of every one of them. That’s what Jesus is getting at when he says, “Not one of these little birds falls to the ground apart from your Father.”

Matthew 8:27 says that the winds and sea obey him. If God can’t say to Katrina, saying, “Peace, be still,” and have it obey, I won’t worship him and you shouldn’t either. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and when he takes his stand in a boat and looks at the sea and says, “Silence,” it obeys. That’s what the Bible says. If it isn’t true, let’s just pack it up here and go home.

Meticulous Sovereignty

Proverbs 16:33 says:

The lot is cast into the lap,
     but its every decision is from the Lord.

There’s not one dice role in Reno that is not governed by God — not one. There is not one letter pulled out of the Scrabble bag that is not governed by God. 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.

And that applies to good kings and bad kings. Lamentations 3:27 says:

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
     unless the Lord has commanded it?

Amos 3:6 says:

Does disaster come to a city
     unless the Lord has done it?

Mark 1:27 says:

He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.

Isaiah 46:9–10 says:

    I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

When You Turn Again

No person in the universe can thwart the sovereign will of God. Satan is his most powerful adversary, and Satan cannot move without God loosening his leash. We learn that from the book of Job as well as from Luke 22:31–32. You’re not as familiar with that one as you are with Job probably.

I don’t know if you remember this. Jesus looks at Peter before the three denials and he says, “Peter, Satan has demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. When you have turned, strengthen your brothers.” That is absolute sovereignty talking. He says, “When you have turned, strengthen your brothers” not, “If you have turned, strengthen your brothers.” In other words, “Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, and the Father has given him permission. I have interceded that your faith will not utterly fail. You will go so far, but when I look at you, you will weep and be broken. And when you turn, become a strengthener of broken people.”

That’s just all in the package plan. Satan is not running free in this world. So it’s no answer to say that God isn’t in control.

God Is Good

Here’s the second wrong answer: God is evil. Someone could say, “Sure, he’ strong, but he’s evil.” First John 1:5 says:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Psalm 25:8 says:

Good and upright is the Lord.

The angels cry around God in heaven every day, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” There is no whiff of evil in God. Here’s a sentence that you need to take and bend your brain with, because most of us have not yet had our brains brought into shape by the Bible, and sentences like this bend our brains to get into biblical formation; otherwise, you can’t make sense of Scripture. When God ordains that sin be, he does not thereby sin. Or put another way, in ordaining that there be sin, God does not sin.

If you cannot handle that in your head, you cannot handle the cross, because the cross was horrific evil and it was totally planned by the Almighty. You have to have a category in your brain for God willing that there be sin and not sinning in willing that there be sin. So he’s not evil. He gives us a little statement in Genesis 50:20 to lay over all apparent evil in his heart, and the sentence is, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” It’s the same act, but it has two intentionalities: Humans mean it for evil, and God, in and through that, means it for good.

Of course, he was talking about Joseph being sold into slavery, and it turns out that he was planning to rescue the people of Israel 13 years later. God works all things together for good for those who walk uprightly, who love him and are called. Those are my two wrong answers. It’s wrong to say we have the world of pain and suffering that we do — the Katrina world, the Pakistan world, the cancer world, the babies-being-born-with-terrible-deformities world — because God is evil or God is not in control.

The All-Encompassing Sovereignty of God

Those are two wrong, unbiblical answers. So what are the right answers, the biblical answers?

God Permitted the Existence of Sin

Here’s number one: The reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God planned the history of redemption and then permitted sin to enter the world through our first parents, Adam and Eve. I’m going to take these in stages. Now, these answers build on each other.

God planned a history of saving, a history of redeeming, a history of redemption, and then permitted the fall of Adam and Eve, our first parents, as a means to that end. Let me read you a couple of verses and see if you draw this conclusion. Second Timothy 1:9 says:

God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began …

Grace is what sinners need. You don’t need any grace if you are Christ. You don’t need any grace if you are flawless and perfect and sinless. You just need justice and you have heaven. But if you’re a sinner, you need grace. You need to be treated better than you deserve and you need a savior called Jesus Christ. And if by faith you can be in Jesus Christ, he bears all your sin, he provides all your righteousness, and grace floods you. And when did you get that?

This text says before the creation of the world, which means that God was planning sin. If grace is there before the foundation of the world because God is looking at people coming to his Son and he knows that sin going to happen when he creates the world, and he contemplates whether he should do it or not and he decides to do it knowing it’s going to happen, we call that a plan.

It doesn’t matter how you conceive of the immediate causality. All that matters is that you know if you do this, this will happen and you’ll need to do that, and you want to do that, and therefore you do this and that comes, and it’s all in the plan. So my first answer as to where this world comes from is that it comes from God’s intentionality to have a history of redemption from sin, and in preparation for that, he ordains and permits and plans that there be a fall of Adam into sin.

The Slain Lamb’s Book of Life

Let me give you another verse. Revelation 13:8 says:

All who dwell on earth will worship it (the beast), everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Do you get that picture with the beast? It says everybody is going to bow to the beast, except for one group: the people whose names are in the book. What book is it? The book of life of the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world.

The slaughter of the Son of God is in the mind of God before creation. Therefore, he knew creation would involve sin for which the Lamb must be slaughtered. And if he knew that sin was coming and he created the world anyway, it’s a plan. This is God’s design. This is the universe he means to create. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have created it. It’s not logic; that’s Revelation 13:8 and 2 Timothy 1:9. Therefore, Adam’s sin is part of God’s plan so that now in this world of sin, God might display justice, mercy, grace, patience, wrath, and compassion — none of which would be possible without the fall.

You can’t have mercy, you can’t have compassion, you can’t have grace, and you can’t have patience where you don’t have guilt and sin. Therefore, God’s passion for his glory is to display the entirety of his whole being in all of his attributes, including the capstone attribute of the glory of his grace. Therefore, he plans a history of redemption and he puts everything in place for it. That’s the first answer in the series.

God Subjected the World to Futility

Here’s the second one. Another reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is because God then subjected the natural world to futility. That’s a quote from Romans 8. I’ll come back to it. God put the natural world under a curse so that the physical horrors that we see around us in diseases and calamities would become a vivid picture of how horrible moral evil is. In other words, natural evil is a signpost pointing to the horrors of moral evil against God.

Before I say another word on this point, let me say something quick and clear. Some of the godliest, most loving, kind, Christ-like, and heaven-bound people carry some of the weightiest signs of disability and disease. They are signs which say, “Though I am Christ’s, this is a physical witness to what that moral evil is.” Listen to Romans 8:18–21 and you’ll hear where I’m getting this:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility (that’s what we see all over the world), not willingly, but because of him who subjected it (that’s God), in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

When Adam sinned, a curse from God came upon the natural order — futility, bondage, decay, misery, and death. God disordered the natural world. God disordered the natural world in order to bear witness to the horror of moral evil.

The Outrage of Moral Evil

I mean, have you ever wondered why God, since Adam’s sin was a moral choice against the living God, would strike his body with sweat and his wife’s body with labor pains and the whole world with physical upheavals like volcanoes, floods, pestilence, and earthquakes? Doesn’t that strike you as odd, that the punishment would come in physical form when the sin was in the moral realm? That’s where I’m getting this idea that if that’s a response, then it must be that physical evils, calamities, and horrors are meant to bear witness to that.

That makes sense to me because I know my fallen heart. You know, I am not moved very deeply emotionally by my selfishness. I am not outraged at my godlessness. I am not outraged. None of you are outraged anywhere near what you should be at the way you have blackballed God in your attitude, the way you have not trusted him, not delighted in him, not obeyed him, and not treasured him. The spot on your mother’s carpet has caused more emotional upheaval for you than blaspheming the living God.

God, seeing that we are that impervious, insensitive, and unable to comprehend emotionally the outrage of the way we have treated him in our sins, says, “I know how to outrage these people; Katrina, Pakistan, and cancer. Then I’ll get their attention. Then they will get upset. Then they will get riled up because they worship their comfort. They worship their life. They don’t worship me.” Suddenly, we are shocked at the intensity of our emotions about things that are not God. And we hardly have any corresponding intensity of emotion about the outrage of unbelief in our own souls.

So I think the second answer is that God subjected the world to futility physically, with all of its outrages and all of its calamities, as a witness to the outrage of moral evil against God. Whenever you see a physical calamity, you should conclude, “Sin is horrible.” You should not conclude that person must have been a horrible sinner to be swept away in Katrina when this person wasn’t swept away. That’s an absolutely unbiblical conclusion.

Repent, or Perish

Do you remember the story Jesus was told in Luke 13:1–5? They came to him and told him two stories. Pilate had mingled the blood of people with their sacrifices in the temple. He had slaughtered the people and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. And they came to Jesus and said, “What do you think about that?” And Jesus said, “Do you think that the rest of the people in Jerusalem were less sinful than they?” Then he just looked his questioners right in the eye and said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Then he said, “And the Tower of Siloam, which fell over and killed 18 people — do you think that those people were any worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What is the point of those two stories? The point is that calamities are about you.

I was interviewed by Ms. Hagerty on NPR after the tsunami. She’s one of the religion reporters. She spent 45 minutes with me on the telephone, and I got eight seconds on the radio. That’s the way it goes. I hate to do those interviews. But you can get that entire recording at Desiring God Ministries.

I said, “I know you’re not going to give me much time and this seems really like a waste of my time.” And she said, “I’ll let you have the whole interview if you just keep talking to me.” And she asked me, “What was that about?” And I said, “It’s about you repenting. It’s about me repenting. Yeah, it was 10,000 miles away, but we know about it just like the people know about the Tower of Siloam. Do you think that the people under the tsunami were any worse sinners than American people? No, but unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.”

I was walking through the towers next door to our church — we’re downtown and we’re kind of an inner-city type church — and this black friend of mine, Mary, who lives nearby, comes over to our church and comes up to me right after Katrina as I’m walking through and says, “Pastor John, come here a minute.” She was talking with another woman there, and she said, “Katrina — who did that?” And I said, “God did that.” She looked at her friend and said, “God did that. Pastor John says God did that.” Because that’s what she had just been saying to her friend. Then she turned to me and she said, “Why did he do that?” And I said, “Why do you think he did it?” And she said, “Because we need to repent as a nation.” I said, “Amen, Mary, you got it. You don’t need me, just keep going.”

It was remarkable, was it not? It was remarkable how the news coverage, at least the ones I was watching, had the nice, educated, well-to-do, NPR crowd saying, “Where’s God?” while all the people who live there and lost everything, when I saw them getting interviewed said, “God reigns. He’ll take care of us.”

It wouldn’t even enter their mind to question God. I know that’s not universally true, but it was an amazing testimony to me that the poor often have way better theology than the rich. That was answer number two — after the fall comes the curse.

Greater Than Any Loss, Better Than Any Gain

And now, the third reason. We’ve got two more to go and then we’re done. The third reason this terrorized and troubled world exists is so that followers of Christ can experience and display that no pleasure and no treasure compares with knowing Christ — that is, the loss of everything good in this world is meant to reveal that Christ himself more than compensates for all losses. The reason God has ordained a world like this is so that his superior worth would shine when we are satisfied in him having lost everything on earth.

I have two passages of Scripture in mind and both of them are very, very precious to me. One is from the New Testament and the one is from the Old Testament. The New Testament passage goes like this. You know probably where it’s from.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish … (Philippians 3:8).

Paul says, “I count everything as rubbish, or dung, because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” What happens when a person says that in the midst of total loss? I’ll tell you what happens: Christ shines as infinitely valuable more than at any other time.

No Other Gospel

I don’t know what you feel about the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, but I’ll tell you what I feel about it: hatred. It is not the gospel, and it’s being exported from this country to Africa and Asia, selling a bill of goods to the poorest of the poor, saying, “Believe this message and your pigs won’t die and your wife won’t have miscarriages. You will have rings on your fingers and coats on your back.” That’s coming out of America, from the people that ought to be giving our money and our time and our lives, instead selling them a bunch of crap called “gospel.” And here’s the reason it is so horrible. When was the last time that any American, African, or Asian ever said, “Jesus is all-satisfying” because you drove a BMW? Never.

They’ll say, “Jesus give you that? Yeah, I’ll take Jesus!” That’s idolatry, not the gospel. That’s elevating gifts above Giver. I’ll tell you what makes Jesus look beautiful: when you smash your car and your little girl goes flying through the windshield and lands like the little girl I was with on 11th Avenue two weeks ago, who laid on the street for three hours and died before the police would let her go, and you say, through the deepest possible pain, “God is enough. He is good. He will take care of us. He will satisfy us. He will get us through this. He is our treasure.”

Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart (and my little girl) may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25–26).

That makes God look glorious as God, not as the giver of cars or safety or health. Oh, how I pray that Birmingham would be purged of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel — indeed, that America would be purged of it — and the Christian Church, this UCF, would be marked by suffering for Christ. God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity. It’s a wartime lifestyle.

Yet I Will Rejoice

Now, that was the New Testament text. Here’s the one that’s even more precious to me, because in 1968, in December, I married Noël. We’ve been married 37 years, this December. We had a little, teeny wedding. It was just family in Barnesville, Georgia in the little Midway Baptist Church out in the country. My father did the service. I had one best man, she had one matron of honor, and that’s all. And I said to my dad, “Daddy, I want you to read Habakkuk 3:17–18 over us for our marriage text,” which he did. It says:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
     nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
     and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
     and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
     I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

I think when you add up all of those privations, you have starvation. In other words, though everything in my life that sustains life goes, I rejoice in my God. If you do that now, when something terrible happens to you next week, or if you make it a life calling to go to a hard place in the world and do a hard thing and have joy in God, not in circumstance, Christ will shine brightly off of you. And that’s why the world was made like it is.

A World for the Man of Sorrows

This is the fourth reason, and I close. Finally, the terrorized and troubled world exists to make a place for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to suffer and die for our sins. The reason there is terror in the world is so that Christ could be terrorized. The reason there is trouble in the world is so that Christ could be troubled. The reason there is pain in the universe is so that Christ could feel pain. This is the world that God prepared for the suffering and death of his Son. This is the world where the best display of divine love could happen. The Bible is really clear about what the highest and most beautiful display of love is. It says in Romans 5:8:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God wanted to show his love for us, how? In that while we were yet sinners (there had to be sin) Christ died (there had to be death) for us. This world of suffering and death exists so that God could love as he could only love in this world. You could back up and say, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.” Well, you’re not God, and I am thankful. I think it’s really arrogant to say that you, before the creation of the universe, would have had greater wisdom than the Almighty to design a universe in which the fullness of the panorama of his perfections would shine more brightly than in this one. I think that’s the peak of arrogance. I don’t want to go there and I hope you don’t either. I’ll give you one more verse. Acts 4:27–28 says:

Truly in this city (Jerusalem) there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

All the mockery, all the betrayal, all the denial, all the Mel Gibson-like beatings, all the nails in the hands, the sword in the side, the thorns pressing down on the head, the plucking of the beard, the blindfolding, the beating with fists, and the spit running down his beard was planned for you.

Horrific Evil, Overwhelming Good

I really think that if you get into an argument with somebody about the problem of evil — a person who says, “Why this and why that?” — this passage is a good place to go and say, “Look, these are big, huge, mega-philosophical, theological, complicated things. I don’t have it all together. I just know one thing. God came into this horrible world in his Son, Jesus Christ, and he knew this world was going to be that way, he intended to come in, and he took it on himself and bore the weight of all the sins of all those who would believe in him. And he suffered more than any of us will ever suffer in order to display his heart toward us. So, while I can’t understand and satisfactorily explain it all, I invite you to believe him, to trust him. You can have a rock under your feet with the sovereignty of God, and the blood of Christ at the center of the universe covering all the sins that you’ve ever committed, providing a perfect righteousness for you at the center of this blood-stained world.”

So that’s what I’m doing here as we close. I just plead with you like I would plead with my own sons and daughter, don’t let Katrina, Pakistan, tsunamis, cancer, calamities of any kind, or disability of any kind, stand between you and the suffering Savior.