It’s been a heavy week. Especially if you live in Oklahoma.
But It’s been a hard week for anyone with a heart, we’ve all seen the pictures and video, and most of us have gone home and hugged the people we love a little harder.
Maybe you heard about the theological and political debates that it immediately spawned, or maybe you didn’t. But let me tell you what I’ve learned: Whenever something tragic like this happens, we immediately see two things happen. People try to leverage the event for more power or influence, and some people run to it to serve the ones who are hurting.
Why Bad Things Happen
So there’s this one time where Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem and some religious people stop him and ask him a pretty pointed question. They ask Jesus about these current events where some Galillean Jews had gone to the Temple and Pilate, for some reason, had gone in and slaughtered them
And so they were wanting some commentary from Jesus on why this happened.
Now in asking Jesus this question about suffering they are conjuring up all kinds of images, and thoughts that were common in the 1st century.
Actually they are common in all centuries.
They’re asking why, why does this happen, what does God think about this, is God angry, is this God’s punishment? They’re just enunciating a question that has been around since time began.
And that’s why Jesus answers the way He does. He brings up a natural disaster, and he tells them that these people didn’t die because they were more guilty, that we are all broken.
Now I think what Jesus does here is pretty genius. He doesn’t let them draw a straight line from cause and effect for specific sin to specific punishment.
Which is what religious leaders sometimes do, it seems like every time there is a natural catastrophe someone will try to leverage others pain for their own temporary glory. It’s started within two hours of the Moore tornado, because it always does. But I’ve noticed when they say that a certain catastrophe was due to a specific sin they tend to say that it’s a sin that they don’t struggle with.
No religious leader ever says the reason God sent that earthquake is because they were being materialistic, or prideful.
But Jesus response to tragedies like this isn’t to name a specific sin, but to point that there is this deep brokenness in the world. And unless we forget it’s in us too.
That’s why Jesus says Repent, because we are part of the problem, but we can also be a part of the solution.
In fact, as soon as I hear about tragedies like this week, I immediately wonder how long it will take before the world sees the church show up.
Because It seems like we always do.
When the Saints Come Marching In
A few chapters earlier in the same Gospel, Jesus starting getting people to help share in his ministry. He sends out 72 of his followers to different villages to preach and to heal.
And when they get back, they say, “even the demons submit to us in your name.”And Jesus responds with something that I love. He says:
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
He saw Satan fall like Lightning.
The disciples has been walking over hot sand, knocking on doors, asking to see the sick, announcing the coming of Jesus. All their actions took place in the visible world, which they could touch, smell and see.
But Jesus sees more, he saw that those actions in the visible world were having a startling impact on the invisible world. What we do has both personal and cosmological implications.
When natural disasters happen, it always takes me to dark places for a bit. When Leslie and I were at the Hills Church we did Tsunami relief and it was incredibly beautiful and tragic to hear the stories. It all started because one of our members saw the Tsunami on television and flew directly to the worst hit part of Sri Lanka and started making large promises on behalf of the church. And they kept them!
Earlier this week I spent the afternoon with Jon and Joann Jones. A few years ago the Burmese people had a horrible cyclone hit their refuge camp and do great damage, and if you remember that, when you heard that story you had to wonder where is God in that? But while all that was going on my friend Jon Jones was over there.
He’s been going over there for many years, working with those people, trying to get them food. He once told me that he couldn’t see an American dollar anymore without thinking about how much rice it will buy.
But I started thinking about it, this whole time, I was seeing that picture and asking where is God?
This week as soon as heard the story about Oklahoma and the great tragedy of Moore joining the great tragedies of history. I started hearing stories about elementary school teachers protecting their children at great risk to themselves. I immediately started hearing stories about churches and first responders making sacrifices and opening homes for victims.
It’s easy to pontificate and theologize about why bad things like tornadoes and tsunamis happen. It’s easy to use them as a platform to further whatever particular axe you have to grind, but let me tell you who you want to listen to right now. Ask the first responders and those churches who have skin in the game.
Ask the saints who are marching in.
Because if you are wondering why God allowed this or what His plan might be, I think we are asking the wrong question.
You need to see what Jesus sees.
Because I’ll tell you were God is.
God runs to Sri Lanka and promises them millions of dollars of church money for relief effort.
God is running all around Burmese refuge camps trying to get money for the victims of the cyclone.
God is laying on top of elementary school kids protecting them with great risk to Himself, and He is with the churches digging through the rubble and planning to restore and rebuild it.
That’s where God is.
And I see Satan fall like Lightening.
*If you go to Highland and you would like to give toward the effort, we are partnering with Global Samaritan for all relief, and you can give directly to them here.