Monday, July 25, 2005

Emergency: Our Response

Before the world can recompose after the tremendous shock wrought by the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, we were once again shaken by another earthquake that happened the day after Easter 2005. Although the devastations caused by the second earthquake paled in comparison to the first, the world was again reminded of our helplessness, frailty and fragile mortality. The world, or at least we in South East Asia, was at once angry and baffled. We were outraged by the widespread destruction; a city was brought down to its knees and into oblivion, more than 200, 000 lives were consumed and hundreds of thousands more were gravely affected. And many of us were baffled, confused and were utterly lost at trying to grasp all that had happened. One might be able to explain the cruelty of a tyrant or a murderer, but the cruelty displayed in natural disasters is truly a challenge to our notion of justice. This part of world, being a region still very much holding on to the beliefs of the supernatural, began even to question the mercy of God or the gods. Nothing seemed to make sense when we attempt to reconcile the death of thousands and a loving Deity. Some even questioned whether God was in control. Perhaps He was as helpless as the mother who saw her own child being drowned and yet was not able to do anything.

For many Christians, even the rest of us who were fortunate enough to not taste the bitterness of the after-shock, this is both a genuine test of faith and a wake up call. As one quipped, “How do we make sense of God in times when all that had happened did not make sense?

A group of Christian university students that meet regularly to put their thoughts over issues that matter, (called Christ Seminar) saw the timely need to respond to the challenging questions which arose thereafter, but at the same time; they realize that they should not attempt to bundle the answers in a neat and convenient package. Hence, a discussion was held, aptly titled,


Emergency: Our Response

The aims of the discussion were:

1. To have a clearer theological understanding of “Another Earthquake”
2. To discuss practical measures to take in response to the event
3. To produce a paper on the discussions and share the thoughts with others

So, is God in control?
For our God to be King of the universe, he must be king overall, exerting his sovereignty in every department of the Creation. Certainly there is not a single square inch of our lives that Christ does not claim, “That is mine!” (Abraham Kuyper). The Scripture has recorded for the assurance of our faith, in many many instances, that everything takes place by the permission of God. This is where we must begin our search, in fact this is the foundation of our faith, that our God is not frail, he is not helpless, he is not unable, he is not weak; our God, he must not at all be thought to be a small god. The sovereign and almighty God was, is and will always be in control.

And if God was in control and the earthquake did not take him by surprise.

Below is an excerpt from Dr. John Piper’s sermon “Tsunami, Sovereignty and Mercy”, laden with biblical evidences, which helped us to understand and grasp God’s sovereignty: -


God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.Psalm 89:8-9

And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calmLuke 8:24.

It is important to establish God’s power and involvement in the earthquakes as we must have a clear presupposition that God is ultimate, not Satan.

Why would God do such a thing?
God’s purpose is always good, though not always simple. No matter how great and horrible the suffering and death it seemed, God always meant it for good. Job, for instance; was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:1, 8). Their design was purifying not punishment (Job 42:6). But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.

The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another example is the curse that lies on this fallen earth. Those who do not believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as, merciful, though painful, preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis.

Who suffers from this fallen world of natural disasters? All of us, Christians included: “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). For those who cast themselves on the mercy of Christ these afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And when death comes, it is a door to paradise. But for those who do not treasure Christ, suffering and death are God’s judgment. “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)
John Piper, sermon titled “Tsunami, Sovereignty and Mercy

However, we must also be careful not to give answers hastily and try to quickly rationalize the reason to why the earthquakes happened. It is fundamentally, the prerogative of the sovereign God. As we prepare ourselves to give theological response to those who enquire, we must also begin to “weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).


A Call to Wake Up
Two observations were made: -

1. Nobody was prepared to face the second earthquake which came in just 3 months after the first.

2. Both earthquakes happened a day after significant Christian events- namely the first, after Christmas and the second, after Easter.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:25-29

Although we do not know precisely when the end times will arrive, we must take note that the Bible does contain prophecies concerning the end times.

Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.. Haggai 2:6

I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. Isaiah 13:13

The foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is rent asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunken man, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again. Isaiah 24:18-20

I looked and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood . . . The sky vanished like a scroll that is rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?’ Revelation 6:12-17

A loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, 'It is done!' And there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as had never been since men were on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath. Revelation 16:17-19

Now what you have here is a Biblical prophecy that there is coming a day in which there will be such a violent shaking in creation that the world as we know it will be removed. It will not be anymore. There will come a new heaven and a new earth on which righteousness dwells, but this world is going to come to a cataclysmic end some day and there will be a removal of the world as we know it and what cannot be shaken will remain; which is the Kingdom of God. John Piper


What then is the message for us Christians as we observed these events?

Repentance
In a world of uncertainty and unsettledness, we must be quick to listen and swift to respond to the warning signs that God has given to us. Instead of clinging to our worldly belongings, we must be prepared to forgo and leave everything that we have as we prepare our hearts for the second coming of Christ. This is a struggle to many, especially for Christians who, in their hearts have a clearer understanding of the magnitude of the Kingdom of God, yet find difficulty in parting with our worldly belongings due to our sinful nature. As one asked, “Do we ever think of running out of our homes with our Bible instead of cash?” There is a need to look at our inward selves before we reflect our responses to the world in times like this. Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32). We must, in the words of some, “constantly introspect and reexamine our values” and come before God in repentance. We must see God as our only security.

Biblical Literacy
At the same time, we see an urgent need to call for others to repent as well. The tragedies caused by the earthquakes served as an important platform for us to share the Gospel. For many of us who are usually timid, it is time that we gather courage to ask questions and get feedback from our family and friends who have yet to know Christ. This is also the time when we have to be equipped with the Word of God. We can no longer afford to slack if we are serious in evangelizing. In order for us to give theological responses to the world, we must first be prepared and thoroughly equipped; a greater degree of biblical literacy must be pursued. Perhaps, it is even timelier than ever that Christians should take more interests to study eschatology so to be able to understand the signs of time and educate and warn others.
Sharing the Gospel with Humility and Love
Indeed, sharing the Gospel we must, but let us also be mindful of the Scripture portion of “with meekness and fear”. Sharing the Gospel with our best intentions for the other person whom the Gospel is being shared to requires effective communication skills, which are both speaking and listening to each other. The communication is considered failed when we are more than willing to share and speak of our faith, but also just as unwilling to listen to what others have to say according to their beliefs respectively. All the more we must emphasize on not merely sharing the Gospel, but sharing the Gospel with humility and love. “With humility” means that we are willing to listen to other views and respond to the questions posed with high sensitivity towards the different belief systems that different people hold. To condemn and be too swift to pass judgments are unnecessary and unwise, even so would be a turn-off to people. We would then be shutting the doors of evangelism after us. It must come to our realization that people need the Lord just as much as we do, whether or not they are Indonesian Muslims, Thai Buddhists or Sri Lankan Hindus. And they will not know Him unless we extend our arms to reach out to them. For us to reach out to them, we must first demonstrate Christ’s love for them through our care and concern for them. In moments of distress, there is nothing as comforting as the touch of a hand, the words of encouragement spoken, the shoulder to cry and grief on and the warmth of an embrace from one to another. Being compassionate and loving one another is not merely a virtue, it is a commandment!

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one anotherJohn 13:34

And what greater love can we shower each other than by being there for our brothers and sisters, bringing them not only comfort but also hope in our Lord- through mission and relief. We do not hesitate to pray and give away our clothes or money and for that, we have much to be joyful of, but this is also the time when we begin to take that extra step forward by reaching out to them personally. Perhaps, having a taste of the realism that surround us when we are actually in the tragic scene itself would help us to fully realize how much the world needed God. It is during times like this, we see God’s mercies extended to Man comprehensively and His glory being manifested through the good works of people, Christians in particular.

Becoming World Christians
Even though not all will be called to be missionary or to serve in grief-stricken places hit by the earthquake or tsunami for that matter, we see the urgency for Christians to be a “World Christian”, as David Bryant had put it. One practical way to reach out to the people who are affected by the earthquake would be going to the place itself to provide assistance in translation, medical relief and clearing up. Certainly, there are many more ways to take action and help the victims. But the question is, what role do we play in helping them? We must reorder our lives so that we may live for God’s global cause. Our attitudes should not be confined in such a way that we appear to be “picking up passengers while on the way to our final destination”. It should not be a “by-the-way” approach when it comes to evangelizing, so to speak. We must not, in any manner; be indifferent to the calamities that fell around us. Therefore, Christians are not only to talk, but also walk that talk. We should be quick to lend a helping hand to the relief work in the affected areas, whether directly or indirectly. For instance, those who will and can go to the affected areas such as Acheh and now the Nias Islands shall go and provide assistance to the relief groups there while the rest, can provide funding and other supplies for the people in need. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel, if necessary; use words.” However, we should not take his words out of context. Though we must have compassion for these people, we must also be prepared to answer questions concerning our faith, as said in 1 Peter 3:15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear”.

Giving God all the Glory
Indeed, God will not only be glorified through the words that we speak, but also the actions we make. Indeed, we should be quick to response, but fighting to be among the first relief organization to arrive at the affected areas does not indicate Christ-like manners. We must constantly ask ourselves, “How do my actions glorify God?” John Piper spoke in his sermon beautifully, “I exhorted you not to turn the sovereignty of God into a permission for passivity, but a reason to hope. Let the sovereignty of God make you hopeful that change is possible, not passive as if no change were necessary."

Perhaps, we should remind ourselves that “it is not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15: 10).

Without God, we can do absolutely nothing. Therefore, we should take heart that we are after all been bestowed with sovereign grace that we may be in missionary service to others.


Let us not take pride in ourselves even so as we serve others.
"

We pray for you always, that our God will . . . fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you." 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12


Christ gets the glory when it is manifest that God enables us to fulfill our good resolves through him.

"Now the God of peace . . . equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20-21

Again, notice, since God enables us to do what is pleasing in his sight "through Jesus," it is Jesus who gets the glory, not us.
"Whoever . . . serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:11

The giver gets the glory. Because God is the one who enables us to "serve" him, he gets the credit for the service.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

Christian attitudes and behaviors are the fruit of the Spirit, not ultimately the fruit of our own efforts. Our efforts are essential, but not finally decisive.

What About Our Own Backyard?
Evangelism should not be viewed as a mission to be done out our country only. What about our Muslim friends who live next to us or go to classes with us every day? Do we not see the need to share the Gospel with them as well? They are after all, the most unreached group of people in Malaysia. Do we think of packing our bags to preach the Gospel when there is an urgency to evangelize to people who are nearest to us? Of course, we always encourage Christians to evangelize to people in other countries but it has dawned to us that we should reconsider our ‘exclusivity’ of the Gospel to the Muslims in our country. With the trend of more inter-faith dialogues and discussions among other Muslims, God has indeed opened doors for us to “make disciples of all nations…”. (Matthew 28: 19).

Conclusion
The discussion was wrapped up with much meaningful words- “Naked I come from my mother’s womb, naked shall I go. The Lord gives and the lord takes away”. Even if we cannot make sense with the sufferings, we can make sense that God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ and that assurance is sufficient and we are confident and we choose to trust the Lord. We must realize that ultimately, we can only depend on God and that we need God. Even so due to what had happened, we need Him even more. Let this discussion spur us to act beyond words and to be a constant reminder for us to keep watch.

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is comingMatthew 24:42

However, there is reason for hope. Therefore, let us not be downcast as we look forward to the promise that He has given us through His sovereign grace that is to make us heirs of the world.

Romans 4:16-21
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, "SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE." Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.

Reported by Yennie
30th March 2005

3 comments:

jacksons said...

Wow!

The Hedonese said...

So, what's next in the Christ Seminar? Rob Funk, izzit?

Ok-la, but be prepared with some NT Wright or Moreland's "Jesus Under Fire" la!

Anonymous said...

Hedonese,

Sure, we'll let u speak on NT Wright. ;)

Will update u guys more..But next week, 15 August 05, bohtea will be holding a CS meeting presenting a "lecture" titled, "Apa Itu Theology". It's our preliminary meeting before going into Robby Funk. Do continue to support us here folks!

Jack