Monday, March 14, 2011

Who's in Charge?

The horrific scenes of devastation in Japan and the unfolding news of damage to nuclear reactors from one of the most powerful earthquakes in history has gripped and grieved us all. Some people ask the default question, “How could a loving God allow such a scale of death and destruction?” This question pales to triviality when we humbly seek instruction from the Old Testamnet Book of Job, one of the greatest examples of inspired and inspirational literature ever written. Job was a righteous man who feared God. Two of the four tragedies which befell Job resulted from natural disasters entirely beyond his control: one from fire; one from a great wind. In neither case was the event judgment for Job's personal evil.

During Job's dreadful trials, Elihu was one of four counsellor friends. He was more mindful of God’s divine providence than Job’s three other friends who tended to be harsh accusers. But Elihu still cautioned Job against questioning God’s justice, stating that God sometimes uses pain to chasten man. The world is ruled wisely by the Creator, Elihu said. God is not unjust, even in the most harsh circumstances. But this is a lesson sometimes far beyond human understanding.

Early in Elihu’s monologue he offered Job advice that wisdom in such matters comes from God: “But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding” (Job 32:8 NIV). Further, he declares, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice” (Job 34:12). On a more reassuring note, Job’s friend Elihu continues, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).

Geological and meteorological events of enormous variety and magnitude have unfolded and been woven into the event fabric of earth since it became a solid planet. Stepping back in time and gazing on the big picture, not just the image of one or a few isolated, tragic, disturbing events, may put recent events in a different, if not happier perspective. J. Tuzo Wilson (1908-1993), pioneer plate tectonics theorist, described our earth as a “…living, mobile thing.” He was referring to crustal plates which grind and scrape together, driven by giant convection currents, periodically releasing unimaginable amounts of pent-up energy. Japan’s quake was the result of a thrust fault, one plate diving under another. The upper plate had been compressed by the lower. When it suddenly fractured in response to the enormous forces, 300 miles of coastline moved eastward up to eight feet and the deadly tsunami was generated.

Long-term, such tectonic plate movements actually recycle earth minerals in a beneficial way. It has been happening for millions of years on this earth. Violent thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, great floods, droughts, volcanoes, forest fires, and many other types of seemingly harsh events all have a long-term benefit for mankind, if not a short-term benefit. The processes of our “living, mobile” planet have produced an earth which supports the lives of over 6½ billion people. Looking at “the picture from 30,000 feet,” we may better understand, as Elihu stated, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong.”

Finally, after listening to the words of his friends and of God Himself, Job replied, "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thrwarted.....My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:2,5). This utterance was an act of profound submission and worship, far exceeding human wisdom.