logo Living Water Christian Fellowship logo
Home Recent Sermon Multimedia Sermons News & Events Our Vision Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

“Responding to Calamity – Redemptively”

Sep.4, 2011 Lam.3:19-42 (1Pet 2:18-25; Lk 13:1-9; Ac 11:27-30)


The tornado that ravaged Goderich and Benmiller August 21 was a significant loss for our neighbours. The destruction was impressive: one can hardly suppress a reaction saying “wow!” when viewing some of the photos or videos. In a way, this disaster can represent any major loss that might happen in our lives: sudden death of a friend or family member; a surprising diagnosis; a damaging accident after which we’ll never be the same. Any of these calamities makes us ask, “Why?” “Where was God in all this?” And, contrary to the language of insurance adjusters - is a tornado really an “act of God”?

    The book of Lamentations wrestles with a similar calamity - the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC at the hand of invading pagans, the Babylonians.The Hebrew name for this book is taken from the word that begins chapters 1, 2, and 4 - “How...!” as in, “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!” or, “How the Lord has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of His anger!” (Possibly the most Native American book in the whole Bible...‘How!’) It’s an exclamation of amazement, like the jaw dropping when one sees the dramatic change events have brought about. Q: When was a time in your life when you felt shattered or devastated like the author of Lamentations?

The rabbis began to call this book instead “loud cries” or “lamentations” fairly early on. It’s the only book comprised totally of laments. A short book with only 5 chapters, it builds to a climax in chapter 3, as the author (Jeremiah) tries to cut through the confusion and make sense of the catastrophe in light of what God has revealed about Himself.

    A tornado results from tension in atmospheric conditions - an intense low pressure system. Whenever there’s a dramatic differential in nature, something’s going to move! A tension like the contrast in voltage across the terminals of a battery. This tension gives energy to the system, causing the air to rush in a cyclone fashion.

    One might say in God’s nature there also exists a tension or paradox. On the one hand, God tells us in the Bible He is all-powerful (His ‘arm’ is not too short to save), all mighty, sovereign, and perfectly just. On the other hand, God reveals that He is also loving and faithful. This is not a problem until sinful creatures are introduced into the setting.

    For an example of a place where this tension is described, consider God’s self-description to Moses in Exodus 34(6-7): “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."” Notice the ‘yet’? Compassionate and loving, YET also just, punishing the guilty.

    Or, consider Psalm 103:6,8,10: “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love...he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” See the potential contrast or tension there? Wouldn’t justice involve repaying someone as they deserve?

    We see these themes wrestled with profoundly in Lamentations 3 as the prophet tries to come to grips with such near-total devastation for what had been known as “God’s people.” The nation was being dispersed, mothers had been brought to cannibalism of their own children, and people’s skin became blackened, the famine went on so long under siege. How could such things be allowed to come to pass?


One of four core attributes of God this passage addresses is GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. Along with sovereignty comes responsibility: a sense of, “You did this!” (Interestingly, neither Babylon nor its king is mentioned anywhere in the book as the immediate cause of the disaster; it’s placed squarely on God’s plate.)

    In light of what happened August 21, we may find ourselves reluctant to say God actually made the tornado happen. An old doctrinal summary denies that God is the author of evil. But to ask it another way - “Could God have prevented it?” Of course; to say anything else would be to imply God is not all-powerful. And if He has the power, He has the responsibility, if perhaps indirectly.

    Lam 3:27–28 says, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.Let him sit alone in silence, for the LORD has laid it on him.” But vv37-38 underline God’s sovereign causality most clearly: “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”

    If that sounds harsh, it’s much the same as righteous Job said in the midst of his suffering (and was later commended for): after messengers tell him his herds, flocks, and children have been wiped out (“suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house”!), what is this godly man’s response? “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."” (Job 1:20-21) Later, when he’s further afflicted by painful boils from top to toe, he says to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" [Scripture adds] In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10) Q: Is your picture of God big enough to accept all things from His hand?

    Nor are these just a couple of isolated instances in the Bible. Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” In Psalms, it is the Lord’s plans that stand firm; in Proverbs, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Pr 16:9) In the New Testament, many of us are familiar with Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” - His purpose is an overriding factor. And James contrasts our feeble human plans with God’s sovereignty: “Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow...Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that."” (Jas 4:13-15) Today we may still tack the abbreviation “D.V.” onto our plans - short for the Latin for “God willing”. Even praying the Lord’s prayer we acknowledge, “Your will be done”: God is sovereign.

    The Bible doesn’t present a dualistic worldview, as if only some events are associated with God’s involvement while others are somehow excluded or attributable ultimately to a third party; in that sense, there is no ‘God of the gaps.’

    A second core attribute of God referred to in Lamentations 3 is GOD’S JUSTICE. Vv34-36 ask rhetorically, “To crush underfoot all prisoners in the land, to deny a man his rights before the Most High, to deprive a man of justice— would not the Lord see such things?” Understood implied answer - Yes, of course God would see such acts of injustice! Righteousness and justice matter greatly to God. Habakkuk 1:13, addressing God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” God has zero tolerance for evil or wrongdoing. Isaiah 59:15, “The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.” As a song by Third Day adapting a Psalm puts it, “Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide.” Jesus asks, after telling the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Lu 18:7-8)

    Sovereignty - justice - a third core attribute we find in this passage is God’s love and compassion. Vv19-20 point out the bitterness and pain of Jeremiah’s condition: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.” But even at this supremely low point, he is helped by recalling God’s unending love: vv21-22, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” The words “great love” translate the Hebrew word “checed”; John MacArthur comments, “This Hebrew word, used about 250 times in the OT, refers to God’s gracious love.It is a comprehensive term that encompasses love, grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, truth, compassion, and faithfulness.” NRSV translates it here, “steadfast love”: love that’s steady, unrelenting, no matter what shakes you.

    Vv31-32 go on to make the connection between God’s sovereignty and His love: “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.Though he brings grief” [there’s that sovereignty aspect we talked about], “he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.” Yes there is grief, there is loss: but along with those, love. And look carefully at v33: “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.” Dwell on that. He doesn’t bring grief willingly: God’s not getting His jollies out of making you suffer. In this complex web of fallen creation and His purpose of forming Christ’s character in you, hardship happens, but it’s ultimately for our good, in love - though that may be hard to see at the time. God allows it, but not ‘willingly’ - it’s not His original or ideal intention: for that, look at the ‘very good’ state of creation at the end of Genesis 1, or the beauty of heaven in the later chapters of the book of Revelation.

    God’s vast love cradles and cushions our blows and woes. Psalm 103(11,13), “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him...As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him...” Micah 7(18f), “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” God doesn’t just show mercy, He delights to show mercy.

    A fourth core attribute set forth in Lamentations 3 is GOD’S FAITHFULNESS / RELIABILITY / TRUSTWORTHINESS. V23, God’s compassions [are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God can be trusted, we can rely on Him to work things out, even when that’s not obvious right now. This leads into an emphasis in the next 3 verses (24-26) on waiting for God, hoping in Him: “I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The LORD is good to those whose hope is in [literally, who wait for] him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” In the waiting for what we don’t yet see, we exercise faith; eventually, God does prove Himself faithful, trustworthy. His great faithfulness means we can trust God to help us move from the pain of the ‘now’ to the promise of the ‘not yet’. Isaiah 54(7-8), “"For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the LORD your Redeemer.” (Isa 54:7-8)

    Hebrews 3:14 in the NT echoes that we can hang on in faith because God is trustworthy: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”

    God can be trusted to work things out. Did you catch a little glint of Jesus in vv30-31? “Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.” Remember in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ if someone strikes us on the right cheek? It doesn’t make sense by itself. It only makes sense in the confidence that God is trustworthy, He won’t cast us off but will look after ‘settling’ any ‘score’. So the very act of turning the other cheek becomes a silent declaration of trust in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness - He won’t leave you in the dust.


Now, right here the apostle Peter helps by pointing us to Jesus’ crucifixion as a ‘worst-case scenario’: this painful tortured destruction of an innocent man (who is at the same time infinite and holy God incarnate) by hate-filled sinners has got to be the worst, most unjust, most unconscionable event ever! Yet precisely here we see the same 4 attributes of God prevailing, just as they did back in Lamentations 3. How could Jesus ‘turn the other cheek’ when He was being unjustly beaten? 1Peter 3:22-23, “"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.Instead, he entrusted himself [there’s God’s faithfulness] to him who judges justly [there’s God’s justice].”

    Even out of those devilish events - Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, blatant miscarriage of justice by the Sanhedrin and the governor - God the Master Architect was crafting our salvation. His sovereignty caused things to happen down to the last detail of method and timing, in fulfilment of centuries-old prophecy. The early church looking back on recent events could pray, “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (Ac 4:28)

    God’s justice was evident in providing Jesus as our substitute to pay for our sins. As Paul explained to the Romans, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.He did this to demonstrate his justice...so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25-26)

    God’s love was also very evident at the cross. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Peter writes, “By His wounds you have been healed.” Lovingly made whole.

    And God faithfully brought to pass the long -promised ransom for sinners: Isaiah had prophesied of one who “carried our sorrows,” “was pierced for our transgressions,” the punishment that brought us wayward sheep peace “was upon him” (Is 53:4ff).

    Peter turns this around and says what happened to Jesus is a pattern for us. We have been called to “suffer for doing good...because Christ suffered for you, leaving you and example, that you should follow in His steps.” (1Pet 2:21) How can we bear up under the pain of unjust suffering? To use Peter’s phrase, by being “conscious of God” (19): to let God with His perfections, these amazing attributes, so dominate our awareness that the most unjust or seemingly undeserved hardships won’t knock us off-balance spiritually. Keep saying to yourself, “God is sovereign; He is just; he is loving; he is faithful.” Trust Him to square up whatever knocks you flat: holding Him in focus will help you bear up under the pain.


A few quick application-type observations.

    1) Seeing others’ homes destroyed by a tornado is NOT an opportunity to pronounce judgment. You can’t draw a straight line from calamity to “you deserved it”. See John 9(1-4), the man born blind: the disciples want to pin it on his sin or his parents’ sin, but Jesus tells them (as if to say) ‘not so fast!’ The rabbis had developed the principle, “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.” (sort of an automatic in-life karma) But Jesus asserted, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9:3)

    2) Calamity is an opportunity to REPENT and avoid worse disaster. Lamentations 3:39-42, “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us [here comes a term for ‘repentance’] return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: "We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.” Judah and Jerusalem were being disciplined for their long and protracted adultery and idolatry; so the prophet acknowledges his people’s guilt and confesses outright their sin. Paul directs the church, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (2Cor 13:5) School’s back in this week – but even if you’ve graduated from school, here’s a test that ought to keep on through your whole life!

    Remember the incident in Luke 13 where Jesus refers to a tower in Siloam that fell on people and killed 18 people? Wouldn’t that be sort of analogous to a tornado? He asks, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” (Ie can you draw a straight line from calamity to ‘you deserved it!’?) V5, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” REPENT - lest a worse fate befall you, such as entering eternity not rightly related to God through trust in Christ. Perishing eternally would be a far worse fate than dying prematurely: so accidents are a wake-up call to all of us to examine our relationship with God.

    Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the unfruitful fig tree: our brief span now is an opportunity to be fruitful for God, lest we be cut down as a waste of soil. Calamity reminds us this is the season of opportunity, before it’s too late and we find eternity and judgment crashing in upon us.

    3) Calamity also presents an OPPORTUNITY TO HELP AND BE GENEROUS. In Acts 11 we see an impending natural disaster (much broader in scope than a tornado) and the early church responds. A prophet predicts that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world - which proceeds to happen during the reign of Claudius. How does the church respond? Vv29-30, “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” Each one, according to their ability, provided help, sending gifts.

    Calamity presents an invitation to pitch in, dig deep in our pockets, and help out. Some people talked about hearing the sound of the ‘freight train’ just before the tornado hit. Even more impressive was another sound not too long after: the sound of many chainsaws, lots of volunteers giving practical assistance to deal with the aftermath. Many neighbours and volunteers have donated time and material to help remove and rebuild. They responded to the call of the calamity.

    One photo I saw summarized how love expressed in practical caring can overcome a crushing blow. It’s a picture of a house, second floor demolished, first floor damaged beyond repair. Yet on the outside wall the family that owned it has written, “Thank you” to those that have responded with kindness to their calamity. Compassion wins the victory over despair. Let’s pray.