Does the title of todays post sound familiar? It is actually a line from Matthew 24 concerning the suddenness of Noah's flood. That verse came eerily to mind as I watched the deluge in Australia consume many of the areas in which I have spent much of my life. Not only was it surreal to see the pictures but also strange to watch it from Denmark where I now live.
I grew up in the small farming town of Chinchilla in the dry inland interior of Queensland. And I spent almost all of my adult life (until I moved to Denmark four years ago) in the large coastal city of Brisbane. I have travelled the long road between them many times and have strong memories of the many places in between.
Just prior to Christmas I saw this picture on BBC world news. The bridge in the picture had a remarkable similarity to the railway overpass in Chinchilla. This was because it was a picture of the remote and dusty little town of Chinchilla experiencing some of the most severe flooding ever. It is hard to comprehend the vast quantities of water that have turned much of inland Queensland (the north eastern state in Australia) into a giant lake.
As you drive east from Chinchilla towards Brisbane, the next town you reach is Dalby which also had extensive flooding. The irony of the flood for Dalby was that all of the water damaged their water treatment plant and left them with no clean drinking water. Viewing news footage of Dalby reminded me that, aside from the damage to buildings, enormous havoc is reaped when so many major transport routes and airports are cut off. Getting supplies to some communities has been a major issue.
As you drive east for another hour from Dalby you arrive at the top of the mountain range and in the beautiful city of Toowoomba. Toowoomba (pop 100,000) is a special city for inland Queensland. When travelling from the west it offers cooling relief from the heat due to its altitude, and is normally the first real sign of greenery and lush parklands after the endless miles of brown grass and little shade. Without a doubt, the most shocking part of the flooding that happened in Australia was the "inland tsunami" that hit Toowoomba and killed several residents.
Toowoomba is the last place you would ever expect this to happen and Jesus words in the title to this post come eerily to mind:
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39)
As you drive to Brisbane from Toowoomba you drive east down the mountain range and into our "sald bowl" where countless farms dot the landscape growing most of the vegetables we find in our supermarkets. One of the first towns you come to once you get to the bottom of the range is the small town of Grantham which (prior to the bypass being
built) was a place where my family always stopped to buy produce from the many roadside vendors on our annual trip to Burleigh Heads. I always loved this stop in Grantham where I enjoyed the rare luxury of fast food, a bag of boiled peanuts, and the knowledge that I would soon be "hitting the waves". Well, that "inland tsunami" that struck Toowoomba then gushed down the mountain range and absolutely demolished this little town of Grantham. We even heard horror stories of people being swept away while in their houses and their are still people/bodies that have not been found. As the picture reveals, the water came so fast they barely had time to scramble onto the roof. Luckily for these people, their house was anchored well enough to the ground beneath.
Much of that water, as well as the overflowing dams and continual rain, contributed to a huge flood in the large coastal city of Brisbane (pop 2,000,000). Some of my friends evacuated their two story house in one of the lower lying areas just in time as the water quickly reached their roof!
The aftermath has been interesting. As Australia slides increasingly into being a secular nation (some would say we're already there), much of the talk and media has focussed on the "triumph of the human spirit" and many preachers shy away from the Sovereignty of God preferring to advocate an idol they call God who would be too nice to ever send a disaster. Our heart should go out to these hurting people and this is a great chance for the body of Christ to rise up and be salt and light in the community. But to abandon the doctrine of God's Sovereignty is to abandon the church's prophetic role in the culture. Not only that, it represents a disastrous understanding of human depravity and the character of God. And what do we do with a Bible verse like:
I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7, see also Job 37:3-13, Psalm 147:8-18, Jeremiah 10:13, Amos 3:6, 4:7, Lamentations 3:38)
We can't just pretend those verses don't exist. Aside from the terrible sin of idolatry, can we really find comfort in a god who does not have complete power over all things? What is more glorious - to go to sleep at night knowing that random chance (or Satan) might pull a surpise manouvre on God; or to place ourselves in the Hands of the One Who works all things together for the good of His people (Romans 8:28) and the glory of His Name? And when we feel like a victim, and there are many victims, is it not good to be reminded of the sinless One Who received God's wrath in the place of sinners who hated Him? Do we not think that God can relate to suffering?
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:13-16 emphasis mine)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Then there is also the question of our depravity. If we really understood what we deserve as sinners then perhaps we would ask the question why does God delay His wrath? Why aren't there more disasters? Thank you Lord for giving me time to repent. And on that note we are reminded that Jesus never answered the why question concerning calamity and disaster - instead he told them they were asking the wrong question:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:1-5)
I will close with these wise words of counsel from John Piper in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina which I believe to be the best meditations for those of us who sit in the mud of calamity (and let's face it we all do in the light of eternity and human sinfulness):
Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Shall the pot say to the Potter, “This is an unintelligent way to show your justice and your power? Come, Maker of heaven and earth, sit at my feet—I have lived 89 years and have gotten much wisdom—and I will teach you—the eternal God—how to govern the universe”?
No. Rather let us put our hands on our mouths and weep both for the perishing and for ourselves who will soon follow. Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who deserve it—all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans neither we nor they deserve.
God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ’s suffering is owing to how deeply we deserve Katrina—all of us.
Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those who think they’ve never committed any.
But God commits no crimes when he brings famine, flood, and pestilence on the earth. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). The answer of the prophet is no. God’s own testimony is the same: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). And if we ask, is there intelligent design in it all, the Bible answers: “You meant evil . . . but God meant it [designed it] for good” (Genesis 50:20).
This will always be ludicrous to those who put the life of man above the glory of God. Until our hearts are broken, not just for the life-destroying misery of human pain, but for the God-insulting rebellion of human sin, we will not see intelligent design in the way God mingles mercy and judgment in this world. But for those who bow before God’s sovereign grace and say, “From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever,” they are able to affirm, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:36, 33). And wisdom is another name for intelligent design.
God does not answer to us. We answer to him. And we have only one answer: “Guilty as charged.” Every mouth is stopped and the whole world is accountable before God. There is only one hope to escape the flood of God’s wrath. It is not the levee of human virtue but the high ground called Calvary. All brokenhearted looters and news analysts and pastors are welcome there.