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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Acts of God, by Clark H Smith

I love to fellowship with men and women of the Body of Christ, and today I am privileged to share with you an article written by a beloved brother in Christ, Clark Smith, on the topic of prayer in the face of what we commonly call “acts of God”. Clark has the heart of a disciple-maker – spending the last two decades teaching the Bible and encouraging faith-filled application of the truths found there. In different seasons of life Clark has been a pastor, a writer, a businessman, a teacher, and as he says “a finder of lost things and a smeller of sourdough”. Clark and his wife are parenting four young adult men and, in their home, caring for Clark’s mum in her 90s. He’s a wonderful man of God, and you can find more of his material at http://www.followillustrated.com/


Understanding Acts of God

In the midst of any natural phenomenon – hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc – prayers are freely offered up to God to change the course of the disaster or to minimize the damages to life and property – especially to the lives and property of people we know. Here’s a series of questions that logically flow from a situation like this:

    If this is an Act of God, why is He acting this way?
    Does God want us to pray that the disaster does not affect a specific person?
    Will God change the course or limit the damage done if we pray earnestly?

If God honors our prayers about the course and amount of destruction, why doesn’t He just not allow the destruction in the first place? After all, at every time and place, there are people who are praying that damage and destruction be limited – why not just eliminate it altogether?

Why are there “Acts of God”?

We live in a broken world. In Genesis 3, God said, "cursed is the ground because of you." This "ground" is not just the dirt, but the entire world in which we live. The natural disasters that afflict us would hardly seem to fit within a perfect Garden of Eden. Our planet suffers under the curse of Adam’s sin. There is another facet of the curse which affects us in even more personal ways. Do you believe there was cancer in the Garden? Was there infertility, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or autism in God’s original creation? I don’t think so. The physical catastrophes that plague our lives are also as a result of living in a broken world.

In Genesis 3 and 6, the Bible teaches that there are things present on this earth that do not honor God’s original design. The logical question then becomes, "Why does God allow these bad things to happen?” Is a hurricane, an earthquake, an infertile couple, or a forty year-old father dying of brain cancer a sign of God’s judgement? Are natural and medical disasters what happens when God takes a nap and forgets to watch over us? Let’s look at scripture.

He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

This verse tells us that God has set rain and sunshine on earth without regard to goodness or badness! He is not mad at you when the rain ruins your birthday party at the lake and He is not doing you a favor by sending enough rain to keep your yard alive and hold your water bill down. God is not in the water bill business! This verse teaches that rain and sunshine are naturally occurring phenomena on this earth.
Note John 9:1-3 where we meet a man born blind. The disciples assumed the disability was the result of sin. Jesus elevated our understanding, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) Another time he addressed a serious illness by saying: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it." (John 11:4)

It is simple superstition to think that God gets mad enough at us to ruin our lives with physical catastrophes. Now, I would not tell the full Biblical truth if I did not acknowledge that the record shows that God has judged people during their lives - apparently for their sin. He has done this through natural disaster (the Flood of Noah / the plagues on Egypt / the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) and through physical illness (Acts 12.21-23). Please note how rare these events are; clearly not the norm of how God deals with us. In most of these "divine" judgments, there seems to be a common factor of crossing the boundaries between God and man. That’s perhaps another study for later, but for now, it is sufficient to say that He has not made a habit out of destroying people (by whatever means) during their life on earth.

The fact that you and I and the rest of the world are alive today is proof that God is not judging the sinfulness of man during our lifetimes. Hebrews 4.16 gives us the best insight on what God is doing about our sins: “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” God is not sitting on His throne eagerly waiting to zap us. He is gracious toward us, eager to help us, in spite of our sin, to do the things that are beneficial for us and glorifying to Him. That is entirely consistent with the teaching of the entire Bible. God may have destroyed much of Egypt through the plagues, but He also begged Pharaoh ten times to release the Israelites. God is not hard-hearted, but patiently, pleadingly hopeful.

How should we then pray?

Now at last we turn to the issue of prayer. Can we pray away the calamities that befall us? Many people have claimed credit for praying and causing God to act in a certain way. Some have claimed God diverted the path of hurricanes because of their prayers. I have some Biblically-based doubts about such claims. First, why pray to change the course or minimize the damage from disasters – why not just pray that a disaster never happen? Why not just pray right now that no hurricane, tornado, earthquake, drought, flood will ever again mar the lives of humans? I doubt that prayer would work, because it goes against what God has told us life on earth is like (remember Matthew 5.45).

Should we pray that God minimize the disastrous effects of the storms of life, whether they are natural or physical, or emotional for that matter? Yes, I think God is glorified when we pray about our hopes and fears. The great hymn reminds us: "What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer." God knows we don’t want Granny’s house or our livelihoods destroyed or any human suffering. Our prayers honor God because they admit a dependence on God – and that is the sole purpose of the curse on Adam! Genesis 3.17 is best translated to read "cursed is the ground for your sake." God intended that generation after generation would learn to depend on Him to provide the blessings of life. “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

However, many times our prayers become selfish. We are inclined to present God with a shopping list of preferences. We detail the prayers and praises of our lives and ask God to address them in such a way as to maximize our blessings and minimize our pains. This, too, is within the scriptural boundaries of prayers and promises (see Jeremiah 29.11). But I can tell you with absolute certainty God does not answer our prayers so that our lives may be made more tolerable! That is not the business God is in. As unpalatable as it may be to people defiant to the will of God – God is in the God glorifying business. And more personal than that, we should be in the God glorifying business!

Jesus was in that business and God liked it: "Father, glorify Thy name." There came therefore a voice out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." (John 12:28) Never once did Jesus pray to escape or avoid any personal tragedy. He never had a "comfortable" life, He faced personal rejection, the sickness and death of friends, betrayal, and even his own death with absolute steady focus on glorifying God.

Jesus wants us to pray in every circumstance for one purpose – THAT GOD BE GLORIFIED: "And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14:13)

We live in a broken world. As a consequence, we suffer personal, private tragedies and great global catastrophes. God is not disappointed when we pray for hurricanes to turn left or right avoiding Granny’s house. God is not disappointed when we weep at the bedside of a sick or dying child and beg Him to restore health. God is not disappointed when we cry out "WHY?" in despair over the evil in the world. But I firmly believe that God is disappointed when we seek anything other than for Him to be glorified. When we can join David in this Psalm of Praise, we will find ourselves in the sole business of glorifying God:

All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power;
To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
Psalm 145:10-13
(all verses NASB)

Clark H Smith

Follow Illustrated

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