Catastrophe



Genesis 9:11

The Bible paints a realistic view of life. The stories it tells are true. Therefore, it reflects the realities of life. Both the failures and victories of the characters we meet in its pages are honestly reflected.

The victories and disasters of life are also reflected. We see the victories and defeats of individuals, but we also see the story of humanity as a whole. The Bible tells the story from the beginning and also tells us what the end will be.

The story of humanity starts with God who created man and woman in His own image. He placed them in a perfect garden and placed the world under their care. Through their own choice, the man and the woman introduced death and suffering to this world that was under their care.

The Bible records a number of different disasters and catastrophes, but none is so painful or disastrous as the man and the woman’s choice to eat of the fruit that God had forbidden.  Because of that choice, we now live in a world where disasters, emergencies and catastrophes are the things of which the world is made. Emergencies are commonplace, and each emergency is a potential catastrophe in the making.

How are we to understand the place of these catastrophes in our world? The word catastrophe is from the Greek words Kata meaning down and Strophe meaning turning. At its basic level a catastrophe is a sudden and unexpected down turning.

We are going to begin our study of the 9-1-1s of the Bible with a look at the flood.

The flood was the biggest single catastrophic event in world history. This one event wiped out virtually all life on the planet. If it had not been for the preservation of life in the ark, the flood would have resulted in the extinction of all but the most rudimentary forms of life on earth. Let’s read what the Bible says about the flood.

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days. (Genesis 7:17-24 ESV)

The Hebrew word translated prevail in these verses means to be strong or mighty. Water became the primary thing on earth. The earth was entirely covered with water. It was an ocean planet for 150 days.

Today, people fear this kind of extinction event will happen again. They may not believe the Bible or its account of the flood, but climate change, asteroids, wars and floods are sources of fear. Articles such as one titled, “Climate Change Is the Greatest Threat To Human Health In History,”[1] are easy to find as we try to deal with our fear.

As we look at what we just read from Genesis, we notice that it says, “He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens.” The “He” in this passage assumes a personality behind the catastrophe. The flood was an intentional act.

Many question the existence of God based on the evil and suffering in our world. This passage seems to add to this problem by making God, Himself, responsible for the destruction. Many of us have trouble trusting God, because we know that He will not necessarily prevent catastrophe from striking in our lives.

As a matter of fact, catastrophe is going to strike in all of our lives. For example, until Jesus returns, we are all destined to die. This also means that we all must go through the very painful reality of the deaths of beloved family members. Each death is a catastrophic event for us.

Today, we are going to ask the question, “Is there a plan?”

Is the world and everything in it following some sort of a plan, and more importantly, is my life following some sort of a plan?

In a recent movie I watched, a young man who was pursuing a life in science repeated several times, “Perhaps I can bring order out of the chaos.” I was fascinated by this, because with our world’s Darwinian view of existence, chaos is all we should expect. Science has its roots in the conviction that our world is capable of being understood. The conviction that an intelligent Creator made an intelligible world started the early scientists on the road of discovery. Modern science has at its roots the Christian convictions of those who fought to bring us out of the dark ages.

If we accept the Darwinian view of the universe, then the answer to our question would be, “There is no plan. The fittest survive and that is all there is.”

I have managed to raise up several very large questions, and yet I do not intend to try and answer all these questions today. But I want us to grasp how large and all-encompassing these questions are.  The emergencies, unexpected downturns and disasters of our lives bring up questions like “Where is God?” and “Why did this happen?” In large scale disasters that we observe as third parties, we might ask these questions as philosophical queries. But, when my life or my family is falling apart, the questions become much more personal and painful.

We must be aware that we will face doubts, and these doubts are made worse because there are scoffers. By scoffers, I am speaking of those in our world who find our reference to the Bible as the word of God laughable. The Bible warns us that there are scoffers. In speaking about scoffers, 2 Peter 3 also addresses the account of the flood. It says:
knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:3-7 ESV)

This passage says a lot, but let’s focus on and notice first of all that it says, “Scoffers will come.” And, I want us also to notice that their scoffing assumes that everything has always continued without changing since the beginning of creation. This is exactly the assumption that is behind the Darwinian philosophy that dominates our culture, education and thinking in the modern age.

When you are faced with a tragedy, you will have doubts and questions. The world does not have the answers to the doubts and questions; rather the world compounds the problem by offering the wrong solutions.

When Noah and his family stepped off the Ark, God said to him:
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1 ESV)

God blessed Noah and encouraged his family to multiply. They have just survived the greatest catastrophe the world has ever seen, and God is telling them to go and live with confidence. He then says:
I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. (Genesis 9:11 ESV)

In verses 9 and 11 of Genesis 9, God says, “I establish my covenant with you.”

We see in this statement two important truths. First, God establishes His covenant. And second, God is a covenant God.

The truth that God establishes His covenant is important on several levels. The idea behind establishing something means causing it to stand. According to Google, the English word “establish” means to set something up on a firm or permanent basis. The word used in the Hebrew that the Old Testament was written in means to arise, stand or establish. God’s covenant is established. It is both firm and permanent.  This is the first important truth we can turn to when catastrophe comes. The assumption that all things have always continued without change is wrong. But the truth is that the unchanging thing is God and we exist because He has set up or caused His covenant to stand.

The second truth is that God is a covenant God. By “covenant God,” I mean that God makes promises and He keeps His promises. God has made many promises to His people and not one of His promises has failed.

We can count on these two truths when catastrophe comes.

However, let’s now return to the issue of trusting God. We know that many doubt God’s goodness because of evil and bad things that happen, and even as Christians, many of us live in fear of the day of disaster.

Consider the flood with me.

The flood was necessary, and God gave 100 years of warnings while Noah built the ark. The flood was not a random act of a capricious God.

We do not know everything, but we are given hints that let us know that God knew what was necessary. 2 Peter 3 talks about the destruction of the ungodly that is still to come. And, God is still giving warnings.  According to Genesis 6, in the flood, God was dealing with ungodliness. God is more aware than we are of evil and bad things happening on the earth and He is dealing with it. When He deals with it, like by sending a flood, we complain about His use of drastic measures.

My point is not to answer all the questions about good and evil, but rather to bring us to focus on the truth that God knows what He is doing, He has a plan and He is working according to His plan. We do not know how it works or why it works, but the Bible tells us:
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:11 ESV)

How He works all things according to the counsel of His will is beyond my ability to understand. But God has given me many examples in His word. Joseph’s brothers meant evil when they sold him as a slave, but God used it to work a great deliverance. The world and the devil had nothing but evil at heart when they crucified the Son of God, but God used it to accomplish the defeat of death, provide new life, work the resurrection, and purchase our salvation.

At the conclusion of the greatest single catastrophe to ever visit our planet, God tells us that He establishes His covenant. He gives us His promise.

There is one more thing implied in God’s covenant. God’s presence. In establishing His covenant and causing it to stand, God implies His presence and work in our world.

One of the most significant answers the Bible has to the accusation that God must not care about evil is the fact that He took on all our suffering and sorrows when Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. He not only knows but He understands, because He has suffered. In light of this, His promise to be with us takes on deep meaning.

I want to close with God’s promise to us, His people, from Isaiah 54.
"This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:9-10 ESV)

In the realities and the 9-1-1 days of our lives, we can rest in the knowledge that the Lord has compassion on us.

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