Thursday, June 19, 2008

When Bad Things Cedar Rapids

I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was a pastor there for nearly 15 years before moving to Sioux City. Last week, my hometown was devastated by a flood. Flood stage is 12 feet. The Great Flood of 1993 crested at 19 feet. This one topped out at nearly 32 feet. That is not much short of double the depth of the "Great Flood." The city is destroyed and no one knows when it will recover.

Some of my oldest friends lost their home of 30 years. Another close friend lost his business. A good friend's church will have to be torn down. The disruption is hard to imagine. I can only guess that as the filthy water settles, disease will spread with it.

Why? Why does God let things like this happen? I pulled this out of the archives of my old email ministry and offer it as an important reflection for friends in need.

In a prayer service at a previous church I served, I asked the people to share a moment when God demonstrated his love for them. One man shared an amazing story from WWII, in which he probably should have been killed, but was not. Others began to tell stories of near death experiences and other situations from which God delivered them.

As someone who once was rescued unconscious from a swimming pool, I am grateful for God’s providential care. He does demonstrate his love by protecting us. But what about the folks who do not receive the positive outcome? What about our dear friends who buried their precious daughter? They prayed for her. Did God not love them? What about our friend Bill Hyde, killed by terrorists? Did God look away for a second? Does an undesired outcome mean that God does not love me as much as those who get what they pray for?

In Acts 12, two of Jesus’ disciples were arrested for preaching the gospel. But the outcomes were very different. We all know the story of Peter’s rescue from jail. The church was praying, and God threw open the doors of Herod’s jail and brought Peter out. He went to the prayer meeting and knocked on the door. When the servant girl told the church that Peter was at the door, they thought she was crazy. When they opened the door and found that the story was real, they rejoiced. God had worked in mighty power to save Peter.

But the chapter begins with a story with a very different outcome. James, the brother of John, also got arrested. But for him their was no miraculous salvation. For him there were no open jail doors, or prayer meeting celebration. For James, there was only the sword.

Why? Why did God rescue Peter and let James die? Was Peter a more vibrant Christian? Did God love him more? Was God mad at James? Did James not have enough faith? There is no evidence that any of these things was true. God loved James and Peter so much he shed the blood of Jesus Christ for both of them.

Why? We will never know. Maybe in Heaven God will let us know. Maybe not. I suspect that even in our glorified state we will have trouble understanding God’s sovereign plan. God works by a playbook that is his alone.

But this much is clear. We cannot read the outcome of our lives and determine the love of God. God always works out his sovereign plan based on his love for us. He is working all things for the good of those who love him. His love is seen in the Cross, in his constant presence in our lives, and in his promise of heavenly glory, not in the outcomes of life’s trials. Sometimes he rescues us in miraculous ways. Sometimes he lets us taste Herod’s sword.

His love is not seen in the outcome of our circumstances, but in his constant presence with us no matter what happens. Our job is to trust him and to walk with him, whether we walk with him through the jail doors to freedom, or to face Herod’s sword.

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