Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Japanese Earthquake and God's Sovereignty

I'm sure none of us can be unaware that we live in a world that is filled with suffering and calamity. Earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, and turmoil and violence in the Middle East have filled the headlines over the last few weeks. The issue of suffering is inescapable.

One of the questions that no doubt many will be asking is how a good and sovereign God could allow such devastation. Some of us may have asked questions like this ourselves, others may be surrounded with others asking such questions. It is vital that we think through and grapple with these questions. It is also vital that we do so in a way that is honouring to God, and therefore founded on the truth of His word. The Bible is clear that God is both utterly sovereign, in control of all things (Job 42:2 -from the mouth of suffering Job), and utterly good (Psalm 119:68 - from the mouth of the suffering Psalmist). How then do these devastating events fit with these two glorious truths? What are God's sovereign and good purposes in these things?

In order to help us do this let me suggest a few resources that will help us. There are many more resources out there than I've mentioned here, but the following are a good place to start:

  • Don Carson's book How Long, O Lord? grapples with the issues of evil and suffering. He spends time especially looking at how we hold together the truth of God's utter sovereignty with suffering and human evil in the world. This is an invaluable book for giving us a robust biblical framework to understand suffering both on a personal and a global scale.
  • John Piper was interviewed by a radio station after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. He gives a warm, clear, and bold response to many of the questions that non-Christians ask after such events. Piper gives a great model on how to respond in a way that is loving and pastorally sensitive, yet unashamed to boldly proclaim the truth of Scripture. It is well worth a listen to, both in seeking answers to our own questions, and in helping us as we seek to answer the questions of others.
  • John Piper has also given a three-part series of talks from the book of Job entitled When the Righteous Suffer. This is a very helpful series of talks that I have heard on the issue of suffering. The book of Job is one of the most important parts of Scripture to grapple with for understanding suffering and God's sovereignty, and Piper does a great job of opening up the magnificent themes of the book of Job, and applying them to the suffering believer.
  • Christopher Ash's book Out of the Storm is a study of the book of Job and is a gem of a book. I have personally sat under Christopher as he taught through the book of Job on the Cornhill Training Course and have found it invaluable. This is a great book for getting a clear picture of the book of Job.
  • Suffering and The Sovereignty of God is a book written by various authors based on talks given at a "Desiring God" conference. A very helpful look at how God's sovereignty relates to the issue of suffering. Almost all of the authors are those who've known devastating suffering for themselves.
  • If You Could Ask God One Question is aimed at a non-Christian audience. Williams and Cooper, through Christianity Explored courses they've run, have spent years asking people "If you could ask God one question, and you knew it would be answered, what would it be?" This book gives their answers to the most frequently asked questions. They have one chapter which looks at the question "Why do you allow suffering?" It is a book well worth having on the shelf as we seek to answer those questions that come up in conversations with non-Christian friends.