How To Deal With Calamity


Genesis 21:9-15


This page is being written 27 days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This section did not appear in the 2012 release, although the Jerry Sandusky story had broken two months prior, and could the passage of Genesis 21:9-15 could have been used to launch a biblical look at the Jerry Sandusky scandal as well. Since writing this, other like calamities or worse may have occurred.


This incident is more parallel to the Jerry Sandusky story than to the Adam Lanza story. But both stories force us to wonder how God looks down on man-caused calamity and tragedy. Millions wonder, how can a sovereign God allow it? And self-appointed spokesmen for God give dumb responses such as “God is not allowed in schools.” For some reason we feel sheepish standing forward and trumpeting that what happened is part of God’s perfect plan as He reveals Himself to man. It’s easier just to take a stab at a Supreme Court decision that dates back to 1962, woefully defective though it may be.


The first thing we have to realize is that it’s not about us. Nothing is about us. And it’s not about the boys in the shower at Penn State, and it’s not about any former student at Sandy Hook. God did not cause it, but He allowed it to happen. And He allowed it to happen for good. I may have difficulty in my flesh expressing the good, for my flesh tends to rage toward a call for God to take action. But my limitations, my conscience, and my rage do not mean that God is not in control, nor does it mean that God is not acting out of goodness. The chief aim of God’s revelation to man is that God be glorified. And so He is – and man-caused calamity keeps that in focus.


For the sake of staying on focus with the context of Genesis 21, I’ll skip a few steps of the full thesis on the topic, but there is one element of glorifying God that seems to have gone unnoticed. Without the restraining work of God the Holy Spirit, man is depraved. The only reason you and I have never murdered anyone is because God the Holy Spirit has prevented it (2 Thessalonians 2:7) – either directly by disabling us just prior to the fatal act, or indirectly by isolating us from the combination of circumstances that would provoke us to kill. Apart from God, there is no evil act that even the most faithful of Christians would be immune from doing.


But as man more and more turns away from God, and as man more and more pushes God into the periphery, occasionally God will pull back the curtain and give us a first-hand look at what would become normal activity should man succeed in pushing God aside. The heart of man could not be trusted – all men and all women are potential child rapists, thieves and murderers. Jerry Sandusky and Adam Lanza would not be newsworthy, because everybody is acting unrestrained by the Holy Spirit. And there are enough Sandusky/Lanza stories in our own block of Maryland that the news coverage doesn’t have to travel to Pennsylvania or Connecticut to import a sensational tragedy. God wants us to know what would happen if the world ever got what it asks for: the removal of God from the world.


Abraham saw a Sandusky look-alike tragedy occur in his own front yard, between his own sons. Sarah blew a gasket – and who could blame her! Abraham was sorely grieved – and who could blame him! “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. (Genesis 21:12).” It is not about me; it is not about Isaac; it is not about Sarah. It is about God working all things for His purpose, so that He alone might be glorified. For (say) four years, there was confusion regarding which son of Abraham was the son of promise. God for a day, let Ishmael act according to the depravity of his heart. And Ishmael used that day to expose that he was wicked, and thereby forfeit any serious claim of being the son of promise. He wouldn’t have been the son of promise, even if he had not scandalized himself. But through the scandal, he lost all credible support, and the true son of Sarah became the undisputed son of promise, God’s purpose was achieved and God was glorified.


There is no one who wouldn’t have been sickened by what Sarah saw that day. But “God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight (Genesis 21:12). It provided the necessary justification to remove Ishmael according to Sarah’s order, so that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called (Genesis 21:12).” And God did not have to cause the calamity. God the Holy Spirit merely stepped out of the way, and let man’s corrupt heart do its thing.


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