by Rev. Larry Vogel
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides Me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know Me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides Me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things (Is. 45:57).
Did that passage make sense to you? While God is indeed the Creator of all that is beautiful, why would He say He is the one who produces destruction and creates calamity? terror? tsunami? earthquake? evil?
We say we believe in God the Father, the Almighty. But then we look at a world in which goodness sometimes seems to be absent or at least in short supply. It’s a world of violence and trauma, unemployment and poverty.
Think too much about stuff like this, and you could lose your faith. Atheists often reject faith in God because they cannot reconcile an almighty God with the pervasive presence of evil and suffering in the world. Either God is not good, they say, or there is no God.
How dare You say You create calamity, God! we think. Take it back, or we may lose our faith. But He won’t take it back. He won’t play that game. “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Deal with it.
He created this universe with all its majesty and beauty. He created it, and within it He created man and woman, that we might rejoice in Him and His goodness and glorify Him. But we have corrupted it and twisted ourselves into a human race that despises God instead of rejoicing in Him and His work. We are so messed up that we would happily just live this way, even though it is deadly.
So God does another kind of work. Luther called it an alien work. In it, God destroys thingsHe creates calamityand He lays waste to our idols and to us, because we have turned our own lives into idolatry. He lays waste to us and to all that we have placed before Him seeking to save us.
And on and on it goes. War here. Flood there. Famine in another time. Catastrophe all over. Unemployment. Tragic death. Depression. Pain. Disease and weakness. Losing loved ones. Our own death.
Bad luck? No. God is doing His alien work. And it is alien; it is so strange and uncomfortable to us that we will never really make sense of it. It is, after all, God Himself who calls it calamity. But is it unloving? No. He is never unloving.
Yes, God and His work and wisdom are often hidden from us. But listen to how the chapter continues:
I am the LORD, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the LORD speak the truth; I declare what is right. . . . Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. (Is. 45:1821)
Is the God who creates calamity unloving? No, He is a righteous God and Savior. He is so righteous and truthful that He will not stand by as we build up false hopes, false dreams and false security. He will demolish all of that, even if it takes a calamity to do it.
That work is alien to us, and it is also alien to God. He would rather bless and prosper, but the false sources of security that we build up must be destroyed. So God, like a physician who must amputate in order to heal, does a work that seems awful to us and is awful also for Him. But it must be done, and He will not shrink from doing it.
But He is also the God who alone is Savior: “There is none besides Me.” And after He has demolished all our false securityyet againthen He shows us that He and He alone is our real security, our Savior.
The God of salvation is the one who is at work in every calamity, not to “willingly afflict or grieve the children of man” (Lam. 3:3) but to set us free from falsehoods that would destroy us. So we don’t understand, but God does. He is working His just and saving love even in calamity and confusionno, especially there.
Lest you doubt that, ask yourself who understood what was happening on Good Friday? It was catastrophe and confusion, a torturous death for the world’s only righteous man. It was a calamity for justice, a catastrophe for innocence.
But it was God’s calamity. It was God’s work in catastrophe. It was the forgiving, redeeming, perfect love of God in Christ for all of us who really don’t understand. Yet, despite all our confusion, His saving work is done. All our false security is destroyed so that Christ and Christ alone may be our certainty.
> Adapted from the Rev. Vogel’s sermon in the LCMS International Center chapel on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.
> “Seven in 10 Americans say they are more concerned about a nuclear disaster occurring in the United States after the recent events in Japan” (Gallup).
About theauthor: The Rev. Larry Vogel is associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.