Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Devotional Thoughts: The locusts are coming

Am looking at Joel 2:1-11.

Remember the context of the passage, in chapter one, Joel described the locust swarms. This reality hung over their heads. In chapter two, he described the dread they felt knowing what was coming. Also, remember that he was writing in poetic style so imagine the pictures he has created with his words and listen for the sound of it.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble;
For the day of the LORD is coming,
For it is at hand:
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.

If you have ever been hiking you know that you don't want to get caught outside in a thunderstorm where you can get drenched or worse hit by lightening. As you are hiking along and you see the clouds gathering quickly ... its nervous time.

In addition to visualizing the motion picture, listen for the sound of what he described ... a marching army, a crackling fire and trampling horses ...

A people come, great and strong,
The like of whom has never been;
Nor will there ever be any such after them,
Even for many successive generations.
A fire devours before them,
And behind them a flame burns;
The land is like the Garden of Eden before them,
And behind them a desolate wilderness;
Surely nothing shall escape them.
Their appearance is like the appearance of horses;
And like swift steeds, so they run.
With a noise like chariots
Over mountaintops they leap,
Like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble,
Like a strong people set in battle array.
Before them the people writhe in pain;
All faces are drained of color.
They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like men of war;
Every one marches in formation,
And they do not break ranks.
They do not push one another;
Every one marches in his own column.
Though they lunge between the weapons,
They are not cut down.
They run to and fro in the city,
They run on the wall;
They climb into the houses,
They enter at the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble;
The sun and moon grow dark,
And the stars diminish their brightness.

Frightening.

As urban dweller in 21st Century America, this is completely outside my personal experience. The only time I see bugs is driving in the country side as they splatter onto my window or when I go hiking and the mosquitos envelope us when we stop moving.

That is nothing compared to what is described here: a swarm so massive that the sun and moon is obscured.

The LORD gives voice before His army,
For His camp is very great;
For strong is the One who executes His word.
For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible;
Who can endure it?

Joel identified that the LORD (YHWH) was behind the locust swarm.

This is the theological question of the ages: when something bad happens, is God behind it? Is the judgment of God part of the equation?

In the pre-scientific age, if someone were to claim, calamity X is due to God, it was probably believed.

Today, such a claim would be viewed less favorably.

If there is no god then any claim to god being behind locust swarms, earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes would be foolish.

But what if there is a god?

If god is the "deist" clockmaker god who builds the universe and lets it tick away on its own then the existence of disasters would testify to a lousy clockmaker.

If god is in the "theist" mode who builds the universe and periodically intervenes in human affairs then one might argue:
(1) god is not good because god doesn't intervene
(2) god is not powerful enough to intervene - though it would seem strange that god would be powerful enough to create the universe and not be able to intervene.

The existence of evil and suffering is the greatest challenge to the belief in the existence of god. However, some turn that argument on its head and say the very existence of notions of evil and suffering testify to god.

For a detailed discussion check out this item on theodicy. There is a LOT to chew on there and I'm going to have to re-read that item a few times and I'll still not be sure if I know what to believe with precision!

As I sit here at the comfort of my laptop, when disater strikes, I am not going to make any claims of it is or is not God's judgement. Call it a cop out call it what you want, I'm not making that claim. Joel can make that claim because he was a prophet but I'm not.

However, as a Christian, I do believe a day (I don't know when and it may well be after we are all dead) will come when God will judge and on that day, there will be no doubt because it won't be me or some other human agency making the claim it is God's judgement.

On that day, indeed, who can endure it?

We can only endure it if we take a hold of Christ whose sacrifice pays for our sin and whose life covers us in righteousness.

Lord, we live in a world that is in bad shape. Yet, you did not remain idle content to see it fall apart. Instead, you sent Jesus to restore us and the world. While we await your establishing the kingdom in fullness, help me to work where I can to extend your kingdom. Your call is for love and truth. Help me to live that in my life. Help me to be that for others. Help me to fight for justice with humility trusting in your ultimate justice and goodness. Amen.

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