My Sunday afternoon reading in Church history brought to light two episodes which seem to me to have distinctly contemporary implications.
We often hear, following some "natural disaster" or other, people musing about why God allows such things. Interesting to note that God rarely gets the credit for beautiful weather, but let an earthquake or tornado reduce a town to rubble, a tsunami overwhelm unsuspecting seaside dwellers, a hurricane inundate a city, or fires turn homes and communities to ash, and someone's going to raise the "if God/why evil" question, typically to condemn or eliminate the Deity.
I want to give those folks credit, however, at least for acknowledging the connections between "natural" events, including "disasters," and divine sovereignty. For, while we cannot plumb the depths of the whys and hows of God's working among men and across the planet, we nonetheless confess it to be so. Which makes the 5th century Empress of the Eastern Empire wiser than all the 14th century bishops of London.
The Synod of the Oaks was convened in July, 403, by jealous enemies of Chrysostom, Christendom's first mega-church pastor. They hated the "Golden-mouthed" one and were determined to send him packing. Which, by a lot of hi-jinks, they did. But an earthquake shortly after that so frightened the Empress, convincing her that an injustice had been done, that she speedliy returned the preacher to his pulpit. By contrast, the British bishops assembled at Blackfriars in London, 1382, condemned the work of John Wycliffe, fearful of the tremors of reform he portended - even as a powerful earthquake rolled through the city. To them no voice of divine warning or displeasure was in that quake. But they should have been listening, given the upheavals that rocked Christendom barely 150 years later.
God is speaking in all the events of creation. There are no "natural disasters," only mysterious developments indicating the progress of the divine economy. And, while we are not always permitted to understand what God may be speaking to us through storms, wars, and painful conditions of all sorts (Rev. 10.1-4), of the fact that He is present in them, and speaking to us, there can be no doubt (Job 38-41). God is all-wise and all-good as well as all-powerful. He also works continuously in the things He has made to make Himself and His will known (Ps. 19.1-4; Ps. 68.18; Rom. 1.18ff). At the very least we must, when "disasters" strike, weep for the victims, give for their relief, and ponder the state of our own lives, giving thanks for our many blessings and seeking to discern if anything offensive to the Lord is harboring in our souls.
When upheavals befall - remembering that judgment begins with the house of God - let us follow the course of the Empress, rather than the bishops, lest greater discipline befall.
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