Summary: The prophet Joel, writing some 2,700 years ago, shows God’s people nine steps for dealing with national catastrophes as America experienced September 11, 2001
It has been an incredible week; one that none of us, I suspect, will ever forget. The images of destruction will be forever etched in our memories.
The song Phil just sang written by Chris Rice poses the dilemma that many of us face as followers of Jesus Christ. Did you catch the lyric: “Well, if your God is so good, tell us why all the pain?” It’s the implied question that lay behind CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s query to the Roman Catholic bishop of Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon, “Can you help us make sense out of the things that have occurred today?”
Those of us who follow Jesus Christ are trying to make sense out of the devastation and disaster that began Tuesday and continued through the week and is not over yet. Where do we go for the answers?
If we merely look within ourselves, the natural response to these events for many of us is anger. We naturally want to retaliate; to get justice; to seek revenge and to avenge the thousands of innocent lives that were snuffed out—some in a moment in time, some over agonizing hours and maybe even days.
So searching within ourselves won’t help us deal with this disaster. We need to look outside of ourselves. We need to look to the only One who can make sense out of these events. We need to look to God. And to find God’s perspective on how to deal with disaster, we turn to his Word.
We could turn many places in God’s Word to find our response, but the passage God laid upon my heart on Tuesday as I sat in shock over the magnitude of this unprecedented deliberate attack on an unsuspecting people was the Old Testament book of Joel. The part of Scripture God led me to as I prayed asking for his perspective is this obscure book among the Minor Prophets. It’s probably a book that few of us have read before; even fewer have studied. It’s not a book that would normally appeal to us when life is going well, because it is a book that describes horrific circumstances and warns us of God’s anger at sin among his covenant people. But it is also a book that contains an incredibly encouraging word to God’s people who find themselves living in a time of disaster. And it shows us in very clear terms how we should respond biblically to disaster and tragedy.
Will you please turn in your Bibles this morning to Joel chapter 1, which you’ll find on page # of the paperback bibles near you. Joel is in the Old Testament among the section called the Minor Prophets; his book is the second in the list of Minor Prophets right after the book Hosea and before the book of Amos.
This morning I want to read many of the verses in chapters one and two and make some brief comments about the relevance and application to us today. Our question is how to deal with disaster. And we’ll discover that Joel gives us nine steps in dealing with the tragic circumstances we find ourselves facing today.
The relevance of Joel to our disaster
Parallels between two historic disasters
The prophet Joel begins his book by describing the historically unique disaster that his countrymen in the land of Judah some 2700 years ago had just experienced.
1:1-2— The word of the LORD that came to Joel son of Pethuel. 2 Hear this, you elders; listen, all who live in the land. Has anything like this ever happened in your days or in the days of your forefathers?
Some of you here have lived through some awful times in the last century—two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, a depression, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, traffic accidents, sudden loss of loved ones; but can any of you imagine anything more traumatic than the unexpected mass murder of thousands of civilians by an as yet unidentified but certainly depraved gang of organized terrorists? Has anything like this happened in your lifetime? Joel is about to describe an event in his nation’s experience that was unparalleled in its severity; a catastrophe so overwhelming that no historical precedent could be offered.
The video image of an aircraft flying into an office building and disappearing in an explosion; the thought of thousands of office workers having just arrived for what they thought was just another day; hundreds of rescue workers themselves becoming victims as two of the tallest buildings in the world came crashing down around them; the prolonged horror of a hostage situation on board four aircraft; the grief and pain of hundreds of thousands of relatives as they experience the loss of their loved ones. Has anything like this ever happened in our lives before?