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A Farmer Who Died for a Stranger: How to Find Good News in Bad News

There is good news in the bad news making news today.

First, the bad news: Large parts of Nebraska and the US Central Plains were underwater over the weekend after a late-winter “bomb cyclone” storm triggered historic flooding. Forecasters warn that more rain is coming tomorrow

A farmer named James Wilke got a call to assist a stranger during the storm and drove his tractor over a bridge that collapsed. Wilke and his tractor went into the floodwater; he did not survive. 

Meanwhile, last week’s shooting in New Zealand continues to dominate headlines as authorities rush to identify the fifty victims and the prime minister promises changes to gun laws. And ceremonies were held in Kenya and Ethiopia for the 157 victims of last week’s Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. 

While man-made tragedies deservedly generate headlines and global sympathy, natural disasters affect millions across the country. The global annual death rate from natural disasters has fallen significantly over the years, but such tragedies affect 218 million people each year and claim 68,000 lives. 

However, there is a principle here that promises to liberate us with hope that transcends all hardships. 

Theology from a crocodile 

The book of Job is not usually considered an uplifting work of literature. Much of it is dominated by Job’s understandable complaints to God about the horrific suffering he endured. 

Toward the end of the book, the Lord answers him—not by explaining Job’s pain, but by declaring his own omnipotence and omniscience. 

For instance, God asks Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?” (Job 41:1). Most scholars believe that “Leviathan” in this context is a giant crocodile. 

The creature’s creator warns Job: “Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again!” (v. 8). By comparison to this mighty beast, “The hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him” (v. 9). 

This is just one illustration of our frailty and finitude in the face of God’s creation. There are more examples everywhere we look. As the Lord reminds Job and us, “Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (v. 11). 

When last were you awed by God? 

Here’s my question: If we fear creation (and we should), should we not fear its Creator even more? 

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” “Fear” is our healthy response to the awesome power and might of the one true God. 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

—Proverbs 1:7

When Ananias lied to God and died as a result, “great fear came upon all who heard of it” (Acts 5:5). The early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” and “multiplied” as a result (Acts 9:31). By contrast, Scripture says of sinners, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18, quoting Psalm 36:1). 

Across Scripture, whenever people knew they were in the presence of the one true God, their response was one of awe and reverence. 

When Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” he cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1, 5). 

When Peter realized our Savior’s divine power, “he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'” (Luke 5:8). John testified that when he met the risen Christ on Patmos, “I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). 

When last were you awed by God? 

When we trust God with our fears 

What is the most fearsome natural threat you can imagine? 

It might be a hurricane or a tornado, a roaring lion or an attacking shark. Now realize that the God who made what makes you afraid is infinitesimally more powerful than his most powerful creation. 

The God who made what makes you afraid is infinitesimally more powerful than his most powerful creation.

When we give him the awe and reverence he deserves, we position ourselves to experience his presence and power in life-changing ways. When we acknowledge that God is more powerful than the most powerful threat in nature, we are also acknowledging that our Father is more powerful than anything that can harm us. 

Indeed, he is not only all-powerful—he is all-loving as well. As a result, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Say it with Paul: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38–39). 

When we trust him with our fears, our fearful culture pays attention. When we serve him out of selfless gratitude for his grace, our self-centered society takes note. 

A record crowdfunding campaign 

Dallas Jenkins is director of The Chosen, the first multi-season television series about the life of Christ. Jenkins says the idea behind the series came after “a significant career disappointment. My previous film had done poorly at the box office, and I was uncertain of my future.” 

So, Jenkins decided to create a short film about the birth of Christ “just intended for my church’s Christmas Eve service.” The response was so strong that he decided to make an entire television series about the life of Jesus through the eyes of those who encountered him. 

However, his team needed funding for the project. They decided to let the body of Christ help. Roughly 16,000 people around the world responded, giving more than $10 million—a record-setting campaign. 

Jenkins trusted his fear to God’s power for God’s glory. Job would encourage us to do the same. 

Who or what is your Leviathan today?

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Publication Date: March 18, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan/Staff

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