Today, we continue our study of “Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: what is God saying to us?” Pastor leads us to consider the catastrophic Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and its devastating toll, still felt in Europe to this day. We learn that we cannot always force a “silver lining” when disaster strikes, but we can relinquish control and put our trust in the unseen hand of God.
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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer.” I’m so glad that you joined us today as we, again, continue our study of “Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: what is God saying to us?” Now, in this session I simply want to emphasize that natural disasters often times have huge consequences both for people of faith and people who are unbelievers. I want to begin actually by going back to Lisbon. The year is 1775. People come into the church because it’s November 1st—All Saints Day. The churches are packed; masses are being said, and suddenly, 9:30 in the morning, an earthquake comes and people who weren’t in church ran into the church shrieking out of fear, but the church is collapsed. You know you read about this and there are disagreements but at least twenty to thirty thousand people died in the Great Lisbon Earthquake and the question was how do we interpret it? This is so critical because the Jesuits—they said that it’s because The Inquisition has become too lax. The Protestants, they said no, it’s because of The Inquisition in the first place, which is a real reminder that we cannot read the fine print of God’s diary. We don’t know exactly how to interpret some things. That’s why in this session, I’m going to be talking about what God is saying to us. But I promise you it will be based on Scripture alone.
You know when Covid began back in March of 2020, a false prophetess arose and false prophets always arise during a time like this and she had a prayer meeting in which she said “we are going to declare Covid to be illegal.” Really? You and I don’t have that kind of authority. We can no in no way think that we can declare Covid to be illegal anymore than we can declare death to be illegal. We have to understand that Covid is one way that people die, but as we’re going to be explaining in a future session, there are plenty of ways to die and the statistics on deaths are very impressive. But back to Lisbon, what happened was there were those who believed in God and they began to cleave to God and to His promises and many people who had no special time for religion, sought God and they repented and they were trusting in God because they now knew that they were very very mortal—death could come very unexpectedly. But on the other side of the spectrum there were those who turned away from God, Voltaire, for example. Years ago, I read his novel—“Candide.” It’s a very interesting book and what Voltaire is trying to say is that there is no way that an earthquake like happened in Lisbon could be for a higher good, so he was making fun of the fact that there may have been a purpose behind it, that there might be a God who actually has a purpose for the Lisbon earthquake and what he was doing in the novel is to show in a sarcastic way that this was foolishness. As a matter of fact, there are those who actually believe that the Secularism of Europe today received a great deal of impetus as a result of what happened in Lisbon because here was the thing they were beginning to discover that earthquakes happen because the earth had plates under it and shifted and they said, who needs a god? We can explain it from the standpoint of nature and so people turned away from God.
Now, you know that in these sessions, I always want you to leave something—I want you to leave with thoughts and ideas that will carry you through the rest of the day. The Christians, who died as martyrs, the Christians who died in such things as plagues, even though they experience the silence of God and here’s the phrase I want you to remember: they did not interpret the silence of God as the indifference of God, they believed that God was still with them even though He was silent at times when they thought (and certainly we would think) that He should be intervening. Can you meditate on that today? Don’t ever interpret the silence of God as the indifference of God. God is often silent, but He is never indifferent. As a matter of fact, as I speak a quote comes to me from Matthew Henry and I hope I get it right. He says, “God often times hides himself in the darkness but never far away.” Hope to see you again next time as we continue this study and as for today you go with God.