Grades 3-6 for Sunday School
Where Was God When the Earth Shook?
Author’s Notes: Recent news describes devastating earthquakes. I would like to follow the example of the writer of our adult lessons, and share some thoughts on what happened there. We’ll specifically look at an age-old question: if our God is so loving and kind, why does He let such terrible things happen? Christians and non-Christians alike ask this question when tragedy strikes. And we’re going to see that God’s Word has some answers.
Just a short time ago, a devastating earthquake struck the capital of Haiti, destroying many buildings, taking many lives. Can anyone remember other natural disasters that have happened in the last few years?
When these types of events occur, many lives are affected. People lose their lives, sometimes thousands of them; sometimes hundreds of thousands. Those that live often lose their homes, their businesses, other family members. Severe sickness often follows such tragedies, as medical care is not available, and clean water and adequate food are hard to come by.
Does this sound, to you, like God taking care of His children? Over the years, disasters like the one in Haiti have led people to ask questions about God:
And while we may not have answers to every question, God’s Word provides us with enough to know that God is still and always in control; and that what He does is for our good…because He loves us. So let’s take a close look at our God, today, to see where He is when bad things happen; and suggest some reasons for why He allows such things to happen. We’ll begin with a precious promise found in today’s memory verse.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank you for the precious promises we find in Your Word, that remind us that You love us and take care of us. Help us, as we talk about some tough questions, today, to have eyes that learn to clearly see You, and ears that are ready to listen to the truths we find in Your Word. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: (Where Was God When the Earth Shook?)
(Did God know?)
On Tuesday, January 12, 2010, at nearly 5:00 in the evening, the city of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, was rocked by a devastating earthquake that was recorded at a magnitude of 7.0. The city was reduced to piles of rubble, and more than a week later, rescue workers are still searching for possible survivors. The death toll was staggering, with some estimates as high as 200,000. And the survivors were left without needed fresh water or medical care, as their homes and hospitals were destroyed…their lives turned upside-down.
Do you think God knew what was happening in Haiti? Has anyone here ever lived through a life-threatening event like that…perhaps a fire or flood or storm that came through your home or the home of someone you love? Maybe you’ve been in an accident and were, or could have been, badly injured. Where was God then? He lives way up in Heaven. Does He always know what’s going on down here, on earth?
The Bible assures us that God is always watching us, and is aware of every single thing that’s happening here on earth. We, as humans, are not always are not like that. We can only be one place at a time; and sometimes that’s in bed, sound asleep. But the book of Psalms tells us that God is not like us. Listen to how the Psalmist describes Him:
3He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
(Psalm 139:2-3, 7-12)
2Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
7Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
Is there any place that these verses tell us we can go, that God is not there? No! We see that God knows when we sit down, when we stand up, when we lie down, and where we are going. Whether in Heaven or Hell, morning or night, even if we were at the bottom of the sea, God would always be right there. And He’s never there sleeping.
In fact, Matthew 10:29 tells us that if a little bird were to fall to the ground, God would even know about that! Jesus says, in this verse, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”
Yes, we can be sure that God saw exactly what was happening when the earth began to shake in Haiti; just like we can be sure that He sees exactly what’s going on with each of us every moment of every day.
(Could God have stopped the earthquake?)
So now that we know that God surely knew about the earthquake, do you think there was there anything He could have done to stop it? There are many people in this world who believe that God created the earth, then let it go to do whatever it’s going to do. But Colossians 1:16-17 says this:
16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Does anyone know what the word “consist” means? The New Living Translation says it this way, “he holds all creation together.” God isn’t just way up in Heaven, watching our world from a distance. He is constantly holding everything together.
And there are many accounts, in the Bible, where God changed the course of nature. In the Old Testament, we can read of God making the sun stand still on one occasion, or even go backwards, on another. And the New Testament records several accounts of Jesus calming storms when the disciples were out on rough seas. No one knows creation better than its Creator. No one can control nature like the One who holds it all together. In Isaiah 50:2, God asks, “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness…”
Our God is the Creator, and has power to do what He chooses with what He has made. But if that is true, and God had the power to stop the earthquake before it caused such devastation, then why didn’t He?
(Why did God allow the earthquake?)
We’ve saved the toughest question for last. We now know that God knew the earthquake was happening, and that He had the power to stop it, since He’s the one holding things together. So why did God allow the earthquake to destroy the city, and take so many lives? The short answer is this: because He is God. The book of Job (where we read of the many trials Job had to endure) teaches us that God’s ways and reasons do not always make sense to us. And we don’t always get an explanation as to why God allows the things that He does. We are sometimes just left to hold onto God’s many promises that everything He does, He does within His character of holiness, righteousness, mercy, grace, and love.
But having said that, we can look at Biblical examples of times that God has allowed great trials, and see some answers to our question of “why.”
Sometimes the first suggestion seems to be judgment for sin. Many are quick to look for sin in the lives of those who are in the midst of such circumstances, to see if God might be punishing them. One such Biblical example is the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the book of Genesis. God rained down brimstone and fire from heaven to destroy those cities, because of their wickedness. But judgment is certainly not the only reason God allows us to suffer through difficult trials.
Just a few moments ago, we looked at God’s power over creation, as Jesus calmed the storms on the Sea of Galilee. There is absolutely no indication that the disciples were disobeying God, and that God was judging them. Instead, we read in Matthew 14 that Jesus used those storms to teach his disciples to have more faith in Him, and prove to them that He really is God. Matthew 14:32-33 says, “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped [Jesus], saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’"
In Acts 27 and 28, the apostle Paul found himself in a storm that broke apart the ship he was on. And when everyone on the boat escaped to the shore, Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake that should have killed him. But God rescued all those on the ship, and cured Paul from the snake bite. As a result, Paul had the opportunity to minister to many others on the island. And they, in turn, “…honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.” (Acts 28:10) So in this case, God allowed Paul to suffer hardship so that he would have the opportunity to share the gospel. Then he was blessed, in return, by those with whom he was able to share Christ.
So God can use trying circumstances as a form of judgment, or to teach us about Himself, and draw us closer to Him. And He can use them as opportunities for sharing the gospel with others.
But we also must be aware that there will be many times when we, like Job in the Old Testament, will not be given an answer to why God allows such things. God allowed Satan to bring a great deal of suffering into Job’s life. One of the trials included a storm that took the lives of his ten children. Job’s friends suggested that perhaps he was being punished for some sin. But God scolded his friends for saying such things, and actually required them to bring Him an offering to atone for bringing such false accusations.
In Job’s case, God wanted him to learn that He is sovereign. Does anyone know what the word “sovereign” means? It means that God is in charge! He makes the rules, and He is in complete control at all times. And who better to have in control of your life, than a God of mercy and love. When Job came to the point where he finally admitted that he might never understand God’s reasons, but would trust and worship Him anyway, then God rescued him from all of his suffering. In fact, God then blessed Job so much that Job 42:12 says, “So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…”
The same may be true for us, someday. God may decide to allow us to go through something very difficult. It may not be as serious as an earthquake. Or it may be something just as hard. Whatever happens, God wants us to remember that He does see and know everything that’s happening in our lives. He does have absolute power, and complete control over everything in our universe. And He does everything for His own reasons. Sometimes we understand them, sometimes we don’t. But we can always rely on the promise found in today’s memory verse: it will all work out for good for those who love God. That includes all that’s going on in Haiti. And that includes whatever may come your way as you grow up, and learn to trust Him more and more.
But before we close, we need to take one more look at our memory verse. Because it doesn’t say it applies to everyone. To whom does Paul make this promise, that everything will be worked out for their good? Yes, it is to those who love God and are called by Him. Does that include you, today? If not, today could be the day when you invite Jesus Christ to take full control of your life, so you can claim His promises, too.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, we first want to stop for a moment, and pray for the many, many men, women, and children who are suffering, today, in Haiti. And we ask that You would just do what You do…love them, protect them, and take this tragedy, and work it out for good. Then, Lord, help us to remember that even in those times when we can’t see the good, that You are still a good and loving God. Amen.
Closing Comments/ Activity:
Right now, it’s hard to see past the bad things that have happened in Haiti. But can anyone imagine how could God ever take a tragedy such as the earthquake in Haiti, and make it into something that can work for good?
Every day there are new stories coming from the relief workers about miracles that are happening. People who would never have turned to God are looking to Him for answers. And there is now a worldwide focus on providing for the people in Haiti who have been in great need since long before the earthquake happened.
God can take any circumstance, and make all things work together for good. Aren’t you glad to have such a great God?!
True or False
1. God sometimes allows bad things to happen. (true)
2. God is always in complete control of every situation. (true)
3. God created our world, and is still holding it together. (true)
4. God loves us. (true)
5. God sometimes uses difficult situations to teach us something about Himself. (true)
6. God can make even bad circumstances work for good for those who love Him. (true)
Under His Wings I Am Safely Abiding (verse 1)
Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him – I know He will keep me;
He has redeemed me and I am His child.
Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.
- William Cushing
Lisa DeVinney, for November 2011