On April 27, a massive tornado cut a more than 80-mile swath through the heart of Alabama at a cost of hundreds of lives and untold damage. Before we had a chance to catch our collective breath, an EF5 tornado pretty much leveled Joplin, MO on May 22. Just last week, as I was touring the streets of Boston with my family, an ominous storm system came through, eventually dropping a tornado on Springfield that killed four people. (Stunning video of that storm is available online.) Right now, Sioux City, Iowa is awaiting almost inevitable destruction from well-over 500 year flood levels that are headed our way. We are sand-bagging and preparing for a flood that will likely last nearly 3 months (created for our enjoyment by the Army Corps of Engineers – but that is another post entirely).
So, there is a question that many are asking as a result of all of this upheaval in the weather in America these days.
Is God mad at the United States of America?
Some will discount this, being disabused of the notion that God could ever be displeased with a people or bring judgment on a nation such as he did in biblical days. Others, of course, pronounce not only the judgment of God but also explain the exact cause of that judgment. God is angry about whatever that person’s particular hobby horse is, be it abortion or homosexuality or President Obama.
But is God mad? Are these natural disasters evidence of God’s judgment on this land? I would like to present the following perspectives on the topic. These are meant as discussion starters and certainly not as the last word on the issue. But here goes anyway.
1) God is in control.
Some people spend a lot of time trying to absolve God of responsibility for the tragedies of life, but the Bible never does. God is sovereign over the affairs and events of this world and he never denies that or attempts to abrogate his responsibility. The Word of God is clear on this one. Start in Genesis 1:1 and read through Revelation 22:21 and show me one place where God ever passes the buck to the devil or circumstances or anything else. On the contrary, he claims credit.
Look at Isaiah 45:5-7.
I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.
He makes it clear. “I am the one in charge – NO ONE ELSE. I am responsible for the good and the bad.”
Amos 3:6 couldn’t be clearer.
“Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”
Whatever is going on, this much we know – it is occurring for the glory of God according to the plan of God. He is the author and the book is following his plot line and no one else’s.
2) God judges nations.
I love first couple of chapters of Amos; one of the most brilliant sermons ever. Amos starts out by condemning the sins of all the nations around Israel. You can almost hear the amens as he pronounces the judgment of God on Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and other nations. Then, to the delight of the crowd, he pronounces God’s judgment on Israel’s rival, Judah. Finally, he points the finger at his own crowd and says, essentially, you are as bad as any of them. Brilliant homiletics, Pastor Amos.
But the clear point there and throughout the prophets is that God does in fact hold nations and not just individuals responsible for their sins. There is such a thing as corporate sin and corporate guilt.
So, it is not outside the boundaries of the Scriptures to believe that God is bringing his judgment on this land.
3) America holds no special place in God’s heart now.
I love America – my blood runs red, white and blue. But we fool ourselves when we think that God somehow holds a special spot in his heart for the USA. He loves Russians and Chinese and Kenyans and Africans and Arabs every bit as much as Americans.
We are not Israel and we should not claim the promises of God to Israel as if they belonged to us as a nation. “If my people who are called by name…” That was a promise to Israel. Will God restore our land if we repent and seek God’s will and ways? Probably. Proverbs 14:34 tells that “righteousness exalts a nation” and if there is a revival of righteousness there will be a revival of fortunes in our land.
But God’s concern is this world is with building a people from every tribe and tongue on earth, not on restoring the fortunes of the land we love.
4) God withholds judgment to provide opportunities for ministry and repentance.
“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” That was the message Jonah preached to the foreign land he hated so much. And the people responded and God (much to Jonah’s dismay) withheld his judgment. When God was ready to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he was willing to stay his judgment if ten righteous people could be found in the cities. Ten.
God’s primary purpose today is not the destruction of his enemies – that will come one day in the final judgment. God will balance the books and those who stand against him will fall without remedy. But God’s purpose now is not primarily the display of his judgment but of his mercy. Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost.
And the job of the church is clear. We are to proclaim the holiness of God and his judgment on sin, but our chief message is that of grace and salvation. If America is undergoing a time of unprecedented prosperity, our job is to make disciples of all nations by evangelizing the lost (baptizing them) and discipling those God saves (teaching them to obey). And if America comes under the severe judgment of God, our job does not change. We are agents of his redemptive power.
God’s primary purpose here and now is to redeem sinners and the church is his primary tool in that process.
5) It is very dangerous (almost blasphemous?) to try to explain God.
We are all mortified and disgusted by the antics of the false cult that calls themselves “Westboro Baptist Church.” They claim they know exactly what God is doing and why. Every once in a while, some prominent pastor or televangelist will make waves by announcing to the world why some tragedy has befallen the land.
We would do well to remember the harsh words of God for Job’s friends. They came to comfort Job and ended up sinning against him by trying to explain why God did what God did. God wanted Job to trust him and serve him even when he didn’t understand him.
That is our calling. We do not always understand what God is doing. Our job is not to always understand God. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. You can never really understand what God is doing. So it is both unwise and wrong when we try to explain what God is doing.
Our job is to serve the Sovereign Lord, not to explain him, defend him or justify his actions. We know that he is in control and that he is accomplishing his purposes in this world. We know that our job is pronounce the salvation that can only come through Jesus Christ.
So, is God mad at America? I suppose so. We are an immoral, perverted, greedy, self-centered, idolatrous nation – as bad as any of those Canaanite nations God judged in the days of the Old Testament. Is God judging America? Perhaps. But it is not my job to explain God’s sovereign purposes. God is holy and he judges sin.
But that is not his primary purpose right now, nor is it mine. We must not shy away from identifying sin or pronouncing the truth of God’s judgment. But our chief job is to be agents of God’s grace and to announce to this world that reconciliation with God is possible through the finished work of Christ on the cross.