I hear there is another hurricane brewing in the Atlantic.
That means there will also be another bevy of voices pronouncing God’s judgment on this sinful nation. It happens every time there’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, snowpocalypse, or any other natural or man-made disaster. Some Christian identifies it either as a fulfillment of prophecy or an outpouring of God’s wrath against our manifold sin.
Of course, many scoff at such an idea. A God of love in an age of grace would never send a hurricane to hurt good, innocent people. He is a God who loves, blesses, and encourages. He does not send disasters. We have tamed Aslan in America.
But is it that far-fetched to believe that God might use nature to judge sin? Ask Sodom and Gomorrah. Ask Pharaoh and his armies. Ask Israel. Our God is often seen as marshaling the forces of nature to bring retribution on his enemies. I know that is totally uncool, folks, but it is also totally biblical.
So, what are we to think? Are these disasters a warning from heaven or are they just random weather systems that we need to endure? Every one of us knows one of “those” Christians, who sees signs in the sky every time there’s a Blood Moon or an eclipse, who believes just about everything that goes on in our world is a fulfillment of some biblical prophecy. None of us wants to be “that” Christian. But what should a sane Christian of sound mind think? Our views must be shaped by God’s word, even if that makes them unpopular.
So, what should we think?
Is God judging Us?
Let’s largely ignore the question of whether God judges nations, since the Bible clearly says he does. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel contain dozens of prophecies of God against specific nations, and the trend continues in the minor prophets. God judges nations corporately. Certainly, Americans have a tendency to go overboard with nationalistic interpretations, but that is no reason to ignore what is a clear concept in Scripture.
The question at hand is whether all these roilings of nature, terroristic upheavals, and other issues of our day are evidence of the displeasure of God and a call to repent.
1. God Runs This Place
The Bible asserts one truth above all others. “I am the Lord and there is no other.” What happens in this world happens under the direction of God’s sovereign hand. To explain the interaction of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is above both my intelligence and my pay grade. But the Bible asserts this without equivocation.
Look at Isaiah 45:5-7.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
there is no God but me.
I will strengthen you,
though you do not know me,
6 so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
that there is no one but me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the Lord, who does all these things.
“I am God” is unequivocal. God is saying that he runs the show. By himself. Without any help. And just so no one starts thinking this is some kind of dualistic world where Satan runs the dark side of the Force, God makes it clear that his sovereignty extends to both the good things and the bad. Light. Darkness. Success. Disaster.
Try this exercise. Take a Bible and underline with a red pen every verse that asserts God’s sovereign authority over the events of this world. Mark with a green pen any verse that gives ultimate control of world events to Satan, to circumstances, or to the choices of men. When you finish, you will have a Bible dripping with red ink and nearly new green pen.
God is in control of everything, the good and the bad.
Again, don’t ask me to explain the hard parts of that. God does not cause evil, but he uses it for his purposes. We are not puppets, but morally responsible agents. Still, God is in control. His thoughts are higher than mine. I can’t understand it, but I can believe it.
Because the Bible says it.
2. God has many purposes.
In the Bible, nature can be a tool of God’s discipline, but it is not always so. God has many reasons for his actions. He allowed Job to suffer greatly (illness, natural disaster, death of loved ones) to prove to Satan his fidelity to God. The Pharisees saw the crippled man and assumed karma had struck. Jesus corrected them. The man was sick so that God’s glory could be displayed.
Every storm is not a judgment.
3. God’s purposes are beyond our intelligence.
Job struggled with increasing anger to understand God, even coming to point of accusing God of wronging him. Eventually, though, God spoke to him and said, (in the Miller Paraphrased Version), “I have this thing handled! Why don’t you stop trying to understand me and just trust me.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 is a formative verse for sound theology.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
9 “For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We are intelligent beings, made in the image of God with an intelligence that no other being on this earth can approach. But compared to God, our intelligence pales. We can understand some things about God, but the intricacies of his sovereignty are beyond us.
Why did God send Harvey or Irma?
We know it was part of the unfolding of his sovereign plan to redeem a people and to consummate the world in his glory. But the specifics are beyond the reaches of our intelligence. We aren’t smart enough to understand what God is doing. Don’t sprain your brain trying to explain the sovereignty of God.
Having said all of that, here’s what I think about the judgment of God.
On Our Response
In my mind, there are two key ideas that we ought to keep in balance.
1. Our God judges sin. Don’t try to absolve him.
God is holy and sin is an offense against his being. He is patient and kind, but there are times in Scripture when his wrath against a nation breaks out. God does that. We do not need to try to absolve God of responsibility.
God was not asleep at the wheel when the hurricanes hit. He wasn’t for reasons that I will never understand God determined that what happened was what should happen. (If you feel more comfortable using the words “permitted” or “allowed,” fine. I’m not going to split hairs. God was in charge however you word it.)
We need not defend God from the repercussions of his sovereignty or deny the reality of his wrath and judgment.
2. Our God is beyond our understanding. Don’t try to explain him.
Here’s where I think the modern prophets of judgment go wrong. Yes, God is holy and a judge of sin, but I should never take it upon myself to explain God according to my understanding. Have you ever noticed that God is always judging the thing that the person who is pronouncing the judgment is most upset about?
I do not get to set myself up as the spokesman of God. In the OT, a prophet delivered a clear message. Repent or destruction is coming. God told Pharaoh exactly why the plagues were coming on him, and how to get rid of them.
It is hubris to pretend that I understand the workings of divine sovereignty enough to explain them to the world. “This is God’s judgment on homosexuality.” “This is God’s judgment on abortion.” Okay, how about God’s judgment on gossip? On self-righteousness? On materialism? Racism? How does any person know exactly what a particular action of God is all about?
So, here’s my 3 cents (inflation).
- Every disaster is a reminder of sin and its consequences. So, let us repent. Of our sins. Let’s worry more about getting ourselves right than using the disaster to zap this group or that.
- A disaster is an opportunity for Christians to show Christ, to live out his love and to demonstrate our faith in Christ.
- Let us trust God’s sovereignty and not commit the sin of hubris – acting as if we have insight into the inner workings of the Godhead that we don’t have.
- Whatever comes – good days or bad – let us be about the work we have been given by our Savior!
One more thing. When I am whining about 20 below this winter, remind me of the hurricanes, okay?