Friday, March 18, 2011

The Christchurch and Japanese Earthquakes: the judgment of God?

How do we as Christians interpret these events? Are they God's direct judgment on the cities and/or nations involved, or are they just things that happen in a fallen world?

There seem two general schools of thought on this out there. There is a very common school of thought that the recent earthquakes are a direct judgment of God on Christchurch and NZ and Japan. A friend told me of one of his friends who went to a meeting at which all the pastors involved thought so. They tend to see how such things happened in the OT where events were seen as directly caused by God because of Israel's or the nations sins. One of the best examples is Amos 4:6-13 where God brought successive disasters upon Israel to cause them to repent including famine, drought, blight and mildew, pestilence, defeat etc. Israel did not repent, and so were destroyed by exile.

Other Christians think that Jesus ended all this sort of direct linkage between personal or the corporate sin of a nation or city and judgement. Jesus took the judgment of sin upon himself and now the bad stuff that happens should not be interpreted this way, but seen as a result of sin in a general sense; the whole world under destruction, sin and suffering (Rom 8:19-23). As such, God has taken suffering upon himself, and is with us in our sufferings. This view sees suffering not through the lens of God's direct intervention or non-intervention, but as a result of sin and evil corrupting God's world. God is with us in it grieving with and in us, and to strengthen and give us hope.

So who has it right?

There are at least three NT situations that suggest that God in the age after Christ acts in judgment. The first is the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 66-70 which Jesus foretold (see Mark 13:1-2; Matt 23:37-24:2; Luke 21:5-6, 20-34). It could be that Matthew 27:35 suggests for Matthew, that the fall of Jerusalem was the judgment of God on Israel for their killing of Messiah (if so, this does nothing to justify the shocking anti-Semitism of history!). This could be seen as an example of divine judgment post resurrection. The second is Acts 5:1-11 where Ananias and Sapphira meet their death due to them lying about the percentage of money they gave to the communal purse. Luke records this as divine judgment. The third is 1 Cor 11:30-32 where Paul interprets sickness and death in the Corinthian church as a result of their failure to uphold the Lord's Supper in unity and love. These suggest that there remains a possibility that natural and other events are due to human sin.

However, there are NT passages which warn against making the connection too quickly. First, there is the account in Luke 13:1-5 where some report to Jesus of some Galileans put to death by Pilate who mingled their blood into their sacrifices made at the temple. This is horrendous stuff! Jesus takes the opportunity to teach on this very idea. He asks, 'do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?' For many of the ancients, this would be typical thinking. Suffering is a result of sin, and so the horrible suffering of these Galileans necessarily presupposes their sin. This would be akin to saying, that the Japanese and Christchurch earthquakes must be a result of their personal sin. Jesus answers, 'No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.' The point being, that we are all sinners, and the suffering was not a direct result of their sin, but all such suffering is a result of the macro-problem of human sin since the Fall at which time sin and suffering, death and destruction entered the world of human experience. The lesson is that we should all repent and turn to God and place our trust in him, and then we will have hope and confidence when these things happen. Jesus follows it up in v.5 with another example of eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and died – sounds rather like an earthquake. Jesus asks, 'do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?' Jesus goes on, 'No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.' This refers of course to eternal death. The point of this passage is that we cannot equate a disaster with personal sin or a cities sin. This is dangerous thinking.

Two other passages reinforce this well. In John 9 Jesus' disciples ask him whose sin caused the blindness of the man beside the road, his own or his parents. Again, this is typical ancient and Jewish thinking before Christ. That is, personal sickness like this is a curse due to sin either of the person, or his parents or grandparents (to the third or fourth generation). Jesus rejects the link completely stating that it is for the glory of God to be revealed. Similarly, we need to be really careful to assume Christchurch or Japan is due to their sin or their nations' sins. Perhaps in some way, over time, God's glory will be revealed in the rebuild?

In the account of the leper lowered through the roof in Mark 2 and parallels, a seriously disabled man is brought to Jesus. Jesus looks at him and his friends, and seeing their faith, forgives him. This offends the Jewish watchers who consider this blasphemous, as only God can forgive. Jesus then gives them a riddle, 'Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven," or to say, "Rise, take up your bed and walk"? As westerners we struggle with this. Some say, 'to forgive' is harder as only God can do it. Others say 'rise…' is harder as this is a sign that requires an instant visible demonstration. The point is missed when we do this. For the ancients, the man was disabled because of sin and so, if he is forgiven, he will be healed. So Jesus is challenging at a deeper level than an either-or question. The watchers are caught in a quandary, as one leads to the other. Jesus then heals the man, and so in ancient terms proves that he has forgiven the man. His healing demonstrates visibly that God has forgiven him. What Jesus has done is not only forgiven, healed and proven his authority; but he has challenged their thinking, that all suffering comes from sin. 

One other passage needs mentioning, one I refer to more and more in my thinking, Rom 8:17-23. Paul in this passage speaks about suffering not as a consequence of sin, but as a result of living in a fragile, broken world, enslaved to decay. The whole creation groans, desperate for its release. If we connect Paul's thinking with Rom 5:12-13, because of Adam's (and Eve's) sin, suffering, destruction and death was let loose like a virus in God's world affecting all parts of it. As such, we should expect such events in a shattered world as mortal beings. There will be natural catastrophes that will come and cause pain and suffering. The ancients knew this better than anyone in a world with a life-expectancy of around 40. Sickness, death, natural disasters, war, violence, etc, are all a part of the same problem. It is a terrible mistake to simply assume when an earthquake hits that it is God's direct judgment! (in a sense all events are a judgment, but not in a direct sense, a result of us causing the rift we have with our God).

So where does this leave us? First, it leaves us knowing that sometimes suffering is a result of direct divine judgment where God allows an event to occur. If so, there is always a reason, even though we cannot see it. It is ok to ask the question, but we must not jump to assume the connection. Second, most suffering is not a result of this, but due to the cosmic problem of evil which has permeated every nook and cranny of God's creation, it is a consequence of the Fall. We should not jump to judgment, but jump to groaning in the Spirit (Rom 8:26-27), seeking God's consolation in Jesus who suffered on the cross for us, and compassion and action for those suffering.

So where Christchurch and Japan are concerned let me ask with Jesus, 'were those who died in the earthquakes of Japan (and tsunami/nuclear disaster) and Christchurch worse sinners than the others in the city or us who are unaffected by the events?' No way! We are all sinners, and need to repent and place our trust in God or we will perish. And again, are the events judgment on these people or city because of their terrible sin? Or is it the result of the cosmic problem of evil that has invaded God's previous world, and which we are all prone to experience now and then because of a dangerous world with tectonic forces, the sea, and the weather? If it was judgment, I would have expected to hear clear warnings leading up to them, calling for specific areas of repentance, and warnings that if they do not they will be punished (a la Amos). I never heard them. I hear general statements warning the world in its decadence that such events will occur, but if anyone out there had God's word for these nations given to them, they needed to get up and cry it out through the media so it was heard. If not, they like Ezekiel's watchmen are guilty of not doing so, the blood of those who perished is on their hands. It is really easy to say it is judgment after the event, but is this what God is saying. Again, where is the evidence?

No, we cannot attribute these events to the judgment of God in a direct sense. They are what many are experiencing around the world, have done so since Eve and Adam, and will continue to do so. They are horrendous events where people in the wrong place and wrong time were killed because of natural forces. They cannot be trivialised to the punishment of God or theologised away in some simple way. We don't know why they happened other than @^&**@ happens now and again. And they hurt like hell. The last thing people need is people standing in judgment over them as if they have some divine right to do so. That is the stuff that drives people away from Christian faith into agnosticism, atheism, or other perspectives. Jesus came to walk with us in suffering, to love us through it, to strengthen us as we experience it. The greatest miracles are not God's direct miracle intervention, but the day by day way his Spirit sustains people through trauma like this. Our God is one of grace not judgment.

God bless them all and their families. We should be moved to deeper faith, deeper trust, deeper yearning, deeper prayer, deeper groaning, as we seek God for them. We should be moved to acts of love, grace, mercy and generosity for such people, rather than looking to lay blame. When we do, we judge ourselves, the great log of our sin banging around in our eyes as we cast judgment on the specks in theirs. Ours is not to lay blame, condemn and judge, ours is to love and care and show mercy. If we feel we have to judge, we should examine our own lives and not theirs.


Anonymous said...

I read your comment, but I beg to differ.

Anonymous said...

Great Earthquake--Gods Judgment?

Anonymous said...

End of the World--the Signs of World End

Anonymous said...

Mark, you're overlooking one more school of thought, which is probably the most widespread among educated and smart people.

The earthquakes and every subsequent calamities have nothing to do with God, neither as a direct judgment, nor as a general result of our sins. It's simply the way nature works. Earthquakes happen because the tectonic plates move, as they have always moved, beyond the will of any gods.

If all people disappear and thus no sinners remain, earthquakes will just go on occurring every now and then, governed only by the laws of physics, like they've always done. Trying to find meanings and connections with God is just a waste of time.

Rob Thomson said...

I would add, that perhaps there is another school of thought that would point to the fact that before the advent of modern science, in absence of any other better explanation God/gods/supreme-being was the only conceivable explanation for why such calamity should befall people. Which indeed leaves the suggestion that,

"If all people disappear and thus no sinners remain, earthquakes will just go on occurring every now and then, governed only by the laws of physics, like they've always done. Trying to find meanings and connections with God is just a waste of time."


Anonymous said...

Christchurch Earthquake Shakes the Churches--Prophecy to the Churches

Anonymous said...

I live in Christchurch, and did warn in many ways. One of which was "tresspassing" peacefully at the abortion "hospital" many years ago in Christchurch dressed in sackcloth and ashes - I was inprisoned twice. I published that "as I am imprisoned within 4 walls and judged" that "we will be judged by God by what he has created - air, water, fire or earth" unless we repent.
It is NO coincidence that the first earthquake 4/9 biblically numerically means - "That which is created by God administered in judgement" 4 means "created" - earth. 9 means "judgement" - quake.
2nd earthquake 22/2 - 22 means "intensified disorganization" and "intensified disintegration" 2 means "division" These numbers define this earthquake. You can Google - "introduction, bible, numbers, meanings" to check the numbers biblically.
Chistchurch has murdered over 60,000 unborn babies - paid for by our taxes - a legal holocaust.
Jesus is the Lord of Love and Grace and also The Judge.
More important than "recovery" is "Repentance".
If this city, our nation and other nations do not stop shedding the blood of innocent children and living apart from the Lord in many other ways, then the 2 judgements and warnings administered in Christchurch are only a very very small prelude of what is about to be poured out on us and other nations. I pray that we can hear the voice of the Lord in these disasters. In the old and new testaments God is loving and The Judge. I tried after the first earthquake to warn people here that we were going to get a "more severe judgement" and "soon" unless we repented - nobody heard me or wanted to hear me - this is an offence to the world and most of the "church". We are NOT going to be raptured out BEFORE the tribulation, but after it.
"If my people who are called by my name......"
Jesus Is The lord Of All Creation, love And Judgement.

Anonymous said...

As an outsider let me say I also wanted to know if the devastating earthquakes that hit Christchurch twice was the judgement of God. From my research, I came to the conclusion it was. The reasons? (1) The city council itself openly mocking God by making a wizard it's city icon, who freely goes around with official sanction, blaspheming Christ & God in the city and allegedly glorifying homosexuality (2) The region (SI) as a whole embracing & promoting homosexuality with its "Gay Ski Week" (3) Abortion, the slaughter of helpless innocents (4) The NZ church in general is no longer through to the word of God. These are what I believe to be the corporate sins of a city/region/nation which brings the judgement of God upon itself, just like in the Old & New testament. In return, what is required is the corporate repentance of the city, without which the city is certainly doomed. Believe it or not, this is what I found out.

Mark Keown said...

The problem with self-proclaimed prophets who interpret things like this in this way are these:

1. NZ is not a nation in covenant relationship with God as Israel was. The Church is, not the nation. So the prophetic relationship is utterly different. God has not signed a Sinai covenant with the nation. He signed it with Israel. When we read things that happen through the lens of God's special covenant relationship with Israel we make a terrible error.

2. The whole western world, huge parts of Asia and many other countries have as many abortions as we. Auckland has more than Christchurch every year. Why abortion then? Inconsistent? Similarly, why Christchurch where homosexuality is concerned? The bigger issue in the Bible is material injustice and sin, the whole western world is guilty of this.

3. Why single Christchurch out? That is nonsense. There is as much sin in every town in NZ, why Christchurch?

4. Would God smite the nation because of the sins of the church? Wouldn't he smite the church, if he was in a smiting mood?

If people are claiming it is God's direct judgment, where are the articles in the newspapers of Christchurch? Where are the warnings in the letter boxes of Christchurch etc? Where were the ads on TV etc warning people? If people had those messages from God for Christchurch and they didn't give them, they are guilty of the blood of those who died (like the Watchman in Ezekiel). The truth is that people are making these calls after the event, and that is not God's ways. Think of Jonah and Ninevah? Think of the prophets and Israel? When God is going to do something like this, his prophets warn.

5. New Testament prophecy gives no mention of this sort of national prophesying. There is Agabus who warns of a famine, not as a judgment, but so that the Antioch Christians can take money to help them. Agabus warns Paul that he is going to be imprisoned in Jerusalem - he was right. Aside from this prophecy is found in the local church where people bring messages of God that comfort, encourage, and edify (1 Cor 14:3). That sort of prophetic role was an OT Israelite thing.

The other thing that the NT warns of is false prophets. These are the ones who claim to know God's will but they distort his word, and they bring their own delusions (see Jeremiah 15). It is easy to be a prophet after an event. Real prophets hear the word of God before the event, do EVERYTHING they can to warn people. God always tells people what they need to do to avoid the event. And then after the event they can say that they warned people. Otherwise, they are guilty before God of not warning.

Anonymous said...

According to the new testament, God’s judgment has already begun at his house. We should not have any question about the earthquake in Christchurch. Please read: God's Judgment Has Already Begun On His Church

Anonymous said...

Christchurch Earthquake--"Christmas Present" From God!

Anonymous said...

Mark Keown, i just want you to know that you are very very right in this post.

Your thoughts are clear and smooth, and i think they are from the holy spirit.

There are too many of crazy people spreading fear. But God is no God of fear. He loves us. Fear is no message from God it is a message from the other side.

Go on Mark. The more i read your posts the more i think you're a wise man.

God bless you on!!! (Know he does!!) Go on brother!


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