Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is Frankenstorm a Judgment from God?

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, ‘God is crying,’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, ‘Probably because of something you did.’” (Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts, 1992)
As America recovers from yet another massive natural disaster * – or “act of God,” in insurance company lingo - the inevitable question resurfaces in Christian circles: Why is God crying? What is God angry about?  What did we do? 
It’s a popular topic every time a storm hits, especially if it hits where we don't live. Usually, the apparent target of God’s wrath is a particular situation or people group about which the person claiming clarity happens to feel very strongly:

  •  It’s the abortion doctors! 
  • It’s because of international policies! 
  • It’s the Middle East conflict! 
  • It’s liberal, feminist Marxists! 
  • It’s the greedy Wall Street 1%! 
  • It’s evolution in our schools! 
  • It's the President! 
  • It's megachurches (yes, I saw that one online)
  • It's for someone with whom I am displeased!”

There’s quite a list that gets generated in the aftermath of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy. Apparently, God has lots of options.
This is not new information. Even Jesus pointed out that the net we cast for sin gathers in quite a large catch.  Jesus was once asked if a tower’s collapse in Siloam was a judgment from God on a particularly bad group of people.  Jesus’ response: 
“Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? No! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:4-5) 
In other words, if we are trying to figure out who deserves judgment, everybody does in some fashion, and we should probably start by looking at ourselves and wondering why it's getting so cloudy.  
Many Christians today don’t cast the net as widely as Jesus did.  Like those who observed the tower of Siloam fall and assumed God was not pleased with a particular target group, hurricanes like Sandy or Harvey clearly means God is seriously upset with a particular target group, right?  “Thank God it’s not me!” (said all those who lived far enough away).
This perspective blatantly ignores the perspective of Jesus. If Hurricane Sandy is for some, it’s deserved by all. Ignoring that fact is bad enough, but there is a more fundamental question that needs to be addressed: Does God use natural disasters to punish America?
Clearly, God has used this method at times according to the Bible. The Old Testament is full of stories where God used nature to further His purposes, or to send a message of blessing or judgment. I’m not questioning this. I’m asking if God still does this today in America. I believe He does not, and I have several reasons.
First, if we have been hammered because of God’s wrath, why is God so angry? Is it the election? International politics? New York City’s decision to hand out more contraception? The cast of Jersey Shore? The lobster industry? Abortion? Homosexuality? Greedy 1%ers? Wall Street? Racists and/or the antifa response?  
The Bible does not portray a God who slaps people around and then makes them guess why. The prophet Amos once wrote to the Israelites that when it comes to judgment, God…does nothing
 without first telling his prophets the whole story.”  (Amos 3:7).  A punishment without a known reason accomplishes nothing.  Noah warned people for decades before the Flood (and I would argue that all those impacted by the flood got the message). We do not have record that Pharaoh ever said of the plagues, “What was that all about?” 
I’m not trying alleviate any discomfort people feel about God’s reasons and ways of judgment. That’s a topic for another time. For the purpose of this article, I simply want to note that when God brought judgment to a situation in the Bible, there was a pattern:  people were engaged in known, obvious wickedness; they received a clear, prophetic call to repentance; they were given an opportunity to escape.  The book of Jonah provides a great example of how this works. Might I add that the Israelites were not exempt from this. I wonder why the American church looks so quickly outside of its own walls when natural disasters strike. If they mean anything, why not start with introspection? Judgment, after all, begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). 
Second, if large natural disasters are national referendums, what do local storms mean?  If God is angry at America right now, is He in addition mildly irritated with places that get wind and rain, along with a few downed trees and power outages? If a tree falls on my neighbor’s house but not mine, should I read something into that? I don't mean to be snarky; that's actually a comment that I read in an article online. Are spared homes automatically the dwellings of those who are pure of heart and strong of faith? Are the downed ones a sign? 
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus noted, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  It’s tough to use any kind of weather or its impact to gauge our character or the character of our neighbors, be they local, national, or international. 
Third, if we can use natural disasters as a means of gauging God’s displeasure, why aren't more obvious targets being consistently leveled?  Take Vegas.  it’s Sin City; it’s the poster city for pretty much everything for which Christianity grieves. On an international level, why doesn't Amsterdam (with all its decadence) get nailed? Those would seem like easy choices.  
Luke 9:51-55 records this interesting window into the mindset of Jesus:
“Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?' But Jesus turned and rebuked them.”
I wonder what Jesus would say to us today.


*This was written after Hurricane Sandy, "Frankenstorm," but I have revised it just a little after the arrival of Hurricane Harvey.

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