Friday, September 02, 2005

OK, Now I'm Mad

Yesterday, I received an email from a Christian leader asserting among other things that the hurricane was God's judgment for sin. Now I'm mad.

I'm used to silly stuff on the fringe of the Christian community. I mean, there's crazy stuff on the fringes of every community, except for the groups that are inherently crazy like... well, that's probably better left unsaid. But this kind of nuttiness seems to be creeping into non-wacko segment of the Christian community.

But let me say this unambiguously:

In this current age, God does not use natural phenomena to punish sin.

After the big earthquake and tsunami struck Southeast Asia, there were several (unfortunately non-fringe) Evangelical leaders, most notably author Henry Blackaby, who said that the destruction was God's punishment for the persecution of Christians in the areas struck by the quake and flooding. Blackaby tried to theologically justify his assessment by saying:
"If you read the Old Testament, especially, God is very concerned how the nations treat his covenant people. The nations that persecuted, offended and killed his people, God came down and destroyed them. And he's the same God today. He's just as concerned about his people."
This is just so wrong in so many ways. But let me try to point out just a few, very quickly, and admittedly superficially:

At first blush, I'm happy that Blackaby said "...he's the same God today". As a Christian Hebrew Bible teach and scholar, I am very committed to the idea that the same God inhabits both testaments of the Bible. It drives me wild when Christians talk as if the Lord was some angry grouchy deity who suddenly decided to be nice right around the time Jesus came. To be clear, God is merciful and gracious in both Testaments, but God also kills and brings judgment in both Testaments. But Blackaby has merely taken the stereotypical "Old Testament God" and argued, almost purely by assertion, that He's still around.

That said, the Christian Bible says that there is a profound difference in how God deals with his people and the world since the cross of Christ. Prior to the Cross, God saved his people by killing - Egyptians, Canaanites, Babylonians, etc. At the Cross, God saved by being killed.
Prior to the Cross, God promised to protect his people from harm, conditioned on their obedience. After the Cross, the Bible promises that his people would suffer, and that obedience could even lead to greater suffering! Prior to the Cross, humanity was divided into the many nations, and God's people were part of an identifiable nation-state and ethnicity. After the Cross, there is an undivided humanity and God's people are part of an "invisible" Kingdom. God will return to violent wrath, as the book of Revelation lays out, but only when this age comes to an end.

Even if you can push these rather large biblical concerns aside, the idea that God uses and even causes natural disasters as judgments fails due to its profoundly indiscriminate nature. As a friend wrote to me earlier today:
If one assigns judgment as a part of the why's and wherefore's of Katrina, isn't one then clearly indicating that the wealthy, the insured, and those with enough smarts and the means to exit prior to the storm--must be "more righteous" than those who ended up living in a sewer for 5 days and may suffer greatly through this?

So to my fellow believers, let's knock this off. The Bible gives us enough clear topics to talk about that we don't need to waste time presuming to know why this storm or that earthquake or car crash took place. We need to talk more about God's love, mercy, grace, and yes, ultimate judgment, but we need to stay away from presuming to know how God is at work in specific situations.

And to any readers who do not follow Jesus, I'm sorry. While the sentiments which prompted this post are becoming far to familiar, please believe that they are foreign to Jesus.

No comments: