Judgment From God — Does He Send Natural Disasters?
My Response To Pat Robertson’s Comments Regarding The Earthquake in Haiti
I don’t usually write opinion-editorials for Fire Press, and usually save them for my personal blog, but I feel the need to share some thoughts on the Earthquake in Haiti–but specifically the public comments made by 700 Club host Pat Robertson. I also realize if one listens to the context he spoke his comments in, he didn’t specifically say this disaster was judgment, but I’m using that title for this post because it’s the subject matter I hope to tackle–although insufficiently–even though lengthy as this post will be–I’m unable to cover everything needed to grasp this–so when leaving comments, please keep in mind that, yes, there are plenty of things I’m overlooking or not tackling. A book wouldn’t be enough to cover this stuff! So we’ll tackle my few things to make my point. After all, I’m just sharing my opinion.
I’m not going to repeat the same things as Albert Mohler said in his excellent article “Does God Hate Haiti” where he Scripturally contradicted much of what Robertson said, without mentioning his name at all. Maybe he wasn’t even referring to the controversy, but that’s how I and many others on Facebook took it when we re-posted it. I also read a very excellent response by Donald Miller, on why so many of us are drawn to the personality of a vengeful mean-spirited judgment-happy God. Heck, many in evangelicalism and in the liberal media to boot are all pouncing on Robertson’s latest ill-timed comments in the wake of a disaster, so why am I sharing my own?
I will assure you I’m NOT about to speak ill of Robertson other than to say I think over the years he has increasingly lost his relevance in our culture, by the repeated things he says publicly that may have a lot of truth to them, but are almost always said at the wrong time. I’m just using this latest controversy of his, and the fact many of us are well aware of the earthquake in Haiti to talk about stuff like this and ask serious questions Christians have struggled with all throughout history. But in showing respect to Dr Robertson, many Christian television programs and networks owe their livelihood to people like him who’ve paved the way with the CBN television network and The 700 Club show. The picture selected for this article of Robertson on the cover of TIME magazine in 1986 is selected as a way of indicating the influence he has had in his ministry and career. I’d like to show honor for what he’s accomplished. However, he’s not right all the time. Remember Job’s friends who tried explaining away why Job was going through such hard times, waxing eloquent in their theology, but God himself stepped in and rebuked them! I want to be careful with our explanations of things in case that’s just what they are–wrong.
A few years ago a school board in a county in Pennsylvania rejected teaching intelligent design alongside evolution and he proclaimed that sometime in the next year a natural disaster would occur because they rejected God. He was among the first after Hurricane Katrina to correlate the disaster to the city’s wickedness, even though as others pointed out–the French Quarter–the area known infamously for Mardi Gras celebrations–was untouched, but yet many lower income families were the ones who lost their homes. I could give many more examples, usually revolving around the alleged evidence something is judgment from God–to give examples Dr Robertson has said publicly, and many Christians probably would agree with him but just not the timing of his comments.
His comments not only cause the enemies of God to scoff, but damage others who hear them and don’t understand them. I also realize Robertson’s spokespeople released a statement on his behalf clarifying “Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God’s wrath,” and that “They have sent a shipment of millions of dollars worth of medications that is now in Haiti, and their disaster team leaders are expected to arrive tomorrow and begin operations to ease the suffering.” And praise God for all that aid! However, most people don’t know or really care about the aid, since all they know about are the comments Robertson continues to make with such ill timing.
I also read a blog by an self-proclaimed atheist who is currently located in Haiti, saying in his post that upon crawling out of rubble and realizing other colleagues didn’t survive, that part of him thanked God even though he didn’t believe in Him. Then at the end of his post he clicked to a news article about the Pat Robertson controversy and stated this was some kind of proof (or excuse) for why he’d remain an atheist.
What Does The Bible Say About God’s Judgment?
Since the nature of my post is an Op-Ed, obviously I won’t be able to cover every single point of Scripture. Natural disasters and accidents get people talking and thinking about such matters, so let’s take a BRIEF look but a specific passage of Scripture and concepts come to mind.
First of all, most people head to Old Testament Scriptures for their perception of this God who sends hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and so on, when people are wicked. But even then, we’re not given sufficient information on why specific things happen. We look to God’s dealings with Israel and Babylon, and wicked nations, and point to the God of wrath for our conclusions on his dealings with the human race. However, Al Mohler pointed out in his article:
Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young?
If sin and wickedness by the inhabitants are the reason natural disasters occur, then we have to explain why it’s not a consistent explanation all throughout world history for scores of other disasters or lack of them. As well, would it hurt our pride to admit the New Testament Scriptures (post-Christ’s work on the cross) don’t seem to really deal with this subject? We’ll get to the work of Christ on the Cross to pacify the wrath of God in a moment.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV, bold emphasis mine)
Jesus answered by pointing out the victims in these situations were no worse sinners than people such calamities had not happened to. He tells them however, unless they [those listening] repented, they will all likewise perish. Keep that in mind as we will come back to it. He didn’t say the victims were reaping what they’d sown. He didn’t say there are generational curses back in their family line for so many generations that had never been renounced. He didn’t say there must not have been enough righteous people like Lot to avert judgment. He didn’t say “nobody did a good job spiritually mapping the place and taking down every stronghold through prayer and flag waving.” He didn’t even touch that kind of stuff.
The following paragraph, one that’s probably separated in your Bible translation with a new sub heading, goes on to say:
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”(v. 6-9, bold emphasis mine)
Jesus continued the point he was making about those calamities with the comments that followed, and was not changing the subject as our subheadings might subconsciously make us think. I believe the vinedresser represents a type of intercessor standing in the gap between God and man, and tying this into why the tower fell or why the Galileans were killed in such a way as to have their blood mixed with pagan sacrifices. It’s one thing to react to a calamity and offer help and practical aid. It’s another thing to callously go on our TV shows or go on our blog sites and explain why the calamity happened in the first place–but what about the rest of us–who aren’t in the spiritual habit of interceding for nations, praying for other saints and for the Gospel to be spread in various places? What about those of us to whom God speaks something to for the purpose of praying against it, as intercessors? Are there any of those such saints in Haiti or any other nation on a fault line miles underneath its soil (that’s another explanation–earthquakes tend to happen in regions where they are likely to happen!).
Jesus didn’t answer the why to their question, and dealt with other more important aspects of this calamity.
We Are Way Too Simplistic in Dealing with Heavy Issues
I have a hard time with some of the prophetic declarations people so easily throw around these days about God judging nations. It’s the opinion of this author that many of these perceptions stem from peoples’ own frustrations about other peoples’ wickedness. I also believe we as Christians are way too simplistic about things like evil, and natural disasters. I don’t say this because I pick and choose Scripture I like and don’t like, and like God’s mercy but not his judgment or something–but because I find some of the stuff popularly believed by modern ‘prophets’ and many Christians whose perception of God is so vindictive He’s looking for an excuse to wipe us out–I find a lot of that contradicted in the New Testament by the work Christ accomplished on the cross.
The more I study the judgment day of God, the more I’m compelled to see that it’s a day or fixed point when He will judge [the secrets of men's hearts] (Romans 2:16-17) So if Christ accomplished a way for us to be redeemed from the wrath of God, and there’s coming a day when all will be judged once and for all, where do we come up with ideas that in the meantime, when something goes wrong it’s somehow related to God judging for sin? Natural disasters happen. Things happen to loved ones and we’ll never know or understand why. We may question God when it looks like He did or didn’t do something. We know that all of creation underwent a curse as a result of man’s sin, and the first Adam brought death, sin, and disease into creation–not just to mankind. That being said, the work of Christ on the cross that was meant to redeem mankind from the curse of sin, does accomplish what it was intended to. However, mankind is a creation with free will to reject Christ.
It’s this author’s understanding of Scripture that we as a people of God cry out to Him in intercession, we can avert things in the natural such as disasters. I’ve heard remarkable stories of tornadoes avoiding churches where Christians were gathered praying and worshiping. But that being said, I don’t see Scripturally God sending the tornado. Sowing and reaping happens: the earth, creation is groaning, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God. As that day gets closer and closer, the more and more we will see it. But we aren’t given explanations as to where and why they originate. However, for discussion’s sake, I do remember Tommi Femrite teaching a very compelling teaching on intercession a few years ago dealing with how we can affect the actual land. Check it out here. Not saying I agreed with everything in it, but still worth a listen in light of this subject matter–heck you may like her explanations better than my article here.
Behind the Scenes
There might be a pillar of the community who’s an elder in the Christian fellowship he attends, and who runs a bank and gives sizable amounts of money to the poor. Not only that, but he selflessly helps old ladies cross the street every time he sees one. One day in the middle of winter he slips, falls and breaks his neck and spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair unable to move his arms or legs, needing to be fed and clothed. Meanwhile in the same community, a cussing, tobacco chewing, thieving adulterer and blasphemer–who’s constantly in and out of jail–survives a plane crash that otherwise had no survivors. He then goes on to survive a train derailment, which also had no other survives. Next, he walks away from an 18 car pile-up with not even a cut on his body. His apartment burns down and he walks out of the rubble unscathed. And worse yet, he even steals candy from little children when their parents aren’t looking in public playgrounds. Nobody can understand why the Christian man would have such a horrific lot in life when he seemingly was such an upstanding man, while Joe bank robber keeps dodging death.
That’s the point–we’re looking at THIS lifetime and details we can see with our natural eyes to make spiritual judgments of eternal matters. It could very well be, that like the vinedresser Jesus spoke of in Luke 13 pleading for mercy, that this Joe bank robber’s mother is a devout born again believer, interceding for him for 6 hours a day in her prayer closet, begging God to work on his heart so he could willingly submit his life to Christ. But he keeps winding up in situations where, if it weren’t for his godly mother fighting in prayer for his very soul–his life would have been required of him the first time he entered into peril.
Who knows? But that’s just a hypothetical example. It could very well be that stuff is going on in the spirit realm we’ll never know! I admit and realize there are no easy answers to things like this, and that’s why all this is just my opinion.
The Ultimate Issue
To get back to the Scripture I’ve chosen to use, at first glance it might seem as though Luke 13:9 leaves us hanging, as Jesus is interrupted in verse 10 by a demon possessed woman, and upon casting it out, the pharisees get on his case because it was the Sabbath. It would seem that Jesus left us listeners hanging and was interrupted. That is not the case, this was actually icing on the cake for the stuff he’d been teaching the crowd in the previous chapter. That being said, Jesus said “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (v.3). That was the ultimate issue.
Don’t let Pat Robertson’s words bother you or cause you worry, let Christ’s words cause you concern if you don’t know Him personally:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (v. 39-40)
Just as Jesus Christ is returning to the earth at an hour when we do not expect, likewise we have no guarantee our lives won’t be taken at an hour any of us can predict. If your life were to end today, through natural disaster, accident or just plain ill health of some kind. Would you be ready?
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:12-16, emphasis mine)
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered the wrath of God that yours and my sins incurred. While we were yet dead in our sins, He died for us (Col 2:13). The only options are to either accept that He paid for our sins by His punishment–that was ours–on the cross, or wait for that day and be judged then ourselves. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God when we’re His enemy (see Heb 10:26-31) Either way, that’s part of why I don’t believe natural calamities are from God as a judgment necessarily, but are a part of a fallen creation–ruined by sin–and we can hold back the floodgates so to speak by our intercession. But ultimately it’s foolish of us to speak of why some of these things happen. The ultimate issue, is one of more eternal significance.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph 2:4-5)
For More Discussion
May 21st Edit: Nearly two years ago SJ Hill, Dave Edwards and myself had a great chat on the podcast about God and natural disasters that you are encouraged to check out below