Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why do foolish men claim to speak for an infinite God?

The first five paragraphs of the following article are preparatory words to get to the main point of the article which starts in paragraph six. I make this statement in hopes that you don’t get bored and leave off reading the article prior to that point!


I’ve spent most of my 35 years of life living in Kansas. During that time I’ve seen several “natural disasters”. Tornadoes, flooding, large hail, ice storms, and damaging winds are simply not all that uncommon in Kansas. Granted, they aren’t an every-day occurrence, but some years bring about more of these types of things than other years. Occasionally you’ll see one part of the state take more of a beating than other parts of the state. Some years back, when we were living in the southern most part of the state, we saw massive flooding and catastrophic hail hit during the same calendar year. One other thing I remember about that year was standing in the parking lot at my job watching a tornado that was hitting the ground about 15 miles to the north…pretty exciting stuff!

Now those of you who do not live in the Midwest might assume that tornadoes are a nearly daily experience around here, but that’s not quite true. Every year that I can remember there have been tornadoes hit somewhere in the state, but most generally they hit in outlying areas and cause little property damage. While Kansas has a goodly number of tornadoes some years, we also have plenty of open land upon which those tornadoes can run amuck without posing any immediate threat to life and property.

I say all that to get to this point: The last 12 months have been unusually volatile as far as the weather is concerned. During that time I’ve seen flooding that nearly had me trapped in town; an ice storm that knocked some outlying areas out of power for weeks and placed my family and I in a Red Cross shelter for a short time; softball-sized hail that destroyed my (under-insured) automobile; and a record high for tornadoes that have touched down. The most uncommon aspect of the tornado season thus far this year is the damage it has brought to many communities and cities. Last week a town that is 10 miles down the road from us was all but leveled and a larger city also saw an incredible amount of damage (including more than 20 million dollars worth of damage to the campus of Kansas State University). Additionally, there 2 people killed and several more hospitalized as the result of the tornadoes that dropped last Wednesday night. This years tornado season has brought about more deaths in a shorter period of time than any other on record.

My Uncle and Aunt’s house was destroyed by a tornado last week. They’ve been in the house for 40 years and their two youngest children were raised there – all four of their children spent at least some portion of their teenage years there. They certainly weren’t the only folks in that town who lost their homes, as some 70% of the city was completely destroyed and another 15% suffered varying levels of damage. It was somewhat heartbreaking the first time I entered town and saw how torn up it was. As I was watching the news that night and reports were coming in of the damage and deaths caused by the tornadic activities, I shed some tears. I called my Uncle as soon as the tornado had left his area and asked if they were OK. “We’re fine”, he said, “but the house is destroyed, the garage is gone, and our cars are smashed.” As I’ve been in town a couple of times now, it’s been difficult to see some of the raw emotions. So many memories lost forever….many folks were still attempting to process it all.

Now to the point of this article…..When it comes down to it, sin is the root cause of all “natural disasters”. Without sin, the earth wouldn’t be behaving like this, I suppose. I doubt seriously that Adam and Eve ever had to climb into a tornado shelter before the Fall, or worry much about outrunning lava from a volcanic eruption…..there’s no doubt about it, sin is the reason behind these sorts of things.

That being said, nothing makes my angrier than wicked men claiming to know God’s “motivation” behind these sorts of disasters. On two different occasions during the last week I’ve heard men claim that this tornado that destroyed Chapman, Kansas last week was simply God dealing with some wickedness (one of these men was a preacher). I’ve heard many people claim that the disaster in New Orleans several years ago (Hurricane Katrina) was God judging a wicked city. One man I heard this week even alluded to the idea that 9/11 was God’s judgment on New York City and he hopes that God takes out San Francisco next. Aside from the shear idiocy and hate-mongering of these ridiculous statements, I am most amazed at the audacity of any man who would brashly assign motivation to a God whose thoughts are beyond ours. How on earth does any man find justification for this sort of thinking and speech? Who are you that you attempt to speak for God? What revelation is this which you claim?

I certainly would never dismiss the idea that God could use this sort of thing as a judgment for sin. The Noaic Flood, the earth opening up to swallow Korah and his cohorts, the fire and brimstone that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah, not to mention the plethora judgments of Egypt in Exodus are all examples of God using “nature” to judge. But in each of these instances, the “disasters” were exta-ordinary. While many of the weather-related disasters of the last 5 or 6 years have left an extra-ordinary amount of damage and an atypical loss of property and life, they have certainly not been the result of anything that is outside of the natural course of things. Every time I see the results of a weather related disaster, it causes me to marvel at the power of God, but it wouldn’t be proper for me to ever assign motives to God for allowing it to happen. I would be a fool to do so.

The fact is that nobody is surprised when a hurricane leaves a swath of destruction on many coastal cities and states. There has never been surprise when a tornado touches down and causes damage in the Midwest. Earthquakes along fault lines are expected to occur every now and again. The only question about these things is whether or not the damage will be severe and, in the instance of hurricanes and tornadoes, will there be significant property damage and loss of life, or will the damage occur in less populous are open-range areas? The idea that God is arbitrarily taking out certain cities because of their wickedness is a foolish one. If God is going to destroy a place because of sin, why did He allow the tornado to pass right over the top of the adult bookstore outside of town and instead destroy a city that boasts one church for every 300 residents?!

I refuse to leave with the conclusion that God destroyed Chapman last week, or New Orleans 3 years ago, or Greensburg last year as a judgment for the specific sins of the specific people in those specific cities. Could He have? Certainly. Is there precedent for such a thing? Not without warning. Is it OK for a pastor, evangelist, or any other Christian to claim anything else? Absolutely not – those people would serve the cause of Christ better if they kept their mouths shut and committed themselves to studying the Scriptures a bit……

6 comments:

Lori said...

Wow, the awesome power of God and how He uses it to get our attention. Over the past year, through these disasters (tornado in Greensburg, ice storms, and now Manhattan, Chapman and we know people in Iowa in the flooding) I have seen opportunity for the christian to show the love of Jesus Christ. People are humbled and cry out to God for answers. We know He is at work and we trust Him for that! Romans 8:28 shows His providence.
Last week I heard these words from the hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" (read the whole hymn...good stuff!)...

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.
William Cowper

We need to look to Him and how He can purify and transform us instead of always judging the other "wicked" person!

Marty Colborn said...

Ellis,

You are absolutely right that no one knows for sure what God's motivations are in sending storms. But for those who believe that God has judged New Orleans, New York, Chapman, etc. and think that He should judge San Francisco, can you really call such people wicked for believing that way? Hate mongering is a bit strong of a term for someone who expresses his beliefs regarding the punishment of sin.

As for a warning, we have all sorts of such warnings in the Word of God.

As for the bookstore, I have asked the Lord to remove it from the map.

Regarding the judgment of God, it is only His grace that keeps it from falling on me. And it is only the fact that God is merciful and longsuffering, not willing that any should perish that the whole earth is not at this moment reeling from the wrath of our Almighty God.

Your brother in Christ,

Marty

Ellis Murphree said...

Marty,

I appreciate your point of view on this. I agree with most of what you are saying here; however, my frustration at a man…ANY man…attempting to proclaim to us God’s motivation for anything that happens in life remains. How foolish it is to claim that God sent a tornado, or a hurricane, or a flood, or anything else to a specific place in order to judge a specific sin. I will grant that it’s certainly a possibility, but it’s not prudent for me, you, or anyone else to claim some knowledge or insight into God that we just simply do not possess. I think that we border on sacrilege when we say anything beyond, “I don’t know why God allowed this to happen, but I do know that He will absolutely be glorified through it and that He allowed it to happen for His own good pleasure.”

When Greensburg was destroyed last year, there were those who claimed that it was God’s judgment of the fact that the once dry county had not only gone “wet”, but had put a new liquor store inside the city limits of Greensburg. The fact that the liquor store was one of the very few things that was spared during the tornado was largely ignored.

I do not dispute the fact that it is only by the grace of God that I am not completely left to my own destruction, consumed, and destroyed. I believe, as you, that all men everywhere are benefiting from a benevolent, loving, patient, and astonishingly merciful God. However, I disagree that the word “hatemonger” is too strong of a term to attach to those who view everything that happens as being God’s specific judgment for a specific sin. It’s this sort of ludicrous thought process (not by you, Marty :) ) that has given us the “Fred Phelps” and “Westboro Baptist Churches” of the world (I won’t link to the website because of the insensitive and vile rhetoric that is spewed there).

I cold care less if this is a man’s sincere view about this subject! The man is wrong and is a hater. I know of pastors and other Christians who sincerely believe that churches should be racially segregated (going so far as to say that there is support for this from the Scriptures). There is no way that an interracial couple would ever be granted membership in these churches – I’ve seen that policy enforced on more than one occasion in more than one church. Regardless of how I feel about these friends as individuals, I find that sort of thinking to be hateful, bigoted, racist, and all kinds of wrong.

I have no problem with a man expressing his beliefs about punishment for sin. However, that man had better have his foundation in Scripture and not in his preconceived notion about how things would be if he were running the planet. And if a man carelessly throws out these ridiculous assertions from a pulpit, I would say that the term “hatemonger” might be a mild one.

Marty Colborn said...

Ellis,

I appreciate the clarification with specific examples. I think we are both pretty close to being on the same page.

To say that God sent destruction for a specific sin is to claim extra-biblical revelation. To say that God might have done so, is okay, because we don't really know. To say that God will punish sin is completely Scriptural. The believer's reaction should always be to help where he is able to do so, after such events. We all experience such devastation in our lives in many ways, and would appreciate help for ourselves in those cases.
It also helps to note that the righteous seem to suffer in these situations as well (the notion "since I live right God isn't going to let disasters into my life," is wrong).

I still don't see the hatemonger term as applicable in pointing out particular sins and thinking that a tornado might be the execution of the judgment of God for that particular sin. A man can point out a sin, and still reach out to that person or that community to help recover from that storm. The hatemonger is one who completely cuts off the person or community from any help or hope of receiving the grace and love of God. I know that with the Fred Phelps crowd, we have that type of mindset clearly displayed.

Do I want to see San Francisco destroyed by God? No. Would a disaster there bring some people to him? Undoubtedly. God, in the Bible, is seen as continually bringing sinning people into hard times and saying "Return to Me." That, at this point in history, is my understanding of the purpose of natural disasters.

Sorry this is so disjointed.

Ellis Murphree said...

As always, Marty, I appreciate your insight and thoughts. One more comment about your last post....

Do "natural disasters" really need to have a purpose? I don't know that I necessarily disagree with your take on this, but I'm not sure that I agree either! You and I will both agree on the fact that, were it not for sin being introduced into the world, the entire concept of "natural disaster" would not be one with which any of us would be familiar. But these days, natural disasters are very...well, natural. They occur with the seasons. In the Heartland, we are in tornado season. California is in fire season. Soon the southern and eastern coasts will be in hurricane season. Blizzards, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning strikes.....these are all things we expect to happen in certain parts of the country during certain parts of the year. While I certainly wouldn't argue with the fact that God can (and does) use things to draw people to Him, I don't know that I would go so far as to say that is their entire point.

Not sure if that makes any sense or not.....perhaps this is just semantics....

Thanks for the interaction here, my friend!

Marty Colborn said...

Ellis,

To answer all of your questions about natural disasters, I would need someone to answer mine as well, and then we will both know the answer.

The whole thing seems to be like reading Braille.

It's a touchy subject.

MC