An Edgy Question
I want to ask the question that is in the back of the minds of a lot of religious adherents right now, and perhaps even in the mind of a few skeptics. Are the terrible things that are happening in the world right now a direct activity of God?
Australia was just ravaged by fires, which destroyed over 32,000 square miles and over 1000 homes, and killed a couple dozen people and millions of animals. Immediately on its heels, locusts plague Africa and the Middle East – I mean like biblical quantities of locusts. Look it up. The story has been buried behind the coronavirus, which has now claimed 9,000 lives with a frightening mortality rate and brought the earth to a grinding halt.
To top it all off, there was an 5.7 earthquake in Salt Lake City, Utah on March 18th, which normally might not raise eyebrows, but this one knocked the trumpet out of the hand of the gold statue of Angel Moroni standing atop the spire of the pompous Mormon Temple in the heart of their homeland. Even without all the rest of today’s chaos, that one would certainly make the orthodox zealots call out to the heavens, “Nice one, Lord!”
So the question is a bit surprisingly a rational one – is God mad at us?
Surprising at least for those raised on a Western, naturalistic view of the world, a “scientific worldview” we call it, although by that we mean committed to presuppositions which empirical science cannot substantiate. That is – we assume there’s nothing supernatural, so science can only give natural explanations.
The problem, Science, is that most of us, most of humanity, believes in God. Not only that, many gods, angels, demons, an afterlife, miracles, ghosts, and all the rest of it. Most – a majority – of all humanity present and past. Scientists even now speculate that some part of evolutionary history wired us to be religious, even if there were no God out there to be religious about. But whether there is a God is a subject of another post. Here I want to ask, for those who do believe in God, is God actually, you know, doing this?
Some religious people, those with especially guilty consciences, assume that when something bad happens to them, it’s because of something they did. Karma is essentially the same idea. But the disasters befalling the world are too broad for even the worst narcissist to assume they’re causing it all.
So is it because of us, all of us? And do we have the power to change world events through our behavior, through repentance?
It Has Happened Before
Clearly, readers of the Bible can see, this jibes with what the Bible says God has done in the past.
God says to King Solomon in 2nd Chronicles 7:
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Repeatedly God forewarns of doom for disobedience and reward for faithfulness. When Israel is taken into slavery in Babylon, they say it was because King Solomon wasn’t faithful. When Jesus’ disciples come across a man born blind, they ask Jesus, “Is it because he sinned or his parents sinned that he was born this way?” (John 9:2). In the book of Revelation, God even warns rejection of churches that are not faithful, because God disciplines the people he loves (Revelation 3:14-20).
However, Jesus’ answer to his disciples about the man born blind is that his blindness is not a result of anyone’s sin. His blindness is an opportunity for God’s power to be shown through him. Likewise, in the book of Job, a man named Job loses everything – his family, his wealth, and his health. His friends gather around and tell him he must have sinned. God shows up at the end of the narrative and vindicates Job – in fact, he hadn’t done anything wrong.
So Answer #1: Bad things are not always tied to God’s punishment. There’s a biblical basis for saying this. Furthermore, those who believe in Jesus believe that he died on the cross for our sins, so we are now completely forgiven. There is no anger left for us, and God does not destroy his children as punishment. Jesus aims to shape us in to healthy, loving, faithful people; he did not come to condemn us (John 3:17).
But, Answer #2: The terrors of this world are in every way a tool in the hands of God to lead the world to repentance. However, rather than causing suffering willfully, I think the Bible suggests that they come about in another way. Romans 1 says that God’s worst punishment for us is to let us have our own way (Romans 1:21-24). He “hands us over to our lusts,” it says. Allowing us to live in a broken world without his intervention is its own punishment. We live in a horribly broken world, and as we reject God and push God away, we can hardly complain that he allowed bad things to happen. He’s literally done exactly what we asked for. The consequence, sadly, is a world that doesn’t look like heaven. The hard part for those who follow Jesus is that we are all in this together, and the brokenness of the world drags us all down.
There are three places in which to put our hope:
- If you choose to invite Jesus into your life, he will immediately begin a remodel that will turn something broken into something beautiful. You can do that through a simple prayer – Jesus, I invite you in. Please take my life, forgive me, and lead me.
- When we follow Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we get to witness miracles. Jesus empowers his followers in the world to do exactly the same kind of things that he did, and that brings people out of brokenness and into healthy life. Against the backdrop of a world of storm clouds, a light shines through in the lives of the faithful.
- There will come a day when this present darkness will be chased away by light, and we will enter a world where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, and every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). Until then, we work to build the kingdom of God on earth; on that day we will rest.
Don’t be afraid. Jesus is still on the throne. When you believe in him and follow after him, he will save you. He’s not out to punish you and he doesn’t hold grudges. His business is forgiveness and redemption. Whatever origin story we believe in about the catastrophes of the world and the coronavirus, let them sharpen our minds and point us towards the one in whom we find true hope: Jesus Christ, our Lord.