Monday, March 21, 2011

God's Sovereignty in Catastrophes: Who's Ruling This Planet Anyway?

These days it always comes up whenever there is a disaster, like the Katrina hurricane or the Indonesian tsunami or the earthquake in Haiti or the recent huge earthquake and tsunami in Japan -- did God have anything to do with it or not? The quick answer, based on the Bible, is of course He did, nothing happens without God, nothing at all. I've written quite a few posts on this at this blog.

But as soon as you try to say something along those lines you find yourself pounced on by people who consider you the most hateful evil person who ever lived. The language used is pretty excoriating. They denounce and blaspheme and rail in tones of most aggrieved indignation. You think you're just saying something simple and true that is based on biblical scripture, something in fact that is God-honoring and even conducive to spiritual growth, but no, to hear them go on it appears you're guilty of something on the order of genocide, at the very least an unChristian "judgmentalness." A W Pink's The Sovereignty of God written in 1918 is the classic on the subject. From his Introduction:
It would be foolish for us to expect that this work will meet with general approval. The trend of modern theology—if theology it can be called—is ever toward the deification of the creature rather than the glorification of the Creator, and the leaven of present-day Rationalism is rapidly permeating the whole of Christendom. The malevolent effects of Darwinianism are more far reaching than most are aware. Many of those among our religious leaders who are still regarded as orthodox would, we fear, be found to be very heterodox if they were weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary. Even those who are clear, intellectually, upon other truth, are rarely sound in doctrine. Few, very few, today, really believe in the complete ruin and total depravity of man. Those who speak of man’s "free will," and insist upon his inherent power to either accept or reject the Saviour, do but voice their ignorance of the real condition of Adam’s fallen children. And if there are few who believe that, so far as he is concerned, the condition of the sinner is entirely hopeless, there are fewer still who really believe in the absolute Sovereignty of God.
From his Chapter One:
To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Ps. 115:3). To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is "The Governor among the nations" (Ps. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the "Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible. How different is the God of the Bible from the God of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is the creation of a maudlin sentimentality. The God of many a present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence.[1] To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent that the great majority of our fellow-men are dying in sin, and passing into a hopeless eternity: is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue baldly, but there is no escaping the conclusion. To argue that God is "trying His best" to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God, then, Satan is Almighty and God is no longer the Supreme Being. To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God. To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most High to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of Omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the hounds assigned by his Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless Spectator before the sin and suffering entailed by Adam’s fall, is to repudiate the express declaration of Holy Writ, namely, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain" (Ps. 76:10). In a word, to deny the sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism. The sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite. When we say that God is sovereign we affirm His right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, i.e., that He may mould that clay into whatsoever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.
From The God of Disasters by Vincent Cheung:
... Many people's belief systems are not equipped to handle catastrophes, and so to them they appear random, senseless, and beyond explanation. Some people resort to pragmatism, focusing on picking up the pieces; others are driven to cynicism and despair. But whether or not they come up with their own explanations, or whether their explanations agree with one another, they are united in condemning those who would say that these catastrophes are God's punishments against sinners – those who worship idols, blaspheme, murder, fornicate, cheat, oppress, those who are lovers of themselves rather than lovers of God, and those who would expel him from their courts and schools and families. No, it is not that they can prove these people's innocence, or that they can prove that God does not punish, but the mere suggestion that God would visit them with judgment, and in wars, and floods, and fires that at times would kill thousands, is enough to invite their anathema. Anyone who dares to suggest that a disaster could be God's legitimate recompense upon deserving evildoers is reviled as cruel, unpatriotic, or the like. It is noteworthy that these individuals ... include both non-Christians and professing Christians. long as we stay within what is revealed in Scripture, it is possible for us to arrive at some general interpretations of what God is doing in the world and in our lives. Scripture tells us that God does punish sinners with both natural and "man-made" disasters, from the everyday mishaps and inconveniences to things like floods, earthquakes, plagues, famines, blizzards, and so on. All these things occur by God's sovereign decree and power. Some of these things involve human decisions and actions, and so we distinguish between natural and "man-made" disasters. ...God controls both nature and man, so that even these so-called "manmade" disasters are planned and caused by God. These would include things like wars, terrorism, and genocide. ...The point is that God is the direct sovereign and righteous cause of all disasters of all kinds. [W]e have warrant from Scripture to say that when disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and even terrorist attacks occur, killing thousands of people, there is almost always an element of divine punishment. ... If you reject this, you might as well stop calling yourself a Christian, for your faith rests in yourself and your own opinions, and it is evident that you have no regard for God and Scripture. Then, another intended effect of these disasters is to awaken the elect and to harden the reprobates.
From The Sovereignty of God Amidst Disaster, at The Veritas Network. author Ryan Rindels:
Atheists, skeptics, and agnostics [and many who call themselves Christians as well I must add] will conclude that God has nothing to do with what occurs in the natural world. Everything, from tsunamis to tornadoes, is simply the accidental phenomenon of our planet. The recent earthquake in Japan was nothing more than a seismic burp–a release of tectonic pressure that just happened upon a populated area. Was there any purpose or intent in the death of thousands? Honestly, no. Wrong place, wrong time. Random chance. Sorry, that’s the best conclusion they can give you. ...We believe every single event, however apparently random and accidental, is part of God’s sovereign plan. Nothing is accidental, nothing happens by chance. Even those things that seem bad and harmful are pieces of a greater puzzle which we cannot see or understand. God exists to glorify himself. He is just and right and worthy to do this. In the book of Job we learn that God isn’t obligated to reveal his divine will to us. Could we even comprehend it if he did? Faith in him is sufficient.
I also agree with this one from a blog called Ardent Cries, author Chad Bennett:
People who die in these disasters are not being judged for being worse than you and I. What judgment has fallen, we all deserve.
It IS God's judgment but we all deserve judgment. As I understand it from scripture, it's a matter of timing, the "fullness of time" that determines when and to what extent God brings judgment against a particular nation. Here’s another thought on the same theme written in 1983 by John Piper:
The soft-hearted rebels exploit heartache to push their heresy: the death of a daughter, a Down’s syndrome son, a freak accident, a husband’s cancer—is God a sadist? And so the rebels find broken hearts and pour their heresy in the cracks. But it is not healing. Only truth can heal. It need not be spoken callously. It need not be spoken at all in moments of anguish. But it must be believed and cherished. “He does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?’” (Daniel 4:35). ...Psalm 105:16 says, “He summoned a famine on the land, and broke every staff of bread.” When I read this I simply bowed in awe of the God who orders from his throne all wind and heat and rain.
As should we all. (Great line by the way, The soft hearted rebels exploit heartache...) And here is John Piper again , quoted in a blog post on the devastation of Haiti (which has other good quotes and comments, including about Tony Campolo denying that God had anything to do with the disaster.) Piper is writing in the context of the Katrina disaster:
On his 89th birthday (August 31) NPR Senior News Analyst, Daniel Schorr, observed that President Bush had “staked out a non-position” on the debate between evolution and intelligent design. Bush had said that “both sides ought to be properly taught in the schools of America.” Then, with manifest scorn, Schorr linked the devastation of Hurricane Katrina with the concept of intelligent design: “[Bush] might well have reflected that, if this was the result of intelligent design, then the designer has something to answer for.” No, Mr. Schorr, you have something to answer for, not God. God answers to no man. Come, Daniel Schorr, take your place with Job and answer your Maker: “The Lord answered Job [and Daniel Schorr] out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. . . . Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?’” (Job 38:1-3, 8-11). Who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Shall the pot say to the Potter, “This is an unintelligent way to show your justice and your power? Come, Maker of heaven and earth, sit at my feet—I have lived 89 years and have gotten much wisdom—and I will teach you—the eternal God—how to govern the universe”? No. Rather let us put our hands on our mouths and weep both for the perishing and for ourselves who will soon follow. Whatever judgment has fallen, it is we who deserve it—all of us. And whatever mercy is mingled with judgment in New Orleans neither we nor they deserve. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners. He did not suffer massive shame and pain because Americans are pretty good people. The magnitude of Christ’s suffering is owing to how deeply we deserve Katrina—all of us. Our guilt in the face of Katrina is not that we can’t see the intelligence in God’s design, but that we can’t see arrogance in our own heart. God will always be guilty of high crimes for those who think they’ve never committed any. But God commits no crimes when he brings famine, flood, and pestilence on the earth. “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). The answer of the prophet is no. God’s own testimony is the same: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). And if we ask, is there intelligent design in it all, the Bible answers: “You meant evil . . . but God meant it [designed it] for good” (Genesis 50:20). This will always be ludicrous to those who put the life of man above the glory of God.