The Judgment of God, part I
October 11 05
Are natural disasters really natural? Are these disasters the judgment of God? This past week, Franklin Graham said, unequivocally, that the recent hurricanes were not the judgment of God. Is that true? Graham said, "I would never say that this is God's judgment on New Orleans or any other place." So, why do we have these disasters? Where do they come from?
There will come a day of judgment. I am well aware that that day has not yet come. In that day, all those who did not put their faith and trust in Christ will suffer the judgment of Christ and be sentenced accordingly. However, we must still explain why bad things happen to "good" people and "bad" people alike. In other words, if the hurricanes were allowed by God, what purpose did they serve for both Christians and non-Christians?
First, we have to understand that everything that happens on this earth only happens if God allows it. He is in control. We have storms, we have accidents, we have tragedies -- we have death itself -- because we are sinners living in a "fallen" world. Back when God created Adam and Eve and they lived in the Garden of Eden, there was no sin, and, therefore, no death, no bad things happening to good people. However, Adam and Eve sinned and were put out of the Garden. Ever since then, we have had to reap the consequences of our sin. God said that death would be the result of sin. In addition, the earth is in decay and nature is unleashed. God allows all of this to happen and it is our fault.
So, in that sense, these hurricanes are God's judgment. God judged Adam and Eve. He put them out of the Garden. At the same time, though, He clothed them. He covered their sin, figuratively. Ever since then, there have been those who have followed God in faith, but, nonetheless, they died, and in the course of their lives, they suffered tragedies. God allowed Job to be devastated and, in the end, he was stronger in his faith. God allows bad things to happen to the faithful.
In the Old Testament, we see times when God protected His people while He brought judgment on those around them. For example, we know that God protected those Hebrews in Egypt who obeyed Him in putting blood on their doorposts. Here, God protected the faithful in the midst of the judgment of Egypt. Also, we know that God spared Noah and his family from the flood that judged all the unrighteous. In this example, God protected Noah by, again, providing protection in the midst of judgment.
In Genesis 18, Abraham asks God if He would "destroy the righteous with the wicked" in Sodom. The LORD said that He would spare Sodom if there were as few as ten righteous men in that city. Lot was in that city with his wife, daughters and sons-in-law. The angels told Lot to take himself and his family out of the city for the LORD was about to bring judgment upon both Sodom and Gomorrah. In the end, Lot did not want to leave, but he was brought out by the angels. Lot's wife looked back to the city and so became a pillar of salt, according to the promise of God.
So, in the account of Sodom, we have God bringing judgment on a city in which righteous people live, but He offers them protection before He brings the judgment. This time, protection comes in the form of evacuation. The LORD warns the righteous that judgment is coming and He provides a way of escape. At the same time, He warns the righteous to not be fearful of where He is taking them and to not lament over the loss of such a rebellious city. There is a lot to be learned here as we compare this to the Gulf Coast.
In the New Testament, we can turn to 2 Thessalonians 1:3-11 and see that Christians will come under persecutions and tribulations because of their witness and faith. And this is all part of the "manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer..." Look at 1 Peter 4:12-16. Again, we see that Christians who suffer for their obedience to Christ should rejoice. For those Christians, however, who suffer because of sin in their lives, that is another story. Peter would say that if we sin, we cannot complain about the consequences.
Christians are not immune from problems because we all live in a fallen world. However, Christians, if they are truly living for Christ, have an added set of problems: We must endure persecutions and tribulations, the end result of which is the proving of our faith. But let's be clear: God does not persecute His faithful for their witness; He does, however, allow consequences in the lives of His faithful who stray from their faithfulness. He brings consequences on those of us who wander (or jump!) into sin.
The Gulf Coast hurricanes were allowed by God because we are sinners living in a sinful world. To the lost, these hurricanes either harden their hearts or soften them. Only God knew beforehand what effect would be evidenced. For those who hardened their hearts toward God, these storms were a form of judgment. To the Christians, these hurricanes remind us that God is in control and that if we are in Christ, we have nothing to fear, for He is with us always. In addition, though, some of the faithful have been shaken and, for some, there has been an awakening. For some, these storms served as a consequence for sin. These storms serve many purposes, but in any case, we cannot say, unequivocally, that they were not the judgment of God.