Monday, November 11, 2013

Was typhoon Haiyan God's judgement?

As substantial news begins to trickle in about the wreckage left in the wake of one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, the massive scale of the damage - particularly the potential of the final numbers - is truly staggering. It is feared that 10,000 may be dead already in one city alone, and as relief teams begin to penetrate the more rural areas that number may not be simply added to, but multiplied. All of this fails to account for deaths that potentially may come in the following days and months from disease, malnutrition, and starvation as the realities of looted hospitals, unburied bodies, and deserting personnel sets in.
As Christians, nay as humans, it is natural for us to ask why. Not a meteorologic why, but a philosophic why. What is the purpose for all of this suffering and death? The humanistic evolutionist would tell you that there is no rhyme or reason, that it is all an unfortunate accident of blind nature and chance. But as Christians, particularly those of us who believe in an all sovereign God who designs and commands the weather (Psalm 135:6-7 Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. He causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries.) we cannot accept that as a suitable answer. Why would God direct Typhoon Haiyan into this disaster-prone country with inadequate infra-structure to deal with such devastation? The first conclusion we jump to is that God must be judging this nation! Yes, that must be it, these people with their strange blend of Roman Catholicism and cultural mysticism have finally been judged by God with this massive wall of water, figuratively washing away the sins of these people! We've already decided that was God's purpose behind Hurricane Katrina and the indonesian tsunami, here again we pat ourselves on our collective backs for being bright enough to figure out what God is doing, and we nod our heads in consent to the grand justice those people received. However, let me insert a word of caution before we become too settled in our minds that this is the certain answer.
Job's friends were all in consensus that his material, familial, and physical devastation had come upon him as judgement from God for some particular sin. Though not one could put a definitive finger on just what it was, that did not stop them from making lots of guesses and never swayed them from their first and now deep-seated impression that it was God's judgement. The problem is, at the beginning of the story we're given a behind-the-scenes look at what really was going on between Satan and God and at the end of the narrative we find God rebuking Job's friends for making false accusations about both Job and more importantly God himself!
Roughly 2,000 years later, Jesus ran into the same assumptions by his followers on multiple occasions, was the man blind because God was judging him or his parents for sin? (John 9:2) What grievous sin had the Galilaeans committed that God caused them to be killed by Pilate? (Luke 13:1) Or what were the heinous crimes perpetrated by those whom God crushed under the fallen tower of Siloam? (Luke 13:4) And every single time Jesus had the same answer for them, this was not judgement from God for any particular sin but a result of sin in general which reminds us that we all must repent and thus bring glory to God.
While I do agree that sin has built in consequences that are not pleasant, and while I do not disagree that God has and may still judge individuals and nations by acts of nature, let me also point out that almost every time someone in scripture thought they knew the mind of God in the midst of a tragedy, appropriating judgement as the necessary answer, they were wrong. Do the Phillipines deserve judgement more than America? Do we imagine that since we stamp "In God We Trust" on our fiat currency, he will excuse the "Against God We Rebel" stamped on our hearts? Does our official pledge (of allegiance to a piece of cloth representing an earthly kingdom... But that's another discussion altogether) of "one nation, under God" blind him to the fact that we refuse to be under his Lordship and make a mockery of his commandments at every turn? No, but unless we repent, we shall all likewise perish!
Secondly, why do we assume that large catastrophes equal God's judgement but small ones do not? Many who assert that this storm was an outpouring of God's wrath against sin would be appalled if we we made that same claim if a single child drowned in a stream. But because this was so large, so far away, and thus so impersonal, we have many who find it easy to stay atop their holy perches and dictate to us all what exactly God is doing in this situation.
Lastly, the assumption that this typhoon was God's judgement on sin, is a very light opinion of sin. Every one of the people who have died in this storm or will die as a result of it were going to die eventually anyways. Many of these people may have died a much quicker and less painful death than they would have had the storm never blown their way. God judges sin in two ways, by pouring out his wrath against it on Jesus as he hung on the cross and by pouring it out on those who rejected Jesus for an eternity in hell. A typhoon does not begin to compare with the gravity of either of those.
Instead of trying to figure out why God judged the Philippines, why don't we let God be God and we his servants obedient to his commands. Which are,
1. To repent ourselves, seeing what misery sin has brought into the world.
2. To love our neighbors as ourselves, look into how you can help the people of the Philippines.
3. To preach the gospel to all people, rejoicing with those who accept it and mourning for those who reject it, knowing that they will face a final judgement that makes the largest typhoon on record look like a gentle rain.

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