Friday, March 03, 2006


This past week the Sunday school class I attend at church got slightly sidetracked discussing the issue of God’s judgment in natural disasters particularly the events of the past year regarding the Asian tsunami and the hurricanes the ravaged New Orleans. I was somewhat out of it I admit, but did follow the discussion. At one level the class discussed that all of nature’s chaos was evident of God’s judgment on creation because of our sin – true. At another level the discussion focused on, was it God’s direct judgment on the people of New Orleans. The class admitted that none of us were in a place to know…

As we drove home Michelle articulated what bothered her greatly about this discussion, and I think it is an all too important point – where is the compassion? The question is not about whether we know God’s judgment, but how will we the people of God respond?

As Christians we too quickly become anxious to see God’s judgment on wicked people, but do we ever take time to remember that we too are wicked people. Why do we quickly think because righteousness is given to us with the cross, that we suddenly have the ability, nay, the right to judge what is good and evil in this world. Is this not the beginning of the problem.

Let us just admit that the horrible tragedies of the world happen because we are sinful people. Let me reiterate, WE ARE sinful people, even his church, even the redeemed are that the race that fell, but then was redeemed. All of us are responsible. This is not merit for us to judge – that is the glory reserved for Christ. It is merit for us display the infinite riches of the shame, the suffering of the cross.

This is relevance my brothers and sister. If we want to contextualize the gospel, if we want it to be alive and relevant to a culture to the world, then we need to walk in suffering, and bear the sins of our culture. This means we do not point fingers, but we weep, we mourn, we suffer, and we labor for our neighbors. That is how we make the church relevant. The church is good at displaying God’s justice, but we need and we are called to give the mercy that was given to us.

Join me in praying for God’s mercy.


mjonthemove said...

Hey Joe,
I just wanted to say thanks for sharing. I've always been fairly dismissive of people who refer to natural disasters such as Katrina as God's direct judgement. But I feel that what I am actually reacting to is the "Well, good. They deserved it." mentality of most Christians insisting that God judges directly like that.

And in thinking about it, I am open to the idea that God maybe does exercise his judgement through a natural disaster, or really, whatever means he wants to use. I'm still skeptical, but I'm open to the idea.

But what really struck me is that I have never thought about what our position should be if this is true. Having a "Well, good. They deserved it" mentality places us in the God seat removing God's rationale for judgement, and substitutes it with our own. This is not cool.

And even beyond that, unless God empowered you as THE prophet to predict the calamity as a way to encourage people to repent and return to God, you also have no place to insinuate that you are SO "in" with God that you know which particular events were master-minded by God to confront people with their sins.

So, what should our response be? I think that we should respond, as Joe said, with compassion. We should ever be like God in this situation, calling people back to Him; pronouncing his great love and acting in love.

Basically, our top two priorities in life don't change, even if God condemns the suburbs of Milwaukee for being white-washed tombs of dead christians concerned more with consuming than helping widows and orphans, and annihilates them with a natural disaster. Those are (in order):
1. Love God with everything you have.
2. Love everyone else (which means not you) with everything you have.

Mike said...

I think there is this tendancy for humans and Christians, to appropriate judgement and apply it to those whom have been involved in natural disasters, such as Tsunamis and hurricanes, and act as representatives of judgement — like we have some kind of right to that position.

But we don't. Maybe this way of dealing with disasters an odd way to prove to ourselves how good and righteous we think we are. By suggesting others far away are suffereing for their evil, we put our minds focus away from the evil we have done and the sin we commit every day.

We are equally evil. no one is righteous. While God may possibility be exacting judgement in these events, we have no place in owning that judgement. We have no right to have a "schadenfreude moment" at the expense of others. If that's where we are, we've missed the point.

The real point is exactly what you suggest Joe: to focus on the people in those tragedies, to be with, help and support them as they work through disasters. We're called, as mjonthemove says, to Love God and others with everything we've got.

When I imagine what Jesus might say or do after such a disaster, I believe that he would be there, connecting with those who lost so much, weeping, working, involved in compassion.

So often Jesus, who had the right to judge and condemn, chose grace, compassion, understanding. If He, having the right to judge, chose grace and compassion — how much more should I?

timmer k. said...

Great post, Joe. I respect those who wrote long posts ahead of me. In short, I concur. No need to rehash my agreement.

One thing that struck me as interesting is that we tend to seek one side/face of God's judgment (as self righteous Christians). We want to see all the evil sinners get what they deserve (which, OF COURSE doesn't include us....hrumph....) but we don't want to see God's 'leveling of the playing field' which is promised all over scripture. This is one of the valuable things I've seen in liberation theology. God is fiercely egalitarian--the poor are worth no less than the rich, etc. and one day all things will be equal. I don't want to think about my precious possessions being condemned by God as I let the homeless of Minneapolis starve.

Speaking of liberation theology (as it sort of applies to this topic...) Why do you think that all the fundie nutjobs are anxious to talk about Katrina as God's judgment on New Orleans, but they aren't as vocal about earthquakes being God's judgment against Hollywood/CA? Is it because Christians are much more tolerant of materialism than sexual sin? In "Manana," Gonzalez talks about the "over-sexualization" of sin that has pervaded evangelical culture. In reality, the Bible has as much (actually more) to say about improper use of property/possessions as sin as it does sexual acts as sin. Hmmmm...

A. Engler said...

Seriously Joe. This one post every six weeks is killing me. I love your insights into life, faith and the world. What's going down in your life, man? How's your wife, dude?