Summary: Why do major disasters happen in God’s world? How can we make sense of it as Christians
By Michael Prabaharan
This sermon is rated R18. It contains strong violence, adult themes and disturbing content.
Making sense of the week that was
Our reading from Matthew reminds us of one aspect of the Christmas story that doesn’t get much airplay. The visit of the Magi in search of the new royal baby leads the paranoid Herod to massacre all children under two in the Bethlehem region.
(Worth noting that unlike the popular story where the wise men are trying to squeeze into the cattle shed with the shepherds, the wise men probably arrived when Jesus was an older baby and living in a house close by. When Herod discovers that the Magi have given him the slip, all children under two are killed, to make sure the alleged future king also doesn’t survive).
Unlike the killing of the babies of Bethlehem, Sept 11 or the war in Iraq, there has been no attributable human cause to the tragedy wrought by the Asian Tsunami and many will therefore see it purely as an accident of nature. And this is seen in the almost universally generous response of common people. No anger or blame just shock and concern.
An Act of God?
But for those who have seen the film, "The man who sued God" and for those of us who are Bible believing Christians – the role of God in all this will already have come to mind or will in due course. We may even have course to discuss it with someone who does not share our Christian belief.
We believe in God. We believe that he is Sovereign and all powerful. As in our second reading Proverbs 8:29 says "He assigned to the sea its limit so that the waters might not transgress his command". We also believe that he is an interventionist God. Unlike the Deist description of a God who like a clock maker has wound up the clock-planet and then lets it tick on independently, the biblical picture is of a hands-on God who intervenes in ways that we may perceive as good or ill.
(Deism is a shift of ultimate authority from special revelation in the Bible to the enlightenment of human rationality)
Was God Punishing?
As a result you may hear from some Christians that this Tsunami is an act of punishment, by God, on the people affected. It may anger you to hear this as you think of the indiscriminate death that took away many children, devout Christians, and many other ’good’ and innocent people.
But before we write off such a view, we need to remind ourselves that this is very much a biblical picture. Our Sunday school story of Noah’s Ark in real life would have been very similar in its effect to that of the Tsunami. Many children would have been drowned.
When God reveals his promise to Abraham he talks of the sin of the Canaanites and the time of his judgment that is to come. Part of his judgment on the Canaanite peoples was the conquest by the people of Israel, where many women, children and elderly were indiscriminately killed by the invading Israelis as part of God’s command.
All the prophets declare the Sovereignty of God over political powers and nations whether they acknowledge him in worship or not. He is still their Sovereign as he builds up and pulls down nations according to his judgment, using one against another and the results of such tragedies are vividly described (See for example Ezekiel 5:5-12). Such passages lead many to turn away from the biblical faith in revulsion (or at least make a mistaken distinction between the God of the OT and the God of the NT).
(You may also hear it said that we can’t accept or worship a God who allows such tragedies as this tsunami to occur randomly. We need to remind ourselves, as well as those who say such things, that if God is real then that is one thing that, try as we might, we can’t turn into a consumer item. Many people turn to different Gods as they think he or she or it should be and remake God in their own image. But if God is real then His is the perspective we have to align ourselves with. Not vice versa. Rather than design a God who meets our criteria of what is fair we need to refresh our thinking with what God proclaims as fair and worthy of aspiration).
We Christians also selectively tune out to these declarations of God’s judgment and sovereignty and focus only on the bits in the bible which fit into our world view and value systems.
The OT’s position is clear, God has a right to judge people and execute judgment and he does so as well. He does not let sin go unpunished.