Bible Reading Plan – September 24-30

Bible Project Reading Plan (September 24-30):
Luke 1-13; Psalms 112-118

Creation groans under the gravity of our sin. Paul reminds us that “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22). What Paul means by this is that creation itself is pained at not being what it should be. Humanity’s sin has forced creation into a position that it was not designed to function in. Creation wasn’t created to be what it has become, and it is wearied under this load until things return to their natural and designated patterns.

This is a good reminder that, given the nature of the world, disaster will strike. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, famines, and fires. And, when such things inevitably happen, the pundits will likewise strike. Gordon Lightfoot, mourning the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to a wild storm on Lake Superior, sings

Does anyone know
Where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?

God is brought in on trial, as though such happenings were sure signs either of his not caring or his inability to act. But even those with a somewhat firmer grasp on God’s character also use such incidents as an excuse for punditry, most of which is pointed directly at the evil and sin of the world. Not the evil and sin of all mankind, though, but mostly just the sin of the “other.” Take Pat Robertson, for instance, pontificating after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010:

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it,” Robertson said on his Christian Broadcasting Network show. “They were under the heel of the French . . . and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’

“True story. And the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal,’ ” Robertson said. “Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.

So there’s that. You can catch the story and the segment here. I know, I know; picking on Robertson is picking fruit off the ground and calling it low-hanging. But he’s not alone, even if most have a thicker filter over their speech. Yet, even so, we should honestly ask: could he be right? Not in the specific case of Haiti, but in the general substance of his argument: are natural (and personal) disasters signs of God’s displeasure over sin?

Well, yes and no. We can come to a better grip on the question by looking at a passage from Luke’s gospel, where Jesus is told some startling information:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Now, before we get into understanding what Jesus was saying, it might be good to look at what he doesn’t do. Such a tack is not always the most beneficial way to approach Scripture, but here I think it is helpful to note that Jesus doesn’t go after the low-hanging fruit. It would be easy, and likely well received, if Jesus were to castigate Pilate for this abuse. But, unlike the pundits, Jesus isn’t primarily concerned with the others, for his love for those around him is too strong. Rather he is concerned with those listening to him.

Often disasters like this are viewed through a prism and a lens of how we expect God to work. Is God happy with you? Does he love you? Blessing, honor, beauty, and might are yours. Is God upset at you? Does his wrath hang over you? Famine, thirst, random lightning strikes, and tooth decay are in your future. But Jesus here makes it clear that such a reckoning of God is not so easy. “Are those who died such horrible deaths worse than everyone else?” He asks, obviously expecting a “no” in response. Even outside of human evil, given a random disaster like a tower falling on folks: does this fate mean that they were worse sinners than others? No, of course not.

With the right responses understood, Jesus then focuses on those present and what such disasters mean for them: “Repent, or you all will likewise perish.”

So, yes, these disasters are a reminder of God’s punishment of evil. The book of Revelation reminds us of God’s judgment through the unravelling of the cosmos, and unravelling that occurs even today in fits and starts.

But, no, it is not just a blanket judgment on everyone. Believers suffer alongside unbelievers in such situations, and there is no condemnation now that we are in Christ Jesus; no condemnation = no punishment.

But, in reality, both of these responses are somewhat misleading. We are judging the outcome of temporal disasters as though they give us insight into eternal judgments. But Christ gives us God’s purpose on sending such disasters on both the just and the unjust: that we might stand before his authority, with such reminders of our sin and its effects all around us, and repent. Like the tax collector of Luke 18, we ought to be humble in the face of such disasters, realizing our sin, and leave justified in Christ.

So, friends, face temporal disasters, woes, and the evil work of men, and repent of your own sin. For God will be merciful and kind to those who are humble in heart.