Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, September 01, 2005

On God and Hurricanes

"If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?" Amos 3:6

There is so much available in the blogsphere with regards to Katrina that I didn't think my two cents would necessarily add anything new. Both Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin have links to a variety of charities where donations can be provided. Other blogs highlight the out of control looting and I am sure many have seen the horrific images in the form of video or pictures.

Words fail to describe the staggering disaster unfolding in New Orleans and along the other areas of the Gulf Coast where the hurricane blew through this past week. It is amazing how an event nearly 1,300 miles from me can impact my day to day life. Obviously the increase in gas will certainly cause my wife and I to re-evaluate any future travel plans, if not make us budget for any short distance trip way in advance. Also, I received an email (I am in charge of the bulk mail at work) from the post office informing me to hold all mail going into the zip codes hit the hardest. No one can receive mail if the post office can't get to your house, and it could be there may not be house at all, or local post office for that matter.

With any disaster of this magnitude, eventually the intellectual pundits come along attempting to answer the big question of, "why would a good God allow all this suffering of innocent people?" I have been anticipating it and waiting around as to who I would hear first.

Well, this morning, conservative talk radio personality, Dennis Prager, was the first to touch the question. I like Prager. I use to be a big "ditto" head Rush Limbaugh fan, but I switched from listening to him to listening to Prager and I didn't want to go back. I appreciate Rush, don't get me wrong, but Prager gets more into conservative discussion on real life, whereas Rush tended to stay on politics.

Anyway, Prager is an observant Jewish conservative. I appreciate his clarity of thought on the grander issues concerning conservatives, and he articulates a lot of what I am thinking. The problem, however, is he is a follower of traditional, American Judeo-Christian values, not biblical Judeo-Christian values. We must make sure we maintain this distinction. Prager, by his own admission, only thinks the first five books of the Bible are "inspired" and even that is in quotes. So, when Prager begins to wax eloquent on matters of faith and spirituality, I take him with a heavy dosage of salt.

I mention him, because he reflects in his conclusions to the big "why" question about God, evil and suffering, the muddled thinking often found with the good majority of evangelical Christians. Allow me to hit on two thoughts:

First concerns the so-called innocence of the victims. In other words, was it just of God to bring about such terrible calamity upon folks minding their own business and not hurting anyone? The question of course assumes some sort of moral neutrality on the part of the people affected by the suffering. These poor people did nothing to deserve such terrible things happening to them. Prager, like many professing Christians, erroneously categorize "innocent" into varying levels of degree defined by a "good works" scale. So, a person who hasn't necessarily done anything bad in his or her life is declared "innocent" according to this scale; whereas someone who has maybe stolen, cheated, raped, or even murdered, is not "innocent." The first person doesn't deserve the suffering and the second certainly does.

But, the Bible declares all men are under sin and stand equally condemned before God. That is because, as Paul reveals to us in Romans 5, our identification with Adam. It does not matter if a person has never done anything humanly "bad," he is still a condemned sinner due in part to him being identified with Adam as his federal head. Prager rejects the biblical concept of imputed sin. You have to earn your badness, you just can't be born in it. But the biblical testimony is that sin is a matter of the heart. It is what comes out of the heart, said Jesus, that defile a person. The bad works are a result of the bad heart. Note the overwhelming greed seen in the looters. These are people stealing from their neighbors - not to stay alive, but to get rich quick. How does a plasma screen television feed a child, or diaper a baby?

Those who view innocence and guilt with the distinction of good works have the tendency to downplay, if not out right deny, the grace of God. Prager, of course, is Jewish, so he rejects the cross work of Christ for an atonement for sin. But, he also rejects the need for atonement, even though his first five "inspired" books teach it. God's good favor is obtained with what we do. That is one of Prager's mottos: I don't care what you believe, it is how you act that matters. Hence, those who do good, i.e., up hold traditional Judeo-Christian values and treat other human's with decency go to heaven in Prager's self-made theology. Grace is pushed out in this worldview and has no place. That is because, based upon the merit of Christ's work on the cross for sinners, grace forgives and grace grants eternal life to the murdering thug who is justly owed a deserved punishment. At the same time, grace leaves the so called do-gooder in his self righteousness to earn salvation by his good works, only to be turned away, because those good works do not merit any right standing before a holy God.

A second thought concerns God's overall sovereignty in matters of disaster. Again, Prager articulates what many theologically muddled Christians believe: God would never allow anything like Hurricane Katrina to hurt anyone. I find it interesting that these conservatives with the Judeo-Christian values trip all over themselves with their attempts to excuse God of any hand in any disaster either man-made, like the terrorist attacks of 2001, or natural, like the recent hurricane. And boy howdy! Watch out if any pastor who seizes upon the opportunity to remind the world that we are beholden to a holy God who will judge sin and suggests the need for people to maybe examine their lives before that holy God in light of the immediate disaster. The pastor is skinned alive in the media for his "irresponsible" remarks and condemned as a kook in need of being committed. I find that funny seeing the left has its own version of kooks, like Robert Kennedy Jr. who blames the disaster on the Republican MS. governer poo-pooing the global warming nonsense.

How can anyone who believes in God, especially the God revealed in the Holy Bible, not also believe His sovereign control over all things, even disasters that leave families dead or homeless for weeks? Even though I may not see a direct reason for why bad things happen, I can take comfort in trusting the biblical God. Have we completely forgotten Romans 8:28, for instance? Why would I want to dethrone Him from his place of authority? I always find it odd how folks are quick to praise God when potential disaster is averted, but excuse Him when the disaster strikes. As if in the first instance, God was just powerful enough to divert the disaster, but somehow, in the second instance, he was out to lunch, or not paying attention, or just helpless to do anything.

I don't want to turn this into a big discussion on theodicy, but I hope it provokes some critical thinking in the minds of those who desire to have their minds renewed after God's Holy writ.

Steve Hays of Triablogue addressed a muddle minded young man with some relevant comments along the same lines - What would Jesus Flood?

And Kerry Gilliard has some good remarks too.


Blogger Tom G said...

Luke 13:1-5 tells Jesus' view of natural disasters. They are not a sign that the victims are more sinful, more deserving of death than anyone else, but they are a warning to each of us to look to our own souls.

Each of us has a natural disaster in our future: our own physical death. God is the author of that plan. A natural disaster like Katrina is the same thing writ large. We must not deny God's sovereignty in it; nor can we conclude that there is special malice in it. God does not reveal all his ways to us.

5:03 PM, September 05, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Well stated Tom.


5:26 AM, September 06, 2005  
Blogger Sean MacNair said...

Wow, "muddle minded." Never been called that before. Thanks for the mention anyway- I'll take any reference I can get :)


11:18 AM, September 06, 2005  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

You're welcome bud,

Hopefully we will straighten you out. ;-)


11:34 AM, September 06, 2005  
Blogger Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

Thought this was interesting, thought I am not sure I subscribe to this theory.

9:27 PM, September 06, 2005  
Blogger BlackCalvinist said...

Thanks for the mention, Fred.

I have a whole new posting up on the hurricane now - Real Christianity and Churchianity in Light of A Hurricane. :) It's on the front page of Theologically Correct dot Com.

8:56 AM, September 08, 2005  

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