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god’s wrath & our world

vintage television test pattern with emergency message

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you a message from the emergency blogcast system. This is not a test. (I promise to get back to the series I had on the go at some point soon. But for now, this topic seemed timely and urgent.)

 


I’ve heard from too many people over the past few weeks to keep ignoring it: there is a wave of Christians, really more of a small ripple, like in butterscotch ripple ice cream, who seem to delight in promoting this hard season as an example of God’s wrath via a new plague. Except, this is more like stupid-unhelpful-biblically-confused-clichés-religious-people-say ripple ice cream, and it makes me yearn for plain vanilla.

So, I thought I’d jump on here and type out a quick Top Ten List of thoughts that come to my mind when I hear Christians point back to the plagues of Moses or some other biblical story or forward to the plagues of Revelation  as evidence that COVID-19 was sent by God to punish sinners.  (In keeping with what we talked about in our “Speaking of Jesus” series, I’m going to try to word most of these points in the form of a question.)  God of course can do whatever God wants to do, but we misrepresent God when we don’t allow Jesus to help us discern what God wants to do.

Here we go…

#10. For those who point backwards to the Old Testament… Do you think what God did in that instance (i.e., using the ten plagues to deliver Israel out of Egypt) is how God always works? Can we make that conclusion? How often did God use marching in circles to tear down the walls of an enemy city? Or a bronze serpent to heal his people from snake bite? Just because God has done something one way in the past, do you think we can assume he will work the same way in the future? (And for those whose minds go to Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” – does this not refer to God’s character of mercy ultimately revealed in Jesus never changing, rather than the mechanisms God uses to express that character? It seems this same God has changed methods many times, from flood, to fire, to famine, to turning water into blood, to turning water into wine, and wooing us through the life and death and life again of Jesus.) 

#9. On that note, what was God’s reaction to people who tried to idolize the way God worked in the past (e.g., the story of Nehushtan, the bronze serpent, in 2 Kings 18:4)? What is the lesson in this for us?

#8. What about the indiscriminate nature of COVID-19, especially killing the poor (who are in areas where they cannot get proper medical treatment, such as ventilators) and the elderly and infirm and the most vulnerable around the world far more than it kills the young, and rich, and strong, and privileged? Is that how God works? Is that what Jesus shows us about God? Since Jesus teaches that to see him is to see the one who sent him (John 12:45), shouldn’t the ministry of Jesus decisively influence our idea of how God works in this world?

#7. The Big Question: How does Jesus inform your opinion about this topic, and every topic? Jesus – the one who said he came, not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Jesus – who shows us that God is more willing to die for sinners than make sinners die (Luke 23:34). What about Jesus’ teaching that his Father’s desire is to universally bless all people, and to love everyone, including his enemies, even through the natural order of things (Matthew 5:43-48)? Bottom line: Do you keep Jesus in the centre of your interpretations of how God works in this world, remembering that no one has really seen God until Jesus (John 1:18)? 

#6. What about Matthew 13:24-30 where Jesus points out that some things come from God but some things come from the Devil. (Who planted weeds among the wheat? “An enemy did this,” says Jesus.) Why are you not factoring in Jesus’ teaching in your discussion about the possibility of some things coming from God’s “enemy” and not just from God?

#5. What about the Bible’s overall teaching that WE were given responsibility to take care of the planet and we have blown it (Genesis 1-4). And now “all creation groans” (Rom 8). How does this factor into your thinking? 

#4. Do you think we need to call these events God’s judgement in order to motivate our repentance? What if these events are simply the natural disasters that our lack of repentance manifests? Does God need to use COVID-19 – primarily killing poor, sick, and aged people – to conjure human repentance? Doesn’t the apostle Peter say God is “patient, not wanting anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3:9) and the apostle Paul say that it is “God’s kindness that leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) and the apostle James say that God is the source of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17) and was this not the emphasis in early gospel preaching (Acts 14:17)? Does God not draw us through God’s care and creativity revealed through his CREATION (Psalm 19:1-4; Romans 1:20; Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17), human CONSCIENCE, the law of God written upon every human heart (Romans 2:14-15), the Holy Spirit who softens hard hearts and provides CONVICTION to the world about sin (John 16:8), the teaching and example of CHRIST, in his life and his death, that draws all people to himself (John 12:32)? Is this not enough? 

#3. What are the potential dangers of blaming God for things that we and/or Satan should take responsibility for? Let’s talk about the damage to truth and spiritual health that this kind of thinking can do. 

#2. And for those who point forward and suggest this is the fulfillment of prophecy from Revelation about the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6), I wonder why you think THIS generation is experiencing the unfolding of prophecy in a way that previous generations did not, when previous generations have suffered through more severe outbreaks (e.g., the Bubonic plagues of the Justinian pandemic of the 6th century, killing half of Europe’s population, and the Black Death of the 14th century killing over 100 million, or the Spanish flu from a century ago, killing over 50 million). Is it possible that we sometimes suffer from chronocentrism when reading Bible prophecy? That is, a kind of egocentricy that focuses on our time, our generation, our contemporary experience as THE time, THE generation that the the book of Revelation was really written for. Is some of our obsession with Bible prophecy and contemporary events just the Evangelical version of religious narcissism? 

#1. I would like to leave #1 for you, the reader. How would you respond to some of the silly and damaging things Christians say during times of crisis? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you for helping combat the spread of stupid cliché Christianity! 

Peace,

Bruxy

PS: When Jesus and his disciples came across a blind man in John 9, the disciples responded with the worst of religious impulses: they turned it into a discussion about the origin of evil, rather than opening their eyes to this opportunity to help. Jesus didn’t play their game, and we don’t need to play that game today. Let’s keep our eyes open to the ways Jesus is at work in this world, and join in every chance we get.

Tags : CoronavirusCOVID-19Jesusjudgementwrath

62 Comments

  1. We are contemporaneous with all the insults inflicted upon the earth by man and the pain inflicted by the enemy of the world, which are experienced by millions of people on the planet. In a pandemic, we all suffer through our co-ownership of the earth, contemporaneity with each other alive, biological similarity, and common identity in failings and sins with each other.

    Your thoughts on the true heart of God, on Jesus’ compassion and love, and the healing, comfort and hope that we find in Him, is a gift to us from God, through you. Your teaching of today, ‘Karma and Christ’, further dissects and clarifies the teaching of Jesus, inspires our hearts to compassion and service, and edifies us as believers. I see your thoughts in the blog and the teaching of today, March 29th, as being exceedingly pertinent, instructive and, also, therapeutic—equally to believers in Christ and society at large. Be blessed!

  2. Mercifully, there truly has been little of this sort of response in fact so was there really the need to address it yet again and raise attention? I truly love your sermons but this one was flogging the proverbial ‘dead horse’ and I think you have other more interesting things to say. NIT Wright did a great post in Time recently entitled Christianity has nothing to say to the Covid crisis Peace and Love

    1. Thanks Sara. I think maybe our experiences are different. As a pastor, I continue to have too many Christians contact me to ask how to respond to this uncle or that cousin or this friend or that Christian leader who is promoting an unhealthy and unhelpful and even disturbing view of our current crisis. It is rather heartbreaking. No dead horse here, unfortunately. (I’m not comfortable with that last sentence, but you get my drift.) Thanks again for sharing from your perspective. I am glad you have not come across so much of this, and I am also genuinely grateful that the unhealthy and un-Christlike reactions have been, as I say, more of a ripple than a wave. But ripples can affect the flavour of everything for some people.

  3. I grew up in a conservative christian household (Baptist) most of my 4 sibs (including my 90 year old parents!) have journeyed from that past but remain in the faith. Your ripple analogy is accurate I think. I just thought medieval Christianity was waining. 🙂

  4. The foolishness of implying God is responsible for covid 19 is the same nonsense a conservative Christian leader spewed suggestion all the disaster of Haiti was God punishing the people there for their non-belief and worshipping idols…it paints all Christians with the same foolishness brush

  5. Question: does our God, who sustains all things by the word of his power, lack the ability to stop the virus dead in its tracks? You know the answer. So God is choosing this present reality.
    He is not a bystander wringing his hands in frustration. This is his will. And yes, some of his children are being ushered into his presence through it. The reasons for this we may never know fully but you arbitrarily dismiss even the the notion that part of his purpose is judgment. The cause of the virus you may wish to ascribe to satan but satan is on a leash and can only proceed as far as God allows.
    While this is hard to grasp by us lowly humans, none the less the virus continues because God so wills it.
    Now revisit your many questions in light of that truth.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Stan. My best understanding of the teaching of Scripture is that God is certainly in charge, which is different than being in control. God has chosen, as the one in charge, to share his control with other beings, dark spiritual forces as well as humans. So not everything that happens is under his direct control, although he allows it because he has chosen to run the universe this way.

      Bottom line, when choosing between these two options, I choose the second:

      “God is in control.” (Christian cliche.)
      VS
      “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).

      Thanks again for posting.

  6. As a pastor you must find it discomforting to have such bleak council to offer your flock, especially in times of mourning.
    I offer this quote and link as a continuation of the discussion:
    “The question is, which world would you rather live in? One where humans or Satan or chance govern what happens to you? Or one where an infinitely good, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God works everything together for the good of those who trust him and for his glory?”
    https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-god-control-all-things-all-the-time

    Verses that show God is in control not merely in charge (the context of each verse should be considered)
    Notice that even the smallest of things, such as the outcome of a dice toss, are his to choose.

    Proverbs 16:33
    2 Chronicles 20:6
    Psalm 33:10–11
    Job 42:2
    Daniel 4:35
    Genesis 50:20
    Psalm 115:3
    Ephesians 1:11
    Isaiah 46:9–10
    Matthew 10:29
    Psalm 135:6–7
    Matthew 8:27
    Proverbs 21:1
    Amos 3:6

    And many many more.
    Blessings and peace to you, brother.

    1. Hi again Stan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think John Piper is one of the best representatives of your point of view, which I completely disagree with. I’m happy for people to get the chance to investigate his thinking. I think this is a wonderful chance to experience the unity-in-diversity that makes up the body of Christ.

      And since one good link deserves another, here is one theologian’s rebuttal to Piper’s theology on this topic…

      https://soteriology101.com/2016/04/24/casting-lots-to-find-gods-will-proverbs-1633/

      Lastly, while I appreciate your engagement here, I think we can do without the negative assumptions about one another. I am more discomforted with your theistic determinism than with the warfare worldview of Scripture. I can disagree with you while simultaneously assuming you hold your view in good faith, find comfort in it, and find ways to help comfort others with it, especially during times of mourning.

      So in response to your initial comment, speaking from my own experience as a pastor, I am regularly involved in helping struggling Christians overcome the religious anxiety and spiritual distancing they experience concerning God because of the theistic determinism they have learned from teachers like John Piper. These dear brothers and sisters experience comfort and renewed faith when they realize the Bible teaches multiple possible sources of suffering, including God’s chastisement, but also including possible satanic attack, the free-will choices of others, and simply the groaning of a creation polluted by sin.

      I hope that is helpful. Thanks again for posting.

      Wishing you all God’s best my brother.

      Peace,
      Bruxy

  7. Thanks for your response. No negative assumptions implied, apologies if my comments suggested this. Written messages, not matter how hard we try, lack the tone and other verbal cues we have in face to face conversation.

    My comment “As a pastor you must find it discomforting to have such bleak council to offer your flock” was not negative towards you as a person, Bruxy, but towards your theology in this matter (bleak being an apt descriptor, in my opinion) since as you previously stated “God is in charge but he is not in control”. And I echo what you eloquently stated: I can disagree with you while simultaneously assuming you hold your view in good faith, find comfort in it, and find ways to help comfort others with it, especially during times of mourning.
    You mentioned theistic determinism. Interestingly, I think I was once one of those that you describe encountering: struggling Christians overcome the religious anxiety and spiritual distancing they experience concerning God….. but because of the teachings of _______ (any number of teachers, you fill in the blank) on free will theism (or theological incompatibilism, open theism, etc.).
    And like those you have encountered, I too experienced comfort and renewed faith when I realized the Bible teaches multiple possible sources of suffering, including God’s chastisement, but also including possible satanic attack, the volition of others, and simply the groaning of a creation polluted by sin. But all under the supervision of God, far from outside his control it is within his control and for his purposes.

    My realization came from an understanding that God is truly sovereign and that nothing occurs outside his control, even sinful acts of men (I can’t see how someone could read Acts 4:27-28 and still argue that God never predestines something that involves a human being sinning).

    And so you and I, each from our study of scripture, our walk and life with God and our own personal experiences, come to different conclusions. And ultimately this inquiry will lead one to ponder one of the biggest questions of all:
    How could a holy God, if he is all-powerful, have permitted the existence of sin?

    “What shall we do with the problem? I am afraid we shall have to do with it something that is not very pleasing to our pride; I am afraid we shall just have to say that it is insoluble.
    Is it so surprising that there are some things that we do not know? God has told us much. He has told us much even about sin. He has told us how at infinite cost, by the gift of his Son, he has provided a way of escape from it. Yes, God has told us much. Is it surprising that he has not told us all? I do not think so, my friends. After all, we are but finite creatures. Is it surprising that there are some mysteries which God in his infinite goodness and wisdom has hidden from our eyes? Is it surprising that there are some things in his counsels about which he has bidden us be content not to know but instead just to trust him who knows all?” – J. Gresham Machen.

    I agree and concur with you in the hopes that believers will engage the whole of scripture as they encounter varied and diverse views on scripture and our understanding of God. What a rich reward and privilege we have to be in the body of Christ!
    I will cease to post further, although I have benefited from the discussion.

    May God bless you and your ministry, Bruxy.

  8. Are we looking at pain and suffering in a prideful lens?

    I see too often that we love to puff up our tragedies. Either for an egotistical reason or “give me more material things” sense. Whatever the case is we love things to be about ourselves.

    I believe the Edenic pain was issued by pride-fullness. For the desire of being a false god that the Satan said they would become. This pride-fullness permeates deep into everything in our life, especially in the pain. Job, even though he was a righteous man, still falls short by three words, “Woe to me.” Job 10:15.

    But then the Lord reveals to Paul something revolutionary. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, shows the thorn in the flesh. Pain, suffering, stress, anxiety, irritation, (in my opinion Paul was suffering from pride-fullness.) But Jesus tells him that my strength is made perfect in your weakness. And the power and the glory of God manifests itself in your pain. Giving a heaven on earth, temple presence for the glory of God to be seen by humanity and back to God to give him the praise he deserves.

    To God be the glory, no matter the cost.

  9. I read all these responses mostly to see how you respond to harsh criticism, Bruxy. You respond so kindly and gently and you always show such respect (even when they do not). I wanna be like you when I grow up. (I’m already 13 years older, but whatever. 😊

  10. So glad you mentioned John 9 as over the years I have been greatly comforted and helped with G. Campbell Morgan’s thought that Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened.” (period) All of us are helped by understanding I think that things happen and our role should be to then help people by doing the work of God. Thanks again for your insights. Thanks to God’s Spirit for helping you. Dale

  11. I grew up in an evangelical, Hal Lindsay, Left Behind culture. Your teaching and the teaching of others has helped me unlearn some of the issues I struggled with in my early years. Having said that I still have a ton of people in my orbit who believe we are in the “end times” or “tribulation” and I’m not completely sure how to respond from a biblical perspective. I humbly ask for some help and community support in this area. I’m all ears lol

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