Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Pat Robertson, Texas Floods, and the Why Question

Okay,  I know Pat Robertson really didn't say he was stuck in a quandary trying to figure out why God sent flooding to my home state.  Snopes is a wonderful tool to help wade through some of the garbage which surfaces on the www.   But Robertson and others have, in their history, made comments about natural disasters and God's wrath being administered through those disasters.  There are those who both cheer and jeer such pronouncements, and with good reason.

At the heart of such matters is the question of why such disasters happen.  From a atheistic perspective, the question is irrelevant.  Such flooding is simply part of the way the world works.  There is no rhyme or reason for the randomness.  It just happens.  Deal with it.  Cope with it.  Get over it.  If you lost loved ones or property, grieve--we will help you get back on your feet, but don't ask about any greater purpose or reason behind such matters.  There is none.  This answer is satisfactory for some.

For people of faith, the rejection of a "why" answer is not satisfactory.  We wrestle with the nature of such events.  We want to know if there is a purpose behind them. We want to know whether or not hope springs eternal.  For in the atheist answer, you have resolved the problem of suffering, but you have removed hope.  What hope is there for those who lost loved ones in this flooding?  What hope is there for those who have lost everything to flood damage--who believed they needed no insurance because they were high enough above the flood plain?  Those seeking hope want and need answers.

They are not always easy to find.

The Punishment Answer

Robertson and others have used the punishment answer in regards to natural disasters numerous times.  The idea is that society in general or some people in particular have committed grievous sin, and God is extending His wrath upon society with such disaster.

This answer is not without precedent.  In fact, it is found in Scripture on numerous occasion.  The great flood recorded in the Bible is one instance of divine punishment upon the evil of humanity.  An earthquake swallowing up a great deal many Israelites for betraying the covenant is another instance.  Venomous serpents in the desert is another.  In all occasions, God punishes sin by natural occurrences.

This does raise a bit of a quandary for those of us who believe God is a God of love.  Why would God punish people in such a manner--even "innocent" women and children?  Sometimes, the response leaves one scratching one's head.  "That's the God of the Old Testament, not the God of the New Testament."  (That argument was rejected by the early Church long ago and was deemed heresy.)  "God didn't really do those things.  Those things just happened, and the bibilcal writers just theologized the event."  (Well, you could do that to every single event in Scripture then.  That would make the Bible just a bunch of human events that people projected onto God.  Hello Freud.)

Punishment is a very effective tool for changing behavior.  Just ask any parent.  We use it all the time.  "If you don't stop hitting your brother, you will get a spanking!"  "If you don't clean your room, you will lose your ipod."  "If you do not eat your food, you will not be allowed to go outside and play."  And so on and so forth.  The threat of punishment, and the subsequent follow through is still used by the legal system today.  This is why we have speed limit signs, anti-discriminatory laws, and the like.  There are behaviors which must be curbed.

Throughout the Old Testament, God effectively uses punishment to change the behaviors of people who are failing to follow His commands and live according to His will and His way.  When people commit idolatry: God punishes.  When people fail to live justly, God punishes.  When people abuse the poor and downtrodden, God punishes.  God cannot stand the sight of sin, and to get people back on the right path, He sent punishment.

One can effectively argue that with each and every disaster, natural and otherwise, that God is punishing society and individuals for their sin.  For no one is innocent. 

There are those who might dispute that last comment, but I would like to remind you of the biblical nature of sin.  Sin is not simply the things that we do--it goes beyond that.  It is the condition of the human heart, and the human heart is naturally turned toward itself.  It naturally seeks self-preservation.  It naturally seeks self-gain.  It naturally seeks its own self-interests.  As Nietzsche once put it: we all seek our own will to power.  In this light, no one can escape guilt.  As the reformer Martin Luther put it: we are in bondage to sin.  It is the condition of our hearts.  Therefore, God is justified in punishing such sin.

The Problem with Punishment

But there is a problem with simply punishing.  For while punishment changes behavior, it does not change hearts.  What do I mean by that?

Whenever the threat of punishment disappears, people go right back to doing whatever it was they were doing to begin with.  Kids will wreck havoc when parents go away because the threat is gone.  Their fear is gone.  Therefore, they push through boundaries thinking they will not get caught.  Behavioral change was only temporary.  It was not lasting. 

On the other hand, if someone loves and respects the ruling authorities, then following the rules is a joy.  Following the law is a delight.  Why?  Because one knows that in following the rules, one is bringing delight to one's superiors. 

But how do you get another person to love you?  How do you get another person to see how much you care for them?

Jesus gave us the ultimate answer to that one, "No one has greater life than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."  Jesus wasn't the first one to say that.  Others had said it before, but this was the first time in history when God took on human flesh and not only said such a thing, but did it.  Every other time the gods came down to earth, it was to wreck destruction and mayhem or because they were interested in satisfying some sort of perverse desire.  Jesus took on flesh to die--not only for His friends but for His enemies as well.  No greater love has ever been shown.

The Cross

And, of course, that death took place on a cross.  It was the worst sort of death.  The Romans had perfected the art of killing someone so that a person not only died but died without dignity and in massive amounts of pain.  This was the death that Jesus experienced--the same Jesus who did not deserve to die; who was completely and utterly innocent; whose heart was perfectly attuned to His Father's will. 

There is a bastardized understanding of Christianity that flows around the world these days.  It's the proclamation that if one just believes in Jesus and seeks to follow Him and has enough faith, then one will experience healing of every sort.  One will be completely whole in finances, health, and relationships.  God will grant victory in bank accounts, bedrooms, social relationships, and hospitals if one simply begins believing.

The cross destroys such ideology.  Jesus' lived the perfect life, and He was crucified.  The earliest disciples--who saw Jesus raised from the dead, met their demise in persecution, suffering, exile, and imprisonment.  Christianity does not promise a life without suffering, but it does offer eternal hope.  It offers consolation when suffering occurs.  It offers the knowledge that when the worst happens, God will have the last say.

The Resurrection

For the cross was not the end of the story.  Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and proclaimed that all who trust in His work will share with Him in this resurrection.  Two things are important: the work of Jesus and the future hope.

The Work of Jesus

The cross for Christians is not only the result of humanity's worst.  It is not simply a man being hanged because He dared challenge the power structures of the day.  Jesus certainly did that; however there was more to it; much more.

In the context of the Jewish sacrificial system, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice--the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the whole world.  Theological jargon, I know, but let's try and break it down a little.  Mind you, there have been books written about this.  I'm trying to get it done in a blog post. 

Whenever sin occurred, one had to justify oneself toward God.  Atonement had to be made.  This isn't as foreign as it might seem to us living so far removed from the situation.  How so?  Well, whenever someone wrongs you, you demand justice.  You demand recompense.  You demand that things be made right.  Whenever you pay for goods, and those goods do not meet specifications, you demand your money back or that the goods be fixed.  Things must be made right.  In relationships, if you are hurt by another person, you demand an apology.  You demand that the person fix the pain caused. 

Yet, if you forgive another person, you bear the cost of that forgiveness.  You bear the cost of the broken goods.  You bear the pain of broken relationships.  On the cross, Jesus bore the cost of our brokenness with God.  He bore the cost of our hearts being focused on ourselves.  He bore the cost of our actions that break God's laws and commands.  He took the punishment so that we do not have to fear it, and instead of fearing God's wrath, we can look toward God's love and promise.

The Future Hope

Being assured of God's love and freed from worry about His wrath, we can now live lives honoring God.  We can be free of fear of death and destruction.  We know Who holds our future, and our lives are built upon Him.

The reformer Martin Luther summarized this in one of the stanzas to the hymn "A Mighty Fortress:"

Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be swept away,
They cannot win the day,
The Kingdom's ours forever.

Wrapped up in this verse is the knowledge that suffering will occur.  There is the knowledge that it is not God who brings such suffering upon us.  We still don't have the answer for that; however, just because we don't have the answer to "why", we are free to ask the question, and we are free to know what the ultimate solution will be.  We are free to know the ultimate and final say will be a new heaven and a new earth where all bad things will be undone.  This is the promise of the cross and the resurrection. 

As flood victims are striving to put their lives together, the outpouring of support and love will do wonders to bring healing.  It is my hope that well intentioned people will not try to solve the why question, but instead will point to the God who suffers with and then turns mourning into dancing--the God who took suffering upon Himself and then transformed death into life. 

4 comments:

Unknown said...

Well, well, well!
I am put in mind of the people of Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs MS after Katrina. There was a banner that hung in their Church building as Volunteers and food donations poured in from around the country and indeed the WORLD to help in the clean up effort The Banner Read "KATRINA Was an act of NATURE, What We Do here is an Act of GOD!" I will never Forget that.

At The same Time I must confess that at times my mind flashes to the Plagues of ancient Egypt, remember when God hardened Pharaoh's Heart at The same time when Moses was saying" Let my people Go..." You may Wish to re read your Old Testament to see that yes your Loving God actually did such a thing, He hardened the hearts of The people who were holding HIS chosen people in BONDAGE!!!!

I wonder if maybe this has something to do with "GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE" at least exacerbated by the burning of fossil Fuels... Oh I know there are those in the BIG OIL state of Texas, who claim that Human beings dumping massive amounts of Carbon into the Atmosphere has NOTHING AT ALL to do with the bizarre, you know, once in 500 year weather catastrophes that seem to have become common occurrences these last few years, and what with the Warming of the EARTH... but don't worry who the heck needed those polar ice caps anyway, Now those Eskimos can open up for The year round tourist trade, maybe get THE DONALD to open a nice TRUMP TOWER right up there on The Bearing Sea, and attract the tourist Trade from SIBERIA.. Hey it will help the unemployment problem up there and the native people can be Saved the terrible Scourge of Heroin addiction, because after all that is something that unemployed non Caucasian people do, for fun I guess, When they don't have Work. WHO CARES about the Polar Bears, The Caribou, the Walrus, The Seals the culture and the Way of life these people have known for the past 1500 years...

Hey baby, Let Em all work at TRUMP Tower in the casinos... Who needs God, in THE DONALD WE TRUST. ALL OTHERS PAY CASH!

I don't know, but sometimes When I read the Exodus story, Remember When GOD hardened Pharaoh's heart and sent Those terrible plagues upon the land, that lead to the PASSOCVER, when GOD'S ANGELS SMOTE THE FIRSTBORN MALE CHILDREN of anyone who didn't have the certain mark on their door? OK so God did that, but I digress.

Remember how God hardened Pharaoh's heart to make sure that he could get all 10 of the plagues in and Then he drowned Pharaoh's army in the RED SEA? AMEN And Hallelujah! I guess Y*H*W*H showed them who's the Boss!

I wonder if God hasn't hardened the hearts of BIG OIL EXECS and the politicians they have bought off, and well who could blame the ordinary people of Texas, who Were taught in their school that Adam and Eve lived 6000 years ago and that they Were the First inhabitants of the EARTH. never mind evidence of other Humanoid species predating this story by millions of years. No don't you trouble your pretty little minds about such trivia.

Who Could blame Them then for not being able to make the connection between the Earth's Climate Change, and the carbon spewed into the atmosphere from burning fossil Fuels. HEy Wait didn't They just discover the skeleton of Cain And Abel's pet T-REX, or am I confused again?

Hey it would take a really brave and courageous person there in Texas willing to admit that there just might be a correlation between Human Caused GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE and the Way our country, and the World are burning fossil Fuels. When Will such brave courageous leaders come forth?


Carl

Dennis Bender said...

Carl, where did all of that come from in response to God providing hope and an eternal tomorrow?

Rather than attack your response bit by bit from the Scriptures, I will state that I believe the resolution of sin is far more important than the debate over Climate Change. This world will end and will disappear when the King of Kings returns. We cannot change its terminal condition any more than we can save ourselves from the result of our sins. Courageous leaders live a life of Faith in response to the saving grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Courageous leaders are not miracle workers but they embrace the Y'WH who alone does miracles including the miracle of Faith. They recognize that they are servants and not masters. That is the example that Jesus lived and it is the mission that He left for all leaders.

Unknown said...

Must you ATTACK ME AT ALL? REALLY? Tell me Dennis, is this your own Self RIGHTEOUS Spanish INQUISITION? Pardon me Brother Dennis, your apocalyptic clap trap logic is circular. Isn't the conversion of souls ultimately up to the HOLY SPIRIT?

"Witness" and testify as much as you like, it is up to the Holy SPIRIT to convert Them ISN'T IT? If the resolution of sin is of the utmost import, how many meals have you gone without in your quest lately? DO you have weekly and Yearly quotas to fill, Dennis? Have you converted enough to assure your own SALVATION?

When is the last time you missed a house or car payment? Pardon my impertinence here DENNIS, will you please explain your own latest "Courageous" action your faith led you to take.

DENNIS I REALLY REALY DO NEED TO KNOW!

Is it not irresponsible to ignore the impact of your actions concerning the destruction of the environment, Look at The effect of Global Warming on the Native people in ALASKA,(YES MANY OF THEM LUTHERAN or at least Christian.) These people have been preached to by missionaries, including my own father) and now their hunting grounds and destroyed, the Polar Ice Caps are melting, and you, my pious LTHERAN Brother are only concerned with the souls of The Eskimo? Killing Them to save their souls? AND THAT IS THE CHRISTIAN THING TO DO?

L'chaim!


Carl

Dennis Bender said...

If you feel that your calling is to save Mother Earth, then please do so. I would not hinder you in that mission. My name has been mentioned in many negative ways for suggesting that this earth was not meant to be one large refuse dump and for suggesting that everyone be responsible in their use of it. I have been involved in environmental clean-up projects and in participating in political action. However that use of stewardship is only a response to what God has given me - a beautiful place to find life.

My salvation was assured by Jesus of Nazareth on the Hill of Golgatha. I can not either add to or detract from His Work. It was finished! The only real courageous action that I take and that I can take is to accurately label myself as the chief of sinners that stands in the need of the undeserved mercy of the King of kings.

FYI, my wife is of the Anishinabe people. Killing the people to save their souls????????
Who of us is not dying from the chemical attack on this world or from some other malady in this broken world? God still proclaims that our first order of business is to Preach the Good News of His Salvation. So yes, the saving of souls is a higher priority for me. I point the way and the Holy Spirit moves them Jesus' way, the way of salvation.