The catastrophe in Japan is heartbreaking to witness as all the world watches the scenes on TV after the recent earthquake and tsunami. Commentators are in concert wishing the Japanese people their best wishes and much hope in the days and months ahead as their society tries to rebuild. Anyone with a heart will concur.
One commentator’s statement made me pause, when he expressed with dismay that maybe some of the Japanese people felt that this tragedy was the result of God’s judgement. The implication seemed obvious, that such a concept should be unthinkable in this modern era.
I can’t imagine that anyone would make such an assertion, that what occurred last Friday was divine judgement, since God Himself would have to have revealed that intent. Those of us who live near the coast are especially alert and sensitive to the understanding that it easily could have been my world and not theirs that was thrown into chaos. Indeed it someday may be!
But I do take exception to the notion that there is no such thing as divine retribution. Anyone with a cursory understanding of the Bible knows full well that in the past God has inflicted cataclysmic events upon His creation. Certainly, to those who don’t believe in such things as the hand of God these are the descriptions of fairy tales. But to those whose hearts and lives have been touched by the divine, we can be assured that if He has told us these things have happened we can rest in that assurance. But God’s great patience does have its limits. I’m sure that anyone reading this can describe in at least outline form the stories of Noah and the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses leading Israel from Egypt. In no uncertain terms, there occurred some of the most powerful examples of history changing acts of Divine Judgement the world has yet witnessed.
In the case of the Noah story, the earth was so completely populated with reprobate and evil people it is even stated that God was sorry He had made humanity, see Genesis 6:5-6. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” With the exception of Noah and his family, there was no one whose heart was not filled with wickedness. It is uncomfortable to read of all of the depravity that ultimately resulted in such a severe judgement, that God would start over, start fresh with Noah and his family. But He did promise not to destroy the earth in that way again.
In some respects the awful story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is even more terrible. The story starts with Abraham arguing with God about destroying the reprobate people inhabiting the region of those two cities whose names would forever be linked with a shameful act of depravity, that awfully is now made to seem socially acceptable and civilly protected. But in God’s view was so reprehensible as to be worthy of these people’s extinction. It is astounding that such depravity consumed every last inhabitant of that region. With the sole exception of Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family. The story surrounding how “righteous Lot” could have put up with dwelling among such reprobate people I’ll leave for another time, as enticing as that is. But Abraham starts negotiating with the Lord, will God destroy the people even if some righteous citizens are among them? First he starts with 50 and God says no, if 50 good people are there He will not destroy them. And Abraham keeps decreasing the number but God stops him ate 15. Since there were really only 4 He was safe to proceed further in the negotiation. But even with only 4 decent souls, Lot, his wife, and his two daughters, God gives the redemption as an Angel leads them away from the blast zone. And then God’s wrath was released from Heaven and the area was wiped off the face of the earth.
These stories and more in Scripture are written for the benefit of all mankind. They serve to call every one to account, that there is more to life than the little pleasures that drive mankind’s interests and lifestyles. As Jesus plainly stated of what good is it if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? Which is of more value, the things in the world or the soul of man made in God’s image? Why does Jesus ask Peter after His resurrection, when He made breakfast for the disciples who had fished all night catching nothing, “do you love me more than these?” I think the most important thing He was asking Peter was if he loved his previous life, with its certainties, and comforts of food clothing and shelter, more than living a life really centered on the reality of the risen Saviour. If you are serious about being a disciple of Christ, what is going to concern you most, the temporal things of the world or the things that can’t be seen, living life in the passion of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:5-25)?
Can we say that the Japanese people brought this current disaster upon themselves? Only God really knows the answer to that question. I can say, however, that there is coming a time when such judgement is coming on the entire world as a catastrophe such that will dwarf the devastation that is appalingly demonstrated in Japan. And I can unequivocally say that it is incumbent on every person on this earth to make yourselves ready for that day. Just read the Book of Revelation to witness the depiction of the ultimate wrath of God. Where in spite of all knowledge of the cause for that detestation, the torment only serves to turn the hearts of man even more away from the redemption that is offered all the way up to the end. Jesus was clear when He said “of that day or hour no one knows . . . so keep on the alert.” Mark 13:31. We all need to be ready for any such surprise.
Do I think that this catastrophe is a Divine Judgement on the Japanese people. No, bad things happen all the time that are not necessarily divine judgments. Remember when the disciples asked Jesus, when they came upon a man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Our Lord gave an interesting reply, “Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3). Let us hope that in this sad situation the nation of Japan finds itself that God will somehow be glorified through it all.
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]