Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Judgment of God

With the horror of the tsunami that has devastated South Asia, many are asking questions such as, "Why did God allow this to happen?" and "Is this the judgment of God?" I want to focus in particular on these two questions, and today I'll offer my ruminations on the latter.

"Is this the judgment of God?" It is altogether too easy for us Westerners of the Judeo-Christian heritage to assume that something like this was sent by God as a judgment on the pagan ways of the countries hardest hit - Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam being the predominant religions in these areas. The God of the Bible clearly states, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:2-3) Hinduism and Buddhism, by contrast, deny the uniqueness of God and are placed outside the camp of monotheistic religions. (While it is true that Islam is generally categorized as a monotheistic religion, both Jews and Christians would counter that Allah is not the same as the God of the Bible, and hence is a false god. Being myself a Christian, I will follow this convention and place Islam outside the Judeo-Christian heritage.) So, many will contend, the tsunami hit as a judgment on these nations for their idol worship.

Is this a Biblically correct assumption? I would say not. In Jesus' day, there was also a disaster that caused people to jump to the same conclusion; i.e., that the disaster was the judgment of God upon sinners. But Jesus had a slightly different take on the matter:
Luke 13:1-5
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; 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 sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

Were the people who perished in the tsunami worse sinners than we are? The natives in those countries have had comparatively little exposure to Christianity, whereas the West has enjoyed the light of the Gospel for hundreds of years. What's our excuse? Maybe they bowed down to their idols, but we in the West have our own idols that we bow down to - sports stars, bratty Hollywood actors, pop/rock musicians, money, ease and convenience....are we worse than the Hindus, the Buddhists, or the Muslims?

"I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

The message for us is not "God sent this upon them because they're such terrible sinners" - but rather "I need to repent and believe the Gospel."

In closing, a parable for those who think they have nothing to worry about because they're not as bad as the other guy:

Luke 18:9-14
Also He (Jesus) spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Who are worse sinners - the tsunami victims, or us? It doesn't matter - "unless you repent you will all likewise perish."

No comments: