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Bill Muehlenberg of CultureWatchCultureWatch – 11.01.11 – Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Whenever a major disaster or national tragedy breaks forth, a heated debate tends to arise within Christian circles. Opinions tend to be polarised, with two sets of extremes on offer. On the one hand are those who claim this is all the judgment of God, and people need to repent. On the other hand are those who argue that God would never do such things, and it is ridiculous to drag God into any of this.

From a biblical point of view, I tend to find both perspectives unhelpful. The truth is, we often simply do not know – and are not told – why a particular event happens. Are the floods in Queensland the direct and specific work of God, whether in judgment or for some other reason?

Who knows? I can’t say that it is or it is not. We simply cannot know for certain. So we need to be careful about rushing to judgment here. The truth is, when God acted in the Old Testament, he generally revealed his purposes in his actions. He would communicate his purposes to man, often through his prophets. Thus divine actions were explained by divine speech.

We now refer to this as speech acts. God acts, but he utters his intentions along with it. There are countless examples of this found in the Old Testament. For example, Yahweh says to Jeremiah, “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the LORD decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the LORD our God?’ then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law’” (Jer. 16:10-11).

Thus divine commentary accompanies divine actions. But today things are not so clear cut, so we need to proceed with caution. The problem is, we do not have that same prophetic word today. We do not now have a clear word from God every time some tragedy or disaster takes place.

But it seems the other extreme is just as bad, if not worse. These people argue that God could in no way be behind such tragedies. They think any form of divine judgment is simply not on today. As one believer put it on another site: “thats not true christianity … love love love”.

To be honest, these people are far less biblical than the first group. The first group at least has plenty of biblical precedent for their claims, while the second group is simply unbiblical. Indeed, they are little more than modern day Marcionites.

Marcion was an early church heretic who rejected the God of the Old Testament, and demanded a radical discontinuity between the Testaments. Marcionites said that Yahweh has nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel. The early church fathers rightly condemned this as unbiblical heresy.

The God we serve is the unchanging, eternal God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is just as full of grace in the OT as he is of judgment in the NT. I have written about this frequently on this site. See for example:

http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/05/27/on-divine-love-and-wrath/

Just as judgment from God broke forth against a sinful and rebellious people in the OT, so too we find it in the NT. Consider just a few of the episodes recorded there, such as that of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, or the judgment on Herod in Acts 12.

Jesus spoke clearly about this in many places. Consider his remarks in Luke 13:1-5. He mentions two tragedies, including a fallen tower which killed 18 people. He simply notes these cases, then twice says this: “unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Our Christian commentator who said “thats not true christianity … love love love” has obviously not read this passage, nor so many others like it. She would be the first to rebuke Jesus for his lack of compassion, and this heartless utterance of unloving words at such a difficult time.

It is amazing how some Christians think they are more loving than Jesus was. But Jesus – who was too wise to make a mistake and too loving to be unkind – knew exactly what needed to be said. He knew that judgment was imminent, and that the most loving thing he could do was to warn people to flee the wrath to come.

The truth is, a black cloud of judgment hangs over all of us. Very often God indeed does use natural and human tragedies to get our attention, to realign our priorities, and to get us right with him before it is too late. And even the Jesus of the Gospels – who we want to tame, domesticate and transform into our image – makes this clear.

Then there is the book of Revelation. Hopefully these Christian who say God would never judge us still believe that Revelation is God’s word to us, that it is still part of our inspired Scriptures. One Toowoomba resident said of the flood carnage, “The destruction is like from the Armageddon”.

Yes, believers do – or should – believe in Armegeddon, and the divine wrath unleashed as recorded in Revelation. Thus if believers can accept the judgment of God there, why is it not possible that he continues to judge according to his own plans and purposes?

Indeed, it can be argued that grace and judgments are inseparably linked with God, and we can no more speak only of his love than we can speak only of his anger and wrath against sin. Both go together and both describe who God is. His love is a holy love, and his judgments are always linked to grace.

We see that throughout Scripture. When God judged Adam and Eve by excluding them from the Garden, that was an act of grace. To live forever in a sinful, rebellious condition would have been horrible. And in that expulsion from Eden, he also provided a covering for the pair. Judgement and grace always go together.
We find this running all through the Bible. Indeed, it is such an important theme that a brand new book devotes 650 pages to this topic. I refer to James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Crossway, 2010).

In it he rightly argues that God’s grace is always accompanied by God’s judgment. God cannot save without also judging. When Yahweh saved Israel, he simultaneously judged Egypt. When God delivered David and Israel, he judged Goliath and the Philistines. We find this time and again in Scripture.

And the ultimate work of grace and salvation – the death and resurrection of Christ – was also the supreme work of judgment. Jesus was judged and took upon himself the wrath of God in order that we might escape it. God’s glory is made manifest in both his salvation and his judgment.

As Hamilton says, “This glory of God is a saving and judging glory – an aroma of life to those being saved and death to those perishing (2 Cor. 2:15-16), and this saving and judging glory is at the center of biblical theology.” The holiness of God and the love of God must always be kept together.

“While God’s steadfast love is seen in salvation, it is also seen in judgment. When God judges, he enforces standards he himself has set, showing steadfast love to himself and the demands of his character. Further, when God judges, he shows steadfast love to his people. They are saved from their enemies when he judges those enemies. They are saved from their sins when God judges their sins (e.g., Isa. 40:2; Rom. 8:3).”

But getting back to the floods, we are simply faced with mega-questions, such as: what is the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility? Thus in this case, can we simply say it was an act of God, or largely due to human irresponsibility (not building enough dams, etc.), or other factors, or a combination thereof?

In our fallen and finite state, we just will not have perfectly clear answers on all this, at least on this side of eternity. But if it is foolhardy to argue that every disaster is an act of God’s judgment, it is just as foolhardy to believe that God does not or cannot judge as he freely chooses.

Whatever is the actual cause of all this, as always, believers can pray for those affected, and offer tangible expressions of help and encouragement. Already believers are praying, giving and acting to help those involved. That much we can always do.


10 Responses to “Tragedy, Judgment, Grace”

  1. 1 Susan

    Hi,

    Just to confirm – upon receiving your email and praying that God would hold back the king tide that would cause the river to rise to a greater peak – He answered!! The peak was lower than expected. God is good.

    Thank you Ps. Daniel for listening to Holy Spirit and praying. Our nation needs prayer more than ever now and in the future.
    Praise God that people of all denominations are coming together to pray.

    Susan

  2. 2 Liliana

    Dear Ps Daniel and friends at CTFM – thank you so much for your prayers for Brisbane and standing in the gap for Queensland as led by the Holy Spirit. May God bless you always, Our house is on the other side of the city away from the river and it’s so hard to see on TV all the suffering and destruction caused by the water, thank you for your prayer stand that saved many more homes –

    In His love, Liliana

  3. 3 Richard

    I ponder on what is invoked when we think of Sin?

    Is there a degree of Sin? Is there a level to which we can go and ‘get away’ with a light whipping? (I say no)

    Sin is SIN. And the nature of sin comes in the same flavour and there is ALWAYS and antidote- Gods amazing GRACE.

    Pride is Sin (to pick on one example), arrogance another. And yet it seems OK to harbour pride, resentment, arrogance and yet never, ever be seen doing all those things we chastigate others for.
    No, we don’t gamble, are sober, don’t steal or leer at the nighbours wife and so on.

    It easy to think in OT terms and link sin and judgement.
    The quote re the tower falling on some and killing them eg. That is only too common today and yet the ‘innocent’ and Godly get caught up in this too. So where does that leave us in deciding judgemnt and sin debate?

    We live in a special time in the history of God’s Kingdom – it’s His – His Word tells us it is and we are all part of His Kingdom here on earth whether we like it or not.
    Let’s tell others about the richness of knowing Christ rather than the terror of sin and judgement and punishment that would drive any child into a cormer, cringing and hoping for a better outcome.
    A child that knows a father who may beat him up at any moment will never rise to fulfillment but remain ellusive and frightened.

    Is this why the Church can’t reach the lost – but then who are the lost?

  4. 4 Jerry

    Dear Friends,

    We should learn a valuable lesson from the mistakes Israel made. When Israel went to war with Philistines without praising Y’HoVaH they lost the battle and even second time after bringing the ark of the covenant with them (which Philistines stole later). Why? Because when you stop praising YeHoVaH for everything His presence leaves His people, even though they bring the ark (or go to church) His presence is not there.

    Lets praise Y’HoVaH and give Him the glory for everything.

    Shalom,

    Jerry

    P.S. Did you notice that in our Prime Minister’s speech about the flood crises, God or prayer was not mentioned but latest technology that can help to save peoples lives as if God couldn’t do better. Some have more faith in technology and science.

  5. 5 Helen

    This is my thoughts; disasters are caused by our sin. There are consequences to everything we do. If Governments allow building on flood plains, dam water upstream and stop watercourses flowing freely, neglect listening to engineers when designing drainage systems, disaster happens. Apparently engineers pleaded for bigger pipes to be installed in Toowoomba but they weren’t listened to.

    If someone drinks and drives, most likely they’ll have an accident and kill themselves or somebody else. These things can’t be blamed onto God as they are caused by sin.

    God’s word is available to us, as a guide on how to best live our lives. We can either reject his word and follow our sinful selves and suffer the consequences on earth or follow Jesus, who is the word.

    Those who believe in Jesus as our saviour and are baptised will receive the reward of eternal life in heaven.
    This doesn’t mean we aren’t affected by others sins and of course our own sinful selves on this earth, but when we repent we have forgiveness. Sometimes our faith is also tested as Job’s was, so it doesn’t necessarily mean we are being punished.

    The type of Government we receive depends on whether people vote for their own selfish reasons, money e.t.c, or vote for the Party most likely to uphold Christian values.

    I know so many farmers’ prayers have been answered by these floods. The Murray was dying in S.A and many farmers were forced off their land due to the salty water. This is the third year of good rains we have had and each year we have waited for more water to be released down the Murray, but each year the water has been held back in other States. This has ruined some of our farmers and they have had an immense struggle just to survive. Many had to go into immense debt to grow vegetables elsewhere and their land was rendered worthless. These farmers now have the chance to return to their farms so their prayers have been answered.

  6. 6 Chris

    “Who knows? I can’t say that it is or it is not. We simply cannot know for certain. So we need to be careful about rushing to judgment here. The truth is, when God acted in the Old Testament, he generally revealed his purposes in his actions. He would communicate his purposes to man, often through his prophets. Thus divine actions were explained by divine speech.”

    The article though interesting doesn’t answer questions, it gives supposition. Bill Muehlenberg does not know what Father is doing, and assume’s that nobody else does either.

    If we cannot know for certain do we place suspicion on those who spoke before time of this event? Father may not have revealed it to you in advance and for you, you are a spectator, but he DID reveal it in advance, not only through me (4 years ago), but many others have prophesied these events, sometime many more years in advance. Google it if you are unsure.

    By the way we didn’t DRAG God into this, he has been in the center all the time.

    To warn you in advance, God IS sending more than this.

  7. 7 Maggie

    Hi Everyone,

    In the light of what is happening in the Queensland and other parts of Australia i thought i would forward this on.

    Love
    Maggie

    STRANGE SIGNS to START THE YEAR
    -by Karen Burgin.

    {The below happenings have all occurred in the space of about one month. There is a link to a MAP of it all at the end. The below list is compiled by Karen Burgin}-

    “Ponder all this for a moment…”

    Several hundred dead birds fell from the sky in TX

    Thousands of birds fell from the sky in central ARK

    500 birds fell from the sky in Louisiana

    100’s more birds fell from the sky in KY

    2 MILLION fish have washed ashore in the Chesapeake Bay Area

    100,000 fish lie dead in the Arkansas River…covering 20 linear miles.
    99% of the fish are only one kind called Drum fish.

    100 TONS of fish dead in the waters off of Parana`, Argentina

    TENS of THOUSANDS of dead birds fell to the ground in Manitoba, Canada.

    40,000 crabs are washed ashore in the UK… Jan 6.

    10,000 ANTELOPE lie dead in Kazakhstan… these 10,000 represent
    1/4 of the total global population of this animal.

    The BEES are dying out in unprecedented numbers…

    On Fox News it spoke of 8,000 Doves that fell over the skies of Italy, and all had strange blue markings on their beaks.

    In Sweden, a mere 100 birds fell to the ground… Jackdaw Crows.

    And earthquakes are a dime a dozen over the period of just a month:

    Dec. 2… 6.9 earthquake in New Guinea

    Dec. 17… 7.2 earthquake on the CA//Mexico border

    Dec. 20… 5.6 earthquake in El Salvador

    Dec. 21… 6.2 earthquake in Sumatra

    Dec. 21… 7.4 earthquake in Japan

    Dec. 25… 7.6 earthquake in Fiji

    Jan 5……. 6.6 earthquake in Vanuatu in the South Pacific.
    10 minutes later, there was another quake that registered 5.5

    Jan 2……7.1 earthquake in Chile

    Causes for these happenings?… -Toxins?.. Colder weather?..
    Disease?.. Fireworks?… Hail?.. Thunderstorms?… End Times…?

    …but all I”M going to say is: Get right with God!…………

    “For your redemption draweth nigh.” (Luke 21:28).. – Karen Burgin.

    -For a MAP of the animal deaths, or to make a Comment, please go to the website below-

    http://www.johnthebaptisttv.com/

    Welcome to 2011!!

  8. 8 Daryl Stenhouse

    Bill is incorrect when he says that God hasn’t said anything about this current situation. Back in 2003 He spoke thru Rev. Jonathan Hansen, and said that our nation is arrogant – so many Aussies believe that they can get thru life without God! He declared that He would bring one calamity after another against us until we humbled ourselves and sought His face in public, collective acts of repentance.

    This message about us being arrogant is supported by the prophecy given to Hona Wikeepa, which is to be found on this website.

    Pastor Daniel set an example for us with his gathering on the steps of the Victorian Parliament for prayer on behalf of Brisbane. This is the sort of thing that God wants us to be doing – setting an example for the rest of the nation! Our meetings for this should be in nonchurch spaces – in fact, someone (I can’t remember who) has seen in a dream white tents set up for prayer around the coastline of Australia, and farming communities “sowing in prayer”.

    Please take note of the prophecies for Australia given to Dr Owuor of Kenya last year – three tsunamis and a great earthquake, all preventable by us churchies leading the rest of Australia in repentance!

  9. 9 Bill K

    In the book of Exodus, we read about the 10 plagues God sent on Egypt in order to get Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go. He turned water into blood killing all of the fish, a plague of frogs, gnats, diseased cattle, unhealable boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born of all humans and animals who did not have marked doorposts. These were physical signs from God to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Things that only God could do.

    Fast forward to today. Over the past months we have seen thousands of birds falling out of the sky in many different locations..dead. We have seen tens of thousands, in one case hundreds of thousands of fish washing up on shore
    in different locations…dead. We have seen massive floods in different parts of the world. Most recently, 200 cows were found dead in Wisconsin.

    MY FRIEND, ANYONE WHO DOESN’T REALIZE GOD IS TRYING TO GET OUR ATTENTION IS DEAF, DUMB, AND BLIND!!!

    Over the years, many scientists have sought to prove the 10 plagues God sent on Egypt could have never happened. However, as they sought to disprove the Bible, they ended up with very logical, scientific explanations how each one of the plagues could have happened exactly as the Bible describes them. While there is scientific proof the plagues could have occurred exactly as
    the Bible says they did, it still took God to set them in motion.

    I know that there are many in the scientific community working around the clock today to find explanations for the dead birds, fish, animals, and floods. I am certain that at some point they will come up with a logical, scientific answer for each one. Again, it still took God to set them in motion! These physical acts that we are witnessing are clearly signs from God to get our attention!

    So what is God trying to say through these natural acts we are witnessing? Obviously I don’t know the mind of God, no man does. But I have no doubt that as these last days of human history unwind, as we move closer each day to the return of our Lord and see the final chapter played out, God wants to see “all come to repentance that none be lost.” If nothing else, God is trying to wake people up that the end is very near and now is the time to repent and come to know Jesus as your Savior by faith.

    I love you and care about you so much. I know most people are not paying attention. The dead birds, fish, animals, the floods, are simply acts of nature they observe but see no meaning in. I vehemently disagree. There are no coincidences with God. Everything has a reason, even though we may not fully understand that reason. People need to wake up, look up, and realize that there truly is a God who created the heavens and earth, who loves them, and wants to have an eternal relationship with them.

    If you have never made a commitment of your heart and life to Jesus by faith, today is your day. It is no accident or coincidence you are reading this today. God is speaking to you as loudly as He is speaking to this lost world through these acts of nature we have been witnessing the past few months.

    If you do not have 100% assurance that if your life ends today you will spend eternity with God, the Bible says TODAY is the day of salvation. Please take a few minutes, the most important few minutes of your life, and go to: http://www.liveprayer.com/plan.cfm
    Simply ask God to open your heart, read the words, watch the brief video clip, and make the most important decision you will make in this life, the decision to invite Jesus into your heart and life by faith. God is speaking to YOU, and I will be praying for you.
    In His love and service,

    Your friend and brother in Christ,

    Bill K

  10. 10 Pat

    Dear Jason,

    This was a prophecy given in Brisbane July last year.

    Shalom,

    Pat
    ________________________________________

    Here is the latest edited version of the mud prophecy. It’s shorter – around 5 minutes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB-4-rFmCZI

    If you can’t open this link, do a search on ‘mud prophecy’ on you tube. It comes up in the first few search results.

    God bless,

    Matthew

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