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Thursday, July 21, 2011

God's Punishment

I suppose there are (at least) two ways to look at just about everything.  That is most definitely true when it comes to looking at God, His nature, and His character.  You'll often hear people say things like, "I don't think a loving God would ever do that!"  They have in their mind what defines a loving God and they aren't willing to consider anything outside of that range of thinking.  And of course, they're sincerely convinced that their particular point of view is the most accurate point of view.

But if there are more than two ways to look at just about anything, how do you know which one of them is truly accurate?  Isn't that the source of conflict and perhaps even misunderstanding?  We base our beliefs about something on a set of facts, circumstances or even perceptions ... which in and of themselves may or may not be true.  Such is the case with God.  (I'm certain of it.)

When you read through the books of the Old Testament (which is actually much longer than the New Testament) you get a consistent image of God.  His nature and His character are revealed in great detail.  Mainly we see a loving, forgiving God who seeks after His own people and continually forgives and restores them when they mess up their lives.  At the same time, the Old Testament reveals a God whose anger over sin is sobering.  He must punish sin.  He has no choice in the matter.

I am the first to admit that I get uncomfortable when the religious zealots stand up and proclaim this or that about God.  They look like lunatics when, for example, they say that the soldiers dying in Iraq or Afghanistan wars are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.  Honestly, they look like crazy people!  Or to hear a televangelist explain that the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan which created a nuclear crisis are all due to that country's sinful ways of living.  It seems pretty far-fetched, pretty unloving and maybe even a little arrogant to see someone making such proclamations.

But here's the thing.  I read the Old Testament and I realize that things like droughts, earthquakes, floods, tsunami's, and even wars can be God's punishment for sin.  Or at least they used to be.  Has that changed?  Is God no longer interested in punishing sin?  Many people would like to think so.  I know there are many Christians today who believe that God is not upset or angry whatsoever.  They believe that because Jesus died on the cross ... God is no longer bothered by the world's sinful ways.  (And that's certainly one legitimate way of looking at it.)

But me?  I'm not so sure.  When I read my Bible, one thing seems very, very clear to me.  God is unchanging.  His nature and His character never, ever change.  He is unchanging and that is one of His greatest attributes.  It means we can always count on God to be consistent.  And I've found nothing that says God is unchanging --- except for when Jesus came along. 

I've long believed that God is in control ... of everything.  So if something good happens I count it as a blessing from God.  And if something bad happens, I assume it's for a reason.  At the very least, God had the power to stop it ... and He didn't.  Because of what I know of God's nature and character, I assume that there must be a (good) reason why He didn't stop the bad from happening. 

But more than that, I cautiously believe that bad things could be sent to us by God.  Why would I believe something like that?  Again, the history of God's anger over sin and punishment to bring repentance are extolled in great detail throughout the books of the Old Testament.  But I think we can be even more specific.  In the Old Testament book of Amos 3:6, it says, "...When disaster comes to a city, has the Lord not caused it?"

Think about that for a moment.  Has the Lord not caused the tsunami, the earthquake, the tornado, the drought and so forth?  Our insurance companies refer to such things as "acts of God."  Are they?  Are they really deliberate acts of God?  And if they are --- what is their purpose?  Why would a loving, forgiving God do such things?  It's here that we do get a plausible answer ... from the Old Testament. 

Throughout the Old Testament times, God sent war, disease, famine, drought, floods, earthquakes, windstorms, insect plagues and many other calamities to punish the people of Israel for their sin.  He further used these calamities to help them experience the natural consequences of their sinful ways and motivate them to return to God with repentant hearts.

I was visiting with a friend last night and we got to discussing this dilemma.  I told him the troubling thing for me occurs every morning.  You see, when I rise early in the morning, the very first thing I do is read my Bible for at least a few chapters.  Then I set that aside and I read the morning newspaper.  The troubling thing is that I'm seeing the same stories in both readings!  The calamities I'm reading about in my Bible are the same calamities and "acts of God" that I'm reading about in my newspaper.  How can anyone expect me not to take God with me from one reading to the other?

Like I said in the beginning, I really try hard not to act like some sort of religious zealot or raging lunatic.  But the fact of the matter is I'm having a harder and harder time overlooking the parallels that I see between Biblical times and modern times.  And if those so-called "acts of God" had a purpose back then, can we really go on thinking that they have no similar purpose now?  Could they really just be happening for no reason at all?  I don't think so.

There are certainly at least two ways of looking at everything.  But my friends, isn't it time that we started trying to figure out the most truthful and accurate way to look at anything?

1 comment:

  1. I'm right there with you! Thank you for writing this. My post wasn't as well written as yours, but here it is....