The recent spate of natural disasters from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the horrific wildfires in the West, to a run of international terrorist attacks and earthquakes (and don’t forget the eclipse!) has inevitably led to a number of people speculating on “God’s message” to America. Jason and David Benham recently posted a short video on Facebook where they quote Psalm 104 which speaks of God making wind and water his messengers, with the message being that America needs to repent.
“As a nation, if you would have told us back then in 2001 that in 2017 we would be completely redefining what gender means, what marriage means, what sexuality means,” they begin, “that people wouldn’t even be standing for the anthem and there’d be riots and protests in our streets and white supremacists with torches in their hands and Antifa bullying and beating people into comas. I would have said there’s no way that would happen in this country. And so today there’s a message from God for us.”.
Non-Christians of course go bonkers at any suggestion that there is divine message in these disasters. And granted, some Christians do a very poor job communicating what they mean when they suggest such things.
- If the suggestion is that Houston and Florida are somehow deserving of what happened to them, then such foolishness should be rebuked (trust me, LA is next in line if that’s the case).
- If the suggestion is that if only American would get its act together, no disasters would ever occur, that too is bad thinking. We live on a fallen planet, cursed by sin. Thorns and thistles, as well as earthquakes and hurricanes, are part of the deal on this side of heaven.
- If the suggestion is that behind every natural disaster is a moral cause, we should quickly send that one back to the lab. The universe just doesn’t run so tightly – it’s a theological error that the book of Job warns us against, and that Jesus tried to correct when he rebuked people for linking the collapse of a tower to the immorality of the people who perished (Luke 13:1-5).
However if the message is…
When a nation begins to systematically turn from God, and deny or overturn his moral standards, then God will move against that nation by allowing an increase in the number of troubles and hardships which that nation faces in an attempt to shake them and wake them to their spiritual danger.
…that message has the full endorsement of Scripture.
When the Bible speaks of God’s judgment, it thinks of it in at least one of three ways.
First, there is the final judgment of God that will occur at the end of human history.
2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Have no doubt about it my friends, you have an appointment with God your Maker. You will stand before him, alone, at the end of all things and you will have to explain your life to him.
Second, there is the judgment of God that is written into our behavior.
The Bible says, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them” (1 Timothy 5:24). This means that there is a price that we will pay for our sinning long before we stand before God on the last day. We reap what we sow, Scripture tells us. The physical world around us operates according to laws which God himself set in motion. If we break those laws, there will be a price to pay. Just because a human comes along and pronounces something good which God warns us against won’t take away the judgment written in the behavior.
Bear-lover Timothy Treadwell pretended that he could get up close and personal with a colony of Alaskan grizzlies. And for several years, his instinct seemed to pay off. Then in 2003, on his thirteenth Alaskan expedition, the laws of nature caught up with Treadwell when a hungry grizzly saw something more appetizing in him and his girlfriend than companionship. Treadwell and his girlfriend were caught, killed and eaten by a grizzly (and as the tapes of their deaths reveal, it wasn’t necessarily in that order.)
When a nation begins to systematically turn from God, and deny or overturn his moral standards, then God will move against that nation by allowing an increase in the number of troubles and hardship which that nation faces in an attempt to shake them and wake them to their spiritual danger.
Just as there are laws governing nature and the physical world, so God has established laws governing the moral and spiritual world. God gives us his laws for our good and because He loves us. But if we break those laws, judgment will come, because it’s written in our very behavior. Sin, like a ravenous beast, will never change its nature – it will only devour you if you insist on becoming its companion. And Jesus Christ would spare you from that judgment.
There’s a third type of judgment which the Bible speaks of, which gets more to the heart of these natural disasters.
There is the judgment God brings against nations which turn from him.
Jeremiah 18:7 – “If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”
Think about these words. God’s not just interested in Israel. God’s not just interested in America. “For so loved the world…that he gave his only Son.” God’s heart has always beat loudly and strongly with love for all the earth.
And so throughout the books of the Old Testament, we see a pattern of how God deals with nations in his judgments. It’s a pattern that we in America need to pay very close attention to.
Look closer at Jeremiah’s words. They tell us the following:
God’s judgments do not come without reason.
If a nation “does evil in my sight and does not obey me…” God’s first judgment on the earth during the days of Noah came because of sin. Genesis 6:5 – “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” The final judgment of God on the earth during the days of the last days Babylon will be because of sin. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
God’s judgments do not come without warning.
“If at any time I announce…” God says through Jeremiah. God announces his intentions in advance concerning what he will do on the earth. Amos 3:7 – “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” The Bible calls Noah a “preacher of righteousness.” When did he preach? All the years he was building the ark, he preached to his generation, warning them of the wrath to come. Before God judged Israel, he sent them prophets to warn them. Before God judged Judah, he sent them prophets to warn them. He sent Moses into the belly of Egypt. He sent Jonah to Ninevah via the belly of a whale to warn it of its wickedness. He sent Daniel into Babylon. And Paul into Rome. The Benham brothers and others like them are standing on broad shoulders.
God’s judgments do not come without divine patience.
God is not eager to harm us. He longs to bless us. In Jeremiah 18, God says he will “relent” of bringing judgment if that nation repents. In fact, when we consider all that Scripture says about God’s judgments, his patience with us is one constant theme. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come repentance.”
God’s judgments do not come without severity.
“If I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed…”. These words used here refer to severe actions.
Which begs the question: How does God go about uprooting, tearing down and destroying a nation? Studying the way God worked with nations, including his own people, in the Old Testament tells us how. It’s not pretty. When God sets out to judge a people, the rods of discipline which he uses are the everyday hardships that come with life on this broken planet.
So God will use war, violence and terror. Proverbs 16:7 – says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” The idea here is that God steps in with a person who pleases him and sovereignly protects him from some forms of trouble that would otherwise come naturally. But once the person stops living to please God, the Lord removes that canopy of favor from them, and all bets are off.
The prophet Amos describes other ways God uses to bring nations to repentance in chapter 4 of his book. “I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet you have not returned to me, declares the Lord.” (Amos 4:6). God uses famine and economic distress to awaken us to our sin.
“I also withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away…People staggered from town to town for water but did not yet enough to drink, yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord.” God uses drought and changes in the weather.
“Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord God.” God also uses environmental distress to bring us to our knees.
“I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt…yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord.” God uses disease and pestilence to bring us to our senses.
“I overthrew some of you as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord.” God uses natural disasters. Indeed, the wind and waters are his messengers.
To cause a sinful, self-absorbed nation to reawaken to its need for him, God has to use pain. Sometimes it works. Some of our nation’s greatest periods of spiritual renewal sprung out of the soil of judgment. The periods following the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression and World War II were all marked by great spiritual vitality in our country, as many turned to God.
So no: Houston and Florida were not specific judgments for specific sins. A lot of good and godly people suffered in both disasters. These disasters served more as a general harbinger of what may come in increasing measure should America continue on its way of ignoring, even defying, God.
The seeds of our judgment are already sown and growing. We have stretched the nation’s debt to its absolute limit. We have exhausted our military by more than a decade of war, without serious replenishment, while our enemies continue to rage at us. Our civic soul is shredded by division. Our leaders have little political will to make difficult but necessary choices. All God has to do is simply look away, and remove whatever protection he is affording our country, and dark days unlike anything we have seen in most of our lifetimes will come.
Jesus, after telling his listeners that the tower did not fall on those who died because of their sin, went on to add this: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Each time the earth hiccups in some way, it should serve as a reminder to us that “Here we have no lasting city” (Heb.13:14). Not one of us gets out of this thing alive. Unless we learn to seek our Maker first, we will miss the point of what life is for.
The question for us to ask today is: How will we respond as a nation to the warning bells being sounded in our generation? There’s only one correct answer, and the Benham brothers used it in their video.