Friday, 6 November 2015

It's Personal

Not a Tame Lion

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge of the heavens and the earth.  The methods of execution of His justice vary widely.  The Bible records just about every kind of judgement imaginable.  These include the purposeful death of isolated individuals (Ananias and Saphira; Lot's wife) to more general judgements upon kingdoms or civilisations (floods, famines, diseases, wars, earthquakes, fires, corrupt rulers, tyrannical and cruel governments, and so on).

Some judgements can be a direct result of cause and effect.  For example, China's One Child Policy (now Two Child Policy) has and will result in an atomisation of that society and economic stagnation in that country for generations to come. 

Because God's law of the covenant includes all nations and societies, none are immune from the appended blessings and curses of His covenant.  If a nation does well and fears and worships Him in truth, blessings will follow.  If a nation despises Him, curses will inevitably fall.

If there is one thing to set Western nations seething in anger it is the suggestion that a judgement of God has fallen.  Whilst many Christians are keen to talk about God's blessings, they are reticent, if not downright reluctant, to talk about His judgements.  We believe one reason is that Christians want to be thought well of by all people, and to remind them of God's holiness and His judgements is one way to create maximal offence.  But God calls us to faithfulness, not popularity. 

When a severe earthquake struck Christchurch early in 2011, the nation was shocked.  Christian leaders hastened to offer up a theodicy for the event, arguing that such things in no way implied anything about God's character.
  Most importantly, they did not in any way imply that God is not a God of love.  The Christian spokespersons and church leaders wanted to assure everyone that God was with them and for them and would comfort them in their tragedies.  What was left hanging was whether the earthquake was personal or impersonal.  Was it the result of physical forces beyond the control or will or plan or design of God, or not.  In other words, was the earthquake cosmically personal and intended by God, or just a random, impersonal event.

Unbelief desperately wanted reassurance that it was the latter.  By and large the Christian Church obliged.

But how does this square with the Scripture's testimony?  When one of the most severe earthquakes in Israel occurred in 750BC, the prophets called it the Day of the Lord.
The prophet Amos predicted the “Day of the Lord” (Amos 5:18-20) and a great earthquake (1:1; 2:13; 3:14-15; 6:11; 8:8; 9:1, 5). When the magnitude 8.2 earthquake occurred two years later in 750 B.C., Amos was propelled to notoriety as the earliest writing prophet at the time of the explosive emergence in Israel of writing prophets. Other prophets that lived through the big earthquake wrote about “the Day of the Lord” and earthquakes (Isaiah 2:10-21; 5:25; Micah 1:3-6). Archaeological excavations at numerous Iron Age cities show earthquake destruction debris at layers assigned to the middle of the eighth century B.C.8 Dead Sea sediment cores indicate a persistent, two-inch-thick earthquake-disturbed layer at a depth of about 12 feet in the floor of the lake. Analysis of the damage regionally indicates Richter magnitude 8.2 with the epicenter in Lebanon. That makes Amos’ earthquake the largest yet documented in the Holy Land in the last 4,000 years. [Greatest Earthquakes of the Bible]
Chris Trotter is a left-wing commentator.  We have no idea whether he is a Christian or not.  But it was left to him to point out the omnipotent personal God's involvement in the Christchurch earthquake.  To this day we find his words, in this instance, staggering.  An unlikely prophet spoke out.

Chris Trotter
WAS GOD PRESENT in Christchurch on 22 February 2011? It’s a question many New Zealanders have wrestled with over the past month, and the tragedy which engulfed Japan on 11 March has given it added urgency.

Officially, we’re a secular nation, yet Census data confirms that more than half of New Zealanders retain a belief in God. That belief is sorely tested by natural disasters. If God was present in Christchurch on 22 February, why didn’t He prevent the earthquake?

But, in posing this question aren’t we separating God from the natural world? Seating Him on a divine throne beyond this earthly realm? Requiring Him to demonstrate his mastery over his own creation by, in this case, countermanding the movement of the earth’s tectonic plates?

Yes, we are. But we can hardly be blamed for doing so. Because, when all is said and done, this is the view of God we have inherited from the Bible. He is the maker of heaven and earth and if it pleases him to command the sun to stand still, or the oceans to o’ertop the world, then it will be so. He is Jehovah, “I am that I am”, the God Charlton Heston (in the role of Moses) invokes when Pharaoh’s army traps the Israelites against the margins of the Red Sea.

“Behold His mighty hand!”, Charlton cries, and low, the waters of the sea are parted.

There are, of course, plusses and minuses to the Jehovan conception of divinity, as the celebrated author, C.S. Lewis, well understood.

The Horse and His Boy, one of his Chronicles of Narnia, he makes it clear that his own rendering of the Jehovan God – the golden lion Aslan – is not a pet to be called for and dismissed at our convenience. On the contrary, he is an altogether dangerous being. As one of Lewis’s characters indignantly observes: “He’s not a tame lion!”

And, yet, it was to a rather tame deity that the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, Peter Beck, appeared to be appealing in the aftermath of the earthquake. In answer to the question: “Where was God on 22 February?” he responded:

“God is in all these people. God is in the midst of all this. God is weeping with those who weep. God is alongside those who are finding the energy to just keep going. God is in the people who are reaching out and seeking to sustain one another. God is about building community, about empowering people.”

And, when a journalist demanded: ‘Yes, but where was God was when offices pancaked and burned and hundreds died?’

He replied:

“Well, we live on a dynamic, creating planet that’s doing its thing. For whatever reason, our forebears chose to build this city on this place. They didn’t know we were on this fault line. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. We make our own choices about what we do.”

Doing its thing?! What exactly is the Dean trying to say? That the natural world is a conscious entity? That it has its own volition and (God save us!) its own
agenda? And did Cantabrians, thanks to the poor choices of their “forebears” simply find themselves in this “dynamic, creating planet’s” way? And was Jehovah, in fulfilment of some hitherto undisclosed self-denying ordinance, required to turn his face from the imminent suffering of Cantabrians and keep his mighty hands in his pockets?

If so, then God has a rival – a divine competitor in the omnipotence business. And the Dean is in flagrant breach of the Nicene Creed, the first article of which states, unequivocally: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”.

Perhaps the Dean should return to his Bible and ponder the God that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. The God that gave man counsel from the whirlwind, and moved before the Children of Israel in a pillar of fire. Perhaps he should consider the God that laid Jericho low and sent fire from heaven to consume Sodom and Gomorrah. A red God, a wrathful God, a jealous God. The God that was ready to drown the whole world. The God who, when his son, nailed to a cross, cried out “Father, why have you forsaken me?”, remained silent.

Shock and awe. These words have been sullied by the Pentagon’s bloody hands. Yet it is only in those moments when all our human conceits are battered down and laid to waste that we, shocked and awestruck, come close to understanding Jehovah as the authors of both the Old and New Testaments understood Him.

Was God present in Christchurch on 22 February? Oh yes, He was there. And He is with us always. Beyond our questions; beyond our understanding; beyond our judgement.

Not a tame lion.
To which, we believe, Amos would have breathed a hearty, Amen.  As would all Christians who fear God, rather than the popularity of the madding crowd.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think great care must be taken to not fall into the world of the bogeyman that was the cultural norm at the time of Christ. We better understand how these things work now and can better deal with them. Christchurch has a history of earthquakes but we forgot so quickly. Whether divine judgement or not, the message is really one of being aware of the peril of falling into the hands of the living God. Christians are not exempt from these physical perils but need have no fear of eternity as they know they are adopted sons and daughters of God.