Rain that could be measured in feet has fallen upon the city of Houston. Flood waters have risen such that families have been displaced from their homes with nothing salvaged but what can fit into duffle bags. The sick and infirm have been displaced from their homes and shelters. Houstonians will be needing all the aid that our charitable organizations can muster. Meanwhile, religiously minded people want to know why.
Karma was to blame, says one University of Tampa professor. Kenneth Storey, a sociology professor, tweeted Sunday, “I don’t believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.” Karma is an idea found in several Eastern religions. It teaches that ill effects follow bad behavior as punishments. Apparently, the universe was mad at Texas for voting Republican.
Not to be left out, Charlie Hebdo, the left-leaning French political magazine, printed a cover that read, “God exists! He has drowned the Neo-Nazis of Texas.”
People Have Been Linking Disasters to Sin Forever
These sentiments are not new, nor exclusive to the political left. In 2001, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, Jerry Falwell appeared on “The 700 Club” with Pat Robertson. Falwell claimed the attacks came about because God had been thrown out of the federal court system, the public square, and the schools. He also placed particular blame on the abortion industry, feminists, gays, and lesbians.
In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Pat Robertson said it was God’s punishment on America for the sin of abortion. John Hagee, in a 2006 interview with NPR, said Hurricane Katrina was the “Judgment of God against New Orleans because there was to be a gay pride parade there on the Monday that Katrina came.”
The Old Testament book of Joshua tells us that the night before Joshua and the Israelites were to march around the city of Jericho, an angel who identified himself as the “Commander of the Lord’s Armies” appeared to Joshua. Joshua asked him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” He wanted to know if God was on his side. Likewise today, when people find themselves in religious or political disputes they want God to agree with them.
When we want to discover the mind of God, we read the Bible and take its full counsel into account. However, it is often easier to pick certain passages that agree with one’s point of view or to simply just interpret the natural events in the surrounding world. Armed with their select few Bible verses and their interpretation of the signs and wonders, many folks conclude that God agrees with them and not their opponents. Joshua wanted to know the same: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” At least Joshua asked.
The response of Joshua’s angel is telling: “No. But I am the commander of the army of the Lord.” Joshua asked a “either/or” question. The angel replied with “No.” In other words, God was not there to take sides in a political battle. God was there because he made a promise to Abraham that he intended to keep eventually through Jesus. In the short term, keeping that promise meant establishing the descendants of Abraham there in the Promised Land. The war God was fighting was bigger and broader than Joshua’s current skirmish.
We Usually Don’t Know What God Has in Mind
Robertson, Falwell, and Hagee were wrong. They pretended to know the mind of God. More than that, they pretended that their political skirmish was a culminating piece in God’s eternal Kingdom. That was not given to them to know. Nor was it given them to know God’s purpose in sending disasters.
It is true that we can learn God’s mind on issues like murder and sex by reading the Ten Commandments. We can learn how to apply these commandments by reading the rest of the Bible. We can form our lives around the commandments and use them to discuss things like abortion and gay pride parades. But this does not mean that God is on our side when we are deciding boundary lines of territory and power. As with Joshua, God is fighting a bigger battle that is broader than American or even world politics in 2017.
Some people once came to Jesus inquiring about some people who died in a disaster. Understanding that they were actually inquiring about God’s vengeance for sinners, Jesus prompted them to repent of their own sin (Luke 13:1-5). Likewise, Jesus calls on people today to repent. Repentance turns our hearts away from the self and toward God. We surrender ourselves to him and believe the gospel.
We lay aside our own kingdoms and our own enemies and are then invited by him to participate in his kingdom, where he is Lord and has defeated our greatest enemies once and for all. Through his death and resurrection Jesus has defeated sin, death, and the Devil. With those enemies defeated, we have peace with God and with each other. When there is peace with God and one another, we can work side by side to tend to the needs of our neighbors, especially today those in Houston.