Western Civilization has been thoroughly immersed in the assumption that God is, at the most, a “hands off” bystander to world events. When Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson suggested that the events of September 11, 2001 could be attributed to the judgment of God for America’s sins, they were widely ridiculed, not just by the secular press, but by embarrassed evangelicals as well, who wanted to distance themselves from such radical views.
I remember at the time thinking they could have been more careful in drawing their conclusions about the sins that might have been responsible for God’s discipline of our country, particularly their choices (abortion and homosexuality) and their omissions (rampant materialism and idolatry). I am not rising up to defend all the details of their proclamations (I’m especially wary of the reckless prophecies of Pat Robertson over the years), but I am asking that we not abandon their underlying premise that God is still God and is active in this world.
In reading Isaiah 23 just this morning, it is a section of God’s judgment on various nations of the day. The focus of today’s reading was the Mediterranean coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon at a time when they had amassed great wealth from their merchant ships.
As Tyre faces judgment, the question is asked, Who has purposed this against Tyre…whose traders were the honored of the earth? The LORD of hosts has purposed it… He has stretched out his hand over the sea; he has shaken the kingdoms; the LORD has given command concerning Canaan to destroy its strongholds. Isaiah 23:8-11 ESV
This is by no means an isolated text. Throughout Isaiah and throughout Scripture, God is identified as sovereign over all these details. We do have to be cautious about identifying the specific factors or secondary causes in any particular situation, but we need not be shy about affirming that God is in control. I gain no comfort in saying that God has nothing to do with terrorist attacks or economic collapse. I suggest we would be much better to search our own hearts and pray for the repentance of our nation.
In light of the slaughter of fifty million babies over the past thirty-five years, the reckless pursuit of pleasure through sexual deviance and materialism, the rampant unfaithfulness in marriage, the 50% of our children who will grow up without dads, and the growing embrace of homosexual marriage, the surprise is that God has shown such amazing restraint in the exercise of His wrath. For believers who are quick to point out the sins of the world, we should probably consider our own idolatries as the first response.
When Jesus was asked for explanations for atrocities committed by men or what we call natural disasters, he drew the same conclusion for both, Unless you repent, you will likewise perish. Luke 13:3, 5 ESV