Thursday, January 21, 2010

Acts of God

A long time ago, I heard of a book authored by Rabbi Harold Kushner, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People". This book begs the question in the first place, are there "good people"? Yet there is a much bigger question, "Why Good Things Happen to Bad People"? I am getting side tracked.

We can expect, the more we live longer, the more hardship we will see and experience, that is for sure.

I am a migrant to Australia, but I grew up in a country often visited by national disasters. To be specific, it is mainly typhoons that flood Manila. Last year, 2009, it got hit by no less than 4 typhoons, displacing millions with many lives lost.

When calamities strike, like the tsunamis and earthquakes we hear in today's news, we are tempted to ask, has God something to do with this?

How should you answer such a question? Would you prefer to say it was just an accident, a fluke of nature? On the other hand, I question, well, why won't God have anything to do with this? Is there something that God is not aware of? Does not God see the sparrow that falls dead to the ground? Why won't God have anything to do with such a thing? Are we not Christians, but then why do we answer such questions like Deists?

Jesus' disciples seemed to ask a similar question about well known disasters of their day in Luke 13.

Luke 13

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."



Answering the Pietist in us, I notice Jesus did not say they were worst sinners than the rest and that is the reason for their misfortune. Hence, in a way Jesus is answering Pat Robertson. In other words, you do not have to be extremely vile for bad things to happen to you, being a plain vanilla sinner is enough for you to get the disaster.

But I also see Jesus answering the Antinomian amongst us. He said unless you repent, you will, like them, perish or suffer the same fate. He did not say, it was an accident. God had nothing to do with it, Jesus did not succumb to such speculations. And mind you, labeling such calamities as shear accidents is easier and more politically correct. Telling people to repent is a bit cruel, if you know what I mean.

When we hear of disasters, should they not strike fear that such incidents can happen upon us?For clearly God had something to do with the typhoons, the earthquakes and tsunamis. Should we not ask, why are we spared (at least for now)? Humbling ourselves in front of God, we admit we are worthy of eternal and temporal punishment, we are worthy of the calamities to come upon us and a wonder, why we at the moment are in the position of helping those struck by the misfortune.

While helping our fellowmen, perhaps we should at the same time be repenting towards God and trust in the Lord Jesus that for his sake, we have the favor and mercy of God. Then, perhaps my/our disasters do not have to remain that way.

God bless.









19 comments:

acroamaticus said...

Yes, I posted along the same lines, Lito. I also noted that the Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow made public comment to the effect that the Haitians supposed drug use and general immorality had brought this calamity upon them, which shows that this sort of thinking (i.e. Pharisaism?) isn't confined to the extremes of American Evangelica.

L P said...

Pr. M,

I went to your post.

Thanks for commenting, I expect this post not to attract much comments because it cuts on both sides of the road.

The bad thing about Pharasaical comments is that the one making it thinks that the Haitians deserve to repent, and he is excused.

On the other hand, as I often hear Lutherans comment on this tragedy, they imply to the effect that no, this stuff is not a judgment of God. Hence, the effect is the same as above, no repentance. In effect, God has no wrath and he is happy with all of us! So this stuff is a fluke of nature. God cannot be the author of this because he has no more wrath.(I do not think so, as a person who came and have observed the idolatry in my own home country). Hence, he and the Haitians need not repent.

Of course, I am not making all that is to be said about all angles of suffering like in Job, etc.

I am just sharing what Jesus, as I see it, did. He said neither what the Evangelicals nor the Lutherans said.

The whole point of national disasters is - as per Jesus, repentance.


LPC

acroamaticus said...

Yes, in a general sense one can see it as a visitation of the wrath of God, because such events presumably flow from the curse under which creation struggles in this time as we await the return of our Lord. Therefore, the message of Jesus to repent is the one we need to get out.

But to go beyond that, without a clear Word of God, and say that this is a specific judgement for specific Haitian sins, that, I think, not only goes beyond the realm of what we know with certainty, but it raises more questions than it answers. Not to mention implying that those who hold such views and make such judgements seem to exempt themselves from the need for repentance, as though they were righteous in and of themselves.

L P said...

The message of Jesus is repentance for both victim of the calamity and observer or the ones left to help.

God can turn calamities to his glory, and what more can be greater than we finding repentance? Angels rejoice when such repentance happens. I think of Nineveh.

LPC

acroamaticus said...

Yes indeed, and he is already doing so. What a joy to see that little boy pulled from the rubble yesterday, a powerful testimony to the preciousness of God's gift of life adn our common humanity.

acroamaticus said...

And I heard another Haitian on the radio this afternoon telling how he had survived under the rubble on nothing more than potato chips, and how he prayed to God that if he was spared,he would dedicate himself to his service, but he said it calmly and resolutely, because he meant it.

Norman Teigen said...

What I got out of Rabbi Kushner's book was that it's not a good idea to figure out 'why' some bad thing might happen to someone. Rather, one should offer the comfort of companionship to one who has been afflicted. Of course one doesn't expect a Rabbi to sound like a confessional Lutheran. Rather, a confessional Lutheran should acknowledge what the Confession says about the Gospel being communicated through 'the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.'

I would recommend Rabbi Kushner to anyone because he is a pretty perspective writer.

Meanwhile, Pat Robertson invites ridicule upon all Christians for his outlandish statements which have been widely reported in the media.

Norman Teigen
ELS layman

L P said...

Pr. M.

God be praised for that man. Is it not a joy to know that there are some people who are looking at God in the middle of this crisis? I think the crisis that happens in our lives, the misfortunes, are meant to make us ask questions, they are not meant to answer them. I was an atheist, and I can say that God used his creation to tell me he exists, but general revelation is of course not sufficient, but it caused me to search who this God is. May that Haitian man be led to the Word.

LPC

L P said...

Dear Norman,

I have not read the Rabbi's book. But from the title - my question is why good things even happen to us. That is more a mystery. For having bad things happen to us should not be mysterious at all, that is quite obvious. We are sinners - and if God should mark our inequities who can stand?

As for Pat and the media, well I know Pat is outlandish. However, I place not much opinion of the media towards Christians like Pat.

I tell you why. From the secular media's standpoint - I am ok and you are ok. From their point of view God is not angry at anyone. Hence when Pat suggests that there could be something spiritually wrong when disasters happen such as when the USA was hit by Katrina, he was the object of ridicule. From the media's point of view, no one needs to repent because we are all ok and God is ok with us. God is cool with us and we are cool people too.

To the contrary, Jesus says - you/we are not cool people and God is not cool with you/us. The media does not believe that God is into giving object lessons.

LPC

J. K. Jones said...

LP,

Good post.

You might find the book of Joel to share the same basic sentiments.

I don't like to hear it, but the basic message to all of us, directly or indirectly affected or even just aware, is: "Repent or perish."

L P said...

Hi JK,

Absolutely Jesus' message to us - repent or perish. In the Gospel of Mark, the first message of Jesus was - repent and believe the Gospel.

Sure and I admit, repentance and faith are gifts of God, but God does not give these without means. He uses the Law and calamities are the sample implementation of the Law.

The apostles knew these were gifts of God, yet in Act 2:3, it did not prevent them from saying "repent". Precisely that when people do repent, God's Bible calls it - a gift.

Yeah, I am going back and re-reading Jonah (Nineveh), I will put Joel there too.

As you know with my latest grand child's situation, I am searching too. Some of these sad things are meant to drive us closer to God's word and we encourage ourselves that God's discipline is an act of God's love towards us, though all signs say he has turned his face far from us - well at least that is where I am at anyway.

Hard to see, but per God's Word - God's chastisement/discipline is a sign we are his Children.

LPC

Anonymous said...

Dear Lito,

Once I wrote you saying that the only thing that mattered was the Cross and judgment day. Then I retracted my statement and said that we should remember the promises. Maybe I could restate myself to say that the only thing that matters is the RESSURECTION and Judgment Day in view of the promises. The Pentacostals move beyond the Theology of the Cross to a Theology of the Ressurection which involves glory. But it is not the same thing as Luther denouncment of a Theology of Glory or works righteousness. A theology of ressurection would not be legalistic but by faith alone. But positive faith alone not a faith alone that exalts affliction and persecution. Not a faith alone of false humility. But a sanctified positive faith alone that moves mountains here now on earth(Mark 11:23) with the same power that raised Christ from the dead after He justified the Church.

In Christ Jesus,
Jim Cronfel

L P said...

Dear Jim,

The more I get to read Luther, the more I see him more positive with regards to the means of grace - ie Word/Sacrament.

I think indirectly the Pentecostals learned from Luther - they do exalt the Word as far as that goes but corrupted it giving it a prosperity spin. Theology of the Cross is to me that - the Cross, and we receive God things through that Cross.

For me Theology of the Cross does not mean it is more holy to be defeated. In fact I have heard in my synod, pastors who criticize a reverse triumphalism of those who pride themselves in their defeat. You can be spiritually prideful in your suffering and be pharisaical - if you know what I mean. I agree with these pastors criticism.

Jesus said - according to your faith - be it done to you. Now, why should anyone argue with Jesus? If you have faith in God to heal you, bless you and grant you your wishes, why should we knock that - faith is a good thing.

LPC

Anonymous said...

Dear Lito,

Charitiable prosperity fulfills the law. But there is no such thing as charitiable poverty! Selfish prosperity does not fulfill the law. But prosperity by itself does not imply selfishness. It is not a sin to be poor but the good samaritan was on a prosperous bussiness trip when helped the man on the side of the road. It is a sin to eat without working and it is a sin to hoard wealth but not a sin to pray for money in love. There is a false safety in being poor that masks a secret hatred of neighbor. Part of the teaching of the parable of the good samaritian is that we should be at making money if we want to love our nieghbor. If you take that part out of the parable then the samaritian could not have dressed the nans wounds or put him up at the inn. The question is does God answer prayer or does God leave us to our own devices? If God answers prayer then we should be prosperous and generous not prosperous but selfish. King Soloman got wealth and power by seeking wisdom but lost them by being selfish. But it was not a sin for him to get wealth and power by seeking wisdom to begin with simply becuase he became selfish afterwards. They don't imply each other.

I live in a nursing home right now. Please pray for me next time you go to Churuch and I will pray for you!

God Bless You!

In Christ Jesus,
Jim Cronfel

L P said...

Dear Jim,

In God's will, God allows people to have wealth - that too is a vocation so we may help our neighbor.

You bet I myself pray for work, I pray money so I can provide for my wife. Even now at my age I am not financially secure, I will be working till I die. I wish I were like my friend who retired and well set at age 50. I am not as fortunate but I am also not as wise so my life is a life of struggle and will be till I exit. I think I would have been a bit more secure, if I did not get into false concepts.

I am glad you are getting the help you do need. Yes I will be praying for you in an hours time when I get to lunch.

LPC

Larry said...

Lito,

Nice one. Yes this type of thing brings out the theologian of glory in many both those that name the name Christian as well as those well outside that category. Here Pat Robertson has much in common with Islam which said during the Katrina disaster that it was “gods” wrath against the US. Thus speaketh the theologian of glory that thinks he can know god by the things that are and occur!

A bit of a digression: This theologian of glory phenomena occurs on the national level as well as the personal level. The later in “conversion experiences” and attaching too much to emotions or effects and such. I’ve felt it in myself many times for example in going to the sacrament, desiring to get that feeling I first got when I first had the Gospel pour out to me in the sacraments, you probably remember a similar feeling. The Gospel does give and cause such things but the danger is in falling into the trap of seeking THAT rather than the Gospel itself in the sacrament, especially when the “feelings” or “experiences” are not there. I told my wife, “as I say to myself and to you be careful and wary of seeking the feeling/experience in the sacrament to which the sacrament is more or less relegated to a side item because you’ll be tempted by the devil to eschew the sacrament in the distant future when the feeling/experience remains gone for some period of time. The essence of the sacrament is not the feeling nor experience but the Gospel itself. Thus, fly in the face of your reason, emotions and experiences and take the sacrament when, especially when, you don’t feel or experience a thing. This is the way faith functions and is, it is in its own way its own “being” with or without reason, affections or experiences. Either the later are subdued to Christ or faith marches on with or without them.

On the flip side of the more national scale Luther comments not as a theologian of glory but theologian of the cross concerning earthly righteousness that when a nation or group at length becomes so corrupt that earthly ministers of earthly righteousness (as opposed to faith/Gospel, that which is right and good among men in general, good society, peace, etc…) can no longer subdue the over flowing overt wickedness of that society that God sends plague, war and disaster. This differs from say a false teacher like Pat Robertson in this way: false teachers say such to drive men to improve their lives before God with an eye toward heavenly righteousness (which is alone Christ alone) and thus they preach another gospel. What Luther is saying is just the opposite because he makes a strong distinction between earthly righteousness (general good and welfare in this dying world that helps mitigate suffering) and heavenly (Christ alone for us nothing more). That such, plagues, disasters and war comes not so you’ll “clean your act up so God will like/save you” (the other false gospel of false teachers), but rather drive us to Christ AND restore something of earthly righteousness that yields some peace in this life for us so that rank evil does not rule the day.

Yours,

Larry

L P said...

Larry,

The Gospel does give and cause such things but the danger is in falling into the trap of seeking THAT rather than the Gospel itself in the sacrament, especially when the “feelings” or “experiences” are not there. I told my wife, “as I say to myself and to you be careful and wary of seeking the feeling/experience in the sacrament to which the sacrament is more or less relegated to a side item because you’ll be tempted by the devil to eschew the sacrament in the distant future when the feeling/experience remains gone for some period of time

I know what you say. I do get touched in the LS from time to time but now, I do not get bothered when the feeling is there. Just excitement to come and the belief that Jesus is offering his body/blood as payment for my sins.

Earthly righteousness avails here somehow, but not before heaven because there is no such thing from God's eyes, our righteousness are filthy rags. Yet it does produce some level of peace, after all whatsoever a mans sows, that he also reaps.

From what I understand, Pat Robertson said something controversial but his CBN has been sending help and support to Haiti, this the media ignored.

Apparently the idea that Haiti made a pack with the devil is something the missionaries testify to, but historically, I heard it cannot be proven.

At any rate, I as an observer is stricken to repent.

LPC

Brigitte said...

Referring back to Walther and such (noting your post further up), the presidents of the synod, (in reading their addresses) always called for repentance when there was some calamity, such as the shooting of a U.S. president.

L P said...

Brigitte,

That is a good thing, I am not saying that Walther's writings are not useful, they are, but I just notice that he over stated his case in some places of which I dare not follow.

It is always to good to be smitten in heart when misfortune comes to our fellow men.

As the Psalms say, If God should mark our inequities who can stand?
But there is forgiveness with you so that you may be feared.

I forget the chapter and verse, I just quoted this from memory.

LPC