Disaster Relief and Religion

While we all shudder at the destruction wrought by the tsunami, we all can applaud the generosity of spirit and compassion that has poured out as a result. Australians have been especially generous. However, writing from a biblical point of view, one can see some mixed blessings in this flood of compassion.

All kinds of people, religious and non-religious, have been moved by the disaster and many have pitched in, in many practical ways. Donating money has been a chief means by which most Australians contributed to the cause. And a feel-good spirit surrounds Australia at the moment. Certainly this was highlighted by the world cricket match held to raise money for the flood victims on January 10th in Melbourne.

Many are feeling pretty good about themselves right now. But a danger lurks here if I may say. I do not for a moment want to criticise the relief efforts, or minimise the sacrifices being made. Every dollar given to the cause is a welcome dollar. However, there is a danger that many people, primarily non-Christians, will be thinking thoughts like this: “Well, that proves it. I’m a pretty decent sort of chap after all. I just pitched in $1000”. Many such thoughts would be around at this time. “Surely if there is a God, he would be smiling down at me right now”.

People would be feeling fairly good about themselves, and pretty proud of their generosity. But of course evangelical Christians have the prophetic job of pointing out some painful truths. All the good works and donations, while greatly appreciated, are the result of what theologians call “common grace”. That is, the fact that anyone does anything good is not due to their own good efforts, but simply due to the grace of God.

Whatever sacrifices have been made, they have been made not because we are inherently nice people, but because of the blessing and goodness of God. Regardless of the monies donated, we are all, apart from God’s grace, sinners on the way to a lost eternity. That is a fundamental biblical truth that we must never forget.

I raise this point in part because of the recent religious vilification case. I have written earlier that tolerance is the virtue par excellence in today’s secular world. We dare not offend anyone. We must all get along and be tolerant. Tolerance properly understood of course is a good thing, but when it means truth must be sacrificed and absolutes abandoned, then biblical Christians have to say no.

In this light, it has been interesting to read the comments in the media. Letters to editors of newspapers, talkback radio, and other media outlets have had much discussion along these lines. One letter said something like: “See, what a decent world we can have when we leave religion and politics aside”, referring to the disaster relief efforts. Others spoke of a new world order, or a new internationalism, that transcends boundaries, doctrines, etc.

All nice sentiments of course. But my fear is that they reflect this virtue of tolerance, in the wrong sense of the world. To many people, if we can all put aside our differences, especially our religious differences, then this world would be a better place to live in. Let us forget about doctrines that divide, and embrace our common humanity.

Again, it sounds good, but from a biblical point of view it cannot be sustained. The truth is, Jesus Christ and his claims are very exclusive. To proclaim the gospel in a secular, and also religious, world, will always be offensive. The claims of Christ cannot be other than offensive to those who reject them, to those who think they are quite good enough, thank you very much.

And when people actually do some good things, as in disaster relief, they can easily be fooled into thinking that if Jesus spoke about sinners needing to repent, well, he must not have had them in mind. Someone else, surely.

So one can see how momentum for a one world government, or at least a harmony of nations can be desired in such times. It all seems like a good idea. Just get rid of those religious fundamentalists who insist that only they have the truth, and then we can set up this peaceful and harmonious world order.

And when you have religious people, even those who call themselves Christians, making these calls, you can see how dangerous it becomes if you still believe in, and proclaim, absolute truth, as in the absolute truth of the Christian gospel. These religious folk who sided with the Muslims against the Christian pastors are a good case in point. And I should think we will see a lot more of that in the days ahead.

This is becoming a real sheep versus goats type situation. The world is beginning to fall into two distinct camps: those who will make a stand with the finality and absoluteness of the Christian truth claims, and those who will take a watered down, feel-good religion, one that embraces all of mankind, and says everyone has the truth.

And it will be the latter who will be persecuting the former. Absolute truth claims, and those who make them, will have to be the first to go in the eyes of those who feel utopia is just around the corner if we can rid ourselves of the religious absolutists. The two Dannys may soon be in jail for their stance, and many more may follow.

So let us rejoice in the generosity of so many at this critical time. Of course, for most people, a $100 or even a $1,000 donation is small change for a nation with amongst the highest standards of living in the world. And a million dollars from a multi-national won’t send it broke either. But such offerings may in fact be guilt offerings. We may refuse to walk down the street to help a needy neighbour, but we are happy to post a cheque to some anonymous charity effort.

It does not really cost us anything, in other words. Which is why man-made religion is always so appealing. Ultimately it costs us nothing. Only one religion is costly: Christianity. It cost God his only son. And it costs us everything as well. Only when we deny ourself, take up our cross, and follow him, do we come to God on terms he approves of. But humanistic religion will always involve cheap grace, as Bonhoeffer put it. Real grace may be free, but it is never cheap.

Thus we applaud the compassion of our nation. But we also pray that it does not become an excuse for people to avoiding making the most important commitment of their life, the commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

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2 Replies to “Disaster Relief and Religion”

  1. Hey Bill,

    This is a great article – I especially love your point that Christianity IS offensive.

    Personally, I’ve recently been going through a bit of a stage in which I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity and “band-aid” giving, so this was great to read.

    Thank you.
    Kathy Scott

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