Most media outlets carried the story over the weekend of the radical Muslim cleric who told his followers that the nation’s drought was caused by Australians’ lack of faith in Allah. His comments were quickly condemned by many, including politicians and religious figures.
However, his remarks provide a good platform in which to contrast the Judeo-Christian worldview with that of Islam. There may be a small hint of truth in his remarks, but they are largely at odds with the biblical Christian understanding of things.
Let me pencil in a bit of theological background here first, however. There are three world religions which comprise what we call the monotheistic tradition. These are opposed to other types of theism, such as polytheism, pantheism and of course anti-theism.
All three religions believe in one God, who interacts with the world which he has created. And all three, but especially Judaism and Christianity, reject the belief known as deism. This is the idea that God created the world and everything there is, but he has basically left it alone since doing so. He is not involved in any personal way with the created order. Instead, he is like a watch maker, who, having wound up the watch, allows it to unwind by itself, with no outside interaction or intervention.
Certainly the Judeo-Christian concept of God is radically different from deism. God is a God who acts in history, who acts in the world, and has an ongoing, personal relationship with it. The Old Testament is full of the personal involvement of Yahweh in the affairs of not just Israel, but also of the nations. And of course he interacts with individuals as well.
The New Testament takes this even further, arguing that God has come in the flesh (the doctrine of the Incarnation), and physically and personally dwelt on planet earth for some thirty years. Here the immanence and transcendence of God come together in a powerful way. That is, God is both with us and near us, in a very real sense, while also remaining distinct and separate from us. The creator of the entire universe also happened to be born of a woman; and he died on a wooden cross, made from the very trees he had helped to create.
The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus is both creator and sustainer of this world: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16, 17)
That’s what Christians mean by the doctrine of providence, the idea that God is continuously involved in maintaining and sustaining the created order. God is not aloof from his creation, like some absentee landlord, but is at all times actively involved in it.
More specifically, the biblical doctrine of providence means God is constantly guiding, directing, preserving, sustaining and upholding his creation. God is at all times present and active in our lives. God is personally involved in every aspect of human life and the world around us. The world is not ruled by chance or fate, but by a personal God intimately involved in it.
So how does all this tie in with the cleric’s remarks? Both atheists and secularists of course do not even believe in God or the supernatural. But many liberal theologians and non-biblical Christians act as if God does not exist either. This is because they really doubt that he interacts with this world in any ongoing basis. For many lukewarm believers, the events of this world are just natural cause and effect events, in no way connected with the hand of God.
But biblical faith affirms the constant involvement of God with his creation. And part of that interaction comes in the form of judgment. God does indeed use physical forces such as storms and floods and earthquakes as forms of judgment. That is the clear message of the Old Testament.
Of course today it is not our job, generally speaking, to say that a given natural calamity is a specific act of God, dealing with a specific situation, or is just the ongoing process of events in a fallen world. Thus believers today must be very careful about claiming a certain natural event is a specific judgment of God.
Recall that until recently, insurance companies could speak of such events as “acts of God”. Since biblical Christians are not deists, that description is accurate. But again, any specific act of nature may or may not be seen as some specific act of God, and we need to take care in making such claims.
But the main point I wish to make about the cleric’s comments is this: there is a big difference between the Judeo-Christian position, and his. He assumes it is the faithlessness of the infidels of the West (in this case, scientists and others) which is bringing about the judgment of God.
While Jews and Christians certainly do not doubt that God exercises judgment on unbelievers, they just as importantly believe that he also does so on his own people. “Judgment must first begin with the household of God” we are told in 1 Peter 4:17. God is often more concerned about those who claim to be his people, insisting that they get their own act together.
Thus the classic passage on God’s dealing in physical judgment with the world reverses the order of the cleric: “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13, 14)
There is no talk here about the infidel, or the faithless pagan. It is God’s people that this word is addressed to. They need to get their act together, if they want to see God’s blessing released in his world.
Interestingly, the same weekend that the cleric made his remarks, hundreds of Christians were meeting in Parliament House in Canberra as part of a “National Solemn Assembly”. The focus was prayer for the nation, and especially for the drought. But instead of blaming unbelievers, the Christians who were assembled there prayed for forgiveness, and confessed their own sins before God.
One day every person will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10). But in the meantime, believers are exhorted to get their own house in order, and walk humbly before their God. I do not know if the Melbourne Muslim cleric told his followers that they too should repent and humbly bow before their God. But those are certainly the marching orders for followers of Jesus.
While secularists and liberal religionists will find all of the above just too much to handle (it is foolishness to them, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14), for those of Biblical faith, it may help to explain some of the key differences between Christianity, and other world religions, especially Islam.