CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

God, Providence and Natural Disaster

Feb 3, 2011

The broad issue of God and his providential rule over his creation is a major theological topic. And with yet another national disaster occurring – cyclone Yasi in Queensland – even more questions arise as to God’s relationship to the created order. This latest disaster will again push thinking Christians into asking some hard questions.

The good news is that at the time of this writing, the cyclone has been a lot less destructive than first predicted. So far no lives have been lost, and no one has been injured. This is amazing. Of course plenty of trees are down, and many roofs have been ripped off buildings, but thankfully the damage has so far been much less than imagined. And of course many prayers went up for exactly such an outcome.

A big part of this discussion has to do with what theologians refer to as the providence of God. Just how exactly does God relate to the world that he created? Before looking at some biblical considerations on this topic, let me first mention – and reject – some wrong (unbiblical) answers.

Atheism of course rejects the very notion of God or anything beyond the material world. So when a disaster strikes, all the atheist can say is, “crap happens – get used to it”. Pantheism, a product mainly of Eastern religious traditions, argues that everything is God, so the idea of a God outside of and distinct from the world – and its disasters – is foreign to this worldview.

Deism says that God exists, and that God is distinct from his creation. So far so good. But it ends there. According to this view, God has no direct, personal concern for, or interaction with, this world. He is more or less an absentee landlord.

But the biblical view differs from all three. It states that God exists, he created the world, and he has a close, even personal, relationship with it. God’s providence refers to his sustaining, preserving and supporting hand over what he created.

The term providence literally means foresight or making provision beforehand. Thus it means that God looks ahead and makes provision for his goals, and that he accomplishes what he sets out to do. Creation is the initial act of God whereby he brings something into being out of nothing. Providence is his continuing relationship to the created order.

What we call the “laws of nature” would be the way God mainly governs his world. In one sense, they are simple cause and effect relationships which he built into the world. But there are numerous Scriptures which speak of God being far more involved in this world than simply by means of remote and impersonal laws.

Providence applies to nature, to individuals, to nations, and to all aspects of life. Providence means God is present and active in our lives. God is personally involved in countless aspects 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.

It should be mentioned that providence is to be distinguished from miracles. Some call miracles special providences. Others speak of ordinary and extraordinary providences. As mentioned, providence is God’s sustaining hand over what he created in the first place. In one sense his providential activity is seen in and through nature all the time, as he works out his purposes and achieves his aims. God is in charge of nature and of history.

Providential events are often those where God uses natural means to achieve his purposes. Much answered prayer for example, or unusual occurrences, can be providential activities. For example, many viewed the fog at Normandy which concealed the allied assault on Nazi-held France on D-day as being more than mere coincidence, but as being providential.

Viewed this way, miracles are cases of special providence, where the normal ordering of natural affairs is set aside for a particular purpose. They entail supernatural interference with nature or the course of events. They are the special acts of God that interrupt the normal flow of events. They are events in which God temporarily makes an exception to the natural order of things.

They are not necessarily a violation of natural laws, but an interference, or suspension, or a bypassing, or a setting aside, of them. Thus natural laws describe what happens normally or regularly by natural causes, whereas miracles are what happen much more rarely by direct supernatural means.

This is only a broad-brush commentary on what are quite complex and nuanced issues. But whether we speak of a more general providence, or a more specific miracle, both presuppose a personal God who is personally involved with and concerned about the affairs of men and what takes place on planet earth.

So how does all this tie into the recent cyclone? Biblical Christians would have to reject the deistic view that God is remote and uninvolved in our world. Instead, they believe that God is actively concerned about it, and relates and responds to us in very real ways, including by means of answered prayers.

As mentioned, much prayer was offered before cyclone Yasi landed. Was its relatively less destructive power due to answered prayer, or just the way nature panned out? Believers can say both. This is not the place to discuss prayer in detail, but the Bible makes it clear that prayer changes things, although not always in ways that we understand.

But what about bigger questions such as whether such disasters are the judgment of God? Some Christian voices are making these claims. Others strenuously reject them. For example, one evangelical Christian wrote this recently about the Queensland floods: “While the Bible clearly indicates that God can influence the weather, we can safely say that these floods are not an ‘act of God’ but rather part of living in a land where weather extremes predictably occur.”

But my question is this: how can he categorically and with such supreme confidence claim this was not an act of God? Did God specifically tell him this? Does he have direct access to the mind of God that other believers do not have? Why this absolute certainty?

So am I saying that the floods were a direct act of God? No. I am simply saying that a categorical affirmation or denial of such a claim may well lie beyond us. As I wrote recently on the flood crisis, we often lack a certain word from above on these matters: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/11/tragedy-judgment-grace/

But based on our discussion about providence, all biblical Christians must reject the idea that God has absolutely no involvement with planet earth, including its dangerous weather patterns and disastrous episodes. But of course trying to understand the ‘why’ questions are even more difficult.

That God loves us enough not to leave us in our own sin is clear enough from Scripture. And it is not unbiblical to state that God can and will use hardships and disasters to get our attention and to bring us closer to himself. The picture of God as a loving father who chastises his people for their own good is a common biblical theme, as found for example in Hebrews 12:1-13.

And the fact that God can use the forces of nature to accomplish his purposes, even as an expression of his wrath, is also found throughout Scripture. For example, Psalm 18:7 speaks of how the earth shakes and the hills tremble because of his wrath.

Isaiah 29:6 speaks about how Israel will be punished by “thunder and earthquake,” and by “storm and tempest”. In Isaiah 28:17 Yahweh is said to punish the lies of his people by floods and hail. But it is not just his own people that he chastises and judges. He even does so with pagan nations.

In Jeremiah 50:35-40 for example, he speaks of how he will judge Babylon. He will use a devastating drought to punish them for their rampant idolatry. Or in Jeremiah 48 we read about how God judged Moab, with his wrath taking the form of crop failure by means of drought (vv. 32-34).

From a naturalistic point of view, this failure of the crops was simply due to pre-existing weather patterns. But this is not the whole picture. God is pulling the strings behind nature to accomplish his purposes. There are natural explanations for what happens in the world, but there are also supernatural explanations as well.

In sum, I do not have a prophetic word to say if the latest Queensland troubles were a direct and specific action of God, whether for judgment, or chastisement, or some other reason. But that does not rule out the possibility that such might be the case.

As with all such disasters, we will often not get answers to our questions about why this happened. But the wise person will allow such crises to cause him to think more carefully about life, its shortness and its meaning. And as always, believers can be there at the ready, offering practical demonstrations of love in action as they help those affected by these disasters.

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35 Responses to God, Providence and Natural Disaster

  • I think there are two issues. One is why there is evil in the world in first place and the related question – why do bad things happen at all? I think a good understanding of the first few chapters of Genesis gives a sound answer to that question, and who is responsible.

    The other issue is even given that, why does a God who is loving and all powerful continue to allow certain things? On a cosmic level, I believe the answer lies in the consequences of not doing so – what kind of world would it be if there were no consequences for anyone’s actions, or we were all puppets so that we never did any wrong? There can be no true obedience without the possibility of disobedience and no true worship without the possibility of a rejection of God. It would not be a very good world like the one God created…

    On a less cosmic level Bill I think you have addressed the question well here. Because the cosmic level of the question affects the individual level though I think it is good to consider it.

    John Symons

  • Thanks John

    Yes theodicy is the real issue here, and is the million dollar question. Whole libraries have been written about it. It won’t get all sorted out here, but believers should be thinking prayerfully and carefully about such issues.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • After the Queensland floods a lot of rubbish was said by many Christian leaders who should know better. One even agreed with the media that the floods where of biblical proportions. Were they really? Others came up with all kinds or reasons why God sent or allowed these floods. God was punishing Australia because we elected an atheist Prime Minister. Yet Queensland was the state where Labour was hammered the most.
    Bill in your article you quote Isaiah and Jeremiah and indicated that when God punished his people with a disaster he gave the reason for the catastrophe. He spoke through the prophets and spelt out the sin that was being punished.
    Australia is not Israel of old. The truth is that we have no word to say that floods, cyclones and bush fires are acts of judgement or that they are “part of living in a land where weather extremes predictably occur.” What we do see is that since the fall the whole of creation is groaning in pain waiting for its redemption.
    Des Morris

  • Thanks Des

    In both my articles on recent tragedies I said we do not have clear prophetic words informing us of how to understand such current events as was the case in the Old Testament. But neither do I believe that God cannot or does not speak today. It is just that we need to be far more careful with any “Thus sayeth the Lord” words. I think we need to avoid both extremes to be honest.

    And as I pointed out in this article, God could say the same things – provide the same warnings – about pagan nations, not just Israel. So the issue is not the fact that we are not ancient Israel, but whether God still speaks to the nations today in a prophetic sense. I would not want to put God in a box and say he cannot do so today, but again, any such words need to be tested carefully with his written word, and so on.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for that Paul. No I had not seen it, but good to see others allowed to think publicly about such things on a secular website.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I do not regard natural calamities as “evil”. Tempests, earthquakes, heatwaves, ice ages etc., are outside man’s control: they are neither good nor evil. It’s true such events bring suffering and death, but these contingencies are morally neutral.

    We cannot know what a disaster like the Queensland typhoon “means”. We can speculate and say it might be understood as either a judgment of God or perhaps as a mysterious providential occasion in which His protective care is immanent. But how any human tragedy plays out under the aspect of eternity, only God knows.

    Alex Anderson

  • Thanks Alex

    Yes, but… Biblically speaking your final line needs qualification. We too can know, if and when God chooses to disclose to us his purposes for a particular tragedy or calamity. That of course took place very often at least in the Old Testament. God not only acted, but he told people why he was acting, via his prophets. So some tragedies at least were fully or partially explained by God to man, but not all of course.

    And the greatest tragedy of all time, the cruel death of a perfectly innocent Jesus, was also explained and commented on in great detail in New Testament times. So it is not just in the OT that this can happen, although admittedly the life and death of Christ is a unique and one-off affair.

    The real issue for us is whether God can and does also speak prophetically to his people today about what he is doing and how he is accomplishing his purposes in specific situations. That of course opens up another whole discussion, which an entire article at least would be required to even introduce, with plenty of debate existing on that issue.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • If you cannot decide now whether or not God had a hand in the recent Queensland troubles, very fresh in the mind, then how can you say God had a hand in punishing Israel with thunder and earthquake millenia ago? Thunder, by the way, is mere noise associated with lightning which may or may not be damaging. As for earthquakes, we know what causes them, and because of your “undecidability problem”, there seems to be no need to invoke supernatural explanations also.
    John Snowden

  • Dear Bill, Your article echoed my thoughts exactly. Our God IS involved and interested in the world He has created because He is a God of love. Just before the floods I read where Anna Bligh had said she hoped that the same barbaric abortion laws would be passed in QLD as they have in Victoria. This made me wonder if QLD was being warned through natural disturbances not to go ahead with them as God can’t be pleased about the abortion holocaust. I was only wondering because I don’t pretend for a minute to know the mind of God. All I am certain about is that He is a God of love and doesn’t do things for spite. The fact that no lives were lost is proof of that. As you say there would have been many fervent prayers offered up. Some from those who have never condescended to pray before and have done so from a genuine fear of death. This too has to be good and since God always listens to our prayers even though we might think sometimes He doesn’t He showed His great love and mercy by lessening the destruction because by all accounts it could have been much worse.
    Patricia Halligan

  • Thanks John

    As a non-believer you obviously don’t get all this, but I actually answered your question already in comments above, as well as in both articles. In the OT especially, God would often reveal his will to his prophets, who in turn informed his people. So God could say to the Israelites, I am doing such and such because you have done such and such. As but one specific example, consider what Yahweh says to Jeremiah:

    “When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the LORD decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the LORD our God?’ then say to them, ‘It is because your ancestors forsook me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law’” (Jer. 16:10-11).

    This happens all the time in the OT. Or consider an episode involving Moses and the Israelites: “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32;35). There God acted in judgment, and he specifically told Moses why he had done it, for what particular sin.

    But as I said, we don’t have the same prophetic tradition today, at least not in the same way. I am not saying no one can know today what God’s specific purposes are, but that we don’t have the same sort of divine self-disclosure that we did in the OT times. We do have a fuller, more general, revelation of God and his will. It is called the Bible – both Old and New Testaments. That gives us enough revelation from God as to who he is, what he is like, what he expects of us and so on. But it does not tell us – obviously – about every new natural disaster that comes along, and how we should understand them from a divine point of view.

    But an agnostic such as yourself may find this all too much. But that is the stuff of another discussion, and only if you are genuinely open to hearing another point of view, and not just promoting a cold sceptical rationalism and reductionist naturalism as is the habit of so many non-believers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, Don’t you think that in the light of Heb 12 and that of the source material in Prov 3 we might take some responsibility for this? (Jonah did in the face of that tempest – 1:12). A Barnes identifies ‘whom the lord loves’ and ‘every son’ as those who become children of God. The fact that others are affected by these disasters is irrelevant but it is certainly a call to me from sleep to action and prayer. I’m not sure what is the contextual equivalent of being thrown into the sea but in any case, God will have prepared a ‘great fish’. Others may ‘take vows’ not necessarily in response to the disaster but rather to my obedience and service.
    One further question: Why do we need to be far more careful with any “Thus sayeth the Lord” words? Those words must at all times be in accordance to the grace given to us and in proportion to our faith.
    Tony Morreau

  • Thanks Tony

    Yes we are responsible on many levels. When we sin, we rightly deserve and bring upon ourselves any chastisement or punishment meted out to us. And if we misuse planet earth, or unwisely build cities in flood plains, etc., then we can expect some bad consequences for our choices.

    As to being cautious, I mean that the biblical canon is now closed. There are no more inerrant, inspired words from God in the same sense that we find in the OT and the NT. While all prophetic words have had to be tested, this is more necessary today, since the canon is closed. Yes, God can still speak to his people today, but as I say, in a different sense from how he divinely inspired his servant to write and record his words as part of Holy Scripture.

    But this whole understanding of a God who still speaks, and of what we mean by a prophetic word, etc., needs to be teased out much further as in a full-length article. I cannot do it proper justice here in a short comment.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I like the term ‘providential’ (rather than lucky). This cyclone played out in an incredibly providential way. 1. It changed course and crossed the coast at a relatively uninhabited place and not through a major city. 2. It crossed south of Cairns and the storm surge did not affect Cairns. 3. It slowed down in the last few hours and crossed at midnight and not at 9 pm. That meant about 2 metres off the tide.

    “It’s just luck, I think, that has played a role in this thing in the fact that no-one has died, particularly in that Cardwell region where around about 100 people did not evacuate.” ABC article.

    Tas Walker

  • Douglas Wilson has some insightful comment in his book ‘Letter from a Christian Citizen’ (an excellent little book – very instructive). Speaking of the Asian tsunami he said:

    “…You are exactly right that all Christians, if they are to be intellectually honest, must acknowledge that God is the ultimate governor of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, genocides, and wars (Amos 3:6). This creates the “problem of evil” for us. How can a God who is infinitely just, kind, merciful, and loving (which we Christians also affirm) be the same one who unleashes these terrible “acts of God”? It is a good question, but it is one that can only be answered by embracing the problem…Now I can only understand you (the atheist) being indignant with God over this if He really is there. But what if He is not there? What follows then? This event had no more ultimate significance than a solar flare or a virus going extinct or a desolate asteroid colliding with another asteroid or the gradual loss of Alabama to kudzu or me scratching my head just now. These are just atoms banging around. This is what they do.”

    I think He makes an important point – as well as making a significant challenge to the atheist position. We must not shy away from the ‘problem of evil’ (as Wilson puts it). But at least we have the problem of evil, unlike the atheist, and as we know, there are Biblical answers that give us the required understanding.

    You make a good point Bill, there is a sense in which we cannot discern the ‘secret’ will of God, but we must not shy away from the fact that God is the ultimate governor of all things because of that – including so called natural disasters (more accurately termed ‘acts of God’).

    Dealing with the problem of evil is, of course, a question for another time!

    Blessings,

    Isaac Overton, ACT

  • It always amazes me how many commentators point to local disasters as “proof” that there is no God. We are not robots and if we were, how could we “earn” a place in heaven when we die. God has given us all free will and many of the disasters such as floods and bushfires are magnified by the fact that those in charge are not seeking guidance from the real God, with daily prayer but paying homage to the pantheistic “god” of the environment. How many lives and properties in Victoria and elsewhere would be spared if satanic regulations on clearing rubbish away from the bush were not in place. Following the Queensland flood in the early 1970s, Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen ordered the building of the Wivenhoe dam, which subsequently was instrumental in reducing the damage of the 2010/11 floods. Following Wivenhoe, Sir Joh (a man of daily prayer) organised the construction of the Wolfdene dam. However when his enemies in his own party deposed him and these “experts” lost the subsequent election, along came Kevin Rudd, chief adviser to new state premier Wayne Goss. (This is the same Kevin, who much later, in the federal parliament personally voted for the passing the RU486 abortion bill). Kevin squashed the idea of the Wolfdene dam. Had the dam been built, it would have saved many more Queensland homes from the recent floods. This decision, like the decisions in Victoria was paying homage to that same pantheistic god of the environment. Yes I know Kevin is a Christian. I was reminded of that every Sunday night on TV, when the cameras captured him emerging from church with his wife that morning.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  • Bill, the fact remains that your theology has no reliable method for discerning the presence or absence of God’s hand in natural disasters here and now. For you the issue is undecidable, a classic agnostic position. As for the golden age of prophets purveying God’s messages, suppose you could be transported in a time machine back to ancient Israel midst an earthquake. Would you immediately discard your scientific knowledge of how earthquakes are caused and embrace the alternative account from the first prophet you encounter, and merely on his reputation or authority?
    John Snowden

  • Thanks John

    But as an unbeliever you continue to miss the point big time. If Christianity is true, then an infinite personal God exists who has created all things. Such a being is quite capable of communicating with us, telling us true truth about what he has done and why. He is quite able to communicate to his creatures if he so chooses. If you are a real agnostic, and not an atheist, then you should at least concede that point. If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then it is no big deal at all for God to communicate to us, and reveal his plans and purposes for us if he so chooses.

    And as I already said, as to modern day situations, we simply need to be a bit more cautious, since we don’t have that same inspired prophetic tradition. And that in part is because we now have the complete and final revelation of God as found in Scripture. The canon is closed, and all the basics that we need to know about God and what he requires of us are found in those 66 books. Thus we don’t need further detailed words about every thunder storm or earth tremor that takes place. Given what we know from his already given revelation, we know that God can well use “natural events” as part of his divine purposes. As I have said here is we are to avoid two unbiblical extremes:
    -deism, which says God has absolutely no involvement and interaction with this world and with us;
    -and the thought that every single act of nature is to be understood as a specific act of God, perhaps as judgement or what have you. Both are unhelpful extremes.

    Learning to live with a bit of uncertainty in daily specifics, while having the big picture roughly laid out, is sufficient for Christians. And even non-Christians live that way. They do not understand everything, and do not have detailed knowledge or explanations for everything in life, but they do not need to either.

    I have no problem at all saying that God can and does use the stuff of nature to accomplish his purposes, and that is more than sufficient. I don t need a detailed and specific word about everything which occurs around me, as I have more than enough revelation already in the Bible.

    And you naturalism and reductionism we have talked about plenty already. But for the sake of others, let me state again the biblical view. Yes, every single earthquake, just like everything else in the world, can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. Tectonic plates shift and an earthquake may occur.

    In the same way the Mona Lisa can be fully explained by daubs of coloured paint on a piece of canvas. But it is of course far more than that. If you want to decimate beauty and wonder by your mere materialism, you can have it, but I certainly am not interested. I am not aware of anyone one else who wants to be reduced to mere chemical reactions and discussions of particles.

    Just what exactly do you tell your wife when she tells you that she loves you John? Do you dismiss her and say, “don’t be silly, you are simply referring to chemical reactions in your brain. We all know there is no such thing as love. After all, it cannot be empirically tested, so it obviously does not exist”?

    The world of naturalism and materialism only is a very ugly, dark and colourless world. Why anyone would want to embrace such a narrow ideology is beyond me. It is a dead end, and the death of personhood, humanity, beauty, wonder, mystery and grandeur. I find such narrow rationalism and materialism to be appalling and stifling.

    But we have been over this ground time and time again John, so these conversations are becoming rather tired and tedious. Unless you are genuinely open to new ideas and concepts outside of your rather limited ideology, I suggest there is not much point for this broken record to keep being replayed. As I say, life is too busy, and I would rather discuss issues with those who have not slammed their mind shut.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Whether you want to believe or not, there is no denial that there is God and He is our Creator who has sovereignty over the universe. He created the earth in much order and perfection (including man with no sins). Yet man choose to sin and disobey God and hand over the authority to rule the earth to the enemy. You may conclude that whatever happen on this earth is the result of the consequence of man’s sins. We have time and again disobey God, dishonor God and go against God. So why do you blame God for all disasters and calamities?
    Linda Lim

  • I believe that much insight on the calamities that have been happening lately can be gained from the book of Revelation in the Bible. In this Revelation, John was given a vision that extends over the period from Christ’s death to His return. This book shows a world that is largely at enmity with God, rejecting His Son and refusing to repent. In consequence, God is actively pouring out His judgements upon mankind. These judgements are intended to alert the world to the need to repent and turn from sin. As the end of the age of grace draws near and time becomes shorter, the judgements are prophesied to increase in both frequency and intensity to reflect the absolute urgency of the situation. In my opinion it is love and wrath working together. God is rightly indignant that His Son is ignored and sin becoming brazen, but ever-merciful and desirous of warning people of the consequences of rejecting Him. I don’t think God is ‘singling out’ any particular state or country, because if we read the news we can see that no part of the world is exempt, we have all sinned as nations and turned away from God and we are all subject to the judgements that are happening. It is a time, I think, for the gospel to be proclaimed boldly.
    Debbie Ryan

  • Instead of arguing over the ‘whys’ and who is responsible for the recent disasters happening in Queensland, we should be ‘awake and watchful’ of the end times. Jesus’ Second Coming is eminent as depicted in Revelations. There is winds coming from the 4 corners of the earth as dictated by Our Lord. Events will roll as mentioned in the Bible, so be prepared for them. The most important thing is to repent of our pride and stubbornness and simply bow before our Lord Jesus Christ and acknowledge His Lordship. He is our only Saviour!
    Linda Lim

  • Wow, there are so many issues here. Bill’s explanation of why we can’t embrace deistic or pantheistic explanations is “on the money.” Several people (e.g. on my blog jonknewton.com) have claimed to have given prophecies of all this, but mostly they don’t stand up to scrutiny. We as believers have to hold onto some basic thoughts:
    1. God is the creator and providential governor of the world and answers prayer in his own wise counsel
    2. he has appointed human beings to manage the earth and has never rescinded that mandate
    3. as a result of our sin, the natural world is “out of whack” and accursed, resulting in lots of horrors
    4. nonetheless God has promised a measure of orderliness of natural events (after the Flood)
    5. God loves us and reaches out to us through and in spite of suffering (the true relevance of Revelation)
    6. Disasters are a reminder of our vulnerability, mortality and the coming final judgment (Luke 13:1-5)
    7. our responsibility as believers is to reach the world with the gospel rather than play “judge and jury” (cf Acts 1:8)
    Jon Newton

  • Thanks Jon

    You raise some helpful points here. Each one could be commented on at length.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I had a friend who used to say that trials make us bitter or better. I know that God is in control, I don’t always know his reasons. Whether it be a huge natural disaster or a personal hardship the thing that matters most is my response.

    Do we rail against God or decided he doesn’t exist, do we bemoan our lot in life and cry why me? Or do we come closer to God, and into a fuller relationship and reliance on him.

    Kylie Anderson

  • Yes quite right Kylie

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • (I’ll try again! – the storm has subsided; my husband and I have been sweeping water from our flooding garage amidst frightening thunder and lightening, plus we are soaked from the heavy downpour, plus have avoided hailstones larger than golf-ball size – in Leopold! Then the power went…)

    I agree with everything you say in this entry Bill, absolutely!! I also confirm in full that Patricia Halligan has voiced my thoughts and feelings completely. The Abortion agenda, the prayers people have offered which I firmly believe have diminished the repercussions of the catastrophe, the conversion of the Qld premier Anna Bligh to a focus on saving lives rather than supporting the destruction of innocent lives, could now be possible! She has been wonderful.

    The lives that could have been lost, yet haven’t, show to me the mercy of God, in spite of his rightful anger – Our society is disintegrating, and so many people ignore Him.

    I hope it’s okay to put in a link to the moment when the Victorian Parliament voted in the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008, two months after which Victoria suffered devastating bush fires … Unfortunately so many innocent people suffered, but I feel it could have been a chastisement to us all for allowing this barbaric Law, and not fighting enough against it! God must be so angry about our complacency in regard to the cruel killing of innocent little babies (who feel pain) and are left to die, which so many deny! I do feel there is a link with the catastrophes occurring in our country, and this evil holocaust – “the most extreme abortion law in the Western World”!

    Paula Mari Pike

  • Finally found it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE9_39h3tNc

    (Victorian Parliament passing the Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 – and as the woman from the gallery calls out:
    “…. There will be retribution on this country!” My immediate thought (when chills ran up my spine) – “Victoria will be chastised with bush fires!” – which indeed devastated parts of our State three months later. Sure, Australia is renowned for its flooding rains, bushfires, storms, droughts etc, but the timeliness and increase in these disasters seem too coincidental.)

    These catastrophes are occurring too frequently all over the world at the present time, and we need to ask why? I believe God is trying to wake us up!

    Paula Mari Pike

  • You are a brave bloke to tackle this topic Bill! I am a farmer and regularly experience the pointy end of God’s providential acts. Recent rains have laid waste to crops I have grown and invested both time and resources into. At this very moment it is raining heavily and the next variety of peaches ready for harvest will probably go the way of the last one a few weeks ago, as cow feed! Small potatoes compared to the loss of life or total destruction that events up north have produced. We should pray for them. These events do cause you to think about who is in control of the show and your view of the Biblical position on God’s providence is well put. I would much prefer to put my trust in a loving, merciful God who is in control of all things than a deistic God who has taken his hands off the wheel. The horrible vacuum of control atheism gives you is worse still, chance random events with no rhyme or reason, no future and no hope. The question still remains if God has mastery over His creation why does He let it get so horrible? This has probably perplexed many people for many years and I cant satisfy it but I wonder whether part of the answer is that we have difficulty looking at things from God’s viewpoint and are looking always from our own and our desire for comfort, success and a nice life. God perhaps wants us to look up and acknowledge Him. As for acts of Judgement or specific acts of God, isn’t everything an act of God either by commission or ommission? He can do anything and so even when people say God didn’t do such and such, He at least allowed it to take place for his reasons. Some may be for Judgement, some for reasons we will never know this side of eternity. Was Job ever told God had a cosmic contest going on?
    I am not sure it is helpful for Christian media identities to make judgements on God’s judgements!
    I try hard to trust God, albeit falteringly, as I watch things on my farm respond often poorly to weather events. He is a good God although His good is often beyond my understanding and I thank him for giving me far better than I deserve.
    Ultimately that trust must be based on his Biblical revelation which tells me in spite of how things look or feel nothing separates me from his love, He is perfecting me through trials and will sustain me so that I will be with Him one day.
    Pete Hall

  • Thanks Peter

    Yes we are now discussing theodicy, or why God seems to allow evil to take place. Since whole libraries have been written about this, we cannot do it justice here with brief comments. There are mega-questions, and like the Book of Job, we seldom get all the answers we are looking for. But while the ‘why’ questions may be elusive, the ‘who’ question is not. God showed his love and care for us by sending his only son to take our place at Calvary. That is the ultimate answer we must cling to, even though millions of smaller questions remain.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,

    Yes we are now discussing theodicy, or why God seems to allow evil to take place.

    Why not seriously consider the obvious answer – God isn’t there?

    Veronica Griffiths, Sydney

  • Thanks Veronica

    Why not seriously consider the obvious answer – God is there?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I was walking our dog recently, when the Lord started repeating this Scripture snippet to me –
    “still they did not repent”.
    I looked it up: twice in Rev 9 and twice in Rev 16 – in the context of God delivering judgments among men. As I waited for illumination, it struck me – in these passages it’s almost as if Father God is saying “What will it take to get you to turn back to me so that I can love and bless you again?”
    Jesus “upholds, maintains and guides and propels the universe by His mighty word (rhema) of power” Hebrews 1:3 Amplified. God is in the weather, often just as a mostly regular system He has set up, but He often intervenes in what He has set up. After the unprecedented fires in Canberra where we live (500 homes lost), I put it to the Lord “why do you do these things, when most people just don’t “get it”?. He immediately said back to me “I’m not wasting my time”. Remember, we see as in a mirror dimly: we know in part and we prophesy in part. Our knowledge is and will always be fragmentary. Father God has ordained this. The key is my response. Will I be like Joseph in Egypt, who could very easily have become bitter and downcast, but he chose to hang with Father God, because he considered Him faithful who had promised. All that we see will one day be melted with intense heat. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. What will remain, is what we have all said and done – on this shall we be judged. God bless all serious disciples of our Wonderful King.
    Ian Brearley

  • Bill,

    My point was that natural disasters are understandable when you don’t invoke God. When I said God isn’t there I implied that God doesn’t manipulate the weather.

    Where the Old Testament mentions God’s “judgment by intervention”, the reasons are clearly spelt out. Since we have no communication about God’s motives, it makes far more sense to assume that God played no part. What would be the point of God punishing huge numbers of people if He doesn’t explain the cause of His wrath, and simply leaves us to try and figure out if it was punishment or stochasticity. Or indeed why a particular geographical area might have been damned.

    Veronica Griffiths

  • Bill

    I have enjoyed reading your article and agree with most of your conclusions.

    The area of God’s providence is a great and lofty subject and I fear too ‘high’ for me. I do however stand along with reformed Christians through the centuries who believe that God is in full and absolute control of all things including ‘weather events’ as they are now referred to. They cannot therefore be seen as ‘evil’ in any way and it follows that the ‘problem of evil’ isn’t then relevant in this case.

    We don’t, as you point out have a ‘word’ from God as to his purpose in any particular event. However, if we confine our thinking to the ‘general’; that is that God punishes national sin and rebellion by often sending disasters upon nations. It is therefore quite within the bounds of Christian thought to attribute our current problems to a general turning away from God as a nation and this is seen in the way we have enacted particular laws contrary to Gods laws and in many other ways.

    I think that Christs discussion with his disciples about those killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them is most instructive to us in this issue. The Lord used this illustration to point them to the final judgment of all men. This then is the main reason that God sends these harsh events upon us. To point us all to the fact of the return of Christ where all men will have to give account.

    Regards
    Colin McFerran

  • Thanks Veronica

    But it is difficult to reply to you since it is so difficult to figure out where you are coming from. Judging by your first comment, you are a smart alec atheist. Judging by your second comment, you are an unbiblical deist. So until a bit more clarity can be gathered as to where in fact you are coming from, any of my replies may well seem quite inadequate to you.

    But going on what little info I do have about you, a few responses if I may. It seems to me that natural disasters make no sense whatsoever if there is no God. As I said in my piece, all we are then left with is: crap happens so just get used to it. That provides no moral, psychological or intellectual comfort. I much prefer a loving God who at least is working all things to the good for those who love him (Rom 8:28, eg).

    And who says “God doesn’t manipulate the weather”? The Bible certainly doesn’t state that. Throughout Scripture we see God using weather and other natural events to further his own purposes. And this is not just found in the OT.

    Also, the fact that we may not be able to discern a divine role in occurrences today does not of course mean that there are no such divine purposes. It simply means we have to be careful in assessing these occurrences. But again, I am not a deist, and I do believe that God is actively and personally involved in our affairs, and the affairs of this world. It is just that we may not always be fully aware of all the fine details, lacking that sure prophetic word today.

    And as I said, even if we do not have a specific word about a particular tragedy or disaster, a wise response would be for us to ‘consider our days’ and recall that life is fleeting, like a blade of grass, here today and gone tomorrow. At the very least, such tragedies can be used as divine reminders about our very temporary condition, and our ever-pressing need to be in right relationship with our Creator.

    But again, none of this may be of any use to you, since I still don’t have a clue as to where you are coming from concerning all this. So until you spill the beans, this conversation may not get very far!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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