Rejoicing in Calamities and Disasters
Christians of all people should not be celebrating each new tragedy and disaster.
‘What? Rejoice when a tragedy happens? Who would do such a thing?’ Sadly there are various folks around who DO get rather excited when some disaster or great misfortune takes place. I can think of at least three groups that tend to do this.
One group would be masochists and others who simply get their kicks out of evil and suffering. They actually get cheap thrills out of such things. Another group would be some of the radical greens who claim that we are far too overpopulated and drastic steps are needed to cut back on the human population. Some even speak in glowing terms about plagues and the like to bring this about.
But there is a third group of people who can actually applaud each new case of disaster or tragedy: I refer to certain Christians who really should know better. Most of these are gung-ho prophecy and end-times buffs who seems fixated on the Second Coming of Christ.
According to their interpretation of eschatology, every time there is another disaster – be it an earthquake or a mass killing or a typhoon – they see this as another indication that the end is near. They think this is in fact good news because it means Jesus will soon return.
Thus they will cheer on every new calamity and disaster: ‘Oh goodie, the return of the Lord has just gotten much closer!’ ‘The prophetic clock is ticking away!’ ‘This is just what the Bible predicted!’ The truth is, this is a lousy attitude for Christians to take – and it is unbiblical as well.
Let me explain. Many of these folks will run with a few verses in Matthew 24 for their take on these things. But simply reading the passage in context should make us a bit more cautious. Consider what Matt. 24:4-8 actually says:
Jesus answered, “Watch out, and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will fool many people. You are going to hear the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away; but do not be troubled. Such things must happen, but they do not mean that the end has come. Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be famines and earthquakes everywhere. All these things are like the first pains of childbirth.
I will not here look in detail at how we might exegete and interpret this passage. Perhaps in another article I will take on that challenge. Suffice it to say that different Christians have different understandings of just what is being said here. And there is some room to move here regarding these various views and interpretations.
But yes, Christians do look forward to the return of Christ. Yes, it is our blessed hope. But believers for two thousand years now have thought that the end was nigh. Can Christ return tomorrow? Yes that is possible. Might he not return for many decades or even centuries? Yes that is possible as well.
We just do not know for sure when he will return. Jesus himself said no one knows the day or the hour. And Jesus said that we are to occupy till he comes. So we are to stand against evil as best we can. We are not to allow end-times speculation to render our witness ineffective and salt-less.
Keeping busy with the work of the Kingdom is part of what it means to be salt and light. We have a job to do and should not let eschatological theories interfere with that. But I have written about this in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1999/04/08/end-times-and-christian-responsibility/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/04/16/eschatology-and-fatalism-doing-right-fighting-evil-and-the-end-times/
Furthermore, rejoicing when a tragedy happens is not exactly reflecting the love of God and his patience with humanity (but more on this in a moment). It is not reflecting the broken heart of God. It is not demonstrating any sort of empathy for others.
When a tragedy strikes, resulting in the death of many, we should be grieved, and we should be praying for those affected. We should not be celebrating or rejoicing or gloating. Simply consider if your own loved ones were impacted by some tragedy.
Unless you are some glib Christian who says, ‘Nah, no big deal – they are in heaven now so that is all that matters,’ you will grieve and mourn and hurt. We should not just feel that way about friends and family members, but about others as well.
An exception, properly understood
I mentioned three groups who might delight in disasters and the like. There can actually be a fourth group, properly understood. But we need to be real careful here. In Scripture we do have cases of God’s just judgment on the wicked. And at times God’s people can indeed be glad that justice is being done, and that God is taking steps to deal with evil.
When Moses and the people of Israel were delivered from Egypt, and made it through the Red Sea while Pharaoh and his troops did not, Moses did sing praises to God for this delivery. The first 14 chapters of Exodus give us an account of this amazing exodus, and then we have the Song of Moses in Ex. 15:1-18. And in Ex. 15:19-21 we have the Song of Miriam.
Both sing praises to God concerning the victory over the oppressive Egyptians. Let me just give the first six verses:
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord, because he has won a glorious victory;
he has thrown the horses and their riders into the sea.
The Lord is my strong defender;
he is the one who has saved me.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will sing about his greatness.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
“He threw Egypt’s army and its chariots into the sea;
the best of its officers were drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep sea covered them;
they sank to the bottom like a stone.
“Your right hand, Lord, is awesome in power;
it breaks the enemy in pieces.
We find similar things after the Jews were saved from a murderous plot as recorded in the book of Esther. As we read there, through a remarkable series of events the Jewish people were saved while their enemies were destroyed. In chapter 9 we read about the outcome of this, and the celebrating that took place.
It was “a joyous holiday, a time for feasting and giving gifts of food to one another” (v. 19). The Feast of Purim is inaugurated, celebrated to this day by devout Jews. One more example: in the book of Revelation we find similar things.
When God judges the wicked in Rev. 18 we read about God’s people rejoicing in Rev. 19. So there is a place for giving thanks when God judges the wicked and delivers his people. But see more on all this here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/10/21/gaddafi-evil-and-our-response-part-one/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/10/21/gaddafi-evil-and-our-response-part-two/
So at times the people of God can indeed rejoice with their Lord that great evil has been defeated and that God’s enemies have been routed. But we need to be careful here. For specifics, see what I have said in the two articles mentioned just above.
In sum, believers need to be much more circumspect when it comes to current events. We do not know with certainty if each new disaster is part of some prophetic countdown, and we do not know if these things are acts of God’s judgment.
By all means seek and pray for the Parousia. We should indeed rejoice in the knowledge that Christ will return one day. But please do not gloat and celebrate every time some new disaster strikes. It is a pretty bad look and not a great testimony for our Lord.
10 Replies to “Rejoicing in Calamities and Disasters”
Thank you very much for writing about this Bill. We should indeed grieve when we hear of calamities and disasters and not make some of the assumptions that are rife out there about it being part of Gods judgement. Our rejoicing is when we see evil laws or dictators being repealed and overcome by good I believe. There also seems to be a tendency for some Christians to see the misfortune of another who has possibly hurt them in the past as being a direct retribution from God not to mock Gods ‘anointed’. I sometimes struggle with witnessing that. We make terrible assumptions in life and need to be so careful and wise.
Luke 9. 54-56. KJV. 54. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord will Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? 55. But He (Jesus) turned, and rebuked them, and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of. 55. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.
Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to consume Jesus’ enemies. (The Samaritans rejected Jesus.) But Jesus rebuked James and John for even suggesting such an idea.
Thanks Helena. As I said in my article, we must insist on the biblical balance here. Gloating over the injuries or downfall of another person is often wrong. But that is different from rejoicing with God when evil is defeated or overcome, or when God removes evildoers from power, and so on. There are plenty of examples of this in Scripture, some of which I offered in my piece. Here I give more detail on this: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/03/on-having-enemies/
Good words, Bill. I personally suspect we have at least a few hundred more years. Jesus gave us a job to do, and I think He expects us to do it before He returns. Not just preach the gospel to all creation, but to disciple all nations to obey Him. But of course, He is God, and if He wants to return sooner, I’m ready! 🙂
Yes, rejoicing in the calamities of others does not reflect a Christ-like attitude, and has nothing to do with 2Peter 3:12 “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God,” Better go to Matthew 28:18-20 and “GO”
Nice! You hit a rarely exposed topic here Bill. We are not predominantly in judgement mode just yet, but in salvation mode, so we need to get cracking on it…
I’m some cases we have God’s judgement on the wicked ‘
I was not in great understanding nor that gifted with interpretation of scripture but I do remember when the Japanese Government refused the second world war ‘ comfort women’ any compensation- the very next day the Khobe earthquake struck.
I for one felt it was like God making the terms of payment.
True we ARE to occupy till he comes (and NOT wall street). the commander has NOT called on us to leave the battlefield YET so even if we know the battle is over we must still fight till told to leave. a solider can’t pick up his gun and leave just because he knew the battle is over and any minute the commander will say ‘fall back’ he still fights till ordered to fall back and we too must fight. It is OK to recognize the end time and the signs there of but we should properly weep that they have come and that these things happen. We should take no pleasure in the end times and in prophecy fulfilled in which there are deaths. many who die have now been lost forever no longer can they be reached.
On and side not based on something you said it always bothers me that christians are UNWILLING to say someone is in hell. some many just say he is in heaven now (do we know everyone in a mass shooting WAS christian??) that it makes it seem NO-ONE goes to hell. he was a good person seems to be the only qualification most christians have for getting into heaven. some use a copout of “well we don’t know what happened in his last few moments” while that is true to leave it at that, and not add barring a last minute conversion he is in hell, is a problem. (and we only have one instance in the bible of a deathbed confession – the thief on the cross – so it is RARE!) we no longer tell people a loved one or friend who did NOT believe is in hell so no wonder we have christians who don’t even BELIEVE in hell.
Some of the problem is that the Church has been subjected to wrong end time teaching which leads people to think ‘things are getting bad, but not to worry, soon we’ll be going up in the rapture.’ It has bred an apathetic Church and immobilised it. The Church is here to reclaim the earth for God, not run away from it or to stand watching while the enemy has a hey day. We are the Army of God. Jesus said ‘I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not stand against it.” Anything less than total victory for the Church in the Earth, short changes the price paid on Calvary. The earth is the inheritance of the spiritual seed of Abraham. The Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in heaven is our Promised Land. As Edgar said in the post above, Jesus gave us a job to do and when we’ve done it He’ll return. In terms of the Types, we are at the River Jordan. Read Joshua 3: 1-7. The instructions are to watch the Ark and follow 2,000 cubits behind. The Ark is a type of Christ. Two thousand years after Jesus came out of the wilderness in the power of the Spirit and began bringing down the enemy strongholds; the Church will follow.
As with the end times it is the response to the rapture that is important do you respond by saying “sit back and enjoy the ride soon Jesus will zap us home” or “We must work quickly to save the few we can because Jesus will rapture us home soon”??? “Work while it is day for soon it will be night when no man can work” the closeness of the end times and the rapture should make this even MORE relevant! These two things should not be an excuse but should spur you on to work harder like an approaching deadline. No-one say a few hours before the presentation is due well I guess I can just sit back and relax now (even though the work is not finished).