Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on May 21, 2008.
This post will be religious and theological (and hopefully thought-provoking). I warn those of you who visit this blog for the stats on global warming that I am apt to change subjects (particularly on the data analysis that I do each month) in any number of directions. This is one of those directions. You should know that I have no qualms about embracing science and also being a man of faith. I find no contradiction. I will be discussing this a bit more in a subsequent post. For now, I just wanted to give the heads up that we will be moving into the heavy and controversial topic of God’s judgments and chastisements on our world, and how people of faith may look at this from different points of view, and what my view on the subject is.
Whenever one gets into a discussion about religion in general, it can be an experience of emotion and controversy. When you introduce people with decidedly different understandings of the nature of God, these little debates can flare up considerably. Add in atheists and agnostics, many of whom have strongly formed opinions, and otherwise mature adults can ignite a firestorm of ill feelings and insults. Still, the amount of controversy also depends on the topic at hand, and how religion and/or morality (not always one and the same thing) tie into that topic. Clearly, few people would get overly emotional by a position against murdering someone, whether that view be based on an understanding of Scripture, Church teaching, Ra the sun-god, or a secular view of morality and ethics. Certain topics are so reasonable that there is little debate. It is one reason why these obviously sinful acts don’t get time at the pulpit. Most people would sit there and think, “Why’s the good Pastor going on about murder being wrong? Everyone knows that!”
Of course, not everyone’s definition of murder will apply equally in all cases. Some equate capital punishment to murder. Some may equate self-defense or acts of war with murder. Some will argue that abortion is not murder, and that euthanasia cannot be considered murder because of the aspect of “compassion” involved in the act. Some will say that suicide is a right, and would not consider “self-murder” in any way analogous to a traditional idea of murder. So, even on the obvious subjects, the positions can stray to points of controversy.
The reason I point this out is because, while there are particular hot-button issues that really rile people up (abortion, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, consideration of feeding tubes as extraordinary medical care, etc.) there is a broader topic that sort of underlies all these things that will evoke ridicule and criticism, even from otherwise devout and faith-filled Christians. That topic is the very judgment of God in a temporal fashion on this very earth for which these sins are committed.
Clearly, the atheist, and perhaps even the agnostic, will dismiss any idea of temporal judgment out of hand. While I obviously do not agree with their conclusions or decision to dismiss faith or belief in God as necessary, or even good, at least the logic of their position makes sense. Given that they believe there is no God, then any talk of His judgment makes no particular sense. To the agnostic, I think it’s more accurate to say that the typical agnostic doesn’t completely refute the possibility of God, but most would believe that even if He exists, He has no particular interest in us. So, I guess that’s somewhere between a Deistic approach and atheism. In any case, I can understand the scorn here, even if I don’t particularly appreciate it.
What becomes a little more interesting is the reaction that many Christians have to any suggestion of a divine chastisement of any sort. And I am not here to say that it is an issue that can be known or understood with complete certainty. However, I do not simply dismiss the idea out of hand. Too often, I am of the opinion that dismissals of the idea of divine chastisement are borne more out of political correctness than any serious theological thought on the matter. However, another aspect of it is that it also becomes this uncomfortable matter of a sort of judgment – some claim to knowing the mind of God and His subsequent reactions to the sins of the world. There can, in recognizing His use of chastisement, be a self-righteousness about it that lays blame at someone else’s feet for natural events that have no particular explanation other than the finicky and undiscriminating characteristic of nature itself. If anything, all of the bad things that happen are borne of the original sin of Adam and Eve, and the cumulative sins of generations of people who, while redeemed by Christ, are nevertheless purveyors of the same old sins of our forefathers. With it comes the adverse reaction of nature, up to and including death itself. Whether by some catastrophic event or in old age, death is not avoided and is in itself a type of chastisement for original sin.
But the controversy arises in statements that link certain events with certain sins or people, or the sins of people in certain locales. Was Katrina a chastisement due to the predominance of voodoo and the occult? Or because of the perversions of the flesh in certain areas for which New Orleans became infamous? Was Myanmar chastised? How about China? Was 9-11 a divine judgment? After all, how many abortions are committed in both the U.S. and China? But then again, what about the rest of the world where these same sins are committed? Or, perhaps, maybe they are chastisements that are not meant to imply anything about any particular location, but only to send a message to the world as a whole that the whole darned ship has gone astray. Was AIDS a chastisement on those who engaged in promiscuous, and in particular, homosexual activity?
What sins bring on such things? Some contend that rampant homosexual activity, and more than that, a societal acceptance of such activity, is the trigger for chastisement. Sodom and Gomorrah seems to be the poster child for this, although it should be noted that there were many other sins and lawlessness there as well. Some will say that abortion is the gravest of all sins, and we can expect major repercussions from all the blood spilled. Something as broad as a lack of modesty and perversion of all sexuality, which includes acceptance and distribution of pornography, is such a trigger. In the realm of faith, perhaps it is just a general falling away from faith, and ambivalence towards God. Perhaps it is a continued acceptance of abusing the name of God. That is a commandment, after all.
Then there is the question of the nature of such chastisements. Are these actually sent by God? Or are most of them natural progressions of our own actions, which means we bring them about ourselves? Perhaps God would have withheld certain things from occurring, but He allowed nature to take its course because it is the fulfillment of our own choices. Perhaps AIDS was not a divine judgment as much as it was a self-inflicted one, but by the same notion God also placed into the natural order certain mechanisms that would counteract such immoral behaviors. Would this be mean? Or is it a actually a loving mechanism that forces people to think about their lifestyle and the decisions they make as an aid towards salvation? Perhaps God throws up certain blinders that do not allow us to recognize dangers that appear, while at the same time not sending evil things our way. Surely, God did not initiate the evil in men’s hearts that would send 9-11 our way. But maybe he blinded us from the warning signs and allowed it to occur. Imagine if we had all kept the same spiritual fervor that swept over America the few weeks after this event. Maybe this is what God was looking for, and He was prepared to bless us abundantly going forward, if only we hadn’t cooled off in such a short time.
All these questions are difficult, and while unknowable to some extent, we can still hold to a general sense and view that God will handle things in His own way, in His own time. And the rub of it all is that, as any Christian should know simply from Scripture, this includes chastisement. This is evident in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. God chastised Egypt. He chastised Israel herself numerous times, going so far as to allow her to be entirely conquered and all her inhabitants spread throughout the earth. But this is not just Old Testament mythology. A reading of the Book of Revelation, even if read in light of its symbolism and from a largely pretiristic sense, still demonstrates that God’s hand is involved in chastisement of the unfaithful. And these chastisements do include earthquakes and storms and all those things that the typical person nowadays would roll their eyes at and say, “Um, yeah, suuuurrrreee this was from God.” It’s almost as if we simply cannot fathom that God still acts today like He’s always acted. We have an innate ability to look at Israel and see them ignoring all the prophets who basically said “Hey… God doesn’t like what you’re doing, and if you don’t change your ways, bad things will happen” and say to ourselves, “Why didn’t those idiots listen?” But today, if anyone even bothers to point out that we are doing worse things today than Israel ever did, and that God might be trying to send us a message, you are labeled a religious nutjob. It really actually makes no sense at all in the context of faith. In fact, this nonsensical approach to our view of God ties right in with Revelation, where we are told that people would simultaneously curse God for what is happening to them, while dismissing that He has anything at all to do with it.
The other difficult question is this: OK, let’s assume that God sends or allows chastisements. A lot of good people die in these things too. What gives? This could be the largest stumbling block peopl have in accepting the idea that God sends these things to shake us up. I know everyone has their own ideas, but to me, this isn’t really a difficult question at all. For one thing, we’re all going to die, no matter how good we are. None of us are immune from suffering, either. Some of the holiest Saints lived horribly miserable lives as far as their health goes, the conditions in which they lived, their family situation, and all sorts of things even to the point of martyrdom. As shocking and devastating as a cataclysmic event is, the real tragedy in it are not the faithful who die – as a Christian I believe they would be the first to tell me that we should celebrate their new life with God in heaven. The real tragedy are those who will have died without knowing God. And while I believe it is entirely possible that God protects certain people in these times, or that the primary focus of chastisement may well be a group of people or a locale, that we are never promised that the faithful will not be affected as well.
The long and short of it is this: We can surmise a lot of things. We cannot know with certainty why everything happens as it does. But we know the following things: (1) By virtue of original sin, the natural order became disordered. In this way, ALL bad things that happen are a “chastisement” of sorts; (2) God has in the past chastised people and nations, as written about in Scripture; (3) God will (and depending on your reading of it, continues to) chastise as a response to sin and unfaithfulness, and this is clear in the Book of Revelation; (4) There are approved apparitions in the Catholic Church that directly speak to chastisements as a response to sin and unfaithfulness, as well as the message of no promise of a wonderful life – in this world – for the faithful. Any devout Catholic should at least recognize this. We don’t have to dwell on it, but we shouldn’t dismiss it, either.
Beyond these things, we get into speculation. Some informed, some not so much. These speculations may include the reasons for hurricane Katrina or 9/11 or the Tsunami, or any number of things. It is probably best not to place blame too specifically even if we believe these are purposeful chastisements, for we are all sinners. However, it is a healthy recognition that, in general, the accumulation of the gravest of our sins will bring a reprisal of chastisement in some way at some time. God will either allow our own unaltered course of self-destruction as a way ironic justice, or will choose to preserve our future, in which case His intervention will be necessary, and very unpleasant. Either way, unless there is some sort of mass conversion of heart, things aren’t looking pretty.
You may ask why I have written on this subject. My next post takes a leap that perhaps breaks my own rule of speculation. But I believe we have crossed a moral Rubicon, and I wanted to preface the tenor of that post with this one, so you understand exactly where I am coming from.