10 August 2010

The natural-disaster-out-there dodge (NEXT! #23)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: How can God cause a(n) [natural disaster] in ____ that kills ____?

Response: You mean, why doesn't He do the same every day in every city on every continent? Why hasn't he done that to you? Excellent question! Those days are coming. But God is showing that He is long-suffering, giving the same opportunity for repentance that the people in _____ had enjoyed.



(Proverbs 21:22)

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51 comments:

Joey Phillips said...

Outstanding.

Si Hollett said...

British author Terry Pratchett (who calls himself an atheist of the angry at God for not existing kind - mostly as he sees great immorality in the universe) asked of the Haiti earthquake, "I would believe in God if he had stopped it."

My non-believing Dad told me this as I was leaving for church one Sunday and telling me that Pratchett has a point, and I came up with this same 'next' comment (along with how on earth would we be able to know he stopped it - and you wouldn't have a clue about what an earthquake was if he did - He's stopped millions all over the world by sustaining creation as I write this) about 2 minutes later - 2 minutes too late. Grr...

Like the Psalmist has it - the real question is "why do the wicked prosper?"

DJP said...

I hear you, Si. All my "best" answers are two minutes, two years, two decades late in coming.

What I think (sitting here at my keyboard) is, "Well then, believe in God. He just stopped all your atoms and molecules from scattering towards the four corners of the universe. Oh! He just did it again. Oh! He just did it again. Believe, while you still can."

Mike said...

brevity |ˈbrevitē|
noun
concise and exact use of words in writing or speech.

My Reply:

Word! (In the 80s/90s sense.)

Gov98 said...

I like this, but whenever I talk to people about Christ and they bring up natural disasters or seemingly random tragedies...I think the strongest point is to bring up Christ's own words.

I say you know Christ was asked this same basic question when a tower fell and killed a number of people, why did this tragedy happen...and most of the time we like to think tragedy x happened to judge people or something else. Christ said however, that unless we repent we will likewise perish. Simply put, tragedy happens as a warning to us, that the time to get right with God is today.

Then reiterate that the time to choose to repent is not to delay because none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and tragedy is a warning that judgment can come upon us unaware so we need to repent today.

DJP said...

That's a good response, Gov, but the intent of this one comes slightly from a different direction.

Chris said...

Excellent post Dan! You know, John MacArthur preached this same message Sunday within the larger context of his Romans 1 and 2 sermon entitled "Abusing the Goodness of God." As he made this very same point, and as I'm reminded of this again by reading your post, I remember when I once had this darkened understanding--that what is now so obvious and purely reasonable and absolutely logical from God's perspective has been turned entirely upside down in the hearts and minds of rebellious, demanding sinners.

DJP said...

So... you're saying Phil gives MacArthur a peek at my posts?

You know, it's possible....

/c:'

lawrence said...

Loved the scattering molecules analogy. I'll have to remember that one.

Chris said...

...and, even in our regenerate state, how cautious we must be in our renewed hearts and minds not to let the poison of such thinking enter even for a fraction of a second when we see news broadcasts of the next horrendous natural disaster and/or tragedy (as the insurance companies like to refer to such as "acts of God").

B Barnes said...

Dan,

I like how you approach this. Unbelievers (and even believers sometimes) assume God's grace, like they deserve it. Your response checks that notion at the door and requires them to ponder why it hasn't happened to them, when they rightfully deserve it. The conclusion should be "it's amazing that He let me live this long, and I haven't received a worse fate."

When you look at it from the fact that we are sinful and ever deserve God's wrath, the real question should be why didn't it happen right now, to me. That question leads to the answer that God is demonstrating His patience and long-suffering for the purpose of your repentance. Take advantage of it while you can.

It's all about perspective.

DJP said...

You caught it exactly, BB.

And that's the basic purpose of all the Next! series: to take a challenge that usually puts Christians on the defensive and, with a sharp pivot, turn things around.

Chris said...

Lol.

That is correct. In fact, I actually meant to thank YOU for that excellent sermon on Sunday.

I mean, you write really good posts & all and, well, in a last-minute scramble for material in that sermon prep, he needed what you've so generously provided. Right? (o;

DJP said...

I'm here to serve.

(c:

stratagem said...

I doubt this Next! answer would be well-received by unbelievers or the so-called "seekers" (which according to Scripture, don't even exist). In other words, it is excellent!

Chris said...

I'm waiting for someone to address you with THAT particular dodge example of THAT ONE PARTICULAR HYPOTHETICAL tragedy that trumps all others...the one that is just so severe, with so many lives lost, that you couldn't possibly explain away like you would the more garden-variety, everyday tragedies. It's coming, I'm sure!!

Chris said...

At least that's what I've noticed when I've talked to people about this; they simply think size or severity matters more somehow??

Zaphon said...

Sound response.

What we need to keep out of is pulling a Pat Robertson style prophetic announcement about why a disaster happened. Or like one author, who claims that natural disasters like Katrina happened very close in proximity to US foreign policy moves that hurt Israel.

Repentance should be our goal, not speculative opinions that cause confusion. Of course, some people just won't listen to anything you tell them.

David said...

So, these people who ask these NEXT! questions. . .

Are they standing in line outside your office? Do they take a number?

I'm picturing the Monty Python argument sketch.

donsands said...

The Tsunami that hit Indonesia a few years ago actually opened a way for the Gospel to go forth into one of the countries there, that was closed to the Gospel, because it was a radical muslem nation. I forget the name of the country.
A minister told me that.

Good post. The natural-disaster dodge is one of the biggies.

Great answer to make a mental note of.

stratagem said...

I'm waiting for someone to address you with THAT particular dodge example of THAT ONE PARTICULAR HYPOTHETICAL tragedy that trumps all others...the one that is just so severe, with so many lives lost, that you couldn't possibly explain away like you would the more garden-variety, everyday tragedies.

You mean the end of the world? Dan already addressed that in this Next! post.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Dan...

ZING!

I would so love to lock you in a room with my in-laws.

*sigh*

I'm not quick enough on my feet - uhhhh - verbally.

Julie

Sven Pook said...

I have been taken aside by the local "theologians" attempting to "set me straight" for giving this same answer. Out of 30 some odd churches in the area, ONE pastor agrees with me. And he is with the AoG . . . go figure.

Great post and thanks for the brevity, it's about all I have time to read during the summer.

Gov98 said...

That's a good response, Gov, but the intent of this one comes slightly from a different direction.

Oh it's a great response and I love it, I just find that in talking to people it is helpful to put the "oomph" in it if you will.

In talking with people they do bring up this objection, but in pointing out Christ's response, that it is meant as a warning to repent you do two things. Answer the Objection, but then demonstrate how their indictment of God is actually and indictment of the sinner.

For example, if someone brings this up, you lock them in actually, so you agree that we're not guaranteed 80 years, we could die tomorrow right? You know the Bible says why that happens, because today is the day to get right with God. You've turned everything around on them. You've agreed on the premise, but the application is completely different.

It's amazing, because with this truth, in witness you actually bring up tragedy. When someone objects that it sounds good but they're not ready, or need to "think" about it. (They ask you to "go away", they "Festize") You bring up tragedy and say, you know how tragedy X recently happened (there's always one in the news) you know why that happens? As a warning, that today is the time, not tomorrow.

What's amazing is, having discussed it quite a bit with people, no one after the Biblical argumentation has really had the strength to argue back against it (haven't experienced it yet, doesn't mean I won't just it does (like the law, shut the mouth of the speaker).

My only point is that this particular objection is a particularly great one to turn right around to a full on Gospel presentation.

Gov98 said...

Oh it's a great response and I love it,

For clarity (because in reading it was not clear) this was referencing Dan's original "NEXT."

Mark B. Hanson said...

By the way, Dan - nice condensation of Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Of course, with Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., maybe the sequel should be titled "God in the Hands of Angry Sinners". Of course, that's what the Cross was...

Chris said...

Strategem,

Yep...exactly.

Citizen Grim said...

The "problem of evil" is a tough one, but I always thought the depths of human depravity are much more horrifying than even the worst natural disasters. A hurricane is devastating, yes, but I feel like a serial child rapist is a much greater horror. I'm sorry if that sounds trite, I'm not sure how to say it exactly.

Frank Turk said...

I think the natural disaster guy is too myopic. Every day, God lets roughly 155,000 people die of all causes every day.

From my perspective, the disaster is a lot more wide-spread than the handful which die from some natural event -- and that's why God has a much more wide-reaching plan for resolving the problem.

Just like DJP said, btw.

Larry Geiger said...

Sven
We have some odd churches in our area too. I worry, sometimes, that mine might be one of them :-)

Mike B. said...

Okay, but if you're a Calvinist, then God doesn't give everyone the opportunity for repentance, does he?

Daryl said...

Mike B,

Even if your not, He doesn't.

But the questioner can't say that, can he? After all, the whole "NEXT" series presupposes that he's raising the question to you, a believer, about what God is up to.

Citizen Grim said...

Frank's comment above is brilliant.

Stefan said...

Every day that I wake up, make it to work in one piece, and go home to see my wife is a testament to God's longsuffering mercy.

If only I remembered that and repented every day.

Constantine said...

Good stuff and what an interesting group.

I've always been drawn to the presuppositional answer to the question of evil.

That is, if God doesn't exist how can you even know what is evil?

Put the other way 'round, the unbeliever has no basis for deciding what is evil without first acknowledging God.

Van Tillian, I admit.

Peace.

DJP said...

You're absolutely right.

I developed that thought further here.

Constantine said...

Very nice, Dan.

Thanks for sharing that link - and your work.

Peace.

Jacob said...

This is EXCELLENT and a sound rebuttal of that tired question. One wonders why it is being rated so low.

DJP said...

Guess, Jacob.

farmboy said...

John Gerstner took a similar track in one of his primers, "The Problem of Pleasure." Flipping the problem of pain on its head, Gerstner notes that once one is aware of just how vile sin is and what sin deserves, one should be left in utter amazement at all the pleasure one observes in the world.

Regarding the reference to molecules, that is something that still leaves me in awe. It's a key insight I took from my one and only chemistry class: I'm just a bunch of atoms. Why do they stick together in the orderly way that they do? The Creator of the universe is also the Sustainer of the universe.

DJP said...

And that's the hiding truth about Hell, Farmboy.

I think when many people hear the reworked evanjellybean version of Hell ("It's where you go to get away from God"), they think that doesn't sound so bad. But what they don't think about is that every pleasure they have is a grace-gift from, whether the pleasure of human love or the pleasure of tying their shoes right or the pleasure of firing off two neurons in correct sequence.

When God goes, all that goes.

Think about it. They don't.

Stefan said...

Dan:

That's really reason to pause and think, eh? That "separation from God" would mean "withdrawal of His common grace," which still doesn't paint a vivid picture until you start thinking about what that entails.

Roger said...

I remember when the Tsunami happened in 2004. A LOT of people used this dodge. (heck they still use it for that disaster).

But then earlier this year, a group of missionaries our Church helps support were giving a report back.

Aceh was the hardest hit by the tsunami. It is where the majority of killed lived. Aceh however has a history.

For over 800 years it has been Muslim. Aceh is the place that converted the rest of Indonesia to Islam. For over 800 years Aceh has been closed to the Gospel. Missionaries there had to be very careful, converting someone to Christianity would result in both of you being executed.

Then the Tsunami hit. Those who came to the aid of the people living in Aceh were predominantly Chirstians. They've rebuilt houses schools, provided food clothing etc. One of the Missionaries was visiting a Muslim neighbour when the daughter came in from school. And she told her mother that they've been learning what terrible people the Christians are and how they must hate them. Her mother stopped her and pointed out that their house had been build by Christians (Habitat for Humanity), how her school bag and books had been supplied by the Christians (World Vision). How the school had been rebuilt by Christian volunteers.

Previously in Aceh, westerners (they assume westerner=Christian) were barely tolerated, and weren't welcome. Now they are stopped in the street and thanked.

The point of my story? Well the 2004 Tsunami was devastating. But out of it God has opened up a nation that for 800 years had kept Him locked out.

donsands said...

"For over 800 years Aceh has been closed to the Gospel."

That's the one. Thanks for sharing that.

Matthew Johnston said...

I like it!

Alot

Constantine said...

The point of my story? Well the 2004 Tsunami was devastating. But out of it God has opened up a nation that for 800 years had kept Him locked out.

Wow. What a powerful story.


And on September 12, 2001 all of America's churches were full.

Sir Aaron said...

The natural disaster excuse doesn't work too well on me. There are, of course, tornadoes and tsunamis for which man cannot plan. But when you build a house on a beach where hurricanes hit regularly, how is it that we blame God for the ensuing disaster? The same thing goes for hurricane Katrina. The deaths, loss of property, etc. were horrible. But the disaster was forseeable and avoidable. I just can't understand blaming God for our own failings.

Rob Bailey said...

Imagine the intensity of similar lines of thought as Noah and his family watched dead babies float by, or as they heard the last cries of people who had been their neighbors crowd onto the last peak of dry land, and then watch them sink into the depths. Whenever I hear of "natural" disasters, for some reason, my mind always goes immediately to the flood. I have not quite put it all together yet, but maybe someday...

John said...

This is an outrage! God is not a monster! God is love! We choose to die in natural disasters!

Sir Aaron said...

John:

When you are told to evacuate and don't, then yes, you choose to die in a natural disaster.

Gilbert said...

And I would add an addendum to this. Even in the worst moment, the worst pain, the worst suffering of your life, you are still doing way better than you deserve.

Something I usually forget when I'm in a lot of pain.