Questions about Our Sins and God’s Punishment

By Karen Rees

 

Did God, in an effort to call America back to him, cause the severe drought that shriveled up crops in the Midwest last summer? According to a Christian’s well-written blog entry I stumbled across, the answer is “yes.”

06_Rees_JNThe blog writer quoted a few verses from Amos 4 to support her conclusion. In these verses, God said he caused a drought in the northern kingdom of Israel and struck their vineyards with blight, yet they had not returned to him. She ended by saying Christians need to do more to get abortion outlawed and bring our nation back to God.

The first person to post a comment asked whether God was the specific cause of this, and all, natural disasters? Or are natural disasters merely the way nature sometimes works?

The blog writer agreed it was a good question, and finding the answer isn’t always easy. I appreciated her reply because of other disasters that were happening at the same time.

While the U.S. struggled with an historic drought, the Philippines suffered severe flooding. This occurred because of exceptionally heavy rainfall that followed one of the worst typhoons in years. Sixty percent of Manila, the nation’s capital, was under water, as were a number of villages and a great deal of farmland in several nearby provinces. More than 50 people drowned, and emergency shelters for displaced families were filled beyond capacity. Much of the country’s rice crop was destroyed. As a result, our Filipino church members here in Hong Kong expect food prices in their home country to soar.

As the floodwaters began to recede around Manila, two massive earthquakes hit northern Iran, reducing the region to rubble and killing 300. No doubt hundreds more were injured.

Before I finished writing this article, a second major typhoon swept through another part of the Philippines, causing extensive flooding in several provinces. It pushed the flood-related deaths in a few weeks to more than 100 there. The first typhoon inundated a section of eastern China, while the second caused significant damage in Vietnam.

A church member asked me why her country suffers so many natural disasters. I pointed out that the Philippines has several active volcanoes, sits in an earthquake belt, and lies in the tropics, practically guaranteeing typhoons. How could it not have natural disasters?

Fortunately, natural disasters don’t happen everywhere all the time. Some years the rainfall is just right to produce bumper crops both in the U.S. and in the Philippines, and Iran isn’t hit by an earthquake. If a bad year actually is a sign of God’s displeasure, is a good year a sign God is pleased with us? But what if our behavior in the good and bad years is basically the same?

I’ll let wiser minds resolve these issues. All I know is that, because of sin, we live in a broken and cursed world (Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:20, 21). It won’t be fixed till Christ returns and makes all things new (Revelation 21:1). Until then, as is the case with using anything that’s broken, we can expect problems.

When the problem is a natural disaster, there’s little we can do except choose how we respond as we pick up the pieces afterward. We can take Job’s wife’s advice to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Or we can cling to God with all our strength, and let him bring something good out of the bad (Romans 8:28).

 

The Disasters We Create for Ourselves

But natural disasters aren’t the only problems or the worst problems. The world’s worst problem is sin and the many disasters it creates.

Because humanity’s sin creates disasters, it follows that the more sin there is in the world, the more man-made disasters we’ll have. The opposite also is true: less sin means fewer man-made disasters. We have a choice. Will we add to the world’s stockpile of sin and resulting man-made disasters? Or will our actions aid the relief effort?

Are we going to drop “word bombs,” or will we be peacemakers at home, work, and church? Will we spend our money to gratify our own desires, or will we use it to help someone in need? Will we insist on having our own way, regardless of the consequences to others, or shall we humbly do what’s best for all? To a world weighed down by fear and hatred, but longing for kindness and hope, what will we contribute?

 

The Sins God Condemned through Amos

After pondering these things, I decided to read Amos, the blog writer’s chosen text. In it, I discovered something that prompted more thought.

In a number of Old Testament books, God condemned the practice of sacrificing children to Molek. Today we see this ancient sin as similar to the modern-day sin of abortion. But, in reading Amos, I discovered that worship of Molek and child sacrifice are not specifically mentioned. When God talked about bringing natural disasters on the kingdom of Israel because of its sins, he mostly talked about other sins.

What sins was God condemning in Amos?

Israel had rejected the law of the Lord and had not kept his decrees (Amos 2:4). Instead, the Israelites had turned to idol worship (4:4; 5:21-27). They were complacent and proud (6:1-8). They sold the poor and needy to gain silver and new shoes (2:6). They trampled on the heads of the poor (2:7; 4:1). They forced the poor to give grain to the rich, took bribes, and denied justice to the oppressed in court (5:10-13). They boosted the price of food and cheated with dishonest scales (8:5, 6).

For the most part, these sins had to do with economic life and with a government that favored the rich.

The kingdom of Judah had a similar problem. It rejected the law of the Lord (Amos 2:4) and sacrificed its children to Molek (Jeremiah 32:32-35). People of the kingdom made unjust laws that deprived the poor of their rights (Isaiah 10:1, 2). The houses of the rich were full of deceit, and the people failed to defend the rights of the poor (Jeremiah 5:26-28). Wealthy, powerful citizens coveted the property of others, seizing houses and fields (Micah 2:1, 2).

The blog writer listed the sin of abortion, wanted it made illegal, and stopped there. In thinking about that, I recalled the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. He’d kept all the Old Testament laws from childhood, yet Jesus told him he still lacked one thing.

Is it possible that, like the rich young ruler, we also lack something? We’ve been fighting for more than a generation to make abortion illegal in the U.S. because God cares for children who are yet to be born. These defenseless ones need someone to speak up for them and protect them. But God’s special concern for the defenseless doesn’t stop at birth. As numerous passages show, God displays special concern for the poor and powerless throughout their lives.

 

The Response God Wants from Us

We want laws that protect the preborn. Are we equally concerned that our laws protect the poor and powerless after birth? Or will we allow our laws, like those of Israel and Judah, to be slanted in favor of the rich and powerful? Too often that seems to be the case here in Hong Kong.

A few years ago Hong Kong’s government finally set a minimum wage. Since then the cost of living has continued to climb, and people are calling for the minimum wage to be increased. Those against raising it say a wage increase will create hardship for small and medium businesses that clear only small profits. Those who support an increase point out that the biggest drain on the profits of small businesses is not wages paid to employees, but the ever-increasing rent.

The spiraling rent is the real problem. Solving it won’t be easy. The wealthy landlords and property developers, who wield so much power in the government, will reject any solution that curtails their profits. As a result, they will continue to grow richer and richer while the rest of the community fights over the scraps left behind.

This is happening because people love money. People have always loved money. When Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor, he couldn’t do it.

People and governments also love, or at least prefer, the people with money (Proverbs 19:4). When James rebuked the Christians for favoring the rich over the poor, he pointed out it was the rich who were exploiting them, dragging them to court, and slandering the name of Jesus (James 2:1-7). Despite this, the Christians still showed them special attention.

It’s easy to play favorites when money is involved, even for Christians. After all, with rich friends we have the hope of being treated to meals at top-end restaurants. Poor friends take us to McDonald’s.

James also rebuked the rich for hoarding wealth, depriving their workers of wages, living in luxury and self-indulgence, and murdering innocent men (5:3-6). These sins sound similar to the ones God condemned in Israel and Judah. These sins are still with us today. So are the disasters they create.

Could the blog writer be correct? Was last summer’s severe drought a result of sin? If so, I doubt God caused the drought because we’ve not yet won the fight against abortion. Victories belong to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31). All he wants from us is faithfulness. We continue to faithfully fight for the rights of those defenseless children not yet born. Shouldn’t we be equally faithful in fighting for the rights of the poor and defenseless after birth?

 

Karen Rees and her husband, Benjamin, have served in Hong Kong since 1975.

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