Sunday, March 13, 2011

"But the LORD was not in the earthquake" (I Kings 19:11)

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave.
Earlier today I chanced across the writing of someone commenting on the earthquake in Japan who said that natural disasters are caused by God. That was said without any qualification at all. I'd like to offer a different perspective.

Are disasters ever caused by God? I think Christians would generally agree that at least sometimes they are. Consider the sack of Jerusalem which Jesus predicted would fall on the city and the generation that had rejected him, and how Jerusalem was destroyed not long afterwards. It didn't even have to be a natural disaster. God can arrange events so that even armies of idol-worshipers could serve his purpose.

But I must object when someone looks at an earthquake and says, "The LORD is in the earthquake." The LORD wasn't in Elijah's earthquake. It does no good to say "God is omnipresent" -- he still wasn't in Elijah's earthquake. Had he stopped being omnipresent? Not at all; but God still wasn't in the earthquake. He was in the still, small voice. Those who look for God in the earthquake are going to miss that still, small voice. Those who are drawn to God's power -- or feel obliged to proclaim and defend God's power -- can miss that he often chooses gentleness. When we see God in the earthquake, it's only a short step to blaming the victims, becoming Job's comforters to those who may not deserve such treatment. And we miss that God may not have been in the earthquake. So through the earthquake, wind, and fire, it takes discernment to realize that the voice of God may be the still, small voice.

Jesus reminded us that disasters are not necessarily God's retribution.
Or those eighteen people upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you think that they were sinners above all men in Jerusalem? I tell you: they were not. (Luke 13:4-5)
Jesus leaves us free to see the cause for that tower's collapse as simply gravity. I think he also leaves us free to look for the cause of the earthquake in natural causes.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Not (exactly) disagreeing with you; God certainly did not CAUSE this earthquake. But God certainly ALLOWED it (and all earthquakes) to happen, and I think one can legitimately wonder why. And perhaps the answer Job eventually got is the only one: we do not, not know. We can only bow before Him in faith.

Only one aspect seems clear to me: had mankind not sinned, he might by now have grown into a sharer in God's own immortality, which would mean he would not be vulnerable to natural disasters (and there would be no man-made ones).

Jesus went on to say, "But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish."

Weekend Fisher said...

Jesus urges us to repent -- but first addresses whether sin (and, by implication, God's judgment) is really at fault for a natural disaster, in that case a tower falling. I'm not disputing your point that we should repent; it's just that I think people either blame God or blame the victim when we have no reason at all to make that accusation.

Yes, God set up nature and he allows it to take its course. So towers fall, and plates shift. But that doesn't mean that God has judged people who happen to be near a tower when it falls, or live in earthquake zones. We know that God takes no delight even in the death of the wicked, so how much less in the death of the average.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

Well said -- both the post and the comment.

Annette said...

caused me to ponder...have some unformed thoughts that as they form I may come back here and ask them.

Howard said...

I think a key issue here is regarding what God 'set up' and why that has changed.

God made a world 'very good', furnished for a creation which not only delighted and refreshed, but was a place where we truly reflected His image. That has all gone, and nature as we now encounter it is subject to futility - such are the consequences of the invasion of evil. We are, then, all now part of an order alienated from what was intended. Change, both of ourselves and of our realm is therefore imperative, and it is for this that God has acted and Christ died.

Annette said...

my unformed thoughts are a bit more formed now.

I query: you are taking ONE incident with ONE person and extrapolating from that, that God is not in the earthquake. I don't think that's a fair use of the context of that text.

God allows all things.
If God does not want something to happen, it simply doesn't happen.
So God allowed the earthquake in Japan to happen. Should we "blame" him for it? Not anymore than you can blame God for the sun coming up, for someone dying due to old age, poverty, hunger etc. Can God be held "accountable" for all such actions? yes... with out him they wouldn't happen.

BUT the fact that this world is broken and damaged by sin is why stuff happens to. And hmm...who did that? Adam/Eve/you/me. So we can also be held accountable in a way.

So if you are going to blame God...blame ourselves as well. We sinned. We have fallen short of God's glory. This world is broken, and dying because of sin. Through God's mercy we are allowed to continue to seek after him daily.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Thank you for the encouragement.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Howard

The creation is definitely subject to frustration / futility. There's a lot of it going around ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Annette

Jesus looked at a natural disaster that his hearers were wondering about and said: It's not that the people who died were any worse sinners than the next person. By implication, it wasn't that God was judging them.

You state, "If God does not want something to happen, it simply doesn't happen." That would mean that God wanted me to say that he was not in the earthquake. Otherwise, it simply wouldn't have happened -- by that line of reasoning. We haven't talked much; I know some people who do think like that so I'm curious whether that's your line of thought as well, or whether I'm missing it.

At any rate, God did not want creation to be ruined, and yet it was. Or to put it closer to the terms you were using, God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree and die -- and yet they did. Whatever my most recent sin was, or your most recent sin was, or our neighbor's most recent sin against us was -- God does not want us to sin and yet we do sin. So it's far too simple to claim "something happened therefore God wanted it to happen." We are in God's image -- he's not the only one with some kind of sovereignty on the table. It was God's choice to give us our own sovereignty in his image; since then causation is a little more complex than it was before.

About the part how the LORD was not in the earthquake. There are different possible lines of reasoning here, & I want to be clear. I don't think we can reason, "a) God was not in Elijah's earthquake, therefore b) God is not in any earthquake". That's overgeneralizing. I also don't think we can reason, "a) God was not in Elijah's earthquake, but b) we can't learn anything from that" -- that's not reasoning from it at all, but just dismissing it.

I think we can reason, "a) God specifically rejected the idea that Elijah (or anyone else) should perceive him in Elijah's earthquake, therefore b) we do not know for a fact that God is really speaking / revealing himself in earthquakes, and c) we know of times when he specifically rejected speaking through an earthquake, and d) we can legitimately question whether God is speaking in an earthquake."

So after beginning with Elijah's earthquake, we move on and look at Jesus' words on that natural disaster in his day, and take our cue from there.

If you're interested in some more thoughts on the subject, I'd suggest a "Classic iMonk" post from back when a bridge collapsed and killed a lot of people.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Stephen said...

Hello, WF.

Just curious, by writing, "It was God's choice to give us our own sovereignty in his image; since then causation is a little more complex than it was before[,]" can one argue that God is not all powerful? Can one argue that God is powerless to act against free will?


Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Stephen

Just found your comment today.

When it comes to arguing, in my experience there are almost no limits to what people might say in argument; it's another matter whether they are asking a good question, whether they are trying to skew the issue, or whether they are trying to get at the truth.

So while someone might argue that "free will means God is not all powerful," I think it would be more accurate, from a Biblical standpoint, to say that God chooses not override human will in all kinds of things -- such as human sin. There is a difference between whether God has power and whether God chooses to use it.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF