Is God punishing us?
It’s only natural that our thoughts would eventually go there. Even as I write, Hurricane Irma (now a Category 4) is poised to make landfall in Florida in less than two days. And after all the destruction in Houston just a couple weeks ago… it feels like something has gone terribly wrong.
Well, is it God?
It’s certainly possible, but let’s take this one step at a time.
#1 We know we live in a sin-broken world.
When sin entered the world through human free will, it caused a crack in the foundation of creation itself. Like a pitcher of water, if you put just one drop of ink into it, it will ruin the whole thing. It can’t be made clean again. It needs new water. As a result…
It’s decaying: “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
It’s volatile: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8).
God doesn’t need to be the cause of hurricanes. Low-pressure systems and warm ocean waters cause hurricanes. And, they are getting more frequent and more intense because of the earth’s continued decay.
But God let’s it happen. Yes, that’s true. But God also promises that He is actively working toward it’s redemption and restoration. “For God so loved the world, he gave is only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Doesn’t God punish sin? Of course. Otherwise He wouldn’t be a just God. And if He weren’t a just God, we couldn’t say God is good. But we have been rescued from this punishment. Jesus took our punishment for sin… it’s paid in full.
#2 God’s M.O. is to rescue.
I know, I know. There’s the Flood. There’s the Plagues. There are droughts… famines… all natural disasters directly caused by God in order to punish wickedness. What do we do with that?
Well, for one thing, that was all before Jesus.
The Old Testament covenant between human beings and God was fatally flawed… it depended upon human faithfulness. But, the new covenant is based on Jesus’ faithfulness. In Hebrews 8:9, 12, God says, “[When] they did not remain faithful to my covenant, I turned away from them… [But now] I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God is the God of rescue. If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, the single most distinguishing feature of God is that He rescues human beings.
Here is just a quick rundown:
- God creates paradise… we sin and turn from God: paradise lost.
- Humanity becomes so wicked, God floods the earth… God rescues part of it, then promises He won’t flood the earth again.
- The Hebrews are in slavery in Egypt… God rescues them and makes a covenant that now that they are free, He will continue to be their God if they can live life God’s way.
- They can’t… so God spends the rest of the Old Testament using judges, prophets, kings, even foreigners, to continually rescue His covenant people.
- Then, God starts promising a better way… Salvation through a Savior. God sends His only Son to die in place of all human beings. His only request: we must believe that He did it.
- This frees humanity to follow Jesus, and share their experience of rescue to everyone in the world.
#3 How should we respond?
I didn’t think I would ever say this, but: poor Joel Osteen. He was beat up for not opening Lakewood Church for flood victims. Listen, I don’t endorse everything the guy says or does, but he was definitely unfairly targeted. I do think, however, that the underlying reason he was targeted is actually (potentially) a good one.
People instinctively know to look to God’s people for rescue.
I didn’t hear any stories about atheists not doing more to help. I didn’t hear any stories about mosques or temples or kingdom halls that didn’t open to shelter people. I know, Lakewood is a giant structure, but I think it’s more than that. When the going gets tough, people look to Jesus-followers for help.
The rescued must become the rescuers.
We should pray, we should prepare, and we should rescue. The world is waiting and watching and hoping for our help. But not just for hurricanes.
The truth is, everybody has a flood. Whether it’s spiritual, physical, or both, our job is to help with the rescue efforts. We must do everything we can to bring everyone to safety.
Where is God in all this? God is working through us. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
No, I don’t believe God is punishing us through hurricanes. But God lets them happen. Even though I don’t know why, I know that my job as a follower of Jesus is very, very clear.
What about you?