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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Morally Culpable

Are human beings morally culpable for the natural disasters we see? That seems to be a big question. Oh, you've likely never heard it put that way. More like, "Are tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes and the like God's punishment for sin?" When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, there were Christian voices that assured us it was. You know ... all that illicit gambling and such going on there. Really, that was their position. I suppose that Las Vegas is too well situated for anything like an earthquake or a hurricane or, boy, let me tell you, God would give them such a whooping!

Well, I suppose my sarcasm has let the cat out of the bag. I'm going to argue that this is not my position. Well, sort of.
There were some present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5)
I'm just guessing here, but it looks to me like it's not Christ's position, either. In this instance, horrible stuff happened to people. Pilate murdered some Galileans in one case and in the other a tower fell in Siloam. Note that we have two "types" here. One is man-made. Pilate killed people. The other is natural. A tower fell. And in both cases the proper response, according to Christ, is not, "It happened because they were evil."

Now, I need to be clear here. In both cases, the proper response was "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Thus, there is a sense in which we are morally culpable for natural disasters. But it's not because New Orleans was a sinful place that Katrina struck. According to Jesus, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." And according to Paul, "the creation was subjected to futility" and needs to be "set free from its bondage to corruption" (Rom 8:20-21). That is, because of Man's sin, creation suffers from corruption. This kind of stuff in general wouldn't happen if Adam hadn't sinned. So there is that sense of culpability.

Keep in mind, however, that there is another reason for this kind of thing. This is an important reason. When the disciples encountered a man who was born blind, they made the same assumption that those Christians made after Hurricane Katrina: The only reason that this kind of stuff happens is due to their sin. So they asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Can you imagine? Apparently they were right there, within earshot. Nice. But Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). So, while the man and his parents were indeed sinners, this event was not a direct product of their sin. No, the intent behind this problem was "that the works of God might be displayed in him."

It could be that I'm being too vague here. Let me put it another way. We are commanded, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Since this universe was constructed for the glory of God and all that occurs in it is for the glory of God, I'm pretty sure that God Himself will do what we are commanded -- do all for the glory of God. Therefore, as in the case of the man born blind, it is my contention that all that occurs, whether it is a surprise promotion or a devastating earthquake, the outcome, whether or not you see it or recognize it, will be to the glory of God. Now, if you're one who doesn't care a whit about God's glory, then that's not such great news, but for those of us who are deeply delighted by the glory of God, that ought to give us great encouragement on one hand and, on the other, point out how far off we are in our thinking when we miss that realization in tough times.

Are human beings morally culpable for the natural disasters we see? Only in the general sense. God may be judging a nation or correcting a saint, but really, at the end of the day, that's not the idea. The real idea is that it's not about you. It's about God. That works for me.

3 comments:

Jim Jordan said...

This is an excellent post, my friend. Indeed the glory of God is in first place. God's goal in creation is to glorify Himself.

But I recall in a December discussion you seemed to say something different. I claimed that the belief that nothing died even of natural causes before the Fall is an unnecessary burden people put on Scripture. You didn't agree at that time.

My question is, if dinosaurs were created to glorify God, what difference is there if He had them die out before we came along?

It still holds that we are generally responsible for the catastrophes of the world being we are the only beings given the ability to make a conscious choice to glorify God and we don't. Our sin is anathema to a perfect God and we all deserve the worst, just as Jesus said.

And don't forget the ones who want to say a hurricane was sent by God to punish a specific type of sinner is never that kind of sinner, but they're always another kind of sinner. I think human pride is the cause of this wrong thinking. The purpose of all things is the glory of God.

Stan said...

I suspect there was a miscommunication if you thought I objected to the idea that there was death prior to the Fall. I don't believe there was human death, but can't even imagine the concept of no death. I mean, if Adam walked on grass he'd likely kill something. Bacteria can have an extremely short lifespan. Leaves fall. No death? Not buying that.

On the other hand, the only reason that I can see to interpret Scripture as anything but a 6 24-hour day creation is because it conflicts with the modern god of science. In the discussion we had you suggested that Scripture denied that. I never saw it. Now, it might be that there is room to interpret the Creation story in a larger time frame; all I'm saying is that Scripture doesn't require it.

Indeed, we are generally culpable in that our sin has wrought decay on creation. I would even guess that in some instances -- instances I wouldn't try to specify -- that actual sin in a temporal situation brought about the judgment of God (as in Sodom and Gomorrah, the fall of Israel, etc.). But until we can grasp that all things are for the glory of God, we'll be missing the point.

Jim J said...

"But until we can grasp that all things are for the glory of God, we'll be missing the point."

Amen. Indeed, there is no other point. To God be the glory, forever.