Monthly Archives: January 2010

Haiti – Why do Disasters Happen?

Why do disasters happen? What should Christians do when disasters happen? The recent earthquake in Haiti was catastrophic. Perhaps it has caused you to wonder if it was caused by God. I don’t think that it was.

When a disaster occurs, sometimes Christians rush to judgment. We think that the disaster happend because the people who lived there were sinful, or perhaps their ancestors were sinful.

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it, They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the third, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘we will serve you if you will get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ Pat Robertson on the Haiti Earthquake

There are also some Christians who believe that God directly or indirectly causes all disasters. John Piper is one who holds to this view:

Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados….The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. John Piper on the ELCA tornado.

God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills. -John Piper on the Minnesota bridge collapse.

This type of speculation from Robertson and Piper is counterproductive because it attributes destructive events to God when God has not spoken. In reality the events can reasonably be attributed to other root causes. Earthquakes happen where there are fault lines. Tornadoes happen in tornado alley. Bridges and buildings collapse when they are not properly built or maintained.

In Haiti there were two factors that contributed to the disaster. First, there was a shallow fault line near to Port Au Prince. Second, many of the buildings were built poorly. These two factors adequately explain why the disaster occurred. There is no reason to attribute it to a curse or anything else.

Speculation like Roberson’s and Piper’s is also quite selective. When a disaster fits our paradigm we quickly assign blame. But when it strikes us personally, we respond differently. If Robertson’s house was destroyed by hurricane, would he blame that on a curse? Probably not. If Piper’s church was destroyed by a tornado, would he attribute it to sinful doctrine being taught? Probably not.

When Christians speak in such ways we damage ourselves. Rather than being salt and light to a world that needs us, we are seen as hypocritical and selectively judgmental. Pat Robertson perhaps meant well, but he damaged his Christian witness and held all believers up to ridicule. When disaster comes, Christian help. We grieve for those who are hungry and hurt. We give to those in need. We do not assign blame.

So why do disasters happen? There is not an easy answer, and perhaps it is dangerous to look for one. One thing that can be said is that we live in a fallen physical world. Creation is in decay and is awaiting liberation (Romans 8:18-21). God’s will is not always done on earth, that is why we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10)

Theologian Roger Olson argues that:

…what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

And:

In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, “OK, not my will then, but thine be done — for now.” –Olson On the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Does God ever cause disaster? First and formost we should remember that Jesus came to bring life (John 10:10). When Jesus died he paid for the sins of the entire world. That includes the people of Haiti.

God can cause disaster as a form of judgment, however, he makes his intent known when he judges, he does not leave it wide open to interpretation. Greg Boyd notes that:

…the model of God bringing about disasters to punish people is rooted in the Old Testament. Here we several times find God using nature and human agents to punish people. (Though even back then this wasn’t God’s normal mode of operation). But in these contexts, God first gives ample warning about a coming judgment and he tells people exactly what he is doing. Punishment without teaching is not pedagogically effective.

Imagine a parent saying to their child, “I’m going to spank you whenever I want to but not tell you why.” It just doesn’t work! –Boyd, Why Did the 35W Collapse?

As noted above, John Piper has stated that “Jesus Christ controls the wind, including all tornados.” This explanation does not line up with the scriptural account. In fact, scripture records that Jesus rebuked a storm (Mark 4:35-41). If Jesus causes all storms, he was rebuking himself.

In a fallen and decaying world bad things happen. Even to good people. If it greives us, we can be certain that it grieves God as well. In the meantime, we help those in need and we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom. Only then will God’s will be fully done on earth, just as it is in heaven.

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Patty Thomas – Haiti

Here is a blog with updates about what’s going on in an orphanage in Haiti: Patty Thomas, News and Updates. Patty Thomas is connected to my local church, her two grown boys attend there.

Patty works in an orphanage near Port Au Prince. The orphanage takes care of about 90 children. The orphanage building was not damaged during the recent quake, however, the wall that surrounds it fell down. Given the general lawlessness going on there, it is a high priority to get the wall rebuilt.

The boys John and Todd Thomas will be leaving on Tuesday 1-19-10 to go down there and help out their mom. They will be taking at least one nurse with them. There have been some great things happening in our community related to this. One organization donated a large number of medical supplies, a credit union is raising money, and Home Depot donated building supplies and tools. They will be sending the supplies down with them.

Please keep the orphanage in your prayers! Here is a slide show of Patty and the kids.

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The Meaning of "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash

“The Man Comes Around” is a song about judgment day. It was released in 2002, and was the title song for Johnny Cash’s last album. The song has numerous Biblical references, many of which are cryptic.

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder: One of the four beasts saying: “Come and see.” And I saw. And behold, a white horse.

This is a quote from Revelation 6:1-2. It references John’s vision of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, who bring disaster at the end of the world.

There’s a man going round taking names. And he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won’t be treated all the same. There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down. When the man comes around.

The “man going round taking names” has double meaning. It is a reference to a song by folk singer Lead Belly. It is also a reference to Jesus and the Book of Life where the names of believers are recorded (Revelation 20:12, 15).

God decides who to free and who to blame. Those who believe in Jesus will be saved and will escape punishment. The ladder reaching down could refer to Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12), or it could also refer to Jesus (John 1:51).

The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter’s ground. When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up: This may be a reminder of the fear that God will command on judgment day. The terror in each sip and sup may refer to the to the body and blood of Christ which one takes during communion (Matt 26:26-28). To partake of the last offered cup is to be saved from damnation at your last opportunity.  The potter’s ground is a reference to the field that the chief priest bought with Judas’ betrayal money (Matt 27:5-7).

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singing. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices calling, voices crying. Some are born and some are dying. It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come.

Hear the trumpets: In ancient times important news was announced with trumpets. Revelation records seven plagues which are all hailed by trumpets. Trumpets also announce Christ’s new kingdom, and the raising of the dead (1 Cor 15:52).

Angels singing: Cash’s brother Jack died in a terrible accident at a young age. His brother had a vision of angels while he was dying, and Johnny remembered this throughout his life. The Bible records that there will be angels singing in heaven: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;” (Rev 5:11). The multitudes marching probably refers to Revelation 5, where multitudes are worshiping God.

Voices calling, voices crying: One must follow Jesus in this life. It is too late to turn on judgment day (Matt 7:22-23 , Heb 9:27).

Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and are a name for God. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Rev 22:13). Kingdom come refers to when Jesus will return and establish his kingdom on earth (Rev 21). It is also part of the Lords prayer. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…” (Matt 6:10).

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. The virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

The whirlwind and thorn tree is a self reference. Cash had a dream where he saw Queen Elizabeth. She said to him, “Johnny, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind.” Job 38:1 also references a whirlwind. The virgins trimming their wicks are a reference to a parable told by Jesus in Matthew 25. There are wise and foolish virgins. The wise ones have their wicks trimmed and wait for the bridegroom. The foolish ones miss out. The point of the parable is to be ready for Jesus’ return or you will miss out.

“It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks” may be a self reference, about how it was hard for Cash to follow God, but God kept calling him back. It is also a reference to the apostle Paul’s conversion experience on the Damascus road (Acts 9:5 , 26:14). A prick (or goad) is a sharp stick used to prod livestock. The phrase in context means that it’s hard for Paul to fight back against what Jesus is calling him to do. Cash identified with Paul, and wrote a book about Paul’s conversion experience.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home. The wise men will bow down before the throne. And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crown. When the man comes around.

Armageddon is a location in Israel, and according to Revelation 16, a site of a huge battle that will take place before Christ returns to earth . Shalom is a Hebrew word that means peace. Shalam is a variation that probably means the same thing. There will be no peace until Jesus returns after Armageddon.

Then the father hen will call his chickens home. This echos Jesus’ lament in Luke 13:34: “how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”. Jesus wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem up to follow him, like a hen gathers her chicks, but they would not. In the end, God will call his followers home. The chickens come home to roost. :)

The wise men bow down and cast their crowns. This is a reference to Rev 4:10: “The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne…”. The wise men may represent the church.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still. Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still. Listen to the words long written down, When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust…. This is a quote from Revelation 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” This portion of Rev 22 refers to the coming of Jesus. When he comes people will be found as they are, there will be no time for them to change at that point.

Listen to the words long written down. A reference to the Bible – which was written long ago.

 

In measured hundredweight and penny pound. When the man comes around.

In measured hundredweight… refers to Rev 6:6: “…A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny…” A penny is what a person made in a day, and a measure of wheat is how much one would need for a loaf of bread.  There is severe famine in the last days. A person has to work all day for a loaf of bread.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

The song closes with with the last of the four horsemen recorded in Revelation 6:7-8: 7And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 8And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
If you are interested in more about Cash’s Christianfaith, see this article from Christianity today.
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Una persona (Yo no sé quién) se ha traducido la entrada del blog aqui en Español.

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Arminian Audio – Jack Cottrell

Here is a link to some audio resources by Jack Cottrell. Cottrell is a well known theologian from the Conservative Christian Church / Restoration movement. There is one link entitled “Once in Grace” that is a refutation of eternal security.

[17 Jan 2010, made correction of denomination]

HT: Steve Noel

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