Have We Neutered God?

The day after the latest earthquake in Japan, a couple Christians started take bets on when the first Christian “leader” (the qualification is theirs) would say something about God’s judgment on this Buddhist nation. Undoubtedly they had in mind what Pat Robertson said after the Haitian quake in January 2010.

Subducting tectonic plates

As reports came in about the tsunami that same day, every TV station seemed to have a segment of their earthquake coverage devoted to a geophysicist with a diagram of the Pacific Ring of Fire and a second of two tectonic plates under the ocean moving toward one another with one slipping under the other (subduction). The resulting movement, one expert said, displaces water, sending waves surging to shore.

On one hand, a good scientific explanation from the media about what causes an earthquake and a tsunami.

On the other, a repudiation from Christians that God would “send” the earthquake against Japan.

That’s it then. We’ve moved God aside to let Nature take its course. Nature, we understand. After all, the experts have studied these tectonic plates. They’ve created devices to measure the energy an earthquake releases. They can pinpoint where the epicenter is, and the hypocenter, and how deep within the earth’s crust the event occurred.

God? We can’t study Him. Don’t know what He might be thinking or why He would choose Japan over, say, Libya, or, for that matter, the U. S. Besides, God just wouldn’t do something so randomly devastating. I mean, good people undoubtedly died in the quake and its aftermath. How could we possibly believe this event was something He sent? It would be unjust, cruel, not something a loving God would do.

Or so we think as we peer through our world-colored glasses.

For the moment, set aside the fact that Scripture records God using a natural disaster to wipe out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, expressly because of the extent of their wickedness. Instead, ask this question. Supposing the geophysicists are right and the quake happened because one tectonic plate slipped under the edge of another, what caused the slip?

Scientists have a number of theories. One idea is that the variation in topography and density of the crust result in differences in gravitational forces that drive the seafloor away from the spreading ridge which combines with drag (think, water drag against a speedboat) and downward suction.

A second explanation is that different forces generated by the rotation of the Globe and tidal forces of the Sun and the Moon create movement.

A third idea suggests that mantle convection (“the slow creeping motion of Earth’s rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface” Wikipedia) is tied to the movement of the plates.

Behind these possible explanations, however, is the question, what causes the convection currents or the tidal forces or the drag or the downward suction or the variation of the topography or the thinner oceanic crust? In other words, in a cause-effect scientific study, what is the first cause?

Ultimately, those of us that believe in God will answer, He is that first cause.

But are we saying that He, in watchmaker-like fashion, started the processes and has since, stepped back and is looking on to see what will happen next?

Or do we believe He who created the world and understands all its make up and function, who set down in Scripture the fact that the earth divided (something corroborated by the continental drift theory now widely held), and who has prophesied an increase in seismic activity as the day of the Lord draws nearer and nearer, is intimately involved in this world?

Sadly, throughout time man has declared that God is dead or irrelevant or nonexistent. But perhaps worst of all is this Christian version of this theme — that He is, but He is not powerful. He might have something to say about spiritual things (and then, only if it’s related to love and forgiveness), but the physical is beyond His reach.

This view, of course, contradicts Scripture. First is the clear revelation of His nature — He is omnipotent. He demonstrated this by His act of creation:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
– Gen 1:1

Since then, He has sustained what He made:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
– Col 1:16-17 [emphasis mine]

How He holds things together is coincidentally similar to how He created the world in the first place:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.
– Heb 1:1-3 [emphasis mine]

And yet we are to believe He is standing by, wringing His hands, grieving over the uncontrollable events foisted on the human race by nature?

If God is God, that idea is absurd. And if God is God, we had better start paying attention to what He’s said in His Word, because acts of God are not accidents of God. He has a purpose, and it would be wise of us to start talking about what that purpose might be.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. I was IM’ing with a close friend a day or two ago, and this subject came up, so we discussed it a bit.

    We are living in a fallen world that groans in bondage, waiting for the day of God’s redemption. In this fallen world, there are many things going wrong, most of which can be traced back to The Fall of Adam, and The Curse.

    When we become believers in Christ, God does not take us out of this world that is still as messed up as ever, nor does He protect us from every danger. He works His will in our lives, and uses us as He sees fit to draw others into His kingdom. And sometimes, if danger happens upon us that will remove us from this earth to His heavenly reality, He intervenes to keep us here because He still has work for us to do.

    So; it is possible for a Christian as well as a non-Christian to be killed or badly injured in an earthquake, or be swept out to sea in a tsunami. And that these terrible things happened in Japan isn’t necessarily God’s judgment on the Japanese, although I believe that those who have lost their lives in this particular incident have lost their opportunity to make things right with God if they didn’t make that choice during their lifetimes.

    Did God know what was going to happen in Japan? Yes, I believe He did.
    Did He stop it? No.
    Did He spare some people and allow others to perish? Well, obviously, yes. Some of the stories of the people who survived are quite amazing too, like that elderly man who was swept so many miles out to sea, and then rescued!
    Does God therefore hate some people and love others more? hmmmm. I’ll let you answer that one, Becky! 😉

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  2. While I understand your point, Becky, my first reaction on hearing a scientific explanation isn’t “Hey, they left God out!” No more, anyway, than I think a doctor is deliberating ignoring God when explaining the reasons a person may have developed cancer. A Christian determitologist could counsel a person at risk for melanoma to avoid prolonged sun exposure, after all, just as a believing geologist could help scientists understand the way the earth’s plates moved in order to better avoid something like this in the future. Will God’s will ultimately be done, regardless of our actions? Yes. But I think I should still wear sunscreen and avoid going over the speed limit. As Jesus rebuked Satan, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Luke 4:12).

    Disasters of all kinds have often been seen as judgements of God (as Job’s friends told him). Less often do we give God credit for prosperity. Yet is not the Father in charge of both? I don’t hear American preachers saying, “Look at how much God is blessing China!” As God told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” (Exodus 33:19), and as Paul later wrote, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” (Romans 9:16). God will raise up and strike down to fulfill His ultimate plans and uphold His righteousness. But I don’t think a dishonest person growing rich in a prosperous country is being specifically blessed by God, and I don’t think those who perish in a natural disaster are necessarily suffering His wrath (though of course, both may be true, for reasons God alone understands).

    Can He not use disasters, both large and small, as a way to call people to Him? Should we not use them as opportunities to share His love, whether that’s aiding a family outside the church in America suffering a personal tragedy or a foreign nation experiencing a terrible cataclysm? Of course we should have faith that God is in control of all things and that He has the power to calm the waves or release the storms. But I also think that during times of sorrow, it’s more important to show His love to others than to determine exactly why God allowed it to happen.

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  3. Your entry is very thought provoking. And I appreciate the clarity that I’ve simply not had time to consider. To paraphrase, “let the wise teach”. Today I am understanding because of this entry.

    Paul

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  4. […] of the earth except for Noah and his family. Another clear illustration, which I mentioned in “Have We Neutered God?” is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah — two cities whose inhabitants maintained depraved […]

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  5. I so agree with you on this post, Rebecca. I get so frustrated with pastors who announce from the pulpit that God had nothing to do with a certain tragedy.

    Yikes!

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  6. Krysti, I agree with everything you said. I believe a lot of the suffering of this world exists because the world itself is fallen, a consequence of Man’s fall. At the same time, I think God uses everything to accomplish His plans and purposes. It’s one of those both/and instances, I think — one of the transcendent things about God, that He sets things in motion and they run their course, but He never lets anyone die a day early.

    I still don’t think God hates those He lets die in a tragedy — not the way we think of as hate. I think He’s grieved. At the same time, those who rejected Him, I believe would not have accepted Him if they had another day, ten days or ten decades to live. God knows their heart, something none of us can know. If He brings them into His presence, I can only say, He knows what He’s doing. They didn’t get there by accident.

    I hope the follow-up post helped take the discussion further.

    Becky

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  7. Michelle, I don’t know if I would have thought about God being left out only from the news segments discussing the science of earthquakes and tsunamis. I was already thinking about it because of what the two Christians I mentioned were saying. I don’t want to give you the idea that I’m opposed to science. I’m definitely not.

    You said But I don’t think a dishonest person growing rich in a prosperous country is being specifically blessed by God, and I don’t think those who perish in a natural disaster are necessarily suffering His wrath (though of course, both may be true, for reasons God alone understands).

    I couldn’t agree more. I hope my follow-up post made that clear.

    I guess I’m seeing a trend in which God is being marginalized, by people who claim the name of Christ. For centuries, even in pagan societies, suffering and disasters were understood as acts of God. If I’m not mistaken, that phraseology is still used today for insurance purposes.

    But the truth is, fewer and fewer people think God has anything to do with these events. Yet, I believe them to be His clarion call to come to Him.

    Our world is getting smaller and smaller. A disaster like this is something people all over are hearing and seeing.

    How can we not declare the truth about God at such a time? How can we not lead the way in humbling ourselves under His mighty hand, in crying for His mercy, and in calling people to repentance?

    Of course we don’t know God’s plans and purposes. He might be ushering in the last days or working in Japan to turn the nation to Christ or something we can’t even imagine.

    That we don’t know the specifics should not stop us from saying, God is at work, His wonders to perform.

    Paul and Eve, thanks so much for your feedback. Praise God that He is in charge!

    Becky

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