Reprise: Have We Neutered God?

Aerial_view_of_damage_to_Kirikiri,_Otsuchi,_a_week_after_a_9.0_magnitude_earthquake_and_subsequent_tsunamiThe day after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, a couple Christians started taking 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.

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 diagram 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 backhanded 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?

Subducting tectonic plates

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 who 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 in an intelligent way, informed by Scripture, about what that purpose might be.

With some minor changes this article is a reprint of one that appeared in March 2011.

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7 Comments

  1. Indeed we serve a God without whose all governing decree not one atom in all the vast cosmos dare twitch.

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  2. You are correct. In reading Haggai, for instance, God tells the people that it is because of their own sin that there is a drought and no crops. I recall the year our provincial government made legal something the Bible condemns. Our province had fires like we’ve never had before. They were closing in on many cities and people were evacuating or on evacuation alert. I, and I am certain many other Christians, made the connection. I got down on my knees and repented on behalf of our government and the fires began to die out that very day. If Daniel can do it, then why can’t we? We need to repent on behalf of our nations. It is for our sake too. God bless you, Becky, as you continue to speak strong words of truth.

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    • Yes, repentance is huge, I think. I’ve also begun to beg God for mercy, that He would stay His judgment and bring many to Himself through a spirit of revival in our land. Young King Josiah, a generation before Judah went into captivity, brought revival, tearing down idols and reinstating obedience to God’s word. It wasn’t a permanent change, but for that time, those people turned back to God. That’s what I think we should aspire to.

      Becky

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      • Amen! I totally agree. Bless you. 🙂

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  3. Good as always!

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  4. When I think about whether God always sends bad things to punish or if they just happen, I can’t help but think there’s way more to it than saying it’s only one or the other.

    I don’t think God only tells us a rule and then punishes us for breaking it.  I think sometimes he gives us a rule for our own protection, and when we break it we put ourselves in danger of a bad result.  Back then, for instance, they had a lot of rules about cleanliness, a lot of inconvenient things they had to do after touching corpses, etc.  If they didn’t follow those things, some people may have gotten a disease, but it may be because that is the result of not being clean, and God told them to be clean in order to prevent disease.

    And then there is the bad things happening to good people thing.  People sin every day, and often don’t commit ‘big’ sins like killing.  So if they get diagnosed with cancer one day, are they supposed to think that God suddenly decided they had lied too much or eaten too many sweets or any minor sin they have committed and that God decided to suddenly punish them with something catastrophic?

    God is in control of everything, if he wants to I think he causes things to happen differently that they would have otherwise.  But I think sometimes he lets rocks weather naturally and the planet follow the course he designed it to have.  And I’m sure he lets us make our own choices rather than guiding us like a puppet.  Why else would he tell Israel ‘follow me and I will bless you, follow idols and you will be against me’?  I think this implies that he allows things to happen sometimes, letting some people have a choice and allowing the earth to go through some of the natural processes he’s designed it with, but intervenes or punishes when he needs or wants to.

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    • I agree, Autumn, which is why I think it’s been easy for us to shift away from the idea that God acts through nature. We honestly can’t tell the difference between God wiping out Sodom and an earthquake caused by natural causes—the world working the way it works because of how God made it and how sin has affected it.

      It'[s never right for us to judge, I don’t think. But I think it’s always right to ask, Is God’s hand in this, warning me, teaching me, guiding me? What am I supposed to learn from this? How can I use these circumstances to draw closer to God, to praise Him more, to make Him known?

      When we leave God out, or when we simply pray for His help with recovery or for protection in the case of a predictable disaster (a hurricane, for example), I think we’re missing some of what He may be doing or wants to do. It’s almost as if we think things happen apart from God and we need Him to team up with us to fight off these external forces set against us. Well, I don’t think that’s a good picture of nature. The earth is groaning, no doubt about it. And Satan is a real enemy, but God is working all things for His purposes. Nature isn’t an entity unto itself.

      Becky

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