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.

The Consumer Mentality


David_Livingstone_Preaching_from_his_Wagon,_Africa,_ca.1845-ca.1865_(imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS16-019)It’s frightening to see what the consumer mentality does to everyday people. First, I’m defining “consumer mentality” as the desire for something new, greater, and more exciting than what we already have.

Consequently, we have a perfectly good, well-functioning tablet, but the Tech World releases the new version, the bigger version, the tripped out version, and now we are bored with the one we have. We see all its faults and short-comings.

Sadly, the consumer mentality goes beyond things to activities. That’s how skirts so long they only bared a woman’s ankle have morphed into bikinis that bare . . . well, most everything. That’s why a present in a stocking at Christmas became mounds of presents under a tree.

This “we want newer, we want better, we want bigger” makes us quickly bored with the same old thing. Consequently, any company that wants us to buy must keep churning out fresh material. Which is hard on the news business because there are only so many things happening in the world.

Something that hasn’t happened for a while gets the news machine humming. Katrina was a bonanza, but the next couple hurricanes had a sort of “been there, done that” feel and they couldn’t live up to the horror of the Superdome or the political wrangling connected with “the big one.” Consequently hurricanes in the Philippines or Mexico get barely a mention.

Japan’s earthquake/tsunami disaster was a two-fer, so it got big news attention. But there was Haiti and quakes in far away South American countries, and pretty soon quake fatigue set in.

Now ISIS and beheading—that was new, and big. Until Ebola came along as the New, Big Story.

But yesterday in the local news, the lead story was our weather. And not even “our” weather, because it was a fairly localized condition—high winds that snapped a few trees and caused damage to some cars and the roof of one building.

Buried in the news somewhere was the story about another North American who had been beheaded—along with a host of Syrians. I couldn’t believe my ears. As it turned out, there was also an Ebola story—a doctor who had contracted the disease in Sierra Leon, who was gravely ill (and has since died). But this too did not lead the news hour.

So apparently strong winds are the new, fresh, more interesting story. Until tomorrow.

But here’s the capper. Following the promo for the beheading story was one for the news feature about the record-setting tallest nutcracker ever made.

So that’s where the consumer mentality has placed a horrific deed—bloody mass executions. A minute on people dying. A minute on a new Guinness Book record for the tallest nutcracker—one that could clomp the teeth of its totem-pole-like face together and crack the shell of a coconut.

People die—awwww. People set records—yea! Anything to get the consumer to keep coming back.

Interestingly, Jesus showed that He doesn’t play that game. The Pharisees wanted Him to fast and follow their rules, but He partied instead.

Eventually the crowds wanted to make Him a king who would defeat Rome and free them from their oppression. They wanted the Exodus only in reverse. They wanted God to set His people free. Jesus said, My kingdom isn’t of this world. He showed how He intended to free people—through forgiveness of their sins.

That was sooooo not the way the consumer mentality works. You don’t reject the limelight. You embrace it. You don’t say no to the demand of the public, you promise to give them that and more. You don’t satisfy people’s needs—you create them.

On top of this, Jesus said offensive things—you have to take up your cross and follow me; you must lose your life to find it; the first will be last, the last first; you must hate your father and mother for Jesus’s sake—seemingly with the intention of driving the crowds away.

This is not the way the consumer mentality works!

No wonder. Jesus is not a flash in the pan. He isn’t a fad, a superstar to be quickly bypassed by the next American idol. He’s not playing the consumer game, vying for popularity. Simply put, popularity passes away, but Jesus—the exact image of the invisible God—is lasting. He is the great I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

He was before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

He is the most sure, the lasting, truest, unwavering permanence imaginable. And then some.

No wonder people filled with the consumer mentality here in western societies have a hard time embracing Jesus.

No wonder Christians in places like Laos and Nigeria and Indonesia cling to Him in the face of persecution. The consumer mentality hasn’t blinded them to the genuine article. They know what they’ve found and they intend to hold on.

Published in: on November 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow


Blessings? you might be asking. Did I not hear about the earthquake in Japan — on top of the ones they’ve already had? And the ensuing tidal wave (when did we decide not to use the English term in favor of the Japanese tsunami?)

Or how about the ongoing fighting in Libya, the drop in the Dow Jones yesterday, a continuing increase in gas prices (though the oil companies have yet to refine any of the high-priced oil), and an unexpected rise in the number of people filing for unemployment.

Well, actually I did hear about it all, and more. Tsunami warnings went out all up and down the West Coast, so I not only heard, I had friends who evacuated their homes as a precaution. I’ve heard from former missionaries to Japan giving a report about the friends they left behind, and anxiously waiting to hear about others.

I’ve also read Facebook notes that continue on with the trivial as if there hasn’t been a devastating event that is affecting thousands of people. Party time, now that Friday’s here. Or, How devastating that they ran out of my color of lipstick.

I’ve read snarky comments about books in a particular genre. Thing is, the writer followed those with an admission that he didn’t read Christian fiction. At all.

I’ve also been dealing with a commenter who said, “I think you are confusing your personal opinions or your religion with your politics, and the founding fathers you talk about didn’t want to have the two paths cross.” So now Christians are not to speak about politics because our religion informs our beliefs?

So where are these blessings we’re supposed to praise God for?

Seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

That’s easy. Instead of looking at the swirling wind whipping around me, I need to look into the face of Jesus,

the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
– Hebrew 12:2-3

Second, I need to look in His word. There I see reality:

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
– James 1:17

Which leads to number three. I need to remember the truth about God: His faithfulness; His sovereign control as He works His purposes through the events of the day, just as He did in Joseph’s day when he was thrown into prison for refusing to commit adultery; His Holy Spirit living in us; His preparation of the place where we believers have our citizenship; His Son’s sure and soon return, sooner today than yesterday.

And fourth, I can enjoy what God has given me today. A list would be too long, but let’s start with the obvious: another day of life, food to eat, clothes to wear, a place to live.

One more thing, though it is a part of looking at God’s word — He gave us the Earthquake Psalm. Well, that’s what I call it. 😀 It’s actually just the first three verses of Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

In reality, these verses say God gave us Himself.

I’d say that means blessings aren’t trickling down.

They flow!

Published in: on March 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm  Comments (5)  
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Warnings Galore


Not two months ago I wrote about Earthquakes and God and included these lines:

But ultimately disasters wherever they occur should make us look to ourselves. Jesus’s words to those reporting the local news to Him should drive us to our knees: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Last night—actually early this morning, at 4:04—a quake hit Southern California. If those of you living in another country or another part of the US didn’t hear about this, don’t be surprised because this temblor was small—only 4.4, compared to the 8.8 Chilean quake and the 7.0 Haitian quake. No buildings down, no people hurt, trapped, or dead. In fact, very little damage.

But for me it was a wake up call. Well, not really because I was already awake and reading.

The one important point I haven’t mentioned yet is the epicenter of this quake. To be honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the report came in that it was under my apartment building.

The first thing I felt and heard, simultaneously, was a crash as if a large something had slammed into the side of the building. Then a shaking as if a giant had gripped the building in two hands and was shaking it like someone would a tree in an effort to bring down an apple in the top branches or a ball that was lodged among the leaves.

It didn’t last long–ten seconds maybe.

But here’s the thing. Amid car alarms blaring into the morning darkness, I turned on the TV to find out where the epicenter was (close, and nothing to worry about because I’d felt the worst of it; or far, and there might be considerable damage).

Turns out, I was about as close to the epicenter as it felt. This quake was approximately three miles closer to me than the Whittier Narrows temblor some twenty plus years ago. That one, centered about five miles from me, killed eight people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

But back to the TV and the point of this post. Every morning news program carried coverage of this quake at once. They knew when and where and how hard and even how deep (a little over ten miles down so it was felt over a far range even though it wasn’t that hard). And they started taking phone calls, asking people what they felt, if it had wakened them, and if they were prepared.

The media puts big stock here in people being prepared for “The Big One.” We are all to have an emergency supply of water, clothes, food, batteries, radio, and now, apparently, a generator, since several of the callers mentioned that.

All this “be prepared” talk is about weathering the days after a devastating quake. No talk about preparing to die. No talk about the spiritual implications of something so uncontrollable as a quake or a string of quakes. Why aren’t we talking about where God is in all this?

Oh, I suppose most Christians were scared off the topic by what Pat Robertson said after the quake in Haiti. But God makes it clear in places in the Bible like Isaiah that He brought war and famine and drought and natural disasters as a warning to the nations or as punishment for their sins.

There are so many passages I’d like to quote, but let me finish with this one:

Behold, the name of the LORD comes from a remote place; Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire;

His breath is like an overflowing torrent, Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve, And to put in the jaws of the peoples the bridle which leads to ruin.

– Isa 30:27-28

Preparation? The only preparation that matters is for us to go to our faces before God and plead for his mercy and for revival in our land.

Published in: on March 16, 2010 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Earthquakes and God


Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti in light of the most recent tragedy, the devastating earthquake centered near Port-au-Prince, have made many of us ask about spiritual ramifications and/or causes of such natural events. We’re no different from people throughout the ages. Seeing a man born blind, Jesus’s disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (John 9:2)

Luke records a similar discussion centered on the death of numbers of people—not from natural causes, but still on point.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were {greater} sinners than all {other} Galileans because they suffered this {fate?} “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were {worse} culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

– Luke 13:1-5

Here’s the issue. Was God punishing the Haitians because of their history of occultism as Pat Robertson suggested? Expanding on that question, Does God still deal with nations as He did in the Old Testament when He clearly brought judgment to any number of countries, including Israel and Judah?

I have a hard time saying that the earthquake in Haiti was punishment on the nation. I lived in Guatemala in 1975 when a 7.9 (Richter scale) earthquake hit, killing over 25,000 people. Note that the power of that quake was nearly thirty times stronger than the Haitian quake. And it hit a country that had become the first Protestant nation in Latin America. (I suppose Catholics might say, Ah-ha, that’s why God visited His judgment on them.) Maybe others were saying about Guatemala what Robertson said about Haiti; I don’t really know. Certainly the missionaries I knew weren’t coming to that conclusion.

But here’s another piece of information. In 1994 a quake hit near Northridge, California, killing 71 people, some indirectly (heart attacks and disease attributed to the effect of the quake—yes, disease, but I don’t have time today to explain this). And the power of this quake? It was measured at 6.7 on the moment magnitude scale, not so much less in strength than the Haiti quake with the projected death total around 50,000.

I draw several conclusions from all of this. The number of deaths and the widespread destruction in Haiti don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with the strength of the natural part of the disaster. (Maybe the sin that needs to be confessed and turned from is that of the building contractors who allowed cheaper construction to flourish throughout Port-au-Prince.)

But ultimately disasters wherever they occur should make us look to ourselves. Jesus’s words to those reporting the local news to Him should drive us to our knees: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Should not America look to our national sins—greed, pride, selfishness, and the failure to pass on to the next generation the truth about God—and repent?

Shouldn’t Australia do the same? And Great Britain, Canada, Guatemala, all repenting of national sins?

In the end, it doesn’t matter if I believe God still metes out national punishment today or not. What matters is that I understand He is judge and He is righteous. He is also sovereign and just. What I must know is this: Unless I am covered by the blood of Christ, I will likewise perish.

And if I am covered by His blood, does this somehow inoculate me from tragedy? No. But I have His promise that He will go through the fire and the flood with me:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

– Isaiah 43:2

The truth is, Jesus told us there would come a time of great earthquakes.

and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.

– Luke 21:11

I don’t see anywhere in His words that these earthquakes would affect only the most sinful nations. In light of this prophecy, however, I think it’s important to remember who God is.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar {and} foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.

– Ps. 46:1-3

Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 11:50 am  Comments (4)  
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