Pestilence


20110823-F-GA004-134The Oxford American Dictionary defines pestilence as “a fatal epidemic disease.” They cite the bubonic plague as the prototype of a pestilence. Of course, science has found an answer to bubonic plague, as they have yellow fever and polio and influenza—diseases that killed thousands of people throughout history.

In fact, during my growing up years, there was this feel that science was going to wipe out all the diseases that could sweep through a community unchecked. Science had the answers and the upper hand. No more did we have to quarantine people or fear for our lives because of casual contact with someone else who might be sick.

And then came AIDS. Suddenly there was an unconquerable disease in our midst again. But science redoubled its efforts and found, not a cure, but a life-sustaining treatment. AIDS was no longer a death sentence. And those suffering from the disease were no longer outcasts of society.

But diseases seemed to spring from nowhere. Suddenly there was the Bird Flu and the H1N1 Swine Flu. These viruses are apparently mutating, so what wasn’t dangerous to humans may become deadly. The health organizations remind us from time to time that a pandemic is in the realm of possibility.

More recently there was an outbreak of Ebola in Africa. This is another disease discovered in the twentieth century which has no cure—at least not yet. Science has been working hard to find a treatment.

But before we have properly educated ourselves about that deadly disease, we are now dealing with the Zika virus, another mosquito-borne disease like West Nile virus.

All this to say, my childhood idea that science will win out against disease is not happening. Instead, new deadly viruses are cropping up and literally going viral.

I’ve thought about disease in particular because of the prophecies in Revelation about pestilence. When God brings judgment on the earth, part of the means He uses will be pestilence. But how, I wondered, if science is wiping out diseases? Well, reality has set in. Science appeared for a time, from the perspective of this uninformed child, to be winning over disease. We had antibiotics, after all. The germ fighter that would wipe out deadly bacteria.

But we aren’t winning in the long run. We can’t anticipate how viruses will mutate, and we haven’t found a way to kill them.

Pestilence is listed throughout the Bible as one of the means God used when He wanted to judge a people. The others often mentioned were famine and the sword.

Famine was another thing I didn’t understand when I was growing up. I mean, we have stores of food and when an area such as Sudan is suffering from drought, we simply share with them from our excess. Except, it doesn’t always work that way. And what happens when America’s agricultural center experiences a drought?

“California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country,” Steven Johnson wrote in Medium, pointing out that California’s water problems are actually a national problem — for better or for worse, the trillions of gallons of water California agriculture uses annually is the price we all pay for supermarket produce aisles stocked with fruits and vegetables. (“California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System”)

Why all this contemplation about pestilence and famine? I’ll spare you thoughts about “the sword.”

With the reports about the Zika virus, I’m reminded that God’s word is true, that humankind is not master of our fate, that God still sends His judgment so we might know He is Lord.

droughtFor months we in Southern California were told to prepare for El Niño. County workers cleaned out storm drains. Shrubbery was cut back so gutters wouldn’t be blocked. Sand bags have been handed out. All in preparation of the monster storms predicted for us this winter.

Today the temperature reached 84° and record highs have been recorded all week in any number of cities. Not the rainy weather we were supposed to have.

Humankind simply is not in control. Sure we’ve learned a lot. Our satellites allow us to see weather developing and to measure winds and water temperatures in ways we couldn’t years ago. But we are not in charge. We can anticipate from all our data, and still we can be wrong.

God alone created the heavens and the earth. He also sustains what He has made. And He shows us Himself in what He has made.

The damage to life brought on by pestilence and famine is real. God’s gracious provision for His creation is interrupted. What was good has been spoiled, but God still works His purpose through it all. He uses the crises of life to draw us to Himself, to remind us that He is still over all, that we are not god.

He alone is the LORD.

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Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 5:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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God’s Judgment Is Real


Eclipse_lunar_(Blood_moon)When Israel was poised across the Jordan River, ready to take the land God had promised them, Moses reminded them of the need to obey God. By God’s direction, he gave them a list of blessings and a list of curses—the former if they followed God and the latter if they rebelled against Him and did the things that the nations they were about to displace had been doing.

God’s judgment was real—against the people living in Canaan who practices things that were heinous in God’s eyes. They worshiped idols and sacrificed their children on their altars; they involved themselves in perverted sexual practices until God said the land was ready to “spew them out.”

Israel didn’t do any better. They conqueror the land, to be sure, but within a generation they were straying from God’s Law. For four hundred years they experienced a cycle of straying, receiving God’s discipline, and repenting. Eventually God brought His judgment upon Israel in the same way He had Canaan.

The thing is, I wonder if the people of Israel stopped believing that God would judge them. After all, they’d been going their own way for so long, did they think all that early history, with Moses and the exodus, Joshua and the River Jordan, was nothing but a myth? Did they explain the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and the drying up of the Jordan as some natural phenomena?

Or did they think their ancestors’ own abilities had won their freedom and their own power and wisdom allowed them to conquer all those fortified cities? In other words, did they reason away God’s activity in their successes, so they no longer felt His wrath, when they experienced His judgment?

Something obviously changed. They weren’t crediting God with their prosperity, and they weren’t recognizing the adversity they went through as His judgment.

I thought of this today as I heard and read reactions to last night’s full blood moon eclipse. The news first drew my attention to the idea that some people feared the blood moon as a sign of the end of the world.

Apparently this idea has been fueled by Christians. Some pastors have even written books and pointed to the alignment of past blood moons and particular Jewish holy days.

Much like the past predictions of the end of the world, this kind of public declaration actually backfires, if the intent is to show God’s hand in the natural world and His coming judgment. The average person says, We were told that Y2K was going to be the end of the world, then Harold Camping named a date for the end of the world, then a revised date, then a date for the beginning of the end with another date for the end of the end.

When things continue as they have before, the natural tendency is to blow off the idea of an apocalypse and more specifically, of a judgment of God on this sinful world.

Some people joked about surviving the blood moon apocalypse, others marveled at the beauty of the event. But what I didn’t hear about was anyone repenting. I didn’t read about anyone saying, Well, this blood moon eclipse may or may not be a sign that the end is near, but even if it is not, I’m convinced God will judge the world as He said He would.

Predictions of an apocalypse that doesn’t happen serve to harden people’s hearts. One CNN article quoted Mark Hammergren of a Chicago planetarium as saying, “People have been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years in recorded history, and not a single time has that come about.”

These dramatic astronomical events are actually opportunities for us to pay more attention to space and the stars and how we’re connected to the universe, some unbelieving people reason. And who’s to say they’re wrong.

Regardless, God’s coming judgment is real.

I don’t think we need more signs than what we already have in Scripture—a risen Christ Jesus ascending into heaven with the promise that He will return as the reigning King.

God’s past judgments were sure. He gave people and nations time to turn and repent. Some like King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon who came to his senses and confessed God Most High as King over all, and some like Nineveh which repented when Jonah prophesied of God’s judgment, turned from going their own way and bowed before the Creator of the ends of the earth. Others like Sodom and Gomorrah laughed and ignored God’s word and His prophets—to their own doom and destruction.

If God is true, and He is; if He said He would judge the world, and He did; if He has judged nations and people in the past, and He has, then why would we think things will be different in the future?

God will judge the world. The false talk about an apocalypse should not fool anyone into believing that God is not deeply grieved by the mess the world is in. That some people have tried to connect the blood moon to events in Israel’s history or associate them with Jewish holy days is meaningless. God didn’t give us those kinds of details.

But the blood moon can serve as a reminder that God is in control, that His judgment isn’t a joke, even though we don’t know the day or hour, and that now is a good time to become His follower.

“Vengeance Is Mine, Not God’s”


A couple days ago I wrote about God’s judgment. Though the article didn’t generate any conversation, it did receive some negative feedback. I’m not surprised because we live in a day when people calling themselves Christians pooh-pooh the idea that God will actually be sending anyone to hell, while others question whether or not they might be nicer than the Almighty. Or maybe they’d prefer a different name for Him — the All Tolerant One, perhaps. But I jest, and this really isn’t a matter for levity.

The fact is, we humans find it easy to label others as bigots or hate-mongers or hypocrites. We have no problem criticizing each other to our faces. We can even yell at God and tell Him how disappointed or angry we are at Him. But far be it for us to believe God can do the same thing in return. No, no. He’s supposed to stand meekly by and love.

But that idea is nonsense. We get angry at the things we perceive to be wrong. Why shouldn’t God, in whose image we’re made?

Someone may counter that it is fine for God to get angry, but not fine for Him to give sinners consequences, especially ultimate consequences. That position, of course, strips God of His power. So He’s a loving God who can get angry when a child is molested, but He can’t punish the evildoer.

How then is He loving? Real love, as author and speaker Gary Chapman (The Five Love Languages) said in his sermon on Sunday, is expressed in God’s anger toward sin and the wicked.

Psalm 136 includes God’s divine intervention against Egypt and other nations standing against Israel as an evidence of His lovingkindness.

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their firstborn,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,…
He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting…
To Him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting:
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting,
And Og, king of Bashan,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (vv 10-20)

Other passages in Scripture declare God’s acts of judgment to be the very way in which He showed Himself so that the nations would know Him, turn from their sin, and come to Him.

His intention in correcting those who forsake Him is to bring them back:

O LORD, do not Your eyes look for truth?
You have smitten them,
But they did not weaken;
You have consumed them,
But they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
They have refused to repent. (Jeremiah 5:3)

When rejection is complete, God acts on behalf of those who are being sinned against:

So their houses are full of deceit;
Therefore they have become great and rich.
‘They are fat, they are sleek,
They also excel in deeds of wickedness;
They do not plead the cause,
The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper;
And they do not defend the rights of the poor.
‘Shall I not punish these people?’ declares the LORD,
‘On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?’

“An appalling and horrible thing
Has happened in the land:
The prophets prophesy falsely,
And the priests rule on their own authority;
And My people love it so! (Jeremiah 5:27-31a – emphasis mine)

An appalling thing, God says, when we spurn His authority and take it for ourselves. Such is the false teaching of our day.

Here are a few comments to a couple recent controversial articles, apparently made by Christians. This person agrees that Christians need to grow up, then he says:

I choose to find redemption in the gospel of Christ and yet feel empowered to refuse to accept the feudal rantings of many religious leaders.

Or there’s this one:

are all of you out there so naive and stupid not to see the propaganda

Then there’s this one:

As a Chrisitian, I do not want to come under the same umbrella as those that hate, undermine, are haughty and proud, and who cause millions of people to avoid even looking at Christianity as an option because of the behavior of many christians in their hate-mongering, their pride, their ‘holier-than-thou-attitude’.

Or how about this helpful question:

What rock are you living under?

Yes, these are people who claim to be Christians, though I don’t know if they all would claim God doesn’t have the right to judge. It’s quite clear, though, that they believe they DO have the right to judge.

Maybe it’s time we Christians take a hard look at our own attitudes. God is rightfully angry at sin and wickedness. What are we angry about? And are we taking it upon ourselves to reap vengeance with our words?

Published in: on March 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm  Comments (9)  
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