Hold Fast

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)

Location: Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina

It's been a couple weeks since Hurricane Katrina bulldozed the U.S. Gulf Coast. I initially decided to remain silent about it, because many with much more experience in the faith than I have said a lot. However, a comments by a leading "evangelical Christian" lately made me grouchy, and so I decided to write an article addressing the issue. It's long, and extremely politically incorrect, but please take the time to read.

(A much better treatment of the issue can be found here - a webcast by Dr. James White discussing the issue. Erin and I both found this very helpful.)

First, read the words of our Lord about His control and power over all things:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:28-31)

Here, Christ reminds us that our concern for our earthly lives is misplaced. We are not to be concerned about physical death. Eternal death in hell, however, is our concern. Therefore, our life on earth must be lived in fear of the God who makes that decision, in abandonment of earthly things.

And to reassure Christians in troubled times, Christ reminds us of the Father's absolute sovereignty. Even the tiniest details of life - such as the death of a tiny sparrow - are all under God's control. Nothing comes to pass, nothing at all, outside of His plan and will. God is in full control, and we can trust that no matter what happens, He is still there and He has a purpose.

Now read these comments by Tony Campolo, one of the leading lights of the "emerging church" movement (complete article can be found here):

But when the Bible tells us about the grace of God, it is giving us the good news that our loving God does not give us what we truly deserve. Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims.

Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.

This comment truly saddens me. Campolo denies God His omnipotence and omniscience, rendering Him a hapless and helpless spectator to natural events. I disagree with him in his characterization of the Old Testament's picture of God, but that aside, Campolo's supposed to be Christian! He's got the whole New Testament - the Greek Scriptures - to call upon! Compare his comments to this Scripture passage, and judge for yourselves:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?" (Mark 5:35-41)

There's no denying that God has power over the weather, as this Scripture demonstrates. So why does Campolo deny God's own word? His own comments contain the answer:

Certainly, God would not create suffering for innocent people, who were--for the most part--Katrina’s victims.

There it is - innocent people. Campolo is not judging the event by Scripture, but by his own philosophical outlook. Campolo here thinks that, in God's eyes, there is such a thing as an "innocent person." And this is why he's forced to deny Scripture - although the Biblical view of God, of man, of sin, and of calamity all say exactly the opposite of what Campolo is saying here, he refuses to give God His sovereign right to deal with His creation as He pleases.

Mark my words: this is heresy. Nothing less.

There are no innocent people!! Remember the words of Paul: For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:9-12)

If Campolo were right, and there are "innocent people," then Christ's blood was wasted. I guess we can do it on our own after all.

"But what about all the Christians? Their sins are covered - why would God punish them with the rest?"

A fair question. But remember, in Scripture, there are many examples of large-scale catastrophes befalling God's people - the Assyrian conquest of Israel, the Babylonian conquest of Judah, the locust plague described in Joel, and so on. God's punishment was on the nation, the whole people. As it affects individuals, it may or may not be intended as punishment on them. God never promised a free ride for the righteous - remember Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, Mordecai? All these lost their homes, their possessions, their country, probably many family members in the Babylonian Conquest. All (except Jeremiah) went into exile with everyone else. Don't forget, too, that Jesus and Paul both spoke of suffering as the Christian's lot.

God is sovereign. What does that mean? He is King. He is Lord. His Word is Law. His will WILL come to pass. And, as the Creator of us all, He has every right to take the lives of His creatures when He wills. Remember, our Christian faith does not confer immortality in our present bodies. Even Christians still die, because of the curse of Adam.

And in the case of the righteous, those made right in God's eyes through faith in Christ, if God chooses to take them earlier than expected, all glory be to God. They have joined Him - we should be happy for them.

Sadly, Campolo knows the truth. Earlier in the same article, he wrote:

Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see "all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes." (Romans 8:28)

And later: There are still other religionists who take the opportunity to tell us that God is punishing America for its many sins. Undoubtedly, there are some al-Qaeda fanatics who right now are saying that Katrina is the hand of God, striking America for what we have done to the people of Iraq and to the Palestinians. Furthermore, there are Christians who, in the weeks to come, can be counted on to thunder from their pulpits that Katrina is God’s wrath against the immorality of this nation, pointing out that New Orleans is the epitome of our national degradation and debauchery. To all of this I say, "Wrong."

No, Dr. Campolo. You're wrong. Those answers you casually dismiss ARE the right answers. Look at the Scriptures - those Hebrew Scriptures that "don't speak of God's omnipotence:"

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)

Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (Amos 3:6)

Anyone who would deny God's sovereign right over His own creation is no Christian.

Campolo would have us believe in a god who stands helplessly by and watches as his creation flies out of control. A god who weeps, but can do nothing to stop what he wants to prevent. How is that supposed to be a comfort or encouragement to anyone? "God weeps with you, but he couldn't do anything to stop it. I'm sorry." Why trust in such a god to raise people from the dead? Why trust such a god for eternal life? I just cannot see how, whether philosophically, ethically, or most important of all, Scripturally, Campolo's god is worthy of worship at all.

No. Campolo's god is not the God I believe in. My God is worthy of glory and honour and praise.

So what of Katrina? I see it as a wake-up call, visited on a sinful nation. No country on earth is as "Christianized" as the United States. No nation has been blessed with such power and prosperity. No nation has such unfettered access to God's truth. And yet that nation pumps out more filth, more violence, more pornography from its culture than any other nation on earth. Americans kill more than a million helpless unborn children every year because they are "unwanted." No nation, save perhaps my own and a couple of other Western countries, has been given so much and done so little for so few. And God cares about this.

Katrina is a reminder by God: "I'm still here." He is still in control. And Americans would do well to realize this. As a Canadian, I see my own nation as possibly even more morally bankrupt, and I shudder to think of what God's judgment on Canada might be, if we do not repent and turn to Him.

It comes down to this, guys. Either God couldn't do anything about Katrina, and is therefore no God at all; or He had a purpose in the storm. Go to your Bibles. Pray about it.

And when it gets tough, remember the words of Paul: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

And, beware of false teachers.


Anonymous Marie said...

That was very insightful Jeff, and I totally agree. It baffled me why he would say such things and still consider himself a christian. It's as if he's denying the New Testiment alltogether.

4:31 PM  

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