Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gay Marriage, Hurricanes, and the Hand of God

It seems Aaron's brief post on prop 8 generated more dialogue than any previous post (see "the slope gets slipperier..."). The thread, in fact, has become so long as to become prohibitive to following the debate. Lots of important observations were made across a variety of digressions. I'm glad, for one, that most everyone agrees that true morality can't be coerced. At the same time, law is inescapably moral: it says what you can and cannot do. (What, then, should be the small-government position on drugs, prostitution, etc?) This is one of the more interesting theoretical issues we've confronted. "The paradox of law and liberty" is, by definition, a "slippery slope." Everyone, including libertarians, draws a line of protectionism somewhere. But leave all this for a moment. And leave the specific arguments concerning prop 8, too...

The other more theoretical issue that caught my attention, as the "history/academic" guy, was the notion that Christians should, in general, oppose gay marriage in order to retain God's mercy. (And, since I have contributor privileges, I get to subject you all to my musings here on the main page.) This kind of Toynbeean/Spenglerian perspective on the structured rise and fall of nations presupposes (1) that we know all the facts and variables, can see everything that is going on in history and in the present and make comparative measurements of a nation's righteousness accordingly; (2) that Christians can know what and why God does what he does; and (3) that, for the Christian, worldly-temporal success is somehow decisive--evidence of God's favor.

A classic example of this kind of Christian moral positivism (whatever is, is right; "might makes right") is the destruction of the Spanish Armada. According to this legend, God routed the Armada with a storm to keep England, and hence the future America, Protestant. Of course, God didn't care when the Spaniards became Catholics because he likes English people better. Another example: I once heard a pastor say that Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans because of the sin in that city--never mind that the districts where much of the vice goes on were not destroyed. (And why is it always with the weather that we know it's God? Is it because weather still has some aura of incomprehensibility?)

Christians that think this way strike me like the person who reads the book of Job and then debates which friend was more right. Kind of misses the point... And how about the tower of Siloam: Jesus' followers asked him why innocent people were crushed by a falling tower. Jesus didn't answer this question; all he said was, "nobody is innocent--you had all better repent cause a tower might fall on you too." And how about Jeremiah: God tells him his life is basically going to stink all the way through it. Just stick it out.

Even if some Biblical passage tells you what God did in a certain instance and why, it does not follow that you understand God's ways and what He would do in a similar circumstance later.
To quote Sir Karl Popper, "The theory that God reveals Himself and His judgement in history is indistinguishable from the theory that worldly success is the ultimate judge and justification of our actions." Is God on the side of Islam today?

(Again, these thoughts do not specifically pertain to most of the pragmatic or ideological arguments for or against Gay marriage, just to the "God's blessing/cursing" argument. Sorry if it's a bit more abstract than the usual fare, but tell us what you think anyway...)


  1. Excellent points! In light of these obvious inconsistencies in many Christian's understanding of God's dealing with men, it is interesting to note that many of us tend pick and choose the catastrophic events we interpret as God's judgment. For example: Hurricane Katrina certainly did a lot of damage in New Orleans, but so did several other hurricanes that shortly preceded her in Florida. And even Katrina affected more than just the city of New Orleans. Many a community with greater moral values was devastated by the same event. I have a family member whose retirement home was destroyed in hurricane Charlie. Funny, but with a Republican governor overseeing that state at the time, I don't remember hearing too much from the pulpit about God's wrath against those "wicked" senior citizens in the damage Florida experienced. But enter Katrina and the city of **shudder** New Orleans!?!--all of a sudden this is another ballgame. **tsk, tsk, nod: must be the judgment of God** Hmmm . . .

    All this is not to say that I don't believe God does not ever offer greater or lesser economic or political blessings in some proportion to a nation's level of sell-out to evil, but it is rarely so simple as we often assume. God's idea of blessing or judgment is not always what we think.

    Several important points should be considered in pursuing this topic. For one, economic success may be an aspect of God's blessing, but is never a proof of it. And often what we perceive as His judgment is simply one of many multi-faceted results of living in an aging, sin cursed world. In fact, it may be that the majority of the trouble we see could be better interpreted as God's merciful hand in renewing our rememberance of Himself and our need to repent. How important it is for us to remember that the ways of God are not our own. To remember that the whole earth groans and travails awaiting relief from the pressure that the first sin's curse brought upon it. To remember that, just as Job's friends could not know the purposes behind the hand of God and thus were incorrect in their assessment of Job's troubles, we do not have the prophetic wisdom or revelation from God to assume all trouble to be a direct result of the sins of either one person or nation of persons.

    However, to bring things back around to the political issues at hand, a few truths can be pointed out concerning the blessing and cursing of a nation based on Scripture. We know that a nation is considered "blessed" whose God is the Lord. We do know that goodness does exalt a nation in some way. We can also know that that exaltation may or may not reveal itself in the forms of economic success or political peace.

    Perhaps God's blessing in a nation could be manifest as simply as through the fact that the morals God lays out in His Word are, of themselves, sensible for any people group. Concrete, moral guidelines based on the authority of God, like "thou shalt not murder" or "thou shalt not steal," when adhered to, add a greater sense of order, accountability, and unity to a society than guidelines based on the fallibility of any human judge or false deity. In part, this is likely the case.

    But I see the "reproach" of a nation's sin as reaching more deeply than that. I see the over-all tolerance toward sin in our nation as revealing an ever growing condition of spiritual callousness to God's workings in the hearts of individuals. I see more and more of our people choosing to disregard their Creator and neglect to be thankful to Him even though they have repeatedly been confronted with knowledge of Him. I see more and more men and women, even from Christian homes, deceived into indulging vain imaginations and worthless idols. With no basis for morality left in our society, more and more of our people are "given up" to corruption so that even the sin of sodomy is tolerable to them.

    So if righteousness will exalt us and sin will be our reproach, how can we assume that God's displeasure will not be poured out upon us at some point, or that it has not already begun? And what shred of righteousness is going to be left in a few years to protect my children and grandchildren from the influences of the wickedness that surrounds them? How can we assume that much of the trouble we face (likely less of it being in the form of natural catastrophe than in social turmoil at this point) is not a forshadowing of judgment to come? Should we not look at these things as a reminder to repent lest we likewise perish as other societies who forsook their God?

    These problems cannot be solved politically, but they certainly are revealed politically. And the fewer men we have who are willing to stand up for righteousness sake in the political realm, the less hope we have for reversing the influence of evil and landslide of self-destructive behavior enveloping our nation.

    Hence, while spiritual battles are ever weightier in the fight for righteousness in our nation than any other, it is yet important for good and godly men to "stand in the gap" and fight these influences of evil socially and politically as well.

    No, righteousness cannot be coerced. But the extremes of evil certainly can be diverted. And in resisting, perhaps we can affect a quickening in the consciences of men to the reality of that evil, protect men from their own potentials for extreme evil, and redirect their attention just long enough toward truth that they may then consider their ways and be wise.

  2. I was going to comment earlier, but I've been under the weather all day.

    Weather disasters are often linked to God's judgment since - despite what the Green crowd would have us thing - weather is outside of our control.

    In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encountered a man born blind. The disciples asked if the blindness was due to his own sin or that of his parents. Jesus answered "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him." and then He healed the man.

    Statements such as this, and the lesson from the book of Job, lead me to conclude that when Proverbs says "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people," it means that righteousness of itself is exalting and sin itself is the reproach.

    Scripture warns that even though God is patient - not willing for any to perish - that judgment is coming one day. It also teaches (as Melodie pointed out) that we are living in a world cursed by sin, and it is full of violence, disease and sorrow because of it.

    However, claiming that particular events are acts of God's judgment is claiming knowledge that one cannot possibly possess.

  3. Just a thought: maybe Americans believe too much that this nation is the center of Christendom, and that things happening here have some greater significance regarding God's sovereign judgments?

  4. Anon: I think that's absolutely the case. Patriotism is one thing, but nationalism (and the natural feeling that your "space" is the center of the world) is actually a secular substitute for religion.

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  6. I deleted my last post and am reposting it here with some minor adjustments.

    Annonymous, that is too often too true! But it has been true of many people groups throughout the ages as well. It would be good for us to remember that the only national people group specifically chosen as a nation by God was (and still is) Israel. While true Christians do comprise a group of chosen people, we are not a chosen nation. On the contrary, the Scriptures say that Christianity will include men and women of every kindred, tribe, tongue, people, and nation: a multitude redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

    Back to what John said (if you'll pardon my continued, well--bloviating--to steal an O'Reilly term), God does at times use natural catastrophe to mete out His judgment and plan. We know that as the times continue to creep closer and closer to the last days, we will see more and more natural catastrophe in this world. But nowhere in Scripture do we see that the prophesied calamaties of this particular age are necessarily against one nation as opposed to being against a world of nations which has denied their God. It is good to look at the comparatively mild natural disasters that we now see as only a hint of the judgments that have been promised in the future.

    That is not to say that God does not use these disasters to exact a degree of judgment for some, but as that has not been directly revealed to us at this time, it is not for us to speculate or point fingers about. This is between the Creator and those directly involved; and will be revealed to those people at the appropriate time even if it is not until they have entered eternity.

    Meanwhile, from an evangelical Christian's scientific perspective, these things actually serve at least a two-fold purpose. That they warn of us things to come has already been discussed. But they also reveal God's hand in purging and cleansing His world in the meantime, preserving it just that longer till His time is ripe for the fulfillment of final prophecies. So, we see that hurricanes in part act as God's way of washing the tropics of excess growth and starting jungles afresh. Forest fires clear the ground for new growth and even become the catalyst for the germination of new plants. Earthquakes relieve the earth of stress, and the more frequent they are, the greater the relief and lesser the chances that the next earthquake will be as strong. Yes, sin's curse and the aging of the earth has influenced a sobering imbalance of the natural boons God originally set in motion, but it did not end them entirely or eliminate all that is positive about them. We are still learning the positive effects these things have as we study God's handiwork. But in every situation, Christians can know that God's mercy is evident in some way, and that all things will work together for good to them that love God.

  7. Melodie,

    1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy NATION, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

  8. Ummm . . . I'm having trouble understanding what you are saying. Aside from pointing out that this is referring to those who are members of the kingdom of heaven and not to America or any other physical nation right now, I am not sure how you expect me to respond. What is your point in light of the whole issue at hand?

  9. Melodie said, "... even the sin of sodomy is tolerable to them," as if sodomy is some kind of ultimate sin.

    I know the account of Sodom and Gomorrah is given as evidence of the severity of the sin, but I see a lot more going on in Sodom and Gomorrah than sodomy when I read the account.

    One has to ask: Would God have destroyed the cities had sodomy not occured there? Since the answer to that question is unknown, one can't point to the account to support singling sodomy as one of the worst sins.

    In fact, the idea of worst sin isn't really a Biblical concept, now is it?

    Unfortunately, the topic of this thread is about prosperity and plague visting the righteous and the wicked. Well, the Bible contains accounts of all four possible pairs. One cannot ascertain the righteousness of an individual or a nation based on what good or evil thing has happened to it.

    California could smite the sodomites, but still go up in flames.

  10. Not-the-other-anon, Did you read the whole discussion? Because the point was not California's going up in flames over toleration to sodomy. My point was that we as a nation are now so entrenched in sin that we tolerate sins that would otherwise be eschewed. This is more an indictment against individuals and the conditions of hearts in relation to their recognition of God as Creator not just CA or America or any other nation at this time.

    And the idea that one sin is NOT greater than another does not come from Scripture. (I had a feeling somebody was going to say something like this since it is such a popular misunderstanding). Some sins are more weighty in degree than others in the eyes of God. This is not because that ONE sin by itself is worse, but because of the necessary SUCCESSION of sins that lead up to it and the gross conglomoration of the total. For example: it is evident in Scripture that God does grant more or less mercy based on the degree of rebellion versus sins of ignorance. This can be seen in Christ's grief over Jerusalem which would suffer more judgment for her rejection of the Messiah than the cities of Sodom and others. And another point in Scripture suggests that God "winked at" a society's sins because they had engaged in them ignorantly. Not that He did not judge their sins, but that the judgment was not as severe as it would be had they sinned knowingly and wilfully.

    My points concerning sodomy as an "ultimate" sin were based on Romans chapter one which provides a succession of evil. (I don't think I would call it an "ultimate" sin though. Let's call it an end-of-the-line sin for now till we come up with a better term). It was Romans that left sodomy as an "end-of-the-line" sin suggesting that those who have transgressed to a certain degree are then finally given up to that which is unnatural even to their own bodies: men with men and women with women. You don't have to agree. But that was the original point of the statements.

    As to the topic of the thread, we have already established the fact that prosperity and plague visit both righteous and wicked men. In fact that WAS the point of the thread: to recognize that trouble is NOT proof of judgment and that peace is NOT proof of blessing. The issue of Prop 8 was discussed under the topic that instigated this one's being written.

    Re-read the original posts to get a fuller understanding of the perspectives of the posters and maybe we can discuss this better then.

  11. Melodie,

    This is the first anon who posted the verse. I was just messing with you to see if you would compose a novella-length response.

  12. Haha! Like I said . . . bloviating!