An Abusive Heavenly Father

March 18, 2011

Of course, while the disaster in Japan rages on, and we don’t even know what the outcome will be, plenty of people are offering up helpful explanations of why Japan has been hit with such as severe disaster.

Some people say that global warming is actually to blame for the earthquake.  As if atmospheric warming would have any effect on the thousand degree temperature of the earth’s guts.

And as usual, a few “helpful” religious types are saying it’s divine punishment on Japan.  People with a more “granola” orientation say goddess Gaia or Mother Nature is angry because of all our plastic water bottles.

Even atheists take an opportunity like this to crack out the perinneal and supposedly airtight cliche, “Why would a so-called ‘good’ God allow this to happen?”

Does God punish people and nations?  Maybe.  But probably not in the way you’re thinking.

Abusive Heavenly Father

Of course, blaming God’s wrath is nothing new.  God’s firey anger has been blamed for everything bad, including Katrina, Haiti, 9/11, the Holocaust, the Civil War, and King of Queens.  Well, I blame God for King of Queens.  How could a good God allow that show to happen?  Anyway, whenever something terrible happens, you can count on someone saying you had it coming.

What would you say about a parent that punishes a kid without warning, and doesn’t tell the kid why he’s being punished?  If you said “abusive,” then give yourself a gold star.  That kind of punishment isn’t even legal in America.  You can’t put people in jail without telling them their crimes or giving them a trial.  So if what’s happening in Japan is God’s idea of “justice,” God doesn’t even measure up to the American justice system.  He’s more like an abusive parent.

What prophets of punishment never acknowledge is that God never acts like an abusive parent in the Bible.  God always gave advanced warning when He was planning punishment.  Heck, He usually repeated Himself over the course of decades.  He gave people plenty of chances to repent before dishing the pain.  And He always told the people why they were going to be punished.

It’s Not Punishment, It’s  Inevitable

Last year, I drove through Norfolk, Virginia (neighboring Virginia Beach), where punishment pontificator Pat Robertson’s 700 Club is filmed, and I had an overwhelming urge to ask Pat why God is punishing that city.  It’s the poorest, worst American city I’ve ever visited, and one of the few places I’ve ever feared for my life while not even leaving my car.  I would’ve thought that the city would be exceptionally blessed after decades of Pat Robertson’s divine presence, but no such luck.

The fact is that people have always been far more skilled at causing their own misery than we give ourselves credit for.  Every disaster has human fingerprints all over it.  So in a way, we did have it coming.  But it isn’t becuase God is punishing people.  God didn’t punish a city built below sea level surrounded by crappy levies with a hurricane.  A hurricane was inevitable.  Japan isn’t being punished either.  A huge earthquake is inevitable in Japan.  Humans were the ones who believed it wasn’t inevitable and built 54 nuclear plants there.  Did the Jewish people deserve the Holocaust?  Of course not, but in hindsight, it was practically inevitable, and it was the fault of a lot of people, not God.

There’s no supernatural cause to financial meltdowns or earthquakes.  People just have short memories and don’t learn from history.  And it’s funny that while some people so easily pinpoint why someone is being punished, no one ever looks at a disaster and says, “I’m to blame for this.”

Why God?  Whyyy?

I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to find a teaching job that is up to my qualifications.  Is God punishing me?  Some days it feels like it, and God knows I deserve it.  But more than likely, a bunch of idiot humans have created a mess where hundreds of young teachers can’t find jobs.

Does God punish people?  Sometimes, probably.  But I think God’s a big fan of “natural consequences.”  The best kind of discipline for a student or child is to suffer natural consequences for something he was warned about.  People who don’t do it God’s way reap their own consequences without God ever having to put them in time out.  And sometimes we suffer the consequences of other people’s greed or hate or stupidity, not God’s.

So while we figure out how to help Japan, ask yourself if your life is on a collision course with natural consequences.  They are inevitable.

What do you think?  Does God still punish people or nations with disasters, or are people just shortsighted?

33 responses to An Abusive Heavenly Father

  1. Morning Matt,

    Why them instead of us?

    Has anything ever been done in Japan, any sin committed, that has not been done right here in my hometown?

    So, why would they be punished by God Almighty while we get to watch it on tv?

    How did they get ahead of us in line?

    St. Peter observed that all flesh is grass and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. “The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away”.

    That is the common lot of all mankind.

    What happened to those people there will happen to each of us here–the death rate is the same as it always has been: one per person.

    They make the news because it is happening to a lot of people all at once–but their individual fate is the same as the fate of every person lying silent in every cancer ward.

    Again and again, I keep coming back to that mote and beam thing. I see them and say, “They’re sinners”; I observe me with kindness and say, “I slipped up a moment”.

    They is worse than I is.

    The devastation of Japan just happens on a more visible scale that my own wasting away. It’s just not fair! Their sufferings get tv coverage, and mine don’t.

    But, they are heathen sinners and I am a four-year-old of God’s. Yet, Peter said, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial… as though some strange thing happened unto you”.

    Nothing strange about it. What happens to humans, happens to humans.

    It’s not divine retribution, it’s life.

    Want to talk about judgment? Peter also says, “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”

    When God’s judgment falls, it won’t be a matter of discussion. It will be obvious and unquestionable. How will I recognize it? By the kick I feel in the seat of my pants.

    John

  2. Good post Matt. I personally do not buy into the “God is punishing Japan” theory. I have to go along with John (above comment) and ask, “have they done anything that we haven’t done?” Sure they are arrogant. So are we. Sure they are not too smart (polite way of saying “stupid”) for building the nuclear plants where they did (are we any smarter?). But if punishment is in order why not China for the way they persecute Christians or the Muslim countries for the way they are…well Muslim. The church I pastor has recently gone through a hellacious time caused by greed and deception. The people did not deserve it by any stretch. I can honestly say that i didn’t deserve it. But eventually the consequences of sin will be reaped. I am not asking “why?” I am asking “what now? How would God want me to act? what lesson(s) can i learn?” No, i won’t jump on the “God-is-punishing” bandwagon. If I do, then i have to expect to be next.

    • Thanks Bill. So just to throw a wrench in the system, while we forgive people who have hurt us with greed and deception, are we able to pray that their sins would have consequences from God – the way David prays in the Psalms?

  3. Interesting post, Matt.

    I believe God does have judgements. Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as a potential one on Nineveh (thanks to whining Jonah that was averted.). Since the beginning of history, God has judged nations.

    You are correct in the fact that through the prophets, God gave warnings. (A topic for another time is this: If we don’t embrace New Testament prophets, who should we listen too?)

    As you stated, there is a natural order for our created planet. It includes a host of atmospheric and geological bad boys. Inevitable is a strong word. It sort says God isn’t in control – but I am sure that you didn’t exactly mean that.

    The question is this: What is God’s part in human suffering? Didn’t he know all this stuff was going to happen? I think He did. If it wasn’t taken into account, then I think we are without a God of power. Why did God create Satan? Didn’t he know that he was going to rob, kill and destroy? I think he did. That’s why God gave us Jesus to overcome him.

    If we say that God does not use natural events as part of judgement, then how can we pray for God to save us in the midst of a hurricane or tornado? Did God avoid the prayers of the New Orleans folks? Hey, didn’t Job pray?

    On the other hand, if we don’t deserve anything, and it’s all just part of the natural package, then what is it that God can actually do in such a situation? Then all the folks that prayed and got theirs lives and junk and stuff saved are liars?

    Didn’t Jesus say this: Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

    10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

    It may not apply to this week or month, but He did say it. Maybe there is not an end to the world as we know it, maybe Jesus is not coming back. I think he is.

    If we do believe that Jesus is coming back, we should probably check our theology on what the season looks like before it happens. There is also going to be a great harvest of souls (unless the Bible is again wrong). Those usually don’t happen in times of prosperity – too many rich young rulers.

    Sure, people are stupid, that is why we need Jesus. Do natural disasters occur, yes they do, but not out of the sight of God. He loves his creation, but it appears that he allows both the saved and the unsaved to suffer consequences. The only caveat is this: Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. I like the ALL THINGS clause.
    David recently posted..Whats the Freakin Point – Hope- Heroine and Cheesecake!

    • Good question David. I don’t mean that God isn’t in control. But I guess I mean that God doesn’t have do intervene in the world to create every natural disaster because He created a world that works in an orderly way. An earthquake in Japan is inevitable because that’s how that part of the world is created. I know that sounds kind of deistic, but I’m not a deist. I do believe that God is involved in humanity than that.

      You also bring up a good point of asking who do we listen to if we reject NT prophets? I’ve been thinking about what a great responsibility we have to discern who the voices are that really speak God’s truth.

      • Exactly my point. We have the folks at WBC on one end of the spectrum, and whoever is from the perspective that the world will run until the evolved kill it with green house gases.

        It is interesting, because we can’t decide who to listen too – especially if we think that God does not provide judgements against nations.

        In any case, who will warn a nation, it is very good question.
        David recently posted..Whats the Freakin Point – Hope- Heroine and Cheesecake!

  4. I guess I’m of the agnostic variety when it comes to this sort of thing. I can’t say for sure that Katrina or this latest tsunami was divine punishment for sin because I wasn’t the one in charge of those cities/countries. Didn’t the prophets almost always speak directly to those in charge about impending doom? Nebuchadnezzar was warned personally. As was Belteshazzar. It makes me wonder who warned Saddam.

    There were other prophets (like Jonah) who just wandered the streets crying “doom and gloom unless you repent” but nowadays, even Christians make fun of (and completely disregard) those people. I’m not saying it definitely _was_ the case that these are instances of divine punishment….but I _am_ saying that I think it was possible that we just don’t know who the prophets were that warned the people and/or their leaders in those locations.

    But I absolutely agree that without prophetical warnings sent repeatedly over the course of years to those cities/countries, that these “acts of God” are simply the course of natural history.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  5. I am fully on board with you here. I think around the time I started accepting evolution I started accepting a God who doesn’t interfere with the physical universe all that often, but instead does most of his work spiritually.
    David N. recently posted..An American geeks Childhood- No 21

  6. Good thoughts here, Matt! I say the same all the time; it’s especially galling to me when the “prophets” prophesy after the fact that this was God’s judgment instead of beforehand. Thanks for a good reminder.
    John C recently posted..Which Angle

  7. Sigh. I guess having friends there and people I care about means I’m not very theological. I’m praying for my friends to be able to go home and that their home will be a place they CAN return to. Praying the father doesn’t lose his teaching job if everyone leaves. Praying for their autistic child who had to move suddenly with only a few days’ clothes.

    I remember how Jesus told folks it wasn’t the man’s fault or his parents that he was blind, but that the works of God would be revealed. I don’t understand this at all or how good can come of it, ever. It makes you cry though to read that some of the Christians out that way are encouraging one another with Isaiah 55. :(
    Happy Elf Mom recently posted..Please LISTEN

  8. Totally with you on this, Matt. I wonder if the people who make such sweeping “it’s your fault” pronouncements do so out of their own insecurity/pride/self-righteousness. If it’s your fault because of what you’ve done, that I don’t have to worry about that happening to me…because I don’t do stuff like that. I’m not as sinful as you.

    I’ve never been to Norfolk but find it supremely interesting that Pat’s church hasn’t had a greater effect on the area. Though given his typical message, it’s not surprising that he would limit God to the walls of his church.
    HopefulLeigh recently posted..In Search of Content

  9. Stuff like that makes my stomach church. I do not believe that God still does that. Not as punishment. If He did, I’m pretty sure America wouldn’t be here…
    bman recently posted..Composer Of The Stars

  10. Matt – I am offended by this post. First off, Norfolk is a beautiful city with many beautiful people (just stay away from Berkley and South Norfolk and that area on the north side of town). Secondly, you mentioned his name (the name we’d rather not mention). Locals just call him The Snake. The Snake stays in his compound and has little effect on the native population. He tends to affect/infect/effect nominal christians on a more national basis. That’s all. Please refer to him as The Snake from now on (I’m pretty sure you need to capitalize both The and Snake.)

    • I apologize for misrepresenting the one you refer to as The Snake, although I find that name humorously ironic. I am sure that there are good parts of Norfolk, just like there a good parts of Detroit. I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic, because you named three parts of town that should be avoided! Overall, my impression of the town was one of poverty and disrepair, and I would’ve thought a major Christian organization would be making a bigger impact than what it seems to be doing.

      • Matt – Yes that was entirely tongue-in-cheek. Norfolk does have some nice areas, Ghent to name one, but overall their is a lot of low-income housing in that area. Had you traveled to the Snake’s compound you would see a very different story. The area around it is higher class and his estate is very large. Typically Virginia Beach is a much nicer town overall than Norfolk, part of that has to do with the Navy base and where people settled when originally populating that area. Anyway, the Snake doesn’t give a lot of money locally, even though I think he does quite a bit overseas with Operation Rescue. I think early on in his career (prior to the failed presidential campaign) he was a different person.

        Detroit, btw, is a lot worse off that Norfolk. Detroit in many sections is simply abandoned. Norfolk is just poor. It creates two different types of problems. I do know that people in Detroit are tearing down abandoned neighborhoods and starting urban farms, which I think is a pretty cool way to restore a tattered area.

  11. I’d like to make a new reality show. Fight Club vs. the 700 club!

    I don’t think it’s God punishing. I think he made it earth and put it on auto pilot. So, what happens, just happens. It’s not him who’s making earthquakes. And it wasn’t him who made Katrina happen. I mean you build a city below sea level, you think we’d be smart enough to know what could happen. That’s not God, that’s us.

    And now with the market, some of my friends are looking for jobs and they use the God card a lot. “I’ll just work where God wants me to or he’ll provide.” Ugh, I just want to say to them, “God will provide for you if you get in gear and look! You won’t find a job sitting behind the computer 40 hours a week looking for a job.”

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..272 Pseudo guest post by Jesus Needs New PR

  12. My problem with characterizing something as “inevitable” is that it makes events sound like they are in some area out of God’s control, but instead under the jurisdiction of “fate,” whatever that is. When faced with a tragedy, we have to ask ourselves- Could God have stopped this? As far as I know, he probably could have, unless to do so would have violated an aspect of his divine nature.

    The next question is, why didn’t He? This is where we enter dangerous territory because we start ascribing motives to God. Anger? Punishment? Apathy? Maybe, just maybe, it was love?

    If you want to talk inevitability, though, we did cause this. When Adam and Eve fell, they not only cursed themselves, but they cursed all of creation. Now, creation groans as it waits for the sons of God to be revealed, to be renewed just like we will be. It groans and has been waiting for a long, long time (even if you’re a young earth-er!) It’s been waiting so long that pressure continues to build on tectonic plates that press up against each other, slide over each other and break.

    When tragedies happen, it reminds us of the ugliness of sin. All the destruction and death and sickness- our sin is much more worse than that. It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder to mortify the sin in our lives before it kills us. It’s a reminder to reach out to others who are hurting and are in need. It’s a reminder to eagerly wait for the day when the sons of God will be revealed.
    Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Witch Hunters and Gate Stormers

  13. Good article, Matt! I hate having people use the “God’s judgement” because it is the height of arrogance to pretend to know God’s thoughts.

    What I wonder is if through these natural disasters, God is providing an opportunity for His glory to be revealed and for His Spirit to enter into a country that is temporarily spiritually closed. My basis for these is the passage in the gospels where Jesus heals a man born blind at birth. His disciples believe that the guy was being punished for either his sin or his parent’s sin, but Jesus says that it is for God’s glory that the man was born blind. Also, in Daniel, during one of his visions, an angel says that he was prevented from coming by some demon.

    After saying all that, I will freely admit that I don’t know why this is happening because God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Maybe we will be told all the ‘whys’ when we get to heaven and maybe, by that time, we won’t care.

    Have a great weekend!
    tandemingtroll recently posted..My Week- Randomly

  14. Wow. Yeah. Never thought of the abusive father thing before. Excellent point.

    And I mean, really, that traces it all the way back to whether or not you believe God to be a punitive parent. I had to come to a place about five years ago where I decided I *had* to believe that on the Cross, Christ bore the punishment for all men, for all time. (Obviously, I’m no Calvinist.)

    Otherwise I just can’t make sense of the work of the Cross. You know?

    I don’t believe God is punitive. I STRONGLY believe He allows all of us to experience the natural consequences of our choices, which at times *feel* like He is punishing us. And certainly there are times when life brings us the consequences of other people’s choices. The only way I can wrap my mind around when that happens is to believe that God will redeem ALL things.

    We live on a planet aching and groaning toward redemption. Natural disasters are part of life on this planet, a planet waiting for the Creator to make all things right. In the meantime, He is wholly able to redeem the evil that befalls us. I certainly cannot explain how, but I believe He can and He is and He will.

    So that’s where I am.
    Megan at SortaCrunchy recently posted..Its just unicorns and rainbows and Care Bears- all the time

  15. I live in the middle of Oregon in very volcanic area. If anything were to ever happen, truly there is no need to ask why to God. I can look at the lava fields 8 miles from my house and understand. God didn’t put people in this town, we did. The lava came first, not us.

    And that point about Pat Robertson’s city is about the best thing you’ve written (to me) in a year. So awesome (not the poverty part of course).

  16. “How could a good God allow [King of Queens] to happen?”

    Because Leah Rimini was hot. Duh. 😉

    As to your question, I absolutely believe that God can punish countries with natural disasters. If I believe that God can do anything, I have to believe that He can bring retribution against a nation for rebelling against His word. Is that what happened in Japan? I highly doubt it. But I can’t say for sure it’s not.
    Jason recently posted..Day 76- The door closes

  17. Not only is mankind broken because of sin, the whole of creation is, also.

    That is why we have natural disasters.

    According to the Good Book.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Last night’s class

  18. I am very near a deist. The difference, for me, is that i believe God sent Jesus to provide our bridge to him. And i believe he sent the Holy Spirit for comfort, strength, and to connect us to him. But beyond that i haven’t much faith in God doing . . . whatever. I believe we end up with a lot of natural consequences, and then ask God, “Why?”

    I have struggled with the whys of this world. Why do some people, unable to provide financially or emotionally for children have them while others, deeply desiring and able to care for children do not? Why do some people suffer so and find no relief? Why do people do evil things and seem to get away with them? Why do corrupt governments and corporations rise and flourish? These are not new questions. They have been asked since the beginning.

    For me the answer is: Because this is NOT heaven.

    The culture of the United States in particular and the prosperity gospel often preached more than implies that we should have all good things here. But we see in many cases that this is not so. Why?

    Because this is NOT heaven.

    For me right now, this is enough. I have the hope of heaven, but it is not promised to me here.
    Kathryn recently posted..Paying for it

  19. so appreciate your thoughts on all this, matt. i grew up in a household (and church) that blamed everything on either God or the devil. there was no ownership of personal responsibility or natural consequences. at all. i’m so over it.

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  21. Galatians 3:2-5… Somewhat relevant!

  22. Hello Matt,
    Fallen world (creation is waiting to be redeemed, too), free will (we make stupid, sinful choices). Natural Disasters, death, sickness, job loss…all a part of life. Thank God there’s beauty, love, family, friends, pizza and chocolate or there’d be no good reason to stick around here.

    Have a Happy Day!
    Lazy Silly Girl
    http://www.lazysillygirl.com

  23. Favorite line: “I would’ve thought that the city would be exceptionally blessed after decades of Pat Robertson’s divine presence, but no such luck.”

    Thanks.

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