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Old Testament Prophecy and Tornadoes

March 9, 2009

689173045_ec8ca17344In the previous post, I argued that because Jesus explicitly affirmed that two horrible disasters (one moral and one natural) were not the result of God judging people because they “were worse sinners,” we can believe that tornadoes that wipe out one house and leave another are also not the judgment of God on a particular house for their sin.  Consequently, I argued that since tornadoes (as a smaller disaster) are not God’s judgment, so then neither are things like Katrina or the tsunami that ravished South East Asia.

However, there are a number of Old Testament passages that indicate that at times God did use disasters (natural and military) to judge Israel and other sinning nations.  For example, God did bring fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18), God did bring plagues on the Egyptians (Exodus 7-12), God did send swarms of locusts to devour Israel’s crops (Joel), and God did, at various times, subject Israel to military defeat (the context of the previous post’s verses).  So, we do know that at different times in history, God has judged people with disaster.

So the question is:  how does one reconcile these disasters with the words of Jesus above?  While blogs are not the place for intricate theological essays, I will briefly argue that the answer is to be found in three (main) considerations:

  1. The nature of the natural disasters in the Old Testament;
  2. The necessity of a prophet to announce a coming judgment;
  3. And, the progressive nature of God’s dealings with men, where God’s judgments in the Old Testament are temporary measures to reach his culminating and decisive judgment on sin:  the cross.

As one surveys the use of natural disasters by God to judge men in the Old Testament, it becomes evident that they are of a far different nature than any modern disaster.  When God used nature to judge people, they turn out not to be so “natural” after all-but supernatural.  In other words, God didn’t want people to be in the dark about his use of nature in a particular judgment!  Think about it.  God judges the world with a world wide flood.  When God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, he consumed the cities with fire “from heaven.”  When God judged Egypt, he did things like:  turn water into blood, fill the city with frogs and then let Pharaoh determine when he wanted the judgment to end(!), or parting an entire sea.  In fact, the only disaster that I can recall God using that is even remotely natural is when Joel prophesies that God will unleash locusts to devour all of Israel’s crops.  However, Joel then proceeds to prophecy that God will supernaturally heal their land if Israel repents (See the Book of Joel).  In virtually every case of a so-called “natural” disaster, there is a clearly super-natural slant to it that makes it obvious that God did it.  This is not the case with modern disasters, because it’s not clear that God has done it or why (!) he would do it.  These judgments were given by God for specific grievances that God felt compelled to deal with.  With modern disasters, the best we can assume is that general sin is being dealt with.  This leads to the next consideration.

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According to Amos 3:7, “Indeed, the Lord does nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets” [emphasis mine].  Before God ever did anything (concerning widespread judgment) in this period of history, he made sure that people heard about it beforehand and had the opportunity to respond in repentance.  Because judgments were the result of prolonged sin, God would announce what his “counsel” was to His prophets.  In fact, that’s the context of the declaration that God causes disaster in a city in Amos 3:6.  God is basically telling Israel, “I want you to know that I’m judging you for your sin.  That’s why I’m revealing all this to you through my prophets.” This was to provoke repentance so that he didn’t have to carry it out!

Regardless of the reasons why this type of prophecy does not happen today, it is safe to say, that these type of Old Testament prophets do not operate currently.  We do not have people who have heard, directly from the Lord, judgments (as natural disasters and invading armies) that God will bring about and then proclaim it to initiate repentance.  Therefore, it is safe to assume that God is not sending these natural disasters to “judge” New Orleans, East Asia, and South Georgia (the place where the tornadoes hit).  If it were God, certainly he would send a prophetic voice to warn the people in order to give them the opportunity to repent!  That’s called mercy; it’s central to the acts of God.  Therefore, because a prophetic voice is necessary, I would argue that this type of judgment has passed, and it is no longer viable to (or ever was) say that every natural disaster is from the hand of God as judgment.  In fact, my third consideration explains (in my opinion!) why these types of prophecies and judgment no longer happen.

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I believe a final consideration in explaining why we need not appeal to God as the source of natural disasters for judgment lies in the fact that God has definitively judged humanity at the cross of Jesus Christ.  As my friend says of judgment:  “judgment merely means ‘to render a decision.'”  When Christ endured the cross, God “rendered” that sin had been dealt with through the victory of the cross.  What is this judgment?  It’s that the display of love and reconciliation of the cross, the victory over principalities and powers, and the substitution of the innocent life of Christ for our sinfulness has overcome all sin.  Christ has already won!  The only thing that remains is for God to institute this judgment fully at Christ’s return.  There is therefore no need to assume that God is unleashing plagues and natural disasters to judge a sinful world-it has already been dealt with.

This, to me, helps explain the severity of God (at times) in the Old Testament.  While this is not the only reason by any means, I believe that God’s judgments in the Old Testament were partially a type of damage control to usher in the Messiah so that he could definitively deal with sin in the way that he did.  God was “hammering”  into his people, as C.S. Lewis says,  what kind of God He was (Holy!), but I might also add, using severity to restrain evil and wickedness from its full destructive force so that His solution could happen–the cross.

A great deal more could be said about the above considerations, and I’m not so naïve as to think that this fully explores the topic.  However, based on what I’ve said above, I believe that it’s unwise to go beyond what Jesus said, and claim that natural disasters are God’s judgment.  Unless you’re a prophet who will announce it before hand, you should humbly point all people (like Jesus) to the brevity of life and the need of all (you, me, and everyone else) to repent, or we “too will likewise perish”.

Oh yeah…I need to explain those verses.  How about a third post? 🙂

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Layman permalink
    March 10, 2009 2:28

    Interesting points on prophecy. All I need is one biblical counterexample to your point that prophecy is a necessary condition of supernatural judgment, and I could leave your post in ruins. As is it, I can’t think of one, and I think you handled this problem wonderfully. In fact, I think this is the strongest biblical argument a person could use. Kudos.

  2. jonathangroover permalink*
    March 10, 2009 5:51

    Thanks Aaron 🙂 Your “post in ruins” scared me as I thought…uh oh…have I thought this through? But I think it’s true. Even before the judgment of the flood, Noah was a “preacher of righteousness” who is thought to have warned people of the flood for years before it happened.

    Now, go write a post!! 🙂

  3. March 12, 2009 1:53

    I love this one.. every aspect esp the last 2-3 paragraphs. I’d say it’s intense (for me) but I’m digging into God’s word to discover and to know him more. And I’d say that feelings go away (as we discussed before) so knowing about God is crucially important for the living of my life (our lives) People keep avoiding it ( I was one of them) I once wondered why you guys got so into the theology. Now, I think we should all be consumed with theology in order to know love and obey God..hmm, each person must make a choice and God has provided the only way-the cross.
    Thank you for everything!

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 14, 2009 5:44

      Theology can be a wonderful thing when it leads you to know more of God’s heart. I’m glad you’re reading!

  4. Tracey Groover permalink
    March 12, 2009 10:21

    Hey,
    Keep writing…this is good stuff! For what it’s worth I’ve never believed that God uses natural disasters to judge, I mean how would he choose where to judge? Would he get up in the morning and throw a dart at the map and say,”Oh, it’s Thomasville’s turn today.” I mean sin is sin and it’s everywhere. Just a thought!
    Love,
    MOM

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 14, 2009 5:46

      That’s a good analogy mom! Thanks.

  5. Matt permalink
    March 30, 2009 6:31

    Good thought provoking stuff…talk to you more about it tonight 🙂

  6. Mikey permalink
    March 20, 2010 10:18

    Hi I cannot totally agree with you, to say that God will not any longer use nature to judge a nation is to put Him in a box. God is coverings we cannot determine what He can or cannot do. The truth is there are persons who in recent times who have prophesied disaster before they happen both relating to nature or otherwise, it’s just that most persons today do not wish to believe that God still act in these ways so they totally ignore or refute any such predictions.
    There is no place where God said He had stopped doing so except that He would not use a flood to judge the whole would again.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      March 22, 2010 5:14

      Hey Mikey,

      Thanks for stopping by and feel free to comment anytime. I have a few questions for you to consider concerning your understanding of prophecy.

      1. You posted a video that is supposedly a prophecy of about Hurricane Katrina from a guy in Africa. My question is, how were the people of New Orleans supposed to hear this prophetic word so that they could flee the city, or repent and avert disaster? It’s not like this preacher is well known (I haven’t heard of him). So you would think that if God was sending this disaster as judgment, the least he could have done is raise up a prophet in New Orleans! At least then the people would have actually gotten to hear the message.

      2. If God still sends natural disasters as judgments today, then why don’t we have more warning before they come. In the Old Testament, God would give people plenty of time to repent before he brought disaster. Certainly if God were sending disasters, He would raise up people to tell us way in advance so that the chance for repentance could happen! This doesn’t seem to be the case with natural disaster though. They seem pretty sudden and natural unlike the very supernaturaldisasters of the Old Testament.

      3. In your understanding of God judging people with natural disasters, where does Jesus and His death on the cross fit in? Didn’t God condemn sin on the cross??

  7. Mikey permalink
    March 20, 2010 10:50

    Me again, follow this link it will take you to a prophecy about Kathrinathat was given just over a month before it hit, all the way from Africa. http://mystagogue.org/prophecy/hurricane-katrina-prophecy-prophet-dr-owuor#
    Believe it or not, your choice. Yes God is a God of love, slow to anger plenty in mercy, it never said He doesn’t get angry. He is not only a God of love but of righteousness and Justice where there is justice there must be judgment.

  8. cwm permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:04

    I am not a church goer however I do believe in heaven and hell god the son and the holy spirit as well as the devil I was raised by my grandma and grandpa, they raised me by the old testimate and I was brought up to the age of 13 as a penticostal holly rollers or how ever you want to call our religion, but I remeber my gma reading me the bible it never says when where or how the world ends its going to be like a theif in the night, as far as natural disasters my fiancee daughter and myself surviors of the may 22nd tornado in joplin missouri I believe that the natural disasters may be our warning from god, seriously think bout it no calendar after 2012 last time planets alliened like this dinosaurs came extinct.not disrespecting anybodies religion or beliefs just putting a input of my opinion.

  9. cwm permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:21

    how ever I read the bible and say prayers with my daughter every night but there’s alot of things in the bible yet we havent seen the false prophet as well as others but the bible dosent tell us is where it happens people try to predict this and that and I believe god is trying to tell us to stop cause if we are doing it then we ourselves are being false prophets the reason why I wont go to church is it is all about money pay this or that to go to heaven I dont believe that I believe to repent is the way but not with money money for the preachers forgiveness not gods get baptized and repent and believe in his word no matter your religion.my grandma tells me theese natural disasters and people just dropping and dieing from nothing out of no where is called signs of the times.

  10. cwm permalink
    February 27, 2012 4:28

    if we dont believe and have faith,hope, love, respect what do we have?

  11. May 29, 2012 12:49

    A lot of what you say makes sense. I don’t believe in modern day prophets myself and would steer clear away from someone who claimed to be one. You are correct, although I never thought about it before, that every judgment was prophesied. Now, we are told that disasters will get worse as we get closer to Jesus’ return. Is that prophesying judgement, or merely giving us a reference point to know it’s getting closer? Could it be a broad spectrum warning that these judgements would happen more and more towards the end times? I’m not arguing, but honestly asking. I’ve always wondered how we are to interpret that. Also, I believe Jesus’ death on the cross was payment for sins of those who CHOOSE to accept Him as Lord and Savior, not as a general purpose forgiveness of sin. People have to receive Him as Lord or their sins will not be forgiven. So, I’m not sure that’s why judgement wasn’t seen in the New Testament as it is in the Old, or not. That does give me something else to wonder about, though.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      May 29, 2012 7:42

      Angie,

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate your thoughts! I’m with you concerning the rise natural disasters. It does seem as though there are historically more natural disasters now than ever before. Of course, now that we have media and technology we can keep up with disasters more than we ever have too. 🙂 But, I believe the earth is wearing out and this is part of Christ’s prediction–that the would “groan” (as Paul says) as it awaits for God’s redemption.

      As for Christ’s death being payment for all or just for those who choose, I understand the New Testament to teach that Christ died “for the sins of the whole world” (I John). Thus, payment has been made for all people–yet, all people are not reconciled to God–hence Paul urging believers to be ambassadors of reconciliation. If it is the case that Christ has indeed made atonement for the entire world, then I would suggest that God is not bring judgment in the manner in which He did in the Old Testament. Anyway, that’s how I see it.

      • Angie permalink
        May 29, 2012 9:28

        Ok, that makes sense. It sounded like you were saying that it’s not man’s choice to ask forgiveness, repent and accept salvation, so I wanted to make sure I understood you correctly. Thanks so much!

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