When Disaster Strikes

Tornado Damage

Whenever a disaster occurs – whether it is a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or some tragic accident – people often wonder if God was somehow involved. If so, they wonder if the event was an execution of divine judgment against the victims or the greater nation/society as a whole.

Questions like these are nothing new. Jesus commented on this concept when He discussed a couple of tragedies with which His audience was familiar.

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’” (Luke 13:1-5).

It is important that we know why these things happen. As Jesus made clear, we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation. Yet even when an event occurs without direct, divine involvement, there are still lessons we can learn from these disasters.

Why These Things Happen

There are at least four possible reasons why a disaster would occur:

Divine Act of Judgment – The Bible contains many examples of God taking direct action in judgment against a people and punishing them for their evil deeds. We can look to the examples of the flood in Noah’s day, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the ten plagues in Egypt, the captivities of both Israel and Judah, and many more. One important point to notice that these all had in common is that these judgments were announced by God beforehand.

  • Before sending the flood, God announced to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:13).
  • Prior to the destruction of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” So He told him, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:17-21). It is clear from Abraham’s response that he understood the Lord’s intention was to destroy the cities (Genesis 18:22-33).
  • When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, He told him, “But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I will do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go” (Exodus 3:19-20).
  • Before the Israelite captivity in Assyria, Hosea prophesied of this event: “Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights. For they have gone up to Assyria, like a wild donkey all alone… now I will gather them up; and they will begin to diminish…” (Hosea 8:8-10).
  • Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah revealed this prophecy to Judah: “‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them… This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years’” (Jeremiah 25:8-11).

In every case, God clearly indicated what He was going to do. We can see this pattern with other examples of divine judgment as well – judgment against various nations (Amos 1-2), the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1), and the overthrow of the Roman empire (Daniel 2:44).

However, when we think about disasters that occur today, what prophecy could we turn to in order to show that God is actively bringing judgment against the ones involved? There is no such prophecy. Therefore, we should be wary to attribute such things to God. We have a divine obligation to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11, NKJV). This means we must speak according to what has been revealed, not according to our own speculation and imagination.

Besides the fact that God has revealed, or is revealing, nothing about direct, divine judgments against peoples and nations today, there is another reason why we should be hesitant to assume He is acting in this way – we live in a different time in God’s scheme of redemption. God certainly used and judged nations in the Bible, but it was all pointing to one thing: Christ – His arrival, His sacrifice, His resurrection, and His ascension to His throne to rule over His kingdom. Paul said God’s “eternal purpose” was “carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11). All of God’s actions in the Bible point to this. Regardless of whether the United States stands or falls or the nation is righteous or wicked, Christ still fulfilled His mission, is seated on His throne, and will return again one day. Rome was the last empire/nation in divine prophecy (Daniel 2:44). Now the focus is not upon nations, but upon individuals from the nations becoming part of God’s kingdom (Isaiah 2:2; Acts 10:34-35).

Even during the time when God was planning to overthrow Rome, Jesus said that these events were not always indicative of God’s punishment (Luke 13:1-5). If they were to be hesitant to attribute such actions to God, we must certainly heed this warning as we are now living in a different time in relation to God’s involvement within the kingdoms of men.

But if God was not the one who orchestrated these events as acts of divine judgment, what is their cause? There are a few other possibilities.

Actions of Evil Men – There will always be wicked people in the world who cause suffering for others. Because of this perpetual reality, God ordained civil government with the mission to be “an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4). Unfortunately though, history shows us that it is sometimes the government that is the evil force behind persecution (Revelation 17:5-6). In fact, the example that Jesus used first was of the evil actions of Pilate, a Roman governor. Sometimes tragedies happen because evil people seek to do harm to innocent victims.

This was the primary reason for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. God was not using these men to execute judgment against the United States for various sins. Rather, there was a group of evil men who, in the name of Islam, carried out a carefully planned attack that killed thousands of people. To paraphrase Jesus’ words: Do you suppose that those three thousand on whom the twin towers fell were worse culprits than others? I tell you, no. Those people did not die in those attacks as a punishment for some sin, but they died as victims of the actions of evil men.

Matters of Happenstance – Another reason why people fall victim to various disasters is simply the matter of time and chance. The wise man wrote, “I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). People often want to believe that all things happen for a reason. The Scriptures teach us that this simply is not the case. Some things just happen. We sometimes find ourselves as victims of bad luck, coincidence, and happenstance.

Consequences of Foolish Behavior – Sin, foolishness, and irresponsibility all have consequences. Tragedies often occur that cannot be attributed to natural disasters or acts of evil individuals. Instead, negligence or irresponsibility can lead to tragedy – a construction crew may do a poor job of building a structure and it later collapse, a driver may not be paying attention and strike another driver or a pedestrian, a worker may be negligent in necessary safety precautions on the job and cause an accident that injures or kills a co-worker. These are just a few examples. We must not jump to the conclusion that God somehow caused these things to happen in order to teach us a lesson (though there are some lessons in these events). Instead, we must acknowledge the reality that sometimes tragedies occur because of someone’s foolish behavior.

What These Events Teach Us

Even if these events are caused by something other than God’s direct action, there are still some important lessons for us to learn from them:

Life Is Uncertain – James reminded his readers of the uncertainty of life: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:13-14). Therefore, since life is uncertain, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

Obedience to God Is a Priority – Jesus used the examples of the deaths of the Galileans at the hands of Pilate and the victims of the collapse of the tower in Siloam to emphasize the importance of repentance: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). Repentance means we turn from disobedience to obedience. A lot of people today try to downplay the importance of obedience. Yet the Bible teaches that obedience is not an option. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The Hebrew writer points out that Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).

God Will Ultimately Judge Us – When Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5), He implied that all unrepentant sinners will suffer the same ultimate fate (cf. Romans 6:23). It does not matter if one dies in a tower collapse or dies of old age. If he refuses to meet God’s conditions for forgiveness, he will be lost. Therefore, we must prepare now for the divine judgment that will happen in the last day. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Conclusion

When disaster strikes, rather than speculate about God’s involvement, let us learn the lessons that we can take from these tragedies. Life is short and we must always be prepared to meet the Lord in judgment. Therefore, let us serve Him in faithful obedience. Then, regardless of when or how we might pass from this life, we can look forward to the eternal reward in heaven.


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Comments

  1. Very good. Incidentally, both Eccl. 9:12 and Luke 13:1-2 speak of man-caused disasters, whereas Luke 13:3-4 speaks of a naturally occurring disaster. The poor Galileans of Luke 13 were at the wrong place at the wrong time, thus falling prey to Pilate’s cruelties. The 18 on whom the tower fell were in a similar situation, but because of the effect of either structural fatigue or harsh weather.

    One thing is certain, Jesus’ answer in bother verses 3 & 5 PROVES that their fates were not the result of direct divine judgment, for divine judgment comes equally upon all sinners.

  2. Andy, I met your wife last night at the parenting group in Bowling Green, and she pointed me to your website. Great looking site with edifying content! Very good! I too am a young early 30s preacher.

    This post on “why bad things happen” particularly caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit recently. Bad things, which I call “calamity,” is everywhere we look. Forgive me for the long comment, but I thought I’d throw it all out there.

    It’s important to note two types of calamity as we try to answer the “why” question.

    THE FIRST TYPE OF CALAMITY is what we might call “natural calamity” because this type has “nature” as its immediate cause. Some examples would be tragedy brought on by the following: tornados, cancer, earthquakes, heart attacks, droughts, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, being attacked by an animal, back injuries, and miscarriages. This type also includes what we would call accidental causes such as car accidents or falling off of a cliff, which are immediately brought on by the physical laws of nature. You pointed to this type in your “Matters of Happenstance” and “Consequences of Foolish Behavior” categories.

    THE SECOND TYPE OF CALAMITY is what we might call “moral calamity” because this type has human sin as its immediate cause. Some examples would be tragedy brought on by the following: adultery, murder, theft, abortion, and slander. You pointed to this type in your “Actions of Evil Men” category. Your final category, “Divine Act of Judgment,” would have both moral and natural calamity in it, depending on how God chose to bring about the divine act of judgment.

    It’s important to say that both types are a result of the Fall of Adam and Eve. When sin entered the world, calamity of both types entered with it. These things did not happen in the Garden of Eden before the Fall and will not be found after Christ comes back in the age to come.

    So, when we come to answering the “why” question, we basically have three options on the “why” question from a theistic viewpoint.

    OPTION 1 – CALAMITY EXISTS BECAUSE GOD CAN’T STOP IT. It’s in no way a part of God’s plan. He never meant for suffering and evil to be, but due to His inability, it’s simply out of His control. He really wants it to stop, but there’s nothing He can do about it. The world has sort of become a Frankenstein’s monster, and the only way to stop the consequences of God’s creation is to destroy it, if He can.

    OPTION 2 – CALAMITY EXISTS BECAUSE GOD HAS CHOSE TO GIVE HUMANITY LIBERTARIAN FREEDOM, WHICH THEY’VE MISUSED. Again with this option, calamity is in no way a part of God’s plan. It’s out of His control by choice. God would have the world exist otherwise, but He’s relinquished control, and humans have taken it a different direction. From this viewpoint, God values our libertarian freedom more than His sovereignty and our comfort. It seems to me that your “Acts of Evil Men,” “Matters of Happenstance,” and “Consequences of Foolish Behavior” categories and explanations fall under this option.

    The first two options have this commonality: God never intended for calamity to exist. It wasn’t part of His plan. Of course, there is a difference between the two options.

    Option 1 is blatantly unbiblical because it says that there are things in the universe that God cannot control even if He wants to. This option flies squarely in the face of Scripture and offers us no hope. The Bible promises that God will triumph over evil, but if He was unable to stop it in the beginning, He’ll likely be unable to stop it in the end. This option’s basic answer is, “Sorry, stuff happens. Just deal with it.” You see, you can only assure that which you control. As we’ll see in a moment, option 1 is out of the question in light of Scripture.

    Option 2 is espoused by many people, but I believe it also falls short of the totality of scriptural teaching. From this viewpoint, God has no purpose for the existence of calamity other than maintaining libertarian human freedom. This option just doesn’t fully square with all the purposes revealed in Scripture. Furthermore, this option is very man-centered, which the Bible is not, and again, offers us little hope in the middle of calamity. God is posited as the “cosmic mess-cleaner-upper” who’s always trying to work our foul-ups for good. This option basically says, “Sorry, stuff happens, but God wants to make it better.” Many thoroughgoing, Bible-believing Christians land on this option. Therefore, I want to tread lightly here, but as we’ll see in a moment, option 2 is not the best answer in light of Scripture.

    Let me share what I believe is the best biblical answer.

    OPTION 3 – CALAMITY EXISTS BECAUSE GOD DESIRES TO USE IT FOR HIS GLORY AND OUR GOOD. From this viewpoint, calamity is part of God’s plan. He meant for suffering and evil to be because He values His greater glory and our greater good more than our comfort. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying that God is evil or loves evil or does evil or makes a person do evil. I’m saying that God, for greater purposes, chose to allow suffering and evil into His creation. Your “Divine Act of Judgment” category seems to fall under this option.

    The Scripture bears forth at least 5 specific purposes for why God desires to use calamity for His glory and our good.

    1) To glorify Himself forever in His Son Jesus Christ.
    God’s ultimate will is that He be gloried forever in His Son Jesus Christ. If we will get this one purpose, everything will come into focus. Revelation 13:8 is incredibly important here, All who dwell on the earth will worship [the beast], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. That verse basically says that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. The King James Version says it more clearly, And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship [the beast], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Either way you slice it, Jesus dying on the cross was God’s plan before He created the world, before the Fall. Jesus is not Plan B or the emergency plan that had to be implemented in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is and always has been Plan A. You see, God is both eternally love and wrath. We see both at the cross of Christ. Furthermore, redemption is more glorious than the perpetual Garden of Eden or consigning everybody to hell. If God had not allowed evil into the world, there would be neither the cross nor the glory of the cross.

    2) To accomplish His purposes.
    Proverbs 16:4 says, The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. We see this in the life of Joseph (Genesis 50:20), the life of Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21, Exodus 7:3, Romans 9:17), the life of Job (Job 1:21-22), and in the death of Christ (Acts 4:27-28).

    God never does evil or makes somebody do evil. Furthermore, we can never use the excuse of God’s will to do evil. God has clearly commanded in Scripture, which is the revealed will of God, to never sin. Nevertheless, we do see from Scripture that God sinlessly uses sinful acts of humanity to accomplish His good purposes.

    3) To deepen our dependence on and hunger for God.
    Why do you think the gospel spreads so much more rapidly in Third World countries? I think it’s because they don’t have all the junk that we have to pacify or satisfy them. Many Americans aren’t impressed with the rewards God puts before us because they’re pleased enough in this life, but that’s why events of suffering and loss through calamity are so important. They shake us out business as usual so that we’ll turn from temporal joy and be prepared for eternal joy. It’s in these moments that we realize that all we have is Christ, and Christ really is enough. God uses seasons of tragedy and loss to drive men to the cross of Christ for salvation and then to greater depths of dependence upon the Lord.

    The Scripture bears this out in Romans 5:1-5, 2 Corinthians 4:7, and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

    4) To make us into Christ’s likeness.
    Comfort and goodwill are nice, but there’s something that God desires so much more for our lives, namely that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. God does this in many ways, but one of the ways He does this is through calamity.

    Notice two of several passages that bear this truth: 1 Peter 4:12-13 and Romans 8:28-29.

    God loves us enough to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. Calamity is simply one of the tools in the Potter’s hand.

    5) To bring about judgment and discipline.
    For those that are not God’s children, judgment is brought about through calamity. We see in Genesis 13:13, Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord. This pagan city, along with Gomorrah, had become a bastion for evil. And so what did the Lord do? We read later on in Genesis 19:24-25, Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, 25 and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. The cities with their inhabitants were utterly destroyed by fire from heaven. This example is just one of many in the Bible where God uses calamity to judge those who refuse to worship Him.

    However, for those that are God’s children, calamity is used to discipline us. The following texts point this truth out: Jeremiah 19:15, Hebrews 12:7, and Revelation 3:19.

    IN SUMMARY, God governs the course of history so that, in the long run, His glory will be more fully displayed, His people will be more fully satisfied in Him, and His people will be more conformed to Christ than they would have been otherwise. Corrie ten Boom, a Jewish Christian Holocaust survivor, expresses this truth this way, “Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted, I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery there is a crown.” The fabric of our life is made up of many threads. Some of the individual threads are ugly and full of heartache while others are beautiful and full of gladness. However, when we step back and gaze upon the finished product, there is beauty and glory way beyond any individual thread. God is certainly working out a good plan!

    Perhaps I’ve put forth a different approach to the “why” question than you did. I fully believe that Scripture teaches that if calamity happens, God either actively brought it about or at least passively allowed it to happen and (here’s the most important part) has a purpose for it happening. This reality is good news. Whatever tragedy or tribulation that’s hit your life, God has a purpose in it. It’s not random. It’s not chance or fate. It’s God’s purpose.

    I’d love to dialogue about our viewpoints. Blessings!

  3. Ben, thanks for taking the time to provide that comment. There’s a lot in there, so let me try to respond as best I can.

    You listed three possibilities as to WHY calamities exist:
    #1 – Calamity exists because God can’t stop it.
    #2 – Calamity exists because God has chosen to give humanity libertarian freedom, which they’ve misused.
    #3 – Calamity exists because God desires to use it for His glory and our good.

    I agree that #1 is false. God is capable of doing anything that is in harmony with His nature.

    On #2, you said: “with this option, calamity is in no way a part of God’s plan.” This will depend on your definition of “God’s plan.” God created a world in which man has free will (Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 3:31), time and chance often dictate the course of events (Ecclesiastes 9:11), there are certain weather cycles (Acts 14:17) which will sometimes result in natural disasters, and, as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, we will not live forever (Psalm 90:10), hence we have sickness, disease, accidents, etc. Since God created a world in which these things exist, then actions of evil men, consequences for our own foolish or sinful behavior, random occurrences, and natural disasters would be a part of God’s plan, correct?

    In your option #3, you are basically outlining the GOOD that can result from calamity: (1) God might be glorified, (2) His purpose would be accomplished, (3) we deepen our dependence upon God, (4) we conform to Christ, and (5) judgment/discipline is carried out. But you seem to make an incorrect assumption: calamity can result for our good and in God being glorified ONLY IF God is somehow active behind the scenes manipulating events in order to bring about His purpose. (This is what I read into it anyway.)

    What is God’s purpose for our lives? Simply this: salvation. He did everything to make salvation possible for us: the Father made the plan, the Son offered the perfect sacrifice, the Holy Spirit revealed God’s will through the word, and He gave man free will so that we might choose to follow Him.

    I would partially combine your options 2 and 3. You acknowledge that calamity can exist because God “allowed it to happen.” The fact that He ALLOWS something, yet may not be actively involved, does not mean His purpose cannot be fulfilled.

    This is Jesus’ point in Luke 13:1-5. He warns us to not be quick to attribute some calamity to the work of God. Some things just happen. Sometimes we suffer at the hands of evil men. Other factors come into play as well. But Jesus teaches this: follow God faithfully and use the events around you, regardless of whether they have been caused by God or not, to remind you of your dependence upon Him, your responsibility before Him, and the hope we have in Him.

  4. FIRST, I want to take on your conclusion of Luke 13:1-5, which seems to have spawned your article. You said in your article and in your comment back to me that “As Jesus makes clear, we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation,” and “He [Jesus] warns us to not be quick to attribute some calamity to the work of God.”

    Is that the point of Luke 13:1-5? Is Jesus’ point that some calamity shouldn’t be attributed to the work of God? That’s not the point all. In fact, this Scripture doesn’t even speak to the ultimate cause of Pilate’s punishment of the Galileans or the falling of the tower. Would you agree that this Scripture doesn’t address this here? If you cannot agree, please show where or how it addresses this.

    Jesus here in Luke 13:1-5 is trying to help people see that calamity is not just punishment for the unrighteous. You see, the people Jesus was addressing held to a strong view of the retributive justice of God. In other words, they believed that calamity happened only to those that deserved punishment for sin and thought themselves to be more righteous than those killed. Jesus’ point is “You all deserve horrific death just like the Galileans and those on whom the tower fell because you are all unrighteous just like them and will indeed experience it unless you repent.” Would you agree that this is actually the point Jesus is making?

    SECOND, you stated in your comment that God’s purpose for our lives is simply salvation. God certainly desires for us to be saved, but His purpose is much more than that. God’s greatest purpose for us is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever (Psalm 16:5-11, 86, 144:15; Isaiah 12:2, 60:21; Matthew 22:37-38; Luke 2:10; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31; Philippians 4:4; Revelation 4:11, 21:3-4). Coming to Christ for salvation is one of the ways we glorify God by enjoying Him forever. If salvation was God’s only purpose for our lives, then He should cause us to drop dead or rapture us straight to Heaven just after we’re saved.

    THIRD, if you want to define God’s plan as simply creating a world with the potential of both natural and moral calamity, that is fine, but I’m afraid that viewpoint has more in common with Deism instead of Theism because it pictures God as setting up creation to do its thing and then standing aloof with no hand in the daily affairs of His creation, such that He is more of a watcher than an actor. Scripture instead reveals to us that God is intimately involved in every action, even the natural and seemingly random ones (Psalm 104:14, 135:6-7, 148:8; Proverbs 16:33; Matthew 5:45, 6:26, 10:29).

    “God’s plan” as I use it is His oversight of the day to day unfolding of history such that what happens happens because God has decreed it would happen, both things He actively makes happen and those things He passively allows to happen. Obviously, those things that He actively makes happen are done for a purpose, namely His glory and our good, but the same is true for those things God passively allows to happen also. You see, they only happen because God has given the green light to them. Therefore, even the things that are passively allowed are allowed for a purpose, again namely His glory and our good.

    As Ephesians 1:11 tells us, “[God] works all things after the counsel of His will.” “All” includes everything. Indeed, the entirety of Scripture, which is God’s self-revelation, describes Him as completely sovereign. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon rightly described the extent of God’s sovereignty in this way, “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

    We have a big, sovereign God who is good and in control of all things. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Again, God is working out a beautiful plan, and calamity exists because God desires to use it for His glory and our good.

  5. FIRST, you asked: “Is Jesus’ point that some calamity shouldn’t be attributed to the work of God?” Yes, that’s the point (or part of it at least). Regarding your next statement, “In fact, this Scripture doesn’t even speak to the ultimate cause of Pilate’s punishment of the Galileans or the falling of the tower,” I agree! This is my point. Jesus is not talking about the CAUSE of these things, but the lessons that we can learn when these types of events occur.

    Regarding punishment for sin, you said Jesus’ point was this: “You all deserve horrific death just like the Galileans and those on whom the tower fell because you are all unrighteous just like them and will indeed experience it unless you repent.” Punishment for sin is not fulfilled in physical death, but the “second death” (Revelation 20:14). Therefore, if a tower falls and kills an unrepentant sinner, and another unrepentant sinner dies of old age, Jesus says they will both suffer the same ultimate fate.

    SECOND, everything God has done has been to lead man to Him and ultimately to salvation in heaven. Are we to glorify God? Yes. Does God bless us in matters pertaining to this life? Yes. But the ultimate goal for us is salvation.

    THIRD, the terms “Deism” and “Theism” are not found in the Bible. Therefore, they mean only what man says they mean. I’m not interested in quibbling over such definitions. Labels only serve to distract from what the word of God says.

    Now, is it true that “God is intimately involved in every action, even the natural and seemingly random ones”? God is over all things, yes. But controlling every minute detail? You cited several Scriptures, most had to do with the natural world. Let’s just notice the first one and make an observation. “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man…” (Psalm 104:14). How does God cause the grass to grow? Through the natural processes He has created to allow this self-sustaining world to continue as it has from the beginning (Genesis 1:11-12). You’re reading too much into these passages.

    Regarding the Spurgeon quote: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes…” Charles Spurgeon is wrong here. The Scriptures do not teach that God has directly orchestrated every mundane, insignificant detail in life. What about the “time and chance” that the wise man talked about (Ecclesiastes 9:11)?

    Regarding Ephesians 1:11 – “…according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” In context, Paul is talking about SPIRITUAL blessings (Ephesians 1:3-14). Matters that pertain to this life (like dust particles) are not even under consideration here.

    And yes, “God causes all things to work together for good…” (Romans 8:28). But what is Paul talking about here? Dust particles, water droplets, insects, or other things that Spurgeon might suggest? Let Paul answer. The whole chapter is discussing SPIRITUAL matters and this verse is talking about our SPIRITUAL good. So what has God done for our spiritual good? Paul lists five things: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, glorification (Romans 8:29-30).

    Again, Jesus’ point in Luke 13:1-5 is that we learn from calamity, regardless of its cause. We should focus on the lessons from the Scriptures that these events help reinforce (such as the brevity and uncertainty of life), rather than speculate about what God might or might not be doing behind the scenes.

  6. Ben Simpson says

    Andy, thank you for the conversation. I want to say that I’m sorry for the abrupt tone with which I posted last time. I ask your forgiveness. I was in a hurry and after reading my comment on your site, should have softened my tone. By the way, I’m think that you’re using WordPress. Have you considered using the plug-in called “RefTagger”? You should check it out. It’s great!

    As for our ongoing conversation, here is a long quote from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Ch 16.B.4) that might be helpful to us:

    “For any of these foregoing events (rain and snow, grass growing, sun and stars, the feeding of animals, or casting of lots), we could (at least in theory) give a completely satisfactory “natural” explanation. A botanist can detail the factors that cause grass to grow, such as sun, moisture, temperature, nutrients in the soil, etc. Yet Scripture says that God causes the grass to grow [Psalm 104:14]. A meteorologist can give a complete explanation of factors that cause rain (humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, etc.), and can even produce rain in a weather laboratory. Yet Scripture says that God causes the rain [Psalm 135:7]. A physicist with accurate information on the force and direction a pair of dice was rolled could fully explain what caused the dice to give the result they did—yet Scripture says that God brings about the decision of the lot that is cast [Proverbs 16:33].

    “This shows us that it is incorrect for us to reason that if we know the “natural” cause of something in this world, then God did not cause it. Rather, if it rains we should thank him. If crops grow we should thank him. In all of these events, it is not as though the event was partly caused by God and partly by factors in the created world. If that were the case, then we would always be looking for some small feature of an event that we could not explain and attribute that (say 1 percent of the cause) to God. But surely this is not a correct view. Rather, these passages affirm that such events are entirely caused by God. Yet we know that (in another sense) they are entirely caused by factors in the creation as well.

    “The doctrine of concurrence affirms that God directs, and works through, the distinctive properties of each created thing, so that these things themselves bring about the results that we see. In this way it is possible to affirm that in one sense events are fully (100 percent) caused by God and fully (100 percent) caused by the creature as well. However, divine and creaturely causes work in different ways. The divine cause of each event works as an invisible, behind-the-scenes, directing cause and therefore could be called the “primary cause” that plans and initiates everything that happens. But the created thing brings about actions in ways consistent with the creature’s own properties, ways that can often be described by us or by professional scientists who carefully observe the processes. These creaturely factors and properties can therefore be called the “secondary” causes of everything that happens, even though they are the causes that are evident to us by observation.”

    Sorry for the long quote, but I thought it would be helpful to the conversation. Even “natural” processes such as grass growing and buildings falling are still attributed to God in Scripture. In fact, after a great wind caused a house to fall in on Job’s children, killing them all, he attributed the act to God, saying, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” (Job 1:21). Was Job wrong? By what I’m understanding you to say, Job should have said, “The natural process of reproduction gave and the natural process of weather has taken away.” That doesn’t have the same worshipful tone that Job had! ;o)

    Concerning Luke 13:1-5, I’m glad that we agree that this text doesn’t address the “why” question, but you did make a “why” conclusion from it when you said in your article, “It is important that we know why these things happen. As Jesus makes clear [in Luke 13:1-5], we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation. But even when an event occurs without direct, divine involvement…” If the text doesn’t address “why,” then we can’t make a “why” conclusion from it. Jesus never asserts that the tower falling didn’t have “direct, divine involvement.” For all we know, God Himself could have miraculously caused the tower to fall that day on those people, but even if it was attributed to a “natural” cause such as a faulty foundation, Scripture still attributes such things to God.

    From our perspective, life is certainly uncertain, as you point out in your article, using James 4:13-14 as support. However, while there’s uncertainty from our perspective, James points us to the certainty from God’s perspective by basically saying that everything is dependent upon the will of God: “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that,” (James 4:15). So, we could say from the Luke 13:1-5 context, “If the Lord wills, Pilate will slay the Galileans, and if the Lord wills, the tower will fall and kill those 18 people.”

    Concerning your statement, “Punishment for sin is not fulfilled in physical death, but the ‘second death,’”I agree completely. However, while physical death is not the complete fulfillment of the punishment for sin, it is nevertheless punishment for sin. Therefore, those on whom a tower falls suffer the same punishment for sin as the old man, namely physical death. As Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death,” both physical and spiritual death. Jesus in Luke 13:1-5 is talking about both physical and spiritual death.

    I’m just curious: what do you see as the major pastoral (as opposed to scriptural) problem of my position?

    Well, I suppose we could go round and round over this topic. It’s certainly one of the toughest ones we as pastors have to try to answer. I’m glad that you took it on, and pray that we have sharpened each other. I’m also praying that you’ll give God more credit. This is not only for His glory, but also for our good. It is beneficial to us to see that even in the darkest of events, God has a purpose for them and has decreed them to work for our ultimate good. Although we often have trouble knowing the specifics of what good He’s bringing from each event, we in faith go forward, standing on the Word of God as our reason for our hope that God’s working all things after the counsel of His will for our good.

  7. First of all, no need to apologize. I didn’t read any improper tone in your comment.

    Second, briefly, you said: “Concerning Luke 13:1-5, I’m glad that we agree that this text doesn’t address the “why” question, but you did make a “why” conclusion…” Yes, I did talk about “why” disasters happen. But I didn’t say “this text doesn’t address the “why” question.” I said: “Jesus is not talking about the CAUSE of these things…” The CAUSE of something and the reason WHY it happens are two different things.

    Natural processes exist. God created them. Paul stated this as evidence for the existence of God: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Through the natural world, we see the testimony of God’s power, wisdom, care, and insight. We can rightly say that God causes the grass to grow, rain to fall, children to be born, and so on, because God created the process by which these things are done. The issue is not giving God enough credit, it’s about properly attributing to Him what He has done and accurately describing His work.

    Uncertainty exists. We do not know what lies ahead in our future. But the fact that God is able to foresee what the future holds does not necessarily mean He is at work orchestrating every minute detail of life. He created a world with natural processes that work a certain way. He created man with the free will to choose his actions. And He created a world in which time and chance dictate certain events. This does not diminish His power. Nor does it attack His sovereignty. After all, everything that happens, even random events, He ALLOWS to happen. It is His will.

    As to your question: “what do you see as the major pastoral (as opposed to scriptural) problem of my position?” I don’t know what all is involved in your work as a pastor. I am simply a preacher. But I know you include preaching as part of your pastoring work, so I’ll just speak to this. The work of preaching is simply to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11 NKJV). We are under obligation to “accurately [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Therefore, we need to be able to explain the Scriptures accurately. So any misunderstanding we have of the Scriptures is naturally going to hinder us in our work of explaining the Scriptures. So I believe the two are inherently connected.

  8. Ben Simpson says

    Andy, thank you for the grace concerning my tone.

    As for our conversation, I frankly do not understand your distinction between “why” and “cause.” Merriam-Webster defines the noun “why” simply as: “reason, cause.” I’m afraid they are strictly synonymous, such that to agree that Luke 13:1-5 doesn’t even speak to the ultimate CAUSE of Pilate’s punishment of the Galileans or the falling of the tower is to agree that the same text doesn’t address the “WHY” question.

    But, let me run with your distinction. Luke 13:1-5 neither addresses the ultimate cause of these calamities nor the “why” question concerning these calamities. It simply tells us they happened. Therefore, we cannot make “why” or “cause” conclusions from this text. We cannot say based upon this text that “As Jesus makes clear [in Luke 13:1-5], we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation.” Jesus in no way even implies such a conclusion, and to make such a conclusion is to read preconceived notions into the text.

    So, was Job wrong? Should he have said in Job 1:21, as it seems you are advocating, “The natural process of reproduction gave and the natural process of weather has taken away,”?

    As for the pastoral problem of my position, you basically pointed to what you see as the scriptural problem of my position. I should have asked more clearly. By “pastoral,” I mean the life application portion of doctrine, the practical ramifications where the rubber meets the road. In addressing the pastoral problems of my position, you should assume my position is right and point to the practical problems it causes.

    As I understand your doctrinal position, you depict history as purposeless. A universe ruled only by randomness and chance, cause and effect, and natural processes, as you seem to believe, cannot have purpose. Purpose requires that history have a reason for happening as it has. The pastoral side of this doctrine is that it leads to hopelessness and despair. The basic life application of your doctrine is “Life is hard, and then you die. Deal with it, do the best you can to obey God, and just make sure you get into heaven!” That, my friend, is depressing!

    Andy, your congregation and your readers need encouragement. Even more so, God desires for you to encourage them, and one of the greatest ways to encourage them is to help them see that the Scripture teaches that God wills every detail for a reason, and “free” will is not the reason. Even seemingly random and certainly evil actions happen for God’s direct purposes. We don’t often see the direct purpose, but by faith, we know God is working good even through those events. When you help them understand this truth, then they can face worst case scenarios with hope and joy.

    I’m afraid your current position doesn’t offer the opportunity for hope and joy in the midst of calamity because your position points to purposelessness. A purposeless view of history isn’t found in the Bible. Obviously, I’m not advocating the preaching of whatever is encouraging. Preach what the Bible preaches, but what I’m saying is that I believe you are missing out on a wealth of encouragement taught in the Bible for people who are in the midst of calamity.

    Calamity exists because God desires to use it for His glory and our good. Now there’s reason to be encouraged and filled with hope and joy!

    Andy, thank you for the conversation. May God bless your family, ministry, and your writing!

  9. You took issue with my statement, “As Jesus makes clear, we should not be quick to attribute these things to God’s direct operation.” Yet you spoke earlier about what God “passively allows to happen.” From that statement, it would seem that you agree with my point that not all things can be attributed to “God’s direct operation.” Which is it? Does God CAUSE all things that happen, or does He simply ALLOW them?

    The Scriptures teach that God instituted natural processes that sustain life, that time and chance exist, and that man has free will to live as he pleases (even if that choice is to do evil to others). Am I wrong to acknowledge that these things exist? I do not deny that God, at times, performed miracles and was directly involved in shaping certain events. But to say He is directly involved in every insignificant moment from the beginning of time until the day of destruction is quite a leap.

    You admit that God really doesn’t directly cause everything, but what He doesn’t cause, He has allowed to happen. I agree with this. We might disagree on what exactly it is that God directly causes, but we both agree that many things are just allowed to happen without His direct action. Where we disagree is on the point of the PURPOSE of these events.

    You say that my position that natural processes, random events, and free will exist depicts “history as purposeless” and that “it leads to hopelessness and despair.” First, if you think that I believe history is purposeless, then I apologize for not articulating my position better. God’s “eternal purpose” was “carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11), and there’s a lot of history involved in this.

    Now on this notion of “hopelessness and despair,” I strongly reject this description. Is the admonition to reach forward to what lies ahead and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14) hopeless? Was Jesus’ message to the church in Smyrna a message of despair because He said imprisonment and tribulation to the point of death was ahead of them (Revelation 2:10)? How can it be that preaching on the hope of heaven does not provide enough hope for us to endure the hardships that exist in this life?

    I want to address your question about Job before I quit. You believe my position should require Job say this: “The natural process of reproduction gave and the natural process of weather has taken away.” How did Job’s children come to be? The text does not tell us specifically, but unless it was through some miraculous conception similar to the virgin Mary’s, they were born just as you and I have been born – through the natural process that God instituted in the beginning. The wind, however, was supernatural, as God allowed Satan to test Job.

    Now, all of that happened to Job for the purpose of proving his faithfulness. In the end, “The Lord blessed the latter day of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). God allowed all of these horrible things to happen to Job, but in the end He blessed Job greatly. But, does this mean that God is orchestrating the events of OUR life so that we might also learn the lessons that Job did? Your position is that God would have to be doing this or else we ought to be filled with hopelessness and despair.

    Notice what Paul wrote: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Are the Scriptures not sufficient to give us hope? Is the eternal purpose of God which has been carried out in Christ (Ephesians 3:11) not enough of a purpose for us?

    We are told, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). It is not hopeless to point people toward the hope of heaven.

    Thanks for the discussion, Ben. I hope it has been profitable.

  10. Ben Simpson says

    Andy, I do want to thank you for the conversation. It has been profitable if nothing more than to give you and your readers a different perspective and allowing you to defend your perspective before them.

    You asked, “Does God CAUSE all things that happen, or does He simply ALLOW them?” The answer is that God ordains (establishes or orders by sovereign decree) all things that happen. A definition of God’s decrees is: “the eternal plans of God whereby, before the creation of the world, he determined to bring about everything that happens.” Some of the things He has decreed will happen, He actively brings about through direct operation. The rest, He passively allows to happen through indirect operation, but even these things happen because God has said, “Yes, this will happen.” Nothing happens that God can say, “I didn’t mean for that to happen.” We can rest assured that what happens, God has decreed to happen and has a purpose for it.

    Andy, there is great comfort in this. God truly has the whole world in His hands, and we can trust that no matter what happens, God in His wisdom and love has a plan for it. The story of Joseph in Genesis and the crucifixion of Jesus in the gospels and interpreted in Acts are perfect examples of what I’m talking about. Calamity upon calamity, but God had a purpose for allowing it all, and that’s true for every other moment of history as well.

    You asked if you are wrong to acknowledge that natural processes, time and chance, and man’s free will exist. “Natural” processes do exist, but God providentially oversees them. Chance does not exist from God’s perspective. From a human perspective it seems like chance (1 Samuel 6:9, 2 Samuel 1:6, Ecclesiastes 9:11, Luke 10:31). Keep in mind that chance is spoken of 1 Samuel 6:9 and Samuel 1:6 from the mouths of pagans, a Philistine and an Amalekite respectively. The other two passages are simply looking from a human perspective. Man’s free will does exist in that we do what we most want to do, but we do not have libertarian free will. Libertarian free will posits that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. There is no “free will” such as this. Perhaps these articles may prove helpful to you:
    http://www.theopedia.com/Compatibilism
    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/libertarian.html

    Now, to be fair, I don’t think that you believe your position points to purposelessness. You’ve stated your position very well, but I do believe purposelessness is the ramification of your doctrine, which brings about hopelessness and despair in this life. Sure, there’s reason to have hope for heaven, but God wants His children to have hope until then too. The Scripture is certainly sufficient to give us hope. That’s why I said that I believe you are missing out on a wealth of encouragement taught in the Bible for people who are in the midst of calamity.

    So, you believe that Job should have said, “The natural process of reproduction gave and the Lord has taken away.” But, you are forgetting that it is God who opens and closes wombs (Genesis 20:18, 29:31; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Psalm 127:3). You went on to say, “Now, all of that happened to Job for the purpose of proving his faithfulness.” That doesn’t sound like judgment, evil actions, happenstance, or consequences of foolish behavior. That sounds like: calamity exists because God desires to use it for His glory and our good. Even as James 1:12 says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” God uses calamity for His purposes.

    If you are the type who loves to read and I suspect that you are, I’d recommend two great books for you to read on this subject. The first is Jerry Bridges’ “Trusting God,” and the other is John Piper and Justin Taylor’s “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.” I’ll let them pick up with you where I’m leaving off on this subject.

    Blessings, Andy!

  11. Ben, even though we disagree, I’m glad you’ve been willing to discuss these things. Too many are unwilling to debate topics like this, especially when they must put down their position in writing.

    We agree that God has the power to do whatever He chooses to do. We also agree that God has at times acted directly, and other times He has simply allowed things to happen.

    Our difference lies in what we believe God has foreordained. You believe God has foreordained everything that will happen. I believe He has foreordained all that pertains to His scheme of redemption and the natural laws that govern His creation. (This is a whole other topic that I wish I had more time to delve into.) As long as we differ on this, we’re going to come to different conclusions about the various disasters that happen today.

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