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Friday, January 15, 2010

Pat Robertson, Natural Disasters, and the Nature of God

Pat Robertson has once again made a comment for which he is being vilified by people from all walks of life.  After the 7.3 earthquake devastated the nation of Haiti, Robertson on TV solicited donations for humanitarian relief there.  In commenting on the situation, he recounted a so-called “pact with the devil” that the Haitian people made in the 17th century.  According to Robertson, they agreed to serve the devil if he would free them from French oppression.  The devil agreed and freed them.  “Ever since then they have been cursed with one thing after another.” 

By his comments alone, it is not clear who he supposes to have cursed the Haitians, God or the devil.  However, that the earthquake is God’s curse or judgment on Haiti would be consistent with past comments made by Robertson.  In 2001, he agreed that the 9/11 attacks were the result of God punishing the ACLU, gays, lesbians, abortionists, etc. (This was actually an opinion stated by Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club on Sept 13, 2001, to which Robertson replied, “I totally concur.”)  In 2005, he attributed Hurricane Katrina to God’s anger over abortion.  In 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke, Robertson surmised that this was God’s judgment for Sharon’s having ceded land to the Palestinians. 

Assuming that this is what Robertson meant regarding the Haitians, we have to acknowledge that he is half right.  You see, Robertson has made two assertions.  First, who brought about this natural disaster, and second, why.  He’s got the “who” figured out, but the “why” is unknowable.

This morning I heard a talk radio personality taking Robertson to task, saying “If that’s the God that Robertson serves, I don’t want anything to do with Him.  But he’s wrong – that’s not the nature of God.” Similarly, in a news story on, reporters Claire Shipman and Devin Dwyer write, “The earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy of such gargantuan proportion that it's natural to wonder how -- or why -- any God, if there is a God, could allow it.”

It seems that popular objections to Robertson’s comments can be combined into one statement, “God wouldn’t do this.”  Those who feel this way must be of the opinion that there is another possible cause.  Scripture disagrees.

First of all, Eph 1:11 tells us that God works all things according to the counsel of His will.  Said another way, there is nothing that God doesn’t work according to the counsel of His will.  Lamentations 3:38 reads, Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  The Scriptures show that all things, including natural disasters, come by the plan of God (Job 37:1-14).  So biblically, we can deny the comment “God wouldn’t do this,” and say instead, “God did do this.”  It was part of His plan.  What the world calls “natural disasters” the Bible regards as supernatural works of God.

Some might concede this, saying, “Okay, God did allow this or bring this about, but He wouldn’t cause this kind of suffering to punish people for their sin.”  This brings us to the “why” question.  I’ve already mentioned that I believe the “why” question is unanswerable.  But can we rule out what Robertson supposes?  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask Noah.  He witnessed perhaps the greatest “natural” disaster in history.  He was also privy to God’s intentions.  Gen 6 tells us that because of the sinfulness of men God determined to destroy them all with a flood.  Gen 7 details God doing just that.  Certainly the death toll in Haiti will be staggering, but the flood killed every human being on earth, except the eight on the ark.  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask Moses.  He witnessed a parade of God’s supernatural “natural” disasters brought to bear on the Egyptians for their oppression of Israel.  This culminated in the drowning of all Pharaoh’s horsemen and horses by God’s hand in the Red Sea (Ex 7-15).  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask David.  When a three-year famine came upon the land of Israel, he inquired of the Lord about the reason for the famine.   The LORD said, "There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death" (2Sam 21:1).  Remember – Saul was dead at the time and the famine affected everyone.  Also, when David sinned by numbering Israel, God allowed David to choose his punishment from three options, two of were natural disasters.  David left the choice up to the Lord, who sent pestilence into the land for three days.  70,000 men died as a result (2 Sam 24).  Is it contrary to the nature of God to bring judgment upon people through “natural” disasters?

Ask John.  In the vision he received from Jesus in the book of Revelation he saw that a large measure of the judgment God will bring in the tribulation will come in the form of natural disasters (Rev 6-16.)

To those who claim “God would not do that,” I believe Noah, Moses, David, and John would say, “Oh yes, He would.  He has, He does, and He will.”  Those who believe He would not are unfamiliar with the God of the Bible.

So Pat Robertson was half right.  God did bring this earthquake and it is within His nature to do such a thing to bring judgment on a people.  But Robertson is wrong in assuming that this is why God brought the earthquake.  It is presumptuous in the extreme to declare God’s specific reason for any natural disaster.  In Rom 11:34, Paul asks the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?”  The implied answer is, “no one.” While the earthquake could have been a form of God’s judgment, Pat Robertson has no way of knowing this.

In John 9, where Jesus heals the blind man, we find both Jesus’ disciples (v2) and the Jews (v34) assuming that his blindness was a result of sin, either his own or his parents’. Jesus’ response? “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (v3).   The disciples and the Jews presumed God’s intentions and they were wrong.

While can know that the earthquake was part of God’s plan and that the reason could be judgment, we have no way of knowing for certain why God ordained it.  Our response should be concern, prayer, and humanitarian help for the victims, and trust in our all-wise God that even in this He is accomplishing our good and His glory. 

Posted by Greg Birdwell


Karen said...

Great blog on this subject. I totally agree.

freedom said...

Great to hear a clear voice