That headline is a deliberate provoker. But please let me explain why I used that headline before you erupt one way or another.
First of all, Japan is in fact one of the most atheistic countries in the world:
As I write this, I hear that there are 88,000 people missing in Japan.
So there is little question that the title for this article is factually completely accurate.
But is Japan’s unbelief the reason why Japan just got hit with an awful tsunami?
My answer is, “How on earth should I know?”
God doesn’t explain to me why He does a lot of things. I think He figures I’m too dumb to understand His infinite mind and the infinite complexity of His plan for an incredibly complex world filled with going on 7 billion souls. And He’s probably right.
I am familiar with Christian “leaders” (I put that in quotes because neither of these men are on my list of Christian leaders) such as Jerry Falwall or Pat Robertson have essentially stated that acts of human destruction such as 9/11 or acts of natural destruction such as Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans were acts of divine judgment for homosexuality.
And they might have been such judgment for such sin, I suppose. But I doubt if God told Falwell or Robertson any more than He told me. For one thing, if these men were acting as God’s prophets, God would have told them BEFORE the disasters happened in order to forewarn the people to repent. That’s the rather clear prophetic pattern of Scripture. That’s kind of what makes it “prophetic.”
Me? I don’t pray for God’s destructive violence to destroy my ideological or religious enemies. Let me explain why.
In a word, I don’t want God to ruthlessly punish others for their sins for fear that God will ruthlessly punish me for mine. You see, it turns out that I’m not perfect either.
That’s part of a detailed solution to the so-called “problem of evil.” When the human race fell into sin (as recorded in Genesis), it affected the entire created order (see Romans 8:22). Evil has become part of the human condition. And there are literally billions of degrees of evil in the world. And – unless He destroys the whole world (as He has done and as He will one day do again) – just where is God supposed to draw the line?
What we tend to want is for God to judge everyone who is at least slightly more evil than we are. But why should that be God’s standard? But maybe God should obliterate you and all of your family and friends, too. It’s His universe, after all; not yours. You don’t get to make the rules in God’s universe.
There’s an interesting passage from Jesus in Luke 13:1-5:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
There is no question: God sovereingly rules over the universe. And we know that God judges the nations and individual people for sin (see Romans 3). But only rarely – as recorded even in Scripture (e.g. Psalm 73, why do the wicked prosper?) - do we know the details.
We also know that God is patient. We know from the Old Testament that God will literally wait hundreds of years before He brings judgment. And we know from the New Testament (2 Peter 3:9) that God is patient, not wanting any to perish.
We also know that God often holds His sons and daughters by faith to a much higher account (Hebrews 12:5-11). Just as a good Christian father may not concern himself with other people’s children, but his own had better tow the line.
We will never know this side of eternity why many terrible things happen. Or why God judged this nation or that individual and spared another.
But we certainly can look upon a great diaster and pause in our own lives to take a look at ourselves and at our own nation, and tremble. Because what happened to “them” can easily overtake “us” – whoever “they” are or “we” are. And we all of us need to be ready to meet our Maker.
If we all lived as though death were a postential heartbeat away, I do believe we would live in a much better world.
I look at the many major earthquakes and the disasters they are causing as a sign that we are truly in the last days. Jesus told us in Matthew 24:7 that ethnic groups (the word is “ethnos”) would rise against ethnic groups, and that there would be famines and earthquakes erupting all over. And in verse 8 He spoke of them as birth pangs, meaning that as the end came, they would get more and more severe.
It is a fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, there was at most one major earthquake a year. Now there are “big ones” erupting all over creation. There was another huge and deadly earthquake just last month in New Zealand. And we’re even seeing a rash of earthquake activity in the midwest(see also here).
Jesus also spoke of great catastrophic signs in the waves (e.g. tsunamis) in Luke. And in Luke 21:8 Jesus said, “Now when you see these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Bottom line: we ought to be looking around, and we ought to be straightening up and flying right. And if you are a perfect, sinless human being, good for you; but if you have ever sinned so much as once in your life, if you have ever once violated even your own conscience and standard, let alone a perfect, holy God’s, you had better fall at the feet of the one Savior for the human race (John 14:6) and embrace the Lamb of God (John 1:29-34).
Let me provide my own parable to explain a powerful biblical reality. It’s called the ants on the elephant’s back:
Two ants of different species happen to bump into each other as they crawl across the back of a huge bull elephant. The larger ant says to the smaller one, “I can’t help by notice I’m larger than you. That means that I’m closer to being the same size as the elephant we’re crawling on than you.” Well, in a way, that larger ant is right; but his comparison is nevertheless utterly ridiculous. Why? Because the elephant is so enormous compared to the size of either ant – let alone the amount of difference between the ants’ sizes – that a comparison is meaningless. And that’s the way it is with human righteousness and God’s righteousness. Billy Graham is considerably more righteous than, say, a Skid Row bum. But the difference in their personal degress of righteousness is as nothing compared to the awesome holiness and perfection of God. And you might think you’re better than someone else. You might even be right. But you are comparing yourself to the wrong subject.
When we stand before God, we will answer to how we compared to the righteousness of God. “Be holy, as I am holy” (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:13-16), God told us. And just as we bear His perfect image (Genesis 1:26-27), we bear the responsibility to living up to His perfect character.
Only Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrws 4:14-15). Even the Quran affirms this (Quran 40:55; 48:1-2). Jesus, fully God, God the Son, assumed a human nature and lived a perfect life on earth. And He died for our sins so that we could have His perfection by faith. He became our substitute. That’s what “Lamb of God” means.
You need that gift of divine grace. I need that gift of divine grace. And the people of Japan desperately need it today.
I pray for those who are in Japan. I pray for their deliverance from both the tsunami and from their unbelief. And I will join with many other Christians who will send relief to the Japanese people, with prayers that they will look not at me, but at the Jesus who changed my heart and my life, and inspired me to give to others.
Update: I have since written an article entitled, “The Three Fingers Pointing Back At Atheists When Atheists Point A Finger At Christians About Evil And Judgment.”
Tags: atheist, atheist country, disasters, earthquakes, famine, God, God judges the nation, homosexuality, Japan, Jerry Falwell, Jesus, judge, Pat Robertson, prophecy, sins, tsunami, waves, why do the wicked prosper