There’s nothing that whets the appetite of an internet prophet/watchman more than natural disaster. The catastrophic events in Japan are providing the self-appointed watchmen with more fodder to pass on to their listeners as “proof” that God’s hand of judgment is upon the land because of unrepentance for sin. What began as a problem for Japan will become judgment for us, they say, as the “radiation clouds” pass over the U.S. and fall as rain on our crops, contaminating our food supply. We will import cars and car parts from Japan that are “radiated.” The list goes on of these completely unscientific, or at least very worst-case scenarios.
You can hear the obvious excitement in their voices when they discuss it. Each new disaster will be the “Big One”, that will prove beyond doubt they are truly modern-day prophets of God, and for the good of our selves and our families, we should listen to and support their ministries, so they’ll keep us informed about how to escape the effects of the “judgment.” Reliance on God’s word alone is not something they actively encourage.
A popular U.S.-based prophetic web site Watchman’s Cry had this advice for Americans in the days after the Japan quake, as he spoke about the possibility of radiation clouds passing over our country:
Get duct tape and polyplastic at least 6 mil. thick, and line your windows with the duct tape and plastic so that drafts cannot get in. ………………Folks, there’s some “prophetic teeth” to this program. This is not just some crazy person ranting. I spend a lot of time in prayer with God.”*
Whether the Japan quake is God’s judgment or not only the Lord knows for certain, but we can be assured that either way, no amount of duct tape and plastic is going to be anyone’s salvation, no matter how much time our favorite watchman spends in prayer. The internet prophets have now branched out into the field of “survivalist counsellors.” They teach us that our skills in physical survival in the material world is what God is going to really grade us on. Sure, we should all know first aid, and have food and provisions and water stored away for disasters, that is just common sense, but should we replace the Bibles on our night tables with survival manuals? Jesus says in Matt. 10:28-29 :
“Do not fear those who kill the body and cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” …ESV
Jesus was telling us about the big picture. Where we spend eternity is much more important than whether we can find a bunker or a cave in the mountains to hide out in. If God is truly sending his judgment upon us in the form of weather related events, which is actually impossible to determine without divine revelation, then what small minds these people have to tell us we can outwit the judgment by using the clever methods they recommend. Because we have moved our family to an “earthquake safe” zone, or we have sold our shoreline property and relocated to the plains or mountains, or we have taken our potassium iodine pills, or we have sealed our house with duct tape and plastic, should we haughtily think we have outwitted or outraced true judgment from God and escaped by our own wiles and devices?
Paul had a lot to say about sin and judgment in the book of Romans. When we are tempted to think we have escaped judgment because we are more righteous or more clever than those poor souls who died in the disaster, heed the words of Chapter 2 verses 1-3 where he states:
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in His justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things? Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you away from your sin?……..Romans 2: 1-3 (NLV)
Do not think that because the disaster fell on our neighbor, and passed by us, that it is an endorsement from the heavens that our sins are less egregious in God’s eyes, and that we survived by listening to the clever watchman and his wisdom. The Bible tells us of a time coming when all deeds will be judged, and everything will be brought out in the light of day. No one can escape that day of judgment. The wicked shall be punished, but in God’s due time, not when we make a list of who we think should be judged, and pronounce that the judgment is happening now, because we declare it to be so. God must judge; as a God of justice, it is an essential characteristic. However, there is a kind of “holy reluctance” on the part of the Father and the Son to judge. Acts 17:31 tells us about how God has placed final judgment in Jesus’ hands, for a day that is fixed in the future, to give every person a chance to turn from evil and accept the Word of the Son of man:
”because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
It is stated again in John 5:22-23:
The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Verse 24 : Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my Word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is here now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Verses 26 and 27 : For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to also have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.”
Acts 10:42 affirms again that Jesus will be the judge:
“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.”
“On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.
And in Romans 14:9-10
”For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
And yet another direct admonishment against our presuming a physical event to be punishment from God:
It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” 1 Cor. 4:5
The God of love, grace, mercy and wisdom has relegated His final judgment to Jesus, after His second coming, and that judgment will be according to His Word, no matter how much the prophets of the internet insist every hurricane, earthquake, and oil spill is judgment for sin.
The idea that all disaster is sent directly from the hand of God because of sin was very much in play during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The devastation was promptly determined by the all-knowing watchmen and prophets to be God’s judgment against the people of that area. Among the reasons given was rampant homosexuality in New Orleans. If you recall, there was a large homosexual convention and celebration scheduled to begin August 31 in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and the ”watchmen” were telling us the hurricane was a move of God in judgment against the homosexuals because of their planned celebration. But the French Quarter was one of the few areas that was spared from any damage. All the bars in that area remained open for business. And most of the people who were coming to celebrate the event had not yet arrived in the city when the hurricane hit. Did God not foresee these things? Did God not know that most of the suffering would be among the poor, the frail and infirm, and those with children? The middle and upper class citizens had the means to evacuate. The people that were most affected by the disaster were the poorest, most marginalized people in the region who live in the 9th ward. Clearly the internet prophets need to seriously rethink their theology of judgment.
Likewise in the tragedy in Haiti last year the “computer prophets” were rushing to their microphones to declare the disaster to be punishment for the island nation’s traditional practice of voodoo. Voodoo was actually brought to the island from Africa hundreds of years ago, but that technicality doesn’t stop the prophets from spinning their yarns.
A pattern they always follow is to feed off the emotions of the early newsfeeds coming out of an event, and extrapolating the worst possible scenarios from the early reports. We saw this last year, with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. When things were at the darkest point, around mid June 2010, before the successful capping of the well, they were talking about God unleashing all kinds of environmental plagues on the hapless citizens of the Gulf Coast. One self-styled internet “watchman” Nathan Leal emotionally issued the following statements at the height of the Gulf Oil spill crisis last year:
Over the past several weeks, America has been visited by an event that will be one of the most destructive ecological catastrophes in modern history. It is going to shatter records! Over the last few weeks as I have researched and prepared for the message, I have found myself trembling. As I sought God in prayer, I asked Him for insight about this oil catastrophe. I have cried out to Him and asked Him to have mercy on the participants of this disaster.
The chain of events that led to this catastrophe go much further (than a failure in technology)…..they go into a different realm; A spiritual realm where a Holy God exists and is now unhappy with the works of men.
What we are now witnessing (in the Gulf) is the judgment of God upon America and upon the earth. When I say, “The Judgment of God” I am not referring to an afternoon thunderstorm that is over in a few hours. This judgment will include the very foundations of the earth quaking and trembling. It is going to play out through a sequence of events. These events are going to strike a death blow to the economy and food supply of America. We are going to witness famine, bread lines and soup kitchens! We are also going to witness a breakdown in society (because of the Gulf spill)! Think Katrina times 100!!**
God told him He is now unhappy with the works of men. He speaks as if God has just recently started to get upset with the actions of men, and He is choosing parts of the world to strike out against, while sparing other regions (presumably because they are less displeasing to Him?) He claimed God told him there would be famine in the land, riots, and the collapse of the economy because of the Gulf oil spill. Not only was he presumptuous about it being judgment from God, but most of the events he spoke about never even took place!
If we want to go beyond this belittling view of the nature of God, we need to understand a little about our fallen nature. Paul, the apostle, reminds us of this fallen nature in Romans :8:20-22 (NIV):
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The Bible tells us that since the original sin in the Garden of Eden, this earth has been in “bondage to decay.” All of creation has been “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” This decay was not part of the original plan for the human race, but became our destiny as a result of the fall. The fall of Adam is the fall of the human race. Rather than being a new phenomenon, disasters have always been with us. It is clear from the Bible that our nature is fallen, and we live in a fallen world. The birthpains the world goes through were ordained after the fall of man. All of these events we are witnessing and will be witnessing as we go through the endtimes are detailed in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Daniel in the O.T., and the gospels and the letters of Paul, and the book of Revelation in the N.T. Scripture is now closed. We need only to follow the path laid out for us in God’s word. We are not receiving any new divine revelation from the watchmen, in spite of how they insist we need their interpretations of God’s will and intent for us in order to survive.
The gospel implores us to go far beyond the “hunker down and survive” mentality that these prophets/survivalists are dishing out. The cornerstone of Christianity is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, which paid in full the sin penalty we have incurred. What this means to the Christian is that we no longer have to fear death. Why should we plod through life with a survival mentality? We have to decide what is more important to us: to play our role in fulfilling the Great Commission God gave us, with all the glorious promises that come with it, or listen to the gloomy messages that tell us the work of Christ on the cross is incomplete and insufficient, and that we have many works to perform before we are justified before God. We can choose to cower in fear from the next storm to hit, or boldly go forth and proclaim that the Son has set us free and we can claim that freedom now, no matter which way the wind blows. Our Savior is coming soon. The survival of our physical bodies is not the focus for those who understand that we will soon be receiving our new eternal bodies. The word we should be spreading is glorious news. Any non-Christian listening to the watchmen broadcasts would think our faith is based on fear, and our God is not to be trusted.
Far from the God of infinite justice that we know Him to be, we let these false prophets portray the Creator as petty and small, leaving guilty and innocent in a wake of death and destruction. Do the internet fear-mongers out there think that their hateful and prejudiced and biased accusations about God sending horrific disasters indiscriminately across the earth, will make it more likely people will turn to God and accept Jesus? On the contrary, many will see what hypocrites they are, and turn from the Lord. Their ministries are not saving ministries. They end up with a deficit account in the business of winning souls for Christ.
Certainly God has sent disaster as punishment for sin in the past. In Amos 4:6-13, the story is told of how God sent successive disasters and plagues to Israel to get them to repent of their sins. The Great Flood, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, are classic examples where the people received judgment for their sin. There are examples in the New Testament as well, of sin resulting in punishment being issued. In Acts 5: 1-11, we see the story of Ananias and Saphira who met death for lying about the amount of money they gave to the communal offering. We know these were judgments because we hold Scripture to be the inerrant word of the Lord. In no way is it our preogative to stray from Scripture and arbitrarily decide for ourselves which events are from the direct hand of God. Only direct revelation from God Himself can conclusively link a set of sins to a disaster. Without divine revelation from the Lord to tell us, we are just imposing our own will upon God. We are telling God who we think should be punished, and how that punishment should be executed. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were friends of Job who were convinced that disaster had befallen Job because of unconfessed sin. The Lord severely rebuked the three of them for speaking wrongly and presumptuously claiming it to be punishment for sin. (Job 42:7-9) We would do well to learn from their mistake.
In John 9:1-3, the disciples walking with Jesus passed by a man who was blind from birth. The disciples assumed that his blindness was a punishment for sin, and asked Jesus: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responded “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus was teaching that God, in His mysterious and wise providence, sometimes allows His children to go through suffering and hardship so that they can experience God’s mercy and power in delivering them. Often after tragedy strikes and results in widespread death and destruction, many people turn to God for answers, whereas in times of peace, God tends to be given only a passing notice by many who are completely engrossed with the affairs of the world.
In Luke 13, Jesus was asked if the fate of the Galileans, who were killed by Pilate and had their blood mixed with the sacrificial offerings. was a result of their sin. Jesus responded:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus reminds the crowd, who confidently believed they were “not judged”, and still under “God’s covering of protection”, that the victims were truly victims, and no more guilty than anyone else. He thus dismantles their own false sense of security. Jesus goes on to tell a parable of a fig tree that has not borne fruit for three years. Instead of being cut down, it is given another year to bear fruit. Thus he challenged directly their assumption that there is automatically an instant and immediate correlation between sin and punishment. Jesus had to shut down the belief that their own health and long life meant God’s approval, and that a tragic untimely death meant God’s disapproval. The point is that it is dangerous thinking to equate a disastrous event with a city or region being in a state of sin. What about all the cities and countries that have not been hit by disaster? Are they sinning less, or is their sin of a lesser nature in God’s eyes? The Bible tells us all sin is equal in God’s eyes. God does not grade on the curve. The sin of one nation or city is not more acceptable to God than the sin of Japan, or New Zealand, or New Orleans, or any other place the watchman insists is under God’s judgment.
Judgmental “gloom and doomers” think that God wants to kill off certain people in certain areas because their sin is more obvious to you, and to them, than their very own sins. They come across with this “I told you those people were going to get it” attitude in judging the deaths in disasters to be punishment for sin. They try to gloss over the fact that many disaster deaths involve the elderly, children, and the disadvantaged in society. Also we must consider that disaster kills believers and non-believers alike in one swoop. The tidal waves we see these days do not part to allow safe passage for the Christians in its wake, like the Red Sea parted in the time of Moses. It is hard to reconcile why the Christian who is living under grace for believing in the work of the Son on the cross at Calvary would suddenly be killed as punishment for sin. God’s ways are not our ways, and we must accept that there are mysteries we cannot fully explain with our logical minds. What is clear from Scripture, is that it is a serious mistake to claim that every disaster is sent by God to strike out against sinners. Matt. 5:45 tells us:
“for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
God does not steer weather-related events in the path of those we judge as having “greater sin” than ourselves and others. Natural upheavals in the earth’s crust, and storms have always been taking place on this earth. There are now more people in the path of these events, so death tolls are higher.
Much of the death toll in natural disasters is human related. Poor planning, and cutbacks in expenditure on infrastructure were very evident in the aftermath of Katrina. Warnings went unheeded for years that the levees in New Orleans would not hold up to a big storm. Large concentrations of population live in areas vulnerable to weather and geological events. Lack of appropriate levels of government spending on disaster preparedness contributes to the death toll in such events as these. The huge oil spill in the Gulf last year was the result of technicological failures and misapplication of oil well technology, but don’t tell any of this to the watchman. He will insist that God is directly at the controls of every earthquake, tsunami, and oil spill. They do not accept that any disaster could be the direct result of human failure, or the geological and spiritual nature of the earth itself. While it is certainly true that God remains in total control at all times, we must accept the consequences of our own actions and inactions. If we populate cities along major earthquake fault lines, eventually plate tectonics will come into play, and a seismic event that could have killed very few will result in widespread disaster.
The Biblical role of the Watchman was that he was a prophet who was sent out to an area or region to bring a warning from God that unless the people there repented and turned away from their evil ways, there would be a great destruction sent their way. Jonah was a watchman ordered by God to go to Nineveh and warn the people that they had 40 days to turn away from their evil, or the city would be destroyed. The Ninevites did repent, and the city was spared from disaster. True watchmen of God were always sent out to warn about an event before it happened, because God’s intent was for the people to repent and thus be saved. Their message was from God Himself; it was never a personal message from the workings of their own minds.
If the watchmen are right when they tell us they know with divine certainty that disasters such as the ones in New Zealand and Japan, and before those, in Haiti, New Orleans, and numerous other areas, were indeed directed by the hand of God as punishment for the sins of the people in these areas, then as true watchmen of the Lord they should have been issuing specific warnings to the residents of these areas well in advance of each event so that lives could have been spared. Failure to issue the warnings to the residents, the Bible tells us in Ezekiel 3:16-19, would mean the blood of all the victims is on their hands.
“But wait a minute”, you say,” how could they have known in advance? They are just humans!” They are humans claiming to have exclusive access to the throne room of God, when clearly this is not the case. They set themselves up as spokesmen for God, and tell you that you need them in order to truly hear what God is saying. On top they collect your money for doing it. This apostasy will greatly increase as we go further into the endtimes, and to have any chance of enduring the race to the end, as Paul said, we will have to disconnect from false teachers and put our eyes solely on the Lord.
Almost lost in all the murk and gloom of their judgmental pronouncements is the fact that true, biblical watchman were also assigned to proclaim the good news about salvation. In Isaiah we learn about the joyous message watchmen have been assigned to deliver:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.
“Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:7-10).
The Biblical watchman would bring “good news, glad tidings of good things, singing, breaking forth into joy!” Does this sound like the merchants of doom that pass as watchmen today? True prophets and watchmen, if there are any among us today, would be able to see the big picture of the Kingdom of God and its application to us in the world today. They are godly people who are given unique vision. Rather than break our spirit, they would lift us up in joy with the thought of how soon will be the coming of His Kingdom, and how salvation will be offered not just to Israel, but also to all nations.
And when their supposedly Holy Spirit-led pronouncements about this new disaster to hit Japan, like the ones concerning the Gulf, and the many ones before that, do not prove to be founded on truth, will we get a full apology and retraction from them? Will they agree to stop speaking on behalf of the Lord? Don’t count on it. They are convinced we all have poor memories, and also that we desperately need to hear their pronouncements on each new event as it unfolds. Stay tuned for the next disaster. My guess is they won’t be telling us to rest in the assurances of an all-loving God and His promises to us.
Genesis 6:5-6 tells us : “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth.” The next time someone asks us how as Christians we can reconcile the fact that God allows terrible disaster to strike parts of the world, perhaps we should ask them to rephrase the question. Shouldn’t the question really be how a righteous and totally sovereign God, knowing the wickedness and evil in the hearts of men, has the mercy and forbearance to refrain from delivering the full force of His wrath upon the entire world all at once? Should we not really be asking: “Why, oh why, Lord, does your judgment tarry?” Instead, we judge God based upon our agenda of how well He carries out our plans for the world.
Don’t give in to fear and trepidation. Christians will die in future catastrophes that will come upon this earth, we are not exempted. But we are called to serve, and to be ambassadors of Christ while here, until we become citizens in another realm. We need to hold fast to the word of God. Disregard all the jabber and distraction that arises after each new event. What the victims need is prayer and a helping hand, not the condemnation of their fellow men.
all blessings in Christ…………………………….JD Ellis
All Bible quotes from ESV unless otherwise noted.