There is a growing trend in the church and especially on the Christian websites today for people to stand up and pronounce each new disaster that appears in the headlines as punishment for the sins of the people who live in that area. Self-styled prophets everywhere are popping up out of the woodwork to proclaim that God has told them that He is waving His hands and directing tsunami, earthquake, and tornado to sinful parts of the world. They also say He tells them which disasters are judgment and which are not. We need to examine whether this holds true to Scripture and applies to the Christian living in today’s world, or if it is a dark doctrine and an unbiblical creed that needs to be rejected.
My Journey of Awakening
A long time ago as a child I was attending Catholic school and dutifully attended church every Sunday. As I grew into my teens, I gradually opened my eyes to the error of what I was being taught, and decided to do whatever it took to find out the true nature of God. Surely what the nuns taught us in grade school wasn’t the whole story about God. When I enrolled in university, after taking some commerce courses and quickly realizing this was not the path I wanted, I chose to major in Asian Studies. This would give me a grounding in what many ancient civilizations had to say about God, and I thought perhaps the truth could be found there. After all, Alan Watts had popularized Zen Buddhism in the Sixties. The Woodstock generation and the Maharishi had made experimentation with conciousness expansion very trendy, so I thought this might be my path to learning about God.
I was taught that Hinduism and Buddhism, two of the large religions in Asia, were based on the law of karma. This law, simply stated, says that wholesome actions result in eventual happiness and security for oneself and others, while unwholesome actions have the opposite result, they result in suffering and loss for oneself and others. Everything was essentially illusion, and the path to God was a path inward, a journey of self-discovery. Hinduism taught that the Creator and the creation were one and the same. During deep trances in Yoga practice, as well as with hallucinogenic drugs, people seemed to be actually feeling this sense of the oneness of the universe. How exhilarating to be taught that I and God were one and the same! This was certainly an interesting concept, and it was understandable why many found it appealing. It meant one was free from any debt to a creator, and that a person was master and commander of his own fate. If one did good works, his happiness and safety were assured, and if one chose to sin, surely disaster would strike them. This was how the universe worked in Hindu theology.
I remember asking my professors about the law of karma. How was it that some of the most gentle and peace-loving people of the world were often the ones hit by major disaster? If there was truly a direct cause and effect relationship between the righteousness of our works and our degree of worldly comfort, success, and safety, why would countries like India and other Asian nations be so poverty stricken and prone to disastrous events, when it was such a large center of Hinduism and Buddhism? They would just smile and shrug their shoulders, but they never really had an answer for me.
I continued with these beliefs for many years, but always with a nagging doubt just beneath the surface. If all was one, then there was no distinction between good and evil. This was unsettling to me. If all karma was the same, good was the same as evil. Then life was reduced to an absurdity. If all was illusion, then how could I trust any concept, including the concept that all was illusion? Surely God could not be trusted, if He was evil as well as good. Adding to my confusion was this whole karma issue. I saw so many corrupt people succeed in life, and so many good people fail and suffer loss, that it was hard to construe how the karmic laws held any real truth, when it was so clear that our degree of virtue did not dictate our station, rank, or physical security in the material world. I continued in this conflict for a great deal of time, always wondering how reality could be so conflicted with itself.
Many years later I finally had a breakthrough moment when the Holy Spirit spoke to me in the heart region, and I awakened to the truth of Jesus Christ and the work done on the cross. Of course! The Creator and the creation are distinct from each other! God is truly good, and evil is a condition of man and the world that must be overcome before abiding with God in heaven. It was not cycles of reincarnation to develop better karma that erased this sin, but the Lord Jesus Christ! One could not escape disaster on this earth by being good and spreading “good vibes” all about. Disaster ocurred to all, sinner and saint, because all were bound by the same physical laws while on earth. A great shroud of darkness was lifted from me. I began to devote much time to the Bible, and threw away my library of New Age books.
One of the first passages I remember reading was from Matthew Chap.7, where it says “Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”At last I knew, that because I had diligently sought after Him all my life, He was answering my knocking at the door by revealing Himself to me. Even though we sometimes look in all the wrong places, God keeps His word and answers us, simply because we ask to know Him.
I began to understand what Matthew 5:45 meant.“For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” It was not only the “good” people who enjoyed safety and security in this world, and it was not the only the “bad” people who suffered loss and pain. Calamitous events and hardships were natural conditions of the decaying world we live in, and all who live in this world are subject to these conditions. The goal of life was not to conquer difficulty and hardship, but to glorify God and allow Him to use these experiences in our life to shape and mold us to be ready to spend all eternity with Him. I understood immediately that God’s ways were not our ways. What seemed on the surface to be unjust was part of a greater plan, a plan for redemption and eternal life with the Lord, and it was more just and fair than anything we could imagine with our human minds. The apostle Paul put it so well in his letters to the churches that these hardships were nothing compared to the glory to come! Indeed, suffering could be for the glory of God, not something to be escaped by acting “good.”
As the internet became a popular outlet for Christian ministries and broadcasts I found many that were very uplifting and helpful in increasing my knowledge of the Bible and God’s ways. Surely this was a powerful way to fulfill the great commission of sending the good news of the gospel to all corners of the world. But I kept running across some websites that seemed to run contrary to what I thought God had just revealed to me, and the lessons taught in Scripture by Jesus and the apostles. I noticed a common theme that ran throughout some of these Christian internet websites that dismayed me. This was to the effect that those who sin are sent terrible sufferings and hardships in this world by God in retribution for their sins, and that this judgment was played out through the big disasters that struck some nations. I was starting to feel the same sense of conflict I had felt in my study of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. They were preaching that when we do good, things went smoothly and the seas were always calm, with safety and success assured, even under calamitous situations. But commit sinful acts, and catastrophe would strike.
It seemed that these people believed God was extracting retribution from His flock over the sin issue, even after the monumental sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Since it was pretty clear to me that disasters hit Christians as well as non-Christians, and only a charlatan would try to say there were no believers affected by a large-scale disaster, this made no sense to me. This was passed on as Biblical doctrine, and some even called it “prophetic revelation”, but it clearly didn’t reflect the teachings of Christ. Christ taught that disaster victims were no more sinful than anyone else. (Luke 13:1-5) As I investigated further into this conflict, I began to see the true nature of these beliefs: it was their own human desire that the wicked should come to a terrible end here on earth, and that good people should be spared suffering because of their virtue and right-standing with the Lord. They were teaching that justification of ourselves before God was a process we undertook and completed ourselves, and we were strongly warned to get this process under way before the next disaster came to our town, or we would be swept away along with all the other victims. This was so clearly their will they were stating, not the will of God. I heard the preachers say we needed to clean our slate with God, so we could continue to enjoy a safe, secure life free from calamity and disaster here on earth. They didn’t tell us it was a future glory that we needed to prepare for, and clean our slate for.
These people who called themselves Christian prophets were telling their audience that we can act as judge and jury for God, by declaring this nation or that nation to be suffering because of its sin, when the truth is that it is actually so far out of our sphere of influence to make this determination. I began to ask myself, what is the difference between this teaching and what I was being taught at university about the law of karma? Is this not essentially the same doctrine, that when we are good, we are spared suffering, and when we are sinful, the tornado or tsunami will strike our house? Was this not the same karmic teaching that we are the masters and commanders of our own fate? By “getting right” with God, and somehow washing our own lives of sin, which most Christians know can only be accomplished by the blood of Christ, are we going to open up some kind of portal that will enclose us and our families in a cocoon of safety? But by now I was a whole lot older, and a little bit wiser, and I was determined not to be fooled again by this false creed that had the created usurping the role of the Creator.
Flash forward to today’s world. Disasters striking all about, suffering throughout the world. The thunderous drumbeat of “judgment, judgment, judgment” is echoing louder and louder. For much of the church today, and especially with the internet ministries that seem to be accountable to no one, it is considered incontrovertible fact that those who are hit by disaster have received judgment for their sins. Japan, New Zealand, China, Haiti, New Orleans, in one nation after the other, we are told these people sinned against God, and are receiving their payback for that sin. Of course, according to their verdicts, the U.S. is the worst sinner, and every twister and storm that appears on the horizon is God lashing out. There is no recognition of geological or meteorlogical occurrances in their world. All is divine retribution, and woe to anyone who questions this. We are seeing the crossover of this same karmic doctrine of the Hindu religion into the church today, all dressed up in Christian terminology, with the word “judgment” substituted for “karma”.
In 2008, after the China earthquake that killed over 60,000 people, actress Sharon Stone made a statement to the press that the Chinese had it coming to them, for the way they had treated the Tibetans. This was their karma. Of course, there was a great outcry, and she was condemned by leaders from all walks of life, and rightly so. Pointing a finger of human judgment at the actions of a nation right after a huge loss of life can easily be seen for the despicable thing that it is, even by those who are not Christian. Why is it that these internet ministers are given a free pass to do the exact same thing after each new disaster, and everyone shouts “hallelujah, brother” and proclaims them to be such great prophets and men of God? In an attempt to further gain the respect and credibility of their listening audience, they claim God speaks to them after each disaster and confirms that it was His judgment! Even Sharon Stone never went so far as to say God told her those things, and to her credit she apologized later.
The church becomes a news bureau
It is astonishing in today’s Christianity how stridently people defend their prophets. When anyone stands up to say “wait a minute, that’s not what I’m reading in the Bible”, they are quickly shouted down by defenders of the internet oracles, usually with some verse from Old Testament scripture that tells about a judgment God sent against a nation. This is supposed to quash any further discussion of the matter, and stifle any more doubt that these people are really getting their divine judgment bulletins straight from the Lord’s newsdesk. It seems many of these people are wannabe journalists. They missed their real calling, and instead are trying to combine ministering the word of God with news reporting. Indeed, an internet prophet/judgment watchman who has long been based out of Florida has for some time now been receiving donations from listeners to close a deal on a shiny new office complex to house, among other things, a state of the art studio to be used as a 24-hour Christian news broadcast center.* Surely a humble, spirit-led way to invest Christian tithes and offerings. That way we will learn what’s on God’s mind immediately as each new disaster unfolds! Perhaps they can run a scrolling news text at the bottom of the screen to list the sins committed by the victims. ………James 4:6 God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
What the Bible says
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. ….ESV
The completed work of Christ on the cross has washed away sin and its effects for all believers. The cost on our part is simply to have faith. This work is complete and finished. It is not an ongoing process. No part of this work remains to be done in the future. We who believe in the Son and His work, have been absolved of all condemnation for sin. It does not mean that we are freed from the death of our physical bodies, or suffering in this world. It also does not mean that we don’t still sometimes struggle with sin, or that we don’t need repentance in our lives, and the forgiveness that comes from repentance. We still live under all the rules that apply to a fallen world. What it does mean is that no matter how saintly we become, we will have tribulation in this world. Jesus told this to the apostles, who themselves cheerfully accepted much suffering in their lives.(John 16:33). Did He say that if we righted the sin debt to the Father we would be spared from suffering?
The tsunamis and earthquakes will come, and will strike the homes of Christian believers as well as the homes of non-believers. But the Lord has promised us we are free from condemnation for sin, so we know by simply putting our trust in the word of the Lord, that whatever happens is for our greater good. If we are struck by disaster, or some other accident, that it is not our karma hitting back at us. We can rest assured that it is a part of a greater plan that we cannot at this time fully understand, because God’s ways are far above our ways. We can know that it is something God is working out for our greater good. Romans 8:28 assures us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.”
If God really wanted to send death and destruction to all who sin in today’s world, how many people would wake up tomorrow? Because this idea of disaster as payback for the sin of true believers is so problematic when weighed against Scripture, I have felt for a long time that the next logical step for the “judgment prophets” to take, to avoid having to rethink their theology, is to try and convince their listeners that these disasters won’t strike your house if you are right with God. Guess what? This is exactly what some of them are beginning to suggest.
These days many false teachers have a vested interest in keeping in play this idea that every earthquake crushes and every tsunami drowns because God perceives the sin in that region to be more intolerable than the sin in other areas. And what about the thousands of true believers who get caught up in the destruction? Is the same God who once parted the Red Sea to allow safe passage for the Israelites, and then closed it on the pursuing Egyptian soldiers, now unable to step forward and protect His own from the disasters he supposedly sends as judgment today? Is God not just as powerful today as He was in the past? Or are the seers and oracles of the internet not getting the story straight?
Since they have been shouting “judgment” to their listening audience for years, it is unthinkable for them to change course now. They are fully committed to the doctrine that either all or nearly all disaster is sent by the direct hand of God as punishment for sin. Think about it for a moment – when was the last time a major disaster ocurred when these people said it wasn’t judgment, it was just a natural event? They don’t even wait for the cleanup effort to begin before pronouncing each new disaster the work of God. Thankfully more and more Christians are reading their Bibles and questioning how this can be so, or at least asking how anyone could know God’s mind so well as to state for certain it is so with any particular disaster. In fact these soothsayers are getting so worried that their judgment proclaimations are untenable, that they are now embellishing the story. The newest wrinkle in their storyline is to infer that the tornados and tsunamis leave the homes of good, repentant Christians untouched.
On a recent internet broadcast, given by a self-professed internet “watchman” who is not reluctant to refer to himself as a modern-day prophet, I was astounded to hear this:
“Tears are coming to families you may know, tears may visit your household. The judgment is going to go up and down the streets of America; the judgment is going to go up the sidewalks of America, and past the houses. Its going to walk past your house. And when it goes past your house, will it stop and make a visitation at your house? Or will it continue and go on to the next house because you are dwelling in the secret place of God? Because you are totally submitted to God, and you have answered the heart’s cry of God from the Holy Spirit to get your house in order. You have submitted your heart to God. You have cleaned up your house. You have cleaned up your act.” **
Sure, repentance is essential, but teaching repentance from sin with the goal of saving yourself or your life savings from a hurricane or tornado is not part of Christian theology. Repentance is feeling sorry for disobedience to the heavenly Father, and any others who may have been harmed, and making things right when possible. It is a process where we truly feel an abhorrance for our sin. It has nothing to do with being a bargaining chip in a deal with God to get Him to protect our worldly goods or even our physical health.. To state that if you clean up your act and get your house in order the next tornado will change course and leave your house untouched is a false doctrine.
Then the internet preacher went on to mention a person whose house in Alabama was left intact by the tornado that tore through his neighborhood, and quoted him as saying that the only thing that mattered as the tornado passed by, was his hope and faith in God. This is all part of God’s plan that disasters can be used to bring awareness of His mercy to the victims and near-victims. The clash with Biblical truth comes when the prophets strongly imply that these disasters won’t touch you or your family if you simply listen to their broadcasted advice and square up your sin situation with the Lord beforehand, and because of this, you will come out of the next storm unscathed. There is yet another clash with Biblical truth when the prophets claim to have the inside scoop on which disasters were judgment and which were not.
It is atonishing how many Christians today don’t see the error. They say, ” These people are good men of God, they speak the harsh truth that needs to be spoken.” They defend the teaching that Christ’s work is incomplete, and that we still need to clear up the matter of this sin problem, not because we are truly sorry, and are truly repentant and desiring forgiveness, but to be spared from the next disaster. They accept the teaching that, through the strength of their will, along with aligning themselves with the correct prophet or watchman, and “cleaning up their act”, they have the power within themselves to survive worldly calamity and not suffer loss. The “master and commander of our own fate” theory raises its ugly head again, this time all worded nicely for the Christian audience. Contrary to any need to hear this falsity, are we not all called to warn about false teachings so that our brothers in Christ may not stumble?
How can teaching repentance in this manner cause one to stumble? Because it completely turns the concept of repentance upside down, making the goal of repenting a self-serving exercise designed to keep a tighter grip on our sense of safety and security in the physical world. In other words, they imply, if we sin less than our neighbor, our house will be the one still standing, while theirs gets destroyed. Another problem with this distorted teaching is that it instills a corrupt fear of the Lord in our hearts – the wrong kind of fear. The kind of fear that the Bible speaks of is a healthy respect for the Creator of the heavens and earth, not cowering in our closets hoping that through our goodness we have earned enough merit badges in God`s eyes that He will steer the approaching disaster away from our house.
Helping bring souls to a saving knowledge of the Savior is what God desires, not putting our personal safety and the preservation of our worldly belongings above all other considerations. For me, the road of Christianity is a path that leads us constantly to become more like Jesus, and more obedient to His instructions. I am not aware of any occasion when Jesus taught survival techniques to the disciples, or told them to pray for the safeguarding of their personal property. He taught His followers to sell everything and follow Him, and that the Father in heaven would see to all their worldly needs.
Of course many people think of God after a disaster. This is how even the events we consider so horrible are used for good in God’s overall plan for mankind. Many may even come to accept the Lord after facing a near death situation, or even through losing a loved one. But this is not a license for preachers to state unequivically that every disaster is punishment for sin. If we want this to be an honest look at the evidence, we should not just look at one piece of evidence that appears to support our theory, like the one guy whose house was spared, and thanked God for his deliverance. We need to look at all the evidence. Why should we just interview the ones who escaped the impact of the disaster, and try to play up their escape as an example of how their “cleaning up their act” made the twister veer away from their house? How many homes of true, believing Christians are destroyed in each new disaster? Lets talk to all these actual victims of the disaster and console them, feed them, house them, and try to remind them of the great hope that we as Christians have of a glorious future to come. Victims of these traumatic events don’t need pseudo-prophetic types telling them “you got what you deserved, because you didn’t clean up your act,” any more than they need Sharon Stone and her kooky karma comments.
I believe it is one of the most insidious heresies of our time that somehow God is overturning the pact made on the cross, and is so incensed at sin in the world that He is reigning disaster down on believers and non-believers alike, in a kind of wanton fury that punishes guilty and innocent alike. Is God unable to control collateral damage and thus He is unable to protect His own from getting swept away along with the unbelievers? Why should we join in agreement when we hear these things? Should we not recognize this for what it is, a very belittling and diminished view of the sovereign Lord? Do we just shout in approval when we hear God deminished in this way, portrayed as limited in power and helplesss to protect His own?
Earthquakes tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes, all of these are part of this world. Jesus Himself said in John 16:33 “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” This meant that while in this world, we are all subject to its laws, but God has prepared a kingdom for us where disaster doesn’t strike, and we will live forever. In no way was Christ telling us we can expect an exemption from the effects of disaster in this world, because we have sinned less than our neighbor, or we have struck a bargain with the Lord to be immunized against the effects of a fallen world. Jesus said to not fear that which can kill only the body, but to fear He who has authority to cast into hell. It is a complete corruption of God’s word to say that if we get our house in order, and straighten out our act, we will be in the house that is still standing after the tornado hits our neighborhood.
Not only do these judgment prophets say these things, they claim to get the information from God Himself, compounding the error. They tell us to flee, while there is still time. But where does one flee to escape God? You will not buy yourself an insurance policy by running to higher ground when the false prophets tell you to. These prophets should consider themselves blessed that the law of karma is not in effect, or they would have quite the karmic debt to pay for all the families they have uprooted with their messages to run from God’s judgment.
Its time to cut the survivalist mentality and get back to the Bible. There may be little time left, and knowing our Scripture in the endtimes is one of our keys to opening heaven’s gate, and helping as many as we can to know the great news of salvation being offered to all. God is delaying the final judgment, so that as many as possible can come to salvation. He is grieved if even one soul is lost. We have work to do ahead. Turn away from those who would steer you off the path. Ask God Himself what He would have you do, and where He would have you go. He invites us to knock on the door. He will answer. He always does.
…………….all blessings in Christ,
**……Nathan Leal http://www.watchmanscry.com/audio/Nathan_050311.mp3 @ 43:25 minutes