2020 has been a wild ride! It feels like there’s a new surprise around every corner, and none of them are fun!
This year we’ve had the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis, political and social crises, and environmental crises in the form of devastating fires in the western United States and hurricanes in the southern US.
Several people have asked me whether these fire are the judgment of God upon our society, or whether they are instead the work of the Devil.
God’s Judgment in the Bible Through Natural Means
This is an interesting question, because there are times in the Bible when we read about things which seem to be natural phenomena, but the Bible tells us they were acts of God for the purpose of judgment.
Examples of this would include: the great flood in the time of Noah, the earth opening up and swallowing the sons of Korah (sounds a lot like a sinkhole!) in Numbers 16, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 (the site of the Dead Sea, often thought to be the result of a meteor striking the Earth), or Gehazi being struck with leprosy in 2 Kings 5.
The Bible Gives Us Something We Don’t Have In Our Time
What we have in the Bible is not just a sterile account of historical events, but rather an authoritative theological interpretation of historical events. In other words: floods happen all the time, but this flood was the judgment of God. Not every sinkhole is the judgment of God, but this one was!
These theological interpretations were given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the writers of Scripture. The question is: how can we know whether current events are God’s judgment or not?
When an earthquake or a tsunami strikes, or when forest fires rage, it would be presumptuous for us to declare that they are the judgment of God, because we simply don’t have the same authoritative insight or theological interpretation that was given to the writers of Scripture.
Further Considerations: A Fallen World and a Natural Ecosystem
When sin came into the world, it not only affected us human beings, it affected all of creation. There are things about nature which are broken, harsh and cruel.
Here in Colorado, for example, fire is a natural part of our ecosystem. There are certain pine cones which only open in the heat of fire, and pine forests often need fire in order to clean up the undergrowth and fallen debris and replant themselves. It’s how the ecosystem works, and there have been fires here since long before humans inhabited this area in the way we do now.
In other words: we moved to an area where wildfires are part of the ecosystem… so it probably shouldn’t surprise us when there are fires!
We look forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth, where things will be the way they were meant to be, the way they are supposed to be: where there is no more destruction by fire and no more disease, pestilence, and the like.
What Jesus Said About This: The Tower of Siloam
In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus was talking to some people about some current events which included the suffering and death of people in their community. One instance included a tower, the Tower of Siloam, which stood in Jerusalem, but had collapsed and killed 18 people.
People were asking whether the collapse of this tower, killing these 18 people, had been the judgment of God upon them. Check out Jesus’ response:
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.Luke 13:4-5
Jesus told these people, “No, this wasn’t the judgment of God.” Apparently, in our imperfect, fallen world, sometimes towers are built poorly and materials collapse, or the ground shifts, and structures sometimes collapse. Sadly, sometimes people die in accidents, or of illnesses, or of other reasons.
But, although this was not the judgment of God, Jesus warned those people that they should take heed in light of this event, and let this be something which causes them to repent and turn to God in humble faith, lest they also perish.
Regarding the fires raging in the United States, COVID-19, and the other difficulties facing the world right now: Is this the judgment of God? Maybe. Or maybe not. We can’t be sure. But we can be sure of this: these events should certainly cause you to turn to the Lord in prayer and repentance, and if we don’t repent then we will perish in something much worse than wildfire or COVID-19: the judgment of our souls.
One thing is for sure: God wants to use these events to cause us to turn to him. May we do so without delay. If we do, the hope of the gospel is not only the salvation of our souls, but the redemption of our lives, and a relationship with God.