Was God Doing Something in New Zealand?

Title: Was God Doing Something in New Zealand?

Text: Genesis 6:12-14, John 9:1-3

Time: February 26th, 2011

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard about the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 100 persons are known dead, and still more are expected dead in the days and weeks ahead. We need to keep the people of this island-nation in the Pacific Ocean in our prayers as they try to rebuild their city and their lives. Now when we hear of such news, we automatically ask the question, “Where was God?” We asked that same question around a year ago during the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath. I’ve already dealt with that issue in a couple of sermons I gave last year during the winter, but today I’d like to focus on the question that confronts us now – “Where was God in New Zealand?” Yet already people are trying to sort things out in their hearts and minds. For example, in New Zealand, a church official made a statement just this past week about the earthquake in respect to faith. He said, “And it is also of course wrong to imagine that God is punishing people by disasters when they come. I mean Christ taught us very clearly that that is a false understanding of God,” Catholic Church Bishop Barry Jones explained. So for this church leader it’s always wrong to ever think that God might be involved in anything like an earthquake. To him it’s unthinkable. And probably to most people today in the secular, modern world it would also be unthinkable to suggest that God had anything to do with anything like an earthquake or a flood or any natural disaster of any type. That kind of thinking implies that there is some kind of connection between God and activity on earth, which, in the modern era, is strongly denied. It also gives the impression that God intervenes on earth at times to reward or punish people for their deeds or misdeeds – again, this is unthinkable to the modern, secular mindset. But just like in the case of Haiti last year, I need to say very politely but very firmly, “Not so fast.” People are making a number of assumptions about God and the world that are clearly false. The secular person is automatically thinking that God couldn’t or wouldn’t ever intervene in the affairs of men and women on earth. That assumption is false. It’s saying too much to speak as the Catholic Bishop Barry Jones does when he says, “It is of course wrong to imagine that God is punishing people by disasters when they come.” No, quite frankly, it isn’t wrong to imagine that God is punishing people by disasters when they come.” It is wrong, he should have said, to automatically assume that God is punishing people by disasters when they come. But to say that it is wrong to even consider the possibility that God uses disasters to punish people for sin is going beyond the bounds of Christian theology. The fact is, the Bible describes many instances where God does punish people for their sins by sending disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, for example. What we have to ask, as Christians, is there any good reason for thinking that God might be sending or permitting a disaster to occur for a purpose? Instead of instinctively answering in the secular, modern politically correct way, we must examine the evidences to see if there’s anything in the particular situation that might have caused God to bring trouble upon people. In the case of Haiti, and again I won’t cover that topic again today, I believe the voodoo practices of the people of Haiti might have brought God’s judgment against the island. In the case of New Zealand, it’s entirely different; because there’s nothing there that immediately or obviously raises any spiritual red flags. In fact, New Zealand is pretty dull, pretty bland as far as anything spiritually offensive taking place there. But to be fair, we need to examine the situation closer. That’s what I hope to do this morning.

First, It’s important to establish that God does on occasion punish people on earth for their sins. There are literally hundreds of examples in both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible of God punishing people on earth for sin. Anybody with even an elementary knowledge of the Bible knows that. It doesn’t take a theologian with a seminary education to acknowledge that God has punished people for their sins. Only blatant unbelief would prevent anyone from admitting this basic observation. But let me give two examples, one from the Old Testament and the other from the New Testament. Again, I could give many more, but there’s no point in belaboring the obvious. For starters, there’s the account of the flood. Genesis 6:12-14, “God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all the people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of wood.” We all know the story. Noah followed God’s instructions, he made the ark, brought animals into it, then the rains and floods came, and wiped out the whole earth except Noah and family and animals saved on the ark. Now the point is simply that God used an earthy disaster to punish people for their sins. He used rain and flooding to destroy people and civilization. So in answer to the question, “Could God, would God use natural disasters to punish people for their sins?” The answer from the Bible is, “Yes he could,” and “Yes, he already has shown that he would.” Does that mean that every natural disaster is punishment from God for sin? No, but it’s always possible that it is so. Now, moving on to the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 11:27-34, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” Here’s a description of God punishing and judging people for not taking the Lord’s Supper properly. Again, God intervenes on earth to bring judgment for sin. It’s all throughout the Bible, and anyone who knows his or her Bible can see it plainly. I don’t know why the Bishop would be so irresponsible to make the claim that it’s wrong to consider that God might use a natural disaster to judge sin, since it’s all throughout the Bible. But the big question is, did God judge New Zealand with the earthquake for their sins? We’ll get to that. 

Second, it’s also important to establish that not every problem, trouble or disaster comes about as punishment from God for sin. John 9:1-3, “As he (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man no his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Here the disciples of Jesus were asking about why bad things happen to people. They were under the false impression that every bad thing, every disaster, every calamity or trouble came about because of sin, either the person’s or someone else’s. Or at least, that’s how I read the passage. Maybe they didn’t believe that every bad thing that happened was due to sin, but they seem to give that impression. But Jesus sets them straight and corrects them. No, not every bad thing that happens on earth is the result of sin. For example, in this case, with this man, it’s in order that the glory of God may be on display when the man is healed. Jesus then heals the man, and sure enough, his healing is something that brings glory to God. So in God’s providence, some things, maybe most things that are bad, are not the result of sin. Just recently I returned to my home in New York State to check up on things and found that water had leaked out of the pipes and flooded half of the living room. Was that the result of sin in my life? I can’t trace it back to anything particularly sinful I’ve done in my life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a sinner saved by grace, but I’m still a sinner. I battle sin and resist temptation and pray for strength. I pray and ask forgiveness when I sin in thought, word and deed. I’m not sinless, so things that go bad could be the result of something I’ve done or said. It could be God getting my attention, in order to confess and repent of something sinful, but not always. It’s the same way with natural disasters. Just because a flood comes or lightening strikes or an earthquake hits, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone has sinned – or more accurately, that anyone sinned in some extraordinary or unusually detestable way. It could just be that something bad happened. It could be that God permitted it for his glory for some reason. Romans 8:28 comes to mind, “For we know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” So in addition to the possibility that God may be punishing sin by permitting or causing a disaster to strike, there’s also the possibility that he isn’t. And I think in most cases, it’s probably safe to say he isn’t – that is, isn’t judging sin when bad things happen. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t or that he hasn’t or won’t judge sin through such means. Now let’s get to the real question, “Did God just judge New Zealand with an earthquake for their sins?”

Third, it’s important to establish that New Zealand has no known extra-ordinary sin that might provoke God’s judgment. From the human perspective, as far as I can tell, and I’ve tried to read as many reports as possible to get an idea of the situation in New Zealand before the earthquake, I can identify no “red flags” that would make me stop and stay, “They better be careful, those Kiwis, those people of New Zealand, because what they are doing here might really be offensive to God Almighty.” No, I can’t find anything that the people of New Zealand, and more specifically, the people of Christchurch, New Zealand were doing that was any more offensive or sinful to God than any other typical Western nation. Like I said before, instead, what I found in looking over the information data sheets about New Zealand is that it’s a pretty boring place – and I mean that in the good sense. I mean they are not notorious for anything. I couldn’t say the same thing for Haiti when I looked over its information last year. What I found in the case of Haiti was a people there who practiced the religion of Voodoo. I found out that the nation was founded on a slave revolt in which the leaders dedicated their souls and the souls of the people to the Voodoo spirits for victory over the French. I found that even though the tiny island is mostly Roman Catholic, the majority of people still practice Voodoo. I also found out that Voodoo rituals routinely involve demonic spirit possession and animal blood sacrifice. And most of the people who participate in Voodoo go to church on Sunday and worship the true and living God, sing his praises, and hear his Word taught. Then they go back home during the week and practice Voodoo. See the contradiction? I began to see how this might offend God, how God might wish to end Voodoo through some means because it’s an offense to him. Perhaps the earthquake is the means to end Voodoo in Haiti. Hopefully Voodoo will end and the people of Haiti can begin to live a better life. There are reports out of Haiti recently that this is happening, so we need to continue to pray that they put away all Voodoo practices and turn to the true and living God. But in respect to New Zealand, there’s nothing like that at all. I consulted the massive prayer handbook called Operation World, which lists every nation in the world, along with statistics and information and prayer needs. The worst thing it lists is something that is typical in many modern nations – a growing secularism, a decline in Christian morality and culture, for example. But these are general trends happening in all western nations, including the U.S. So from an observational standpoint, there’s really nothing that would raise any red flags concerning New Zealand in terms of extraordinary spiritual offenses. But there is one odd thing I think I should mention.

The epicenter of the earthquake that hit New Zealand occurred in a city called Christchurch. All the damage, all the loss of life occurred in the city of Christchurch. Now there would be nothing strange about an earthquake hitting in one location, or for deaths and injuries occurring in that one main location, but the strange thing about this earthquake is the name of the city where it hit – Christchurch, Christ Church. I really don’t know what to make it, that is, the name of the city, and the place where the earthquake hit. Maybe there’s really nothing to make of it, but maybe there is. I don’t know. I can’t figure out any significance in the earthquake hitting the city of Christchurch. The only odd thing about it, like I said, is the name Christchurch. Now this place isn’t the only one in the world with a strange spiritual name. For example, in Brazil, there is the state of Holy Spirit. Yes, that’s right. They named an entire state, Holy Spirit, or in Portuguese, Espirito Santo. I’ve always thought that rather strange to name a state after something as sacred as a member of the Trinity. But then again, in Mexico there are men named Jesus, or Jesus. That again strikes me as odd to name a child Jesus, but then again, that’s just me. But in New Zealand, they named their city Christchurch. Is there any spiritual significance that the earthquake hits Christchurch? Is God trying to send a message to his church? If so, what is the message? But why send the message to a New Zealand city? Is it because there isn’t any other large city that goes by the name Christchurch, so if God wanted to warn his church he’d have to do it in Christchurch, New Zealand? I can’t say. All that I can say is that it’s pretty strange to have a city named Christchurch, and then it’s even stranger to have that city get hit by an earthquake. Does the message mean that God is trying to shake up his church in the days and years to come? Is it a sign of judgment? Is it just a warning to get our attention, to get the attention of the Christian church, to get the attention of Christians? We just don’t know. Another strange thing about the Christchurch earthquake is that there had been an earlier earthquake five months ago in the same city! Why two earthquakes in that same location? Again, we just don’t know for sure. Maybe there is no spiritual meaning, no spiritual connection, and it’s just something that occurs naturally with no supernatural meaning at all. It could be that. Or maybe there is some spiritual significance to it and we’ll just have to wait to find out what it is. In the meantime, why not use the earthquake to ask ourselves the question, “If our world, if our nation, in our lives were to be shaken to their foundations, would our faith be strong enough to survive?” Whatever the meaning or non-meaning of the Christchurch earthquake, we can always ask ourselves that question. Is your faith strong enough to survive whatever might come in this life? What do we have to do now to strengthen our faith? Let’s pray.

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