Second Thoughts on the Christchurch Earthquake

Title: Second Thoughts on the Christchurch Earthquake

Text: Matthew 16:2-3; 21:12-13, 18-20,

Time: March 4th, 2011

If you remember, last week I spoke on the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. One may question my response to the earthquake, or one may even question the need to respond at all to the earthquake. I responded because I think it’s important that Christians answer the questions that people are asking – and there were a lot of questions concerning the earthquake, such as, “Is it an act of God?” I felt that it was important to speak from a biblical perspective on the subject after I heard so many church leaders speak falsely on the topic. For example, I quoted a Bishop in New Zealand who 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.” I wanted by my sermon to correct this bishop’s misunderstanding of the Bible. The fact is, it isn’t wrong to imagine that God punishes sin and sinners through natural disasters. It is wrong to assume automatically that God is punishing sin and sinners when a natural disaster strikes, but it isn’t wrong to ask the question. Why would it be wrong to do so? Isn’t the Bible full of illustrations of God punishing sin and sinners through natural disasters? How can one ignore the biblical witness and call himself a Christian? How can a supposed teacher or leader in the Christian church omit the biblical witness concerning God’s judgment and natural disasters? So I wanted to show that the bishop and other Christians who automatically reject the possibility of any connection with God in respect to the earthquake are wrong. I’m not saying that God is directly connected, or that God is even indirectly connected, but only that he could be, and that the idea isn’t silly, absurd or ridiculous. I also challenged that bishop’s idea that the New Testament teaches that Jesus taught God never punishes sin or sinners with disaster. Again, the bishop gets it wrong, not totally wrong, but partially wrong. Jesus did teach that not all trouble is caused by God, but Jesus never taught that God never brings trouble into the world over sin. Or in other words, Jesus never taught that God never punishes sin or sinners through natural disasters. I pointed out and illustrated that God can and does sometimes bring trouble into this world, on the earth, because of sin and sinners. Again, the Bible is full of such illustrations, so again, I’m not sure where the bishop is getting his theology – certainly not from the Bible. I ended my message by stating I don’t know why an earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. There’s nothing apparent, no notorious sin that the people of that region do or did that brought it on them. The only peculiar thing about the whole earthquake was the name of the city where it struck – Christchurch, or Christ Church. I’m still convinced that there’s nothing the people of Christchurch did that brought the punishment of God upon them, but upon closer examination of the circumstances of this event I’m beginning to think that if it’s from God, it’s aimed at the corrupt Anglican Church specifically and the whole Christian church generally, not any people in particular in New Zealand. Let me explain what I mean.

First, God sometimes uses natural realities to illustrate spiritual realities. Matthew 21:18-20, “Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed, ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.” Now the typical and common interpretation of this passage is that the fig tree represents the ancient, legalistic Jewish faith as practiced at the time of Jesus. It looked good; it had “leaves” and beautiful green foliage that indicated a good, healthy tree. It promised much, but upon closer examination it had no fruit, no spiritual substance that would provide anyone with spiritual food. So the Lord cursed it and it withered, and so, like the physical tree, the ancient, legalistic Jewish faith also withered as a source of spiritual nourishment. We don’t have time to cover all the parallels between the symbol of the fig tree and the legalistic Jewish religion, but there are clues throughout the New Testament of the Bible. But the larger point is that Jesus uses a physical object to represent a spiritual entity, he uses something physical to represent something spiritual. In the case of the description of the fig tree here, he’s using the cursing or destruction of the physical tree to represent a cursing or destruction of a spiritual entity. If there is no spiritual symbolism, then the account is pointless. So then we see that today, God could also give a modern day parable by using a physical object to represent a spiritual object. He could use the destruction of a physical thing to represent the destruction of a spiritual thing. Or he could represent the shaking of a physical object to represent the shaking of a spiritual object. In fact, most of the parables of the Lord Jesus do just this – they tell a story of some earthly situation that really represents something spiritual. For example, in this case, instead of coming out and saying, “The legalistic, uninspiring Jewish religion of the Pharisees is on its way out because it’s failed to produce spiritual fruit,” Jesus uses the illustration of the cursing of the fig tree and treats it as a parable to teach the same thing. The spiritual illustration lets people, upon reflection, work out the spiritual teachings in their own minds by analyzing the account. Just like the fig tree Jesus was attracted to, so too did people see Judaism as an option. But upon closer examination, like Jesus, the people were disappointed because there was no fruit or substance or inspiration to feed their souls. As a result, this spiritually empty Judaism would whither away and the spiritually substantial Christianity would take its place in meeting the spiritual needs of people. Again, we don’t have time to go into the fig tree illustration further, but just to say that God can use physical, earthly objects to communicate spiritual truths. He may be doing the same in respect to the Christchurch earthquake.

Second, the earthquake might be a warning to the Christian church in general, and the Anglican Church in particular. Matthew 21:12-13, “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Here’s Jesus’ famous action in the Temple where he accuses the participants of not using the Temple for what it was designed for – spiritual activity. The merchants had turned a sacred spiritual place into a common marketplace. They were perverting the purpose of the Temple. So Jesus judged them and drove them out. Sometimes this is called “the cleansing of the Temple,” as Jesus was attempting to reform its use. Now in respect to the Christchurch earthquake, if we grant that God can use earthly, physical objects and events to represent spiritual realities, then he just may be doing it this way – the Christchurch earthquake is meant as a sign for the Christian church generally and the Anglican Church specifically. Why the Anglican or Church of England in particular? Because one of the more specific visual symbols of the Christchurch earthquake was the near destruction of Christchurch Cathedral – a large Anglican church in the middle of Christchurch, New Zealand. There isn’t a montage of pictures in news reporting on the earthquake that doesn’t include at least one picture of this church. Were there other churches damaged by the earthquake? Yes, but these churches don’t symbolize the damage of Christchurch like Christchurch Cathedral. And this dominant church is Anglican. Anglicanism represents nearly 81 million Christians around the world in every nation. In the U.S. it goes by the name Episcopal Church, but it’s essentially the same church. The church has been nearly torn apart in recent years over the ordination of gay bishops and priests, the open acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriages, and over doctrinal heresy. In the U.S., one of the Episcopal Church’s bishops, John Shelby Spong, basically denied virtually every significant Christian doctrine. He’s since retired from active ministry in the church, but he continues to write, and his books continue to oppose every historic, orthodox Christian teaching of doctrine and morality. There isn’t a more corrupt and heretical Christian church anywhere found than the Anglican and Episcopal churches. If ever a church were ripe for God’s judgment it’s this church. So the symbolic earthquake – if that’s what it is – aimed at warning a corrupt church, couldn’t have landed a more precise blow. The earthquake hits a city named Christchurch, and more specifically, hits a church named Christchurch Cathedral. The symbolic meaning couldn’t be clearer. If I were a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, I’d pay attention. Just like those in the Temple that Christ cleansed needed to pay attention.

Third, the real question is, “What does it all mean?” — supposing that it means something? Matthew 16:2-3, “He replied, ‘When evening comes, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” and in the morning, “Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.” You know how to interpret the appearances of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’” The meaning of this teaching of Jesus is pretty straightforward. He’s basically saying to the Jewish leaders that they are able to predict the weather based on the natural signs such as cloud cover and sunlight dispersal, for example, but they can’t see the spiritual signs all around them. In other words, they were good at making natural evaluations but terrible at making spiritual evaluations. This same principle could be applied today in respect to the Christchurch earthquake. In respect to the physical and natural forces of the earth that produce earthquakes, I’m sure we are all aware that New Zealand sits atop a fault line. And we are also aware that from time to time cities on or near an active fault line will experience earthquakes. But we shouldn’t automatically think that this is the entire explanation. A number of people are posting questions on the Internet such as, “Is the Christchurch earthquake an act of God?” And the most popular answer is, “No, it’s an act of the earth, because the city sits on top of a fault line.” Yes, true, but does that answer the question behind the question? No. The real question isn’t seeking a natural explanation but is asking a spiritual question and wondering if there’s a spiritual answer. That’s legitimate, because, after all, there is a God that exists and he has from time to time intervened on earth through natural disasters, as the Bible illustrates. Only an unbeliever would doubt the possibility. So then the question, “Is the earthquake an act of God?” is a legitimate one. We shouldn’t automatically think that an earthquake is an act of God, but by the same token, we shouldn’t automatically think that it isn’t. The only way we can even possibly determine if God is involved is to check out the facts of the situation. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility ahead of time, as an atheist or agnostic or skeptic would. A Christian needs to think like a Christian, not an unbeliever. A preliminary question to ask might be, “Is there any good reason to think that this earthquake might be anything more than simply the earth shifting?” We all know that the earth shifted, but is there anything more to it than that? The only way to determine if there is anything more to it is to investigate the specific detailed facts. And as I’ve tried to present, there might be reasons why God would hit a city named Christchurch and target a church named Christchurch..

But supposing that it is true that God is trying to send a message to people in the Christian church generally and the Anglican Community specifically, what might the message be? Well, for anyone who holds to the historic, orthodox Christian teachings today it’s obvious – God is calling his church in general and the corrupt Anglican Fellowship specifically to repent of it sin and return to the Lord. It could be that the specific message is aimed at the Anglican Communion for its corruption of doctrine and morals, but that same message applies to most Christian churches to one degree or another. The general trend among most Christian churches in these modern times is watering-down doctrine and loosening of morality. Who can doubt this? It’s clear from statistics and surveys, the historic Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic churches, even the ancient Eastern Orthodox churches are drifting away from truth and into relativistic error. It’s happening in the Evangelical church in the United States. For example, just this past week the pastor of a large mega-church in Michigan began publicizing a new book he authored that teaches nobody eventually goes to hell! In other words, here is a self-described evangelical pastor who has written a supposedly Christian book, published by a major evangelical publishing company that promotes the heretical position that there is no eternal separation from God in a place called hell, as Jesus taught. Do we question why God might be offended and intends to send a message or sign through an earthquake to a city named Christchurch? What would God’s message be, if indeed the Christchurch earthquake is a warning? Clearly the message would be – repent, change, reform, return to Truth, before it’s too late! I would hope the message is not – judgment is coming, it’s too late to repent, destruction is scheduled, there’s nothing you can do! I would hope that the warning is a call to repentance, for reform. But what if the earthquake is just an earthquake? What if there really is no special message from God, from heaven, calling us to repent of sin and return to the truth? Don’t we still need to repent and return to the truth? Yes! So, in one sense, we should consider that the earthquake is more than just an earthquake, that it’s a warning from God, a sign from heaven. But even if it’s not anything more than an earthquake, even if it’s not an intentional message from heaven to earth, whether it is or not, we still need to repent and reform – we need to do this anyway! So why not use this occasion to motivate ourselves to repent and reform, or in other words, do the things we already know we need to do? In the final analysis, whether the earthquake in Christchurch is anything more than an earthquake, the fact is the Christian church needs to repent and reform itself or it will face destruction – and we don’t need an earthquake to tell us that, we only need to read the Bible. God’s message, with our without the earthquake is, “Repent.”

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