Was God Warning Japan Through the Tsunami to Turn to Him?

Title: Was God Warning Japan Through the Tsunami to Turn to Him?

Text: Amos 3:7, Romans 1: 18-20, Mark 1:14

Time: January 9th, 2012

 

Last year the pastor of the world’s largest church, the Yoido Full Gospel Church, Pastor Yonggi Cho, commented in a newspaper interview that the Tsunami that struck Japan last year could be a warning from God for all Japan to turn to the Christian Gospel. Here’s part of that interview, “The Rev. David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest church, came under fire for calling the recent Japanese quake and tsunami ‘God’s warning’ in a Sunday interview published in an online newspaper. ‘Japan sees a lot of earthquakes, and I think it is regrettable that there has been such an enormous loss of property and life due to the earthquake,’ Cho had said in the News Mission interview. ‘Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them.’ There are only around 2 million Christians in Japan out of a population of 127.5 million. The South Korean minister added that he hoped the ‘catastrophe can be turned into a blessing’ and that the Japanese would ‘take this opportunity to return to the Lord.’” You can imagine how these comments would be taken in a modern, godless and secular world – they were laughed at, mocked and violently denounced. But even before I read Cho’s comments I thought basically the same thing to myself as I tried to understand what happened in Japan. The problem our world has in interpreting events like this is it doesn’t think in terms of the sovereignty of God. There was once a time when people thought in terms of God and his providential hand working in the world, but since the rise of the modern age less and less people think that way. Is it wrong to think in term of the sovereign hand of God moving in world events? To listen to modern commentators – and a sizable segment of the population – it’s not only wrong, it’s deplorable. Why? Because without a clear conviction that God rules in heaven and earth, without a knowledge of God’s past divine providential activity in the world, and without the resolve to stand against the current status quo, party-line, default perspective, nobody in their right mind would make such a statement. Besides, today, for anyone making such a statement, people will automatically psychoanalyze you and suspect that you really harbor hate for the people of Japan; why else would one believe that they in any way deserved the trouble that was brought upon them? In the absence of any kind of sustained Christian thinking on this and most any other subjects these days, is it any wonder why anyone trying to think like a biblical Christian would be criticized and ridiculed for doing so. Pastor Cho was only voicing a concern that millions of Christians around the world might wonder themselves. And it’s a valid question, despite the secular referees calling foul. Well, I’d like to question and discuss this topic from a Christian perspective today. I’d like to explore the possibility that Pastor Cho is correct – that God is using the Tsunami disaster to shake Japanese to awake to his true spiritual reality. We shouldn’t be bullied by the secular establishment for asking the question; what do they know, anyway? We should explore the implications of any and all events that happen in our world and not just follow the secular party line. God just may be trying to start a mighty spiritual revival in Japan, and we should be aware of what he might be doing. Let’s consider a few points.

 

First, there’s nothing Pastor Cho said that isn’t consistent with the biblical Christian faith. Amos 3:7, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.” Why is it so strange that Christians might have an understanding of a world event? Let’s look at exactly what Cho said and see how utterly consistent it is with biblical Christianity. The pastor said, “Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them.” The report added that Cho hoped the “catastrophe can be turned into a blessing” and that the Japanese would “take this opportunity to return to the Lord.” Now what, I ask, is controversial about those remarks? Really! What is so shocking or preposterous about them? I can’t see the hubbub. It’s only offensive to godless, secular people today who’ve abandoned all connection with the sovereign God of the Bible. It’s only outrageous for practical atheists who reject the Bible and Christianity altogether anyway or nominal Christians who don’t take their own faith seriously. It might be offensive to persons of other religions because they don’t operate from a biblical Christian perspective – and they would lack the background, context and perspective for even understanding where Pastor Cho might be coming from. But anyone who is familiar with biblical Christianity, anyone who knows Western Christianity and who is familiar with the accounts and teachings of the Bible shouldn’t be shocked at all. In fact, Pastor Cho’s remarks and comments make perfect sense from a biblical perspective. Anyone who reads the Bible will quickly realize that the God it describes intervenes on earth in a whole variety of ways. Sometimes he intervenes directly, but other times indirectly. Sometimes he speaks directly to communicate his will, while other times he lets circumstances and events do the communicating of his intentions. This is all basic Bible knowledge that children learn in Sunday school or adults would hear about in adult church on Sunday in the morning sermon. The Christian God, the Jewish God – even the Muslim God, if we stretch the point further, all act in the world. Why would that idea be so strange, so controversial, so shocking? I think it says more about the godless, secular state of the modern unbelieving world than it does anything about the state of Pastor Cho and Christians who are sympathetic to his views. We really live in a world where the lands where historic Christianity once flourished are now in rapid decline of faith – and in the vacuum is a kind of practical atheism that may nod at “religion” or tolerate Christian churches in the community, but that violently rejects any insinuation that any of it’s actually true and should be taken seriously.  “How dare Pastor Cho for taking his Christian biblical faith seriously? How dare he read and believe his Bible about a God who intervenes on earth? How dare he hint that there might be something wrong with Japan’s spiritual condition?” For people who don’t take God seriously, people who do take God seriously, talk funny. God is an active player in the world for people who take him seriously, not just an idea or traditional concept. But let’s turn to perhaps the most offensive thing Cho said – that something is wrong with the present spiritual state of Japan.

 

Second, from a Christian perspective, Japan is a spiritually lost nation. Romans 1:18-20, The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” During the same interview, Pastor Cho said, “Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them.” Now normally these wouldn’t be polite or kind things to say about a people, a nation – but he wasn’t trying to insult the Japanese, he was trying to state the objective truth, from a Christian perspective. Should Christian pastors not state their biblical Christian convictions because it might offend someone? No. He was correct to say what he said, because, as many Christians know, it’s true. The news interview article I read from included this statistic — there are only around 2 million Christians in Japan out of a population of 127.5 million! That’s no secret either, because millions and millions of Christians around the world are praying for Japan, that they turn to God before it’s too late. The massive Operation World prayer guidebook serves as a prayer resource for many Christians, including myself. Here are a few things Operation World says about Japan: “Over 70% of Japanese claim no personal religion, but the majority follow the demands of idolatrous and ancestor-venerating Buddhism, and rituals of polytheistic Shintoism. The Bible is alien to the worldview of the Japanese – the concept of a Creator God is foreign to most. The sincere, polite, hardworking Japanese are too busy to give heed to the gospel. Materialism very much on the rise, dominates the ambitions of most younger people. Uncertainty about the future has prompted spiritual searching. The constant threats of a major earthquake, of economic decline, the widening generation gap, and the feeling of social isolation that so many suffer provoke widespread soul-searching.” Now this report was written before the Tsunami, but it expresses many of the same themes as Pastor Cho’s comments in the interview. The fact is, the Japanese people, generally speaking, are practical atheists, they are materialists, and they lack even the basic components of a basic biblical Christian understanding of God and reality. While monotheism, or the belief in One God, has nearly spread around the globe, it hasn’t reached the heart and mind of the Japanese people. Perhaps it could have been different if more missionaries had been sent. There’s a report about General Macarthur after World War II calling for churches in the U.S. and Europe to send missionaries to Japan to help rebuild the country with Christianity’s influence; the missionaries never arrived, and Japan rebuilt in a secular way. But the fact is, Japan is a godless, secular nation that is without excuse. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans, that there is One Almighty God is plain from nature. To deny this or reject it makes one guilty of suppressing the truth; that’s what the Japanese are doing today in respect to God, the Bible and Christianity. Yes, that’s a judgment, but it’s based on the Bible. Unless something changes the status quo in Japan, millions of people will spiritually perish forever. The situation is serious enough to risk offending people in order to state the truth accurately. I believe this is what Pastor Cho was doing in his interview. But there’s more.

 

Three, let’s pray that the affect of the Tsunami disaster will bring the Japanese people to the Lord. Mark 1:14, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.’” Here Jesus is calling people to repent. Now the Greek word for “repent” here is metanoeite, which means, “Change your mind!” That is exactly what the Japanese people need to do; they need to change their mind about a whole lot of spiritual things. One, they need to change their mind from their atheism to monotheism – or belief in One God. Nearly the entire population of Japan lives life without God. Two, they need to change their mind from Buddhism to Christianity. Buddhism is a humanistic, mind-over-matter philosophy that is mostly agnostic about such spiritual topics as God and life after death. It focuses on self-mastery rather than submission to God. Three, they need to change their mind from ritualistic Shintoism to Christian discipleship. Traditional Japanese culture teaches a healthy self-discipline, but this needs to be applied to true Christian spiritual disciplines rather than wasted on futile practices as ancestor worship. Four, they need to change their mind from cultural morality to biblical morality. Japanese mostly derive their morals from social peer pressure, but this isn’t a solid basis for ethics. Only the Bible properly balances freedom and responsibility by divine revelation of moral absolutes. Now let’s get back to what Pastor Cho said, “Because the Japanese people shun God in terms of their faith and follow idol worship, atheism, and materialism, it makes me wonder if this was not God’s warning to them.” It makes all sincere Christians wonder if the Tsunami and the resulting disaster was not God’s warning to Japan. But warning for what? Why, for the Japanese people to repent — or change their hearts and minds about their spiritual direction. We have to continue to remind ourselves that spiritual change is possible. The peoples of Europe before the introduction of Christianity were barbarian and pagan. Yet they eventually changed to become known as Christians – Europe became known as a center of Christendom. Just because Japan has rejected Christianity so far doesn’t mean that it must or will continue to reject the gospel message. Perhaps it will take a catastrophic, cultural upheaval such as a Tsunami to turn the people from the path of spiritual destruction they are following. I’m aware that making such judgments in our modern, godless, secular world is considered rude. I’m also aware that much of this entire discussion is highly impolite to non-Christian ears, and even for some who call themselves Christians. But the only alternative is for Christians to shut down all discussion about such things, which I’m not prepared to do. So we risk being impolite for the sake of truth.

 

Now the question might be asked, “Would God use such an awful means to get the attention of the Japanese people in order to turn them from their present spiritual condition to perhaps salvation in Christ?” Well, in order to answer that question we need to run ahead and ask, “What happens if the Japanese people, or any unbelieving people, continue on in their error and spiritual blindness?” The most famous passage in the Bible, John 3:16, says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but inherit eternal life.” Now notice it says, “that whosoever believes in Jesus shall not perish,” but perish in what sense? It’s a reference to eternal separation from God, to eternal damnation, to hell. Salvation from God is available by faith in Jesus Christ in order to save people from their sins, judgment and hell. Supposing God did send or permitted the Tsunami to hit in order to ultimately bring about change in the hearts and minds of millions of Japanese over spiritual reality. Suppose thousands of Japanese souls die because of the disaster – souls that would die anyway, eventually, in their state of spiritual lostness and perish in eternal destruction because they followed along in their traditional cultural ways of rejecting God and living secular, humanistic lifestyles. But supposing out of the Tsunami disaster thousands and millions of Japanese begin to search their souls and seek spiritual answers outside of their blind cultural traditions and discover biblical Christianity – and embrace it as their new faith. Then, the suffering and disaster of the Tsunami tragedy would have been worth it. True? Consider the example of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible. God used the destruction of these wicked cities – and the hundreds and thousands that lost their lives – to teach the whole world for generations to come about the reality of sin, judgment and destruction. How many more lives have been saved because of that one moral example, although it involved the destruction of two cities and human life? Now in respect to Japan, the Tsunami was disaster, a catastrophe of mammoth proportions that will probably define Japan for decades to come. But our prayer should be that God uses it to bring thousands, if not millions, of Japanese to salvation as a result. Will the disaster have a positive spiritual effect? Let’s pray it does. In the interview, it says, “Pastor Cho hoped the “catastrophe can be turned into a blessing” and that the Japanese would ‘take this opportunity to return to the Lord.” Yes, exactly! We need to pray that the Japanese people take this opportunity to reflect on the reality of God and turn to him for help and assistance. So then, the end result would be that the Japanese can begin to turn to God and trust in God, rather than relying on themselves or their failed traditional philosophies that have kept them in spiritual blindness for generations. This is not bad news for Japan, it’s good news! Let’s pray.

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