‘What do you think?‘ she asked me.
Someone in our congregation had been asked on Facebook about the accusation, which hit the headlines recently, that the heavy storms across Britain were God’s judgment for the government’s legalisation of gay marriage.
The question put me on the spot. My response was to say that as a nation we are guilty before God of all kinds of sins and already under his judgment. Whether or not the floods were related to that matter specifically was beyond my wisdom.
But the question was a fair one. The Bible would encourage us to take God’s control of the weather very seriously. Though the original world was very good, the creation is under a curse because of mankind’s sin (Romans 8.19-23).
More specifically, Psalm 148.8 declares that the storms ‘do his bidding’. We see just that from Noah’s flood in Genesis, through the weather conditions of the plagues of Egypt, to the story of Jonah; right through to some of the visions of judgment in Revelation. At the same time both the OT and the NT tell us that good weather, especially for the growing of crops, is in the hands of God (Deuteronomy 11.13-15; 1 Kings 11.35-36; Matthew 5.45; Acts 14.17). Jesus commands the winds and the waves (Mark 4.41). We can’t duck the issue.
Some Christians would like to somehow distance God from natural disasters. I was sent a manuscript recently, from someone who had experienced the suffering of many Christian folk in Haiti, which pursued this line. I sympathised with where the author was coming from, but, in all honesty, the Bible does not dally with that kind of theodicy. It declares him to be sovereign, even over terrible disasters. Severe weather killed Job’s sheep and shepherds and all his ten children. His worshipful response includes the well known words: ‘The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away’.
‘But surely’, another point of view would say, ‘these storms are down to climate change, which is man’s fault rather than God’s.’ Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Past President of Chicago Theological Seminary, has stated in The Washington Post that ‘superstorms aren’t an act of God’, but the result of the ‘moral evil’ of continuing to pump fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere, producing global warming.
But this either/or approach tends to be a little naïve. Often Scripture shows us God’s acts being worked out through human choices, both for good (Philippians 2.12, 13) and evil (Romans 1.24, etc.). The climate change approach may be true and, at the same time, the storms still acts of God.
It is a fact that moving away from our Christian roots does seem to have been paralleled by steep decline in the nation. The financial collapse of 2008 has left us with very little money to play with even to address the devastation brought about by the storms; thus, it seems, the catastrophic delays in government help. And all this just as George Osborne was trumpeting the upturn in the economy.
But despite the gloom, under the radar of the media’s gaze – fixed forever on the confusion of Anglicanism and the continuing scandals of Roman Catholicism – ordinary local churches, faithful to the Bible, are slowly making headway as they hold out the gospel.
Our nation is indeed under God’s judgment, but, as I speak to Christians in churches across the country, it is evident that simultaneously many people are being saved. Don’t despair. Job met God in the storm.