May 2011

Why do we have natural disasters?

‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ Romans 8:22
A good friend of mine recently retired from his diplomatic post. At one time he was part of a committee for ‘the prevention of natural disasters’. I teased him about this apparent god-complex but he explained that the work of the committee was to find ways of preventing natural calamities, such as earthquakes and so on, from becoming disasters. However, as we have recently seen it is really not possible to prevent an earthquake that measures nine on the Richter scale from being disastrous.
Why do natural disasters occur? In the case of the Great Flood it was God who caused the world-wide disaster, but is He the cause of all natural calamities? Let’s take earthquakes as an example. Ezekiel 38:19, Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5 all seem to speak of the same earthquake that God inflicted as a punishment upon Israel. Other than that though there are no further direct references to divinely initiated earthquakes. If we see one spotted dog we cannot claim that all dogs are spotted. Even if we saw only spotted dogs for a year we could at best claim that many dogs are spotted. So, we cannot claim on the basis of one that God is the initiator of all earthquakes.
Some folk do believe that God is the cause, either directly or indirectly, of all natural disasters but they reason not from the historic biblical evidence but from a deterministic theological model. They hold that God predetermines all things and so He must be the instigator of all natural disasters as well. I really don’t want to get started down this theological path because I feel strongly that such a view contradicts a lot of the biblical witness and besmirches the character of God, ultimately making Him the author of sin!
So if God is not the cause of the vast majority of natural disasters what is?
When God made the earth He saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31) and Job records that when God made the Earth ‘the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7). The world that God made was a good place, without destruction and death. But then something happened that changed everything.
Humankind, the image-children of God, rebelled and chose to be like God. As a result sin entered the created realm and triggered a cycle of death that modern scientists have identified in part as the second law of thermodynamics. Instead of bearing only good harvests the earth started to produce thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18) and violence and death became a part of the cycle of life. Romans 8:20-22 describes how ‘the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’
Why do natural disasters occur? They occur because we live in a sin-sick world where the very fabric of creation is deeply flawed and corrupted from its original perfection and goodness. Yet despite this God is good and He will be with His faithful children even through the most difficult occurrences. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me’. (Psalm 23:4). That is so good to know!

Why do we have natural disasters? Read More »

The Great Flood

Series = God’s love in the midst of disaster

If I wanted to generate a flood of contradictions I couldn’t do much better than arrange a discussion between an agnostic and a young earth creationist (YEC) on the topic of Noah’s deluge. The agnostic would say, “The fact that there is no archeological evidence for a universal flood proves that the Bible is in error.” The YEC would no doubt respond vehemently with, “On the contrary, the flood was the very reason why the earth appears ancient while the Biblical evidence shows that it is only about six thousand years old.” (They claim that the flood laid down the sedimentary strata that archaeologists mistake for evidence of great age). And so it would continue.

However, I don’t want to dive into the age of the earth debate, I want rather to show how the flood reflects the heart of God. Say what?! Yes, God sent the flood only after a long period of prophetic warning and grace, and then only from a broken heart.

This is how the Bible describes the desperate conditions of that time. ‘The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ (Genesis 6:5) The key words are ‘how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become’, and ‘every inclination of the thoughts of his heart’, and ‘only evil all the time’. Great wickedness – every inclination – every thought – only evil – all the time. This is a description of a state of utter corruption and degradation.

Humanity had sunk to such moral depths that redemption was no longer possible. So, because of God’s love for His natural creation and for the few humans who were ‘savable’, He sent the flood. This is how the scriptures describe it, continuing in Genesis 6 from verse 6; ‘The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord.’

God was grieved and His heart was filled with pain. It broke His heart to destroy the very humanity He had created to be His sons and daughters. Yet, even then, God saved Noah and his family so that they could start again and fulfill God’s desire for a vast human family.

Now, it is important to know what God was doing in the build up to the flood. 1 Peter 3:20 records that in the days of Noah God waited patiently for humanity to repent. 2 Peter 3:20 describes Noah as a ‘preacher of righteousness’. So Noah was not just building the ark, he was also preaching to the people of his day, “Repent, turn to God, or else God will have to purge the earth. Be warned, there is a flood coming!” But unlike Nineveh of a later age they did not repent and turn to God.
The flood was not an act of rage or retribution; it was an act of absolute necessity to preserve the earth’s integrity, human discretion and moral law. It was a heartbreaking decision necessitated by God who is love.
My understanding of how God deals with humanity is as follows; First He sends His messengers to warn, then He gives considerable time and extends much grace, and only then does God pour out His wrath when redemption is no longer possible. Even then He saves the righteous remnant. This was the case in the time of the great flood, and it is the case in our times.

In my next post I will try to briefly address the theology of natural disasters.

The Great Flood Read More »

The Amorite extinction

Series = God’s love in the midst of disaster
“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Genesis 15:16
Shortly after I became a disciple of the Lord Jesus one of my sisters followed suit, and not long after that one of her two sons also became a Christian. My late brother-in-law was a civil engineer, so when his wife and son shared their faith with him he decided to investigate by reading the Bible, the technical manual, from the beginning. He hadn’t got further than the middle of Genesis when he phoned me in confusion. “But this book is full of death and sacrifices, earthquakes and floods! What’s going on? I though you guys said that God is love?!” 
It is true, and there is no way getting around it; God did use natural calamities to judge humanity and He did order the extermination of whole nations. How do we account for this? Is the God of the Old Testament a different deity to the God of the New Testament? No He isn’t. Jesus used the ancient divine ascription “I am” when referring to himself (John 6:48 et al). When Phillip asked to be shown the Father (reference to the God of the Hebrews) Jesus said “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “(John 14:9-10). No, The Father is God and Jesus Christ the Son is God and there is no difference between the God of the Old and the God of the New. Jesus demonstrated the love of God and John defined God as ‘love’ (1 John 4;8), and wrote the famous words ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
So then, what is the divinely ordered genocide of the Amorites all about? Well this is what is recorded in Deuteronomy 20:16-18; “in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.” So why would God, who is love, order a mass extinction?
To answer this question I need to take you back 450 years to the time of Abraham when God said this to him; “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Genesis 15:13-16) The key phrase here is, “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. God did not order the destruction of the Amorites for 450 years because He was holding back judgment. Now these Amorites were pretty bad people who according to Deuteronomy 12:31 ‘even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.’
During these four and a half centuries God must have repeatedly sent prophets to warn these depraved people and to call them to repentance. This is a reasonable assumption because we have the record of how He used the prophet Balaam in that part of the world and Jonah in the case of the great city of Nineveh.  My understanding is that God only ordered the destruction of these people when redemption was no longer possible and He had to act because of His love for the Israelites and the other nations of that time.
The most obvious example of how and why the God of love judges and destroys is the great flood of Noah’s time. I will write about that in my next post. But for now, just think on how God’s ways apply to us. He warns over and over again and He judges only when redemption is no longer possible. I am so grateful for this for I am convinced that I would not be alive today if God were not as lovingly patient as He is. What about you?

The Amorite extinction Read More »

Did God send the Tsunami?

Series: God’s Love

‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ Hebrews 1:3[/su_note]

In December 2004 I, along with millions, sat in front of my TV set appalled by the devastation caused by the Indonesian Tsunami. The video coverage wasn’t that great but we all still got a good idea of what was taking place before our eyes. Again in March of this year, a Tsunami struck northern Japan. This time the video coverage was extensive and horrifyingly graphic, and the reality of it flooded into our living rooms. 
In January 2005 I preached a sermon titled ‘Did God send the Tsunami?’ but again questions have arisen in the minds of many Christians. Is God punishing Japan, or is this His way of warning them, or is God not directly responsible? How we answer questions like this depends largely on how we understand the nature and character of God. Actually, how we view God affects almost everything in life, from how we interpret the scriptures to how we respond to the man burrowing through our garbage bin.
There are a number of facets to the issue of natural disasters and I intend to cover several of them in subsequent posts. For now though I want to answer the question about the Tsunami by posing another question. Would Jesus send a Tsunami to indiscriminately kill thousands, some of them His disciples? You see the scriptures declare that Jesus Christ is the full manifestation of the Godhead to humanity – ‘For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him’ (Colossians 1:19-20). Therefore, it is a legitimate question to ask. The life, works and words of Jesus are carefully recorded in four different Gospels and so we have a good basis for answering the question.
Jesus taught non-violence. When His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven He rebuked them (Luke 9:54-55). He also rebuked the disciple who cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear (Luke 22:51) and then immediately healed the ear. So, would Jesus kill thousands, let alone His own followers? No, I do not believe He would. In fact, quite the opposite, for Jesus spent three and a half years walking the length and breadth of Israel healing all who asked.
So if Jesus would not have sent the Tsunami then how should we understand it? What about those episodes in the Old Testament where God ordered the destruction of nations? What about the great flood? And what about the Calvinist theology currently so popular that claims that God has predetermined all things? I will try to respond to these questions in my next few posts. However, I must say right up front that no matter what our belief is concerning these things, God is good and His grace and mercy are unlimited. Whatever happens in this world we can count on Him to be with us for He has said to us, as He said to Joshua “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5).

Did God send the Tsunami? Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.