This past week Brian Tamaki, the Bishop of Destiny Church, claimed the recent earthquakes were caused by New Zealand’s sin, and especially homosexuality. While he might be correct about the effects of sin touching all of creation; does that then mean earthquakes are caused by homosexuality? Let’s think through a few things that will help us understand this issue.
A Groaning Creation
The Story of Scripture begins with God creating everything and declaring it good. A world where there was harmony between God, man and creation. It was a world without murder, theft, abuse, adultery, physical or mental diseases, and tyranny. These things are abnormal to the world God created, because they did not exist before the fall of man, nor were they part of God’s ‘good’ creation He originally made.
Man’s sin affects much more than just man, it has spread to the entire world. The Scriptures say the very soil is cursed as a result of sin entering the world, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). The Earth we live on screams a message of brokenness to us in its draughts one year and floods the next. Soil is plagued by weeds and disease, and the ground literally splits under foot.
This broken world carries a message for man. The message is not, ‘if you sin God is going to get you,’ but rather, the broken world declares that sin has already “gotten” all of creation. The hope then, as taught in the Bible, is that God will redeem his creation from the corrosion and destruction that is caused by sin. He did this through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Ogre in the Sky
Many people see God as an ogre in the sky waiting for us to make a mistake so he can pounce upon our lives with punishment. Brian Tamaki points to Leviticus 18 as a prooftext of God’s ogre-ness towards Canterbury. The context of this section of Scripture is to exhort Israel to stay away from the sexual and worship practices of the Canaanites.
For the Canaanites everything was permissible; including men having sexual relationships with their mother, daughters, aunts, granddaughters, and other men. God says because of their sinful lifestyle the land will, “vomit out its inhabitants.” God is personifying the land to make a point that he is repulsed by the sexual wickedness of these people and will remove and replace them in the land.
This chapter has everything to do with God blessing and warning his people to remember and obey their covenant promises to Him, and nothing to do with the 2016 earthquakes in New Zealand. Does that mean earthquakes are at the will of mother nature and not God? Certainly not. Scripture never attributes any natural event to mother nature, but always to the sovereignty of God.
Though God is sovereign over the Earth, he never tells us why the weather behaves the way it does. When we begin to attribute catastrophe to the sin of the closest city we end with interpreting every storm or infectious disease as punishment from the ‘ogre in the sky’. Who wants to worship and love a God like that?
What did Jesus say? (2 examples)
In Jesus’ day there was a common belief that one’s suffering was God’s punishment for wrong doing. Teachers would often find a blind or sick person, stand over them and use them as an example of what happens when we sin. That is why in John 9, when Jesus passed by a blind man without rebuking him for his sin, the disciples actually stopped Him and asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus’ response is not what they were expecting, “neither this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” He again teaches something very similar in Luke 13 where the tower of Siloam fell on eighteen Galileans. Jesus asks, “do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will likewise perish.”
Jesus did not believe in karma and neither should the church. When given several opportunities to attribute catastrophe and sickness to God’s judgment Jesus does not, but rather he points the crowds to their own need of repentance before they come face to face with the living God after death.
How should the church respond to catastrophe?
Earthquakes are an easy opportunity to point the finger of blame at the world, but Jesus never does that. How should we respond? First, remember nothing in creation lies outside the scope of the fall. We live in a glorious yet ruined world. When natural disaster strikes, our anger should not be at people or the earth but at sin itself.
Sin is our enemy, not people or natural creation. The battle we fight must begin in our own hearts.
Secondly, in tragedy there is opportunity. Jesus uses tragedy to point people to their greatest need of salvation. The Christian church alone values all people because they are created in the image of God. Here is the spring of man’s dignity. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands all people be treated with dignity and respect; and natural disasters provide an opportunity to do just that.
This is not the end of God’s story. C.S. Lewis says, “when Christ rose from the dead death started working backwards.” The resurrected Christ is the first fruits of what God will do for man and for all of creation. The Christian hope is that when Jesus returns he will make all things new and man will dwell with God in a world free from the curse of sin, working the way it was designed.