The Rowdy Neighbors
A Willowbrook Story, Part 2, with Geraldo Rivera

Mean Things God Doesn't Do - Part 1

When Katrina flooded New Orleans back in 2005, Pat Robertson promptly announced the reason. It was God. God did it, he declared, because of the city's abortions and homosexuals. This made New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin mad...hopping mad, and he jumped in to set the record straight. God did not destroy New Orleans because of abortions and homosexuals, he stormed.

He destroyed it because of the war in Iraq and disunity among its black residents.

No one thinks, apparently, that locating a coastal city below sea level yet in the path of hurricanes might have anything to do with it. No! It's all God. God destroyed that city for....well....pick your reason. But whatever reason you pick, have no doubt that God did it. Even insurance companies have long acquiesced to the language; natural disasters, they tell us in their policies, are "acts of God," whereas every non-religious person says, quite sensibly, if a bit crudely, that "shit happens." Which is it - "acts of God" or "shit happens"? Moreover, if such calamities are not really caused by God, does not church instruction that they are amount to monstrous slander against him?

Now, I recently came across a religious blogger who says he can accept God smiting New Orleans, or anywhere else, because "God is Sovereign" and thus can do whatever he wants! I swear, it's a wonder we're not all atheists! You don't think it might be nice for God to warn the "non-guilty" so they can clear out before the smiting starts?  And what's so especially wicked about New Orleans? People aren't creampuffs up here in Rochester either, I assure you - why single out Louisiana folk? Atheists may say rotten things about God, but the really nasty things come from those who claim to be his friends! They don't do it on purpose, of course, but they buy into longstanding doctrines - nonsensical and unscriptural doctrines- that unfailingly paint them into moral corners. With friends like these, so the saying goes, who needs enemies?

There is an explanation for disasters. The churches don't offer it, but it is this: If you've voted the Republicans into power, you can't be upset that Democrat policies aren't being carried out (or vice-versa). Everyone knows that. And with only minimal exaggeration, the same reasoning can be applied to spiritual matters. There is a "party" that offers control over natural forces. That party is God's Kingdom, as in "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matt 6:10) Alas, last time there was an "election" back in Genesis days, God's rulership was rejected in favor of human rulership - rulership which can't control the weather or the economy or health or peace or very much else.

Control of natural forces? An attribute of God's Kingdom? Why not? Consider the account at Mark 4:37-41:

And on that day, when evening had fallen, he [Jesus] said to them: “Let us cross to the other shore.” So, after they had dismissed the crowd, they took him in the boat, just as he was, and there were other boats with him. Now a great violent windstorm broke out, and the waves kept dashing into the boat, so that the boat was close to being swamped. But he was in the stern, sleeping upon a pillow. So they woke him up and said to him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are about to perish?” With that he roused himself and rebuked the wind and said to the sea: “Hush! Be quiet!” And the wind abated, and a great calm set in. So he said to them: “Why are you fainthearted? Do you not yet have any faith?” But they felt an unusual fear, and they would say to one another: “Who really is this, because even the wind and the sea obey him?” 

Rejecting God's right to rule, as was done in Eden at man's start, has had long-standing, terrible consequences. God has responded by allowing humans to make good on their claim that they can govern themselves without him. He's set aside a block of time during which humans can devise schemes of government, harness the power of science, improvise their own economies, philosophies, moralities, and so forth. When that time runs out, and all such schemes have fallen flat, (aren't they doing that now?) God brings about his own rulership, the same rulership he purposed from the start but which he allowed to be briefly diverted so that humans might carry out their experiment of self-rule. That, in a nutshell, is the Bible's explanation for present abysmal conditions, as outlined here and (for atheists) here.


It's an explanation that makes splendid sense, but accepting it means rejecting some cherished church beliefs, such as the dogma that earth is but a temporary home upon which people prove their fitness for their ultimate destiny in heaven or hell. Unwilling to part with such unscriptural notions, what is there left to church teachers other than to defend each and every natural disaster as part of God's plan? Thus, Katrina, 911, tsunami 2004, earthquake after earthquake - tragedies that haphazardly ruin rich and poor, good and bad, old and young, all such calamities are manifestations of God's will, say his friends! He's Sovereign. He can do what he wants. Don't try to figure it out. His ways are higher than ours. Though such events give not the slightest appearance of wisdom, love, or justice, we're told to accept them as such! (And to think some detractors accuse us of being told what to believe!) Does God really need enemies, with friends that say such things about him?

One reason people become Jehovah's Witnesses is that they don't buy into such a moral vacuum. They look, instead, to when God's permission of human rule runs out, at which time he brings about his own 'kingdom.' The Lord's prayer points to that time:


Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
  (Matt 6:9-10)

The Book of Daniel points to it:

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.  (Dan 2:44)

Revelation points to it:

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  (Rev 21:2-3) 

Note above that they're not angels; they're men - people -  and New Jerusalem stands for God's government over all the earth, just as literal Jerusalem stood for God's government over his ancient people.

Several Old Testament verses prophetically point to it. For example, Ps 93:1

Jehovah himself has become king! Let the earth be joyful. Let the many islands rejoice

But here we run into something peculiar. Most Bible's don't say "has become," as the New World Translation does. Some do, such as Young's Literal Translation, J.B. Rotherham Emphasized, and Douay-Rheim. But most say that God "is reigning," or something similar. What's with that?

It turns out that the Hebrew verb has two tenses: perfect and imperfect. The perfect tense is used to convey action completed. Events in the past would likely be described with the perfect tense. But, oddly, future events may also be conveyed with the perfect tense, when the writer regards their fulfillment as absolutely certain. The imperfect tense, on the other hand, denotes a work in progress, an ongoing action. Also, everyone acknowledges context plays its part in determining how to translate the perfect or imperfect tense.

The verb "reign" [malakh] in Ps 93:1 is in the perfect tense. It therefore seems that malakh should be rendered as an action completed, and not "reigning," as in an ongoing process. The New World Translation, and a handful of others, has thus translated it that way. And why do most others translate it "reigning?" Apparently due to their perception of doctrinal context - if God "has become king," they reason, there must have been a time when he was not king, and they can't get their heads around that. However, Jehovah's Witnesses side with Sigmund Mowinckel, who wrote in his 1962 book Psalms in Israel’s Worship:

 ...it is not a valid objection to say that Yahweh had, according to the Israelite view, always been king. The latter statement is correct enough . . . but in the cult the fact of salvation is re-experienced as a new and actual reality. Yahweh is ever anew witnessed as ‘coming’, ‘revealing himself’, and doing works of salvation on earth. The Israelite idea of God was not static but dynamic. Israel did not regard the Lord principally as sitting in calm possession and execution of his divine power, but as one who rises and seizes the power, and wields it in mighty works. And this is as a rule concretely pictured; from the ‘mythical’ side this is seen epically and dramatically: at a certain time Yahweh became king. To the Israelite way of thinking there is no contradiction between this and that he is king for ever; such a contradistinction is modern and rationalistic.

And with Charles H Spurgeon, who points out with regard to Ps 93:1 "In the verse before us it would seem as if the Lord had for a while appeared to vacate the throne, but on a sudden he puts on his regal apparel and ascends his lofty seat, while his happy people proclaim him with new joy, shouting "The Lord reigneth." Though he prefers "reigneth," probably out of convention, reading his remark makes apparent he'd have no objection to "has become."

And with  Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, who "sees this psalm as reflecting the various pronouncements that will be voiced in the Messianic era and, therefore, the past tense is syntactically uttered in the psalm in retrospect."

Go here for some of these arguments, scroll ahead to page 67. The New World Translation agrees, not with the paper's author, Gerald Randall Kirkland, writing his Master's Thesis, but with Mowinckel and Feuer, whom he has cited.

So.....Ps 93:1 and similar verses take some time to discuss, but in the end they agree with the other verses cited. Though always king, God has granted a stay of his kingship for a time while humans try to prove their boasts of self-rule. The stay will run out soon - such is a prime import of the Jehovah's Witnesses position. In the meantime, we don't accept disasters and calamities as manifestation of God's will. They're an integral part of a rapidly decaying system of things under human domination.

*****************************

Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Comments

Jason Chamberlain

I think you may be missing the point. God is sovereign over His creation. Therefore, He certainly could have prevented a Katrina, a tsunami, etc. Is He hoping that people don't die when a storm hits or does He indeed have every hair of ever head numbered? Does He notice when a sparrow falls from the sky or doesn't He?

To attribute motives to storms is folly. However, I trust that God is good and He is wiser than I am even when I don't understand why things are happening.

What is the JW's position on the condition of man? Is man basically good or basically evil? I would maintain the historical view that man is born with Adam's sin imputed upon him. Therefore, no one deserves anything but wrath because of God's justice. However, in His grace He elected some for salvation. That seems unjust in our eyes, but the fact that He spared any is incredible to me.

tom sheepandgoats

"Is man basically good or basically evil?"

A little of both, really. I agree that man is born with Adam's sin imputed upon him.

We are created in God's image - that is, we have the capacity to reflect his good qualities, love, justice, etc. But we are tarnished with imperfection - inherited sin, if you will, due to rebellion of our first parents. I'm not sure why we deserve "wrath," it's not OUR fault that we're so tarnished, (though I guess wrath is appropriate when we willfully make it worse) but we have lost our God-given future of everlasting life. Death awaits us all, not because God willed it, but because Adam's transgression brought it upon us. In our view, that explains Rom 5:12

"That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned—"

God has provided the way out for those who put faith in that provision - the gift of his son, whose sacrificial death while he was a perfect man, offsets the sin of the only other perfect man (Adam being perfect before he sinned). Thus, we have Rom 6:23 -

"For the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord."

Jason Chamberlain

I would then maintain that if man is born with Adam's sin imputed upon him then he sins by nature and by choice. Therefore, it is only by grace that Christ has not returned in glory to settle everything once and for all (2 Peter 3:9).

In other words, I don't think that we deserve God's common grace anymore than we deserve His special grace that has become available at the cross. As sinners we are in the same boat as the Canaanites that the new atheists love to defend.

Frankly, this gives me great hope. When I see atrocities like the holocaust or 9/11 I am comforted knowing that justice awaits the perpetrators. I'm looking forward to seeing how you handle that as you continue this series knowing that you do not subscribe to the traditional view of hell.

tom sheepandgoats

By nature, yes, but not necessarily by choice. Some do sin deliberately, of course, making their plight that much more serious. But others endeavor to do what's right, and may succeed to a degree, but their inherited sinfulness trips them up....despite their best intentions, they say and do things that fall short of their ideals.

With regard to your initial comment: "Therefore, He certainly could have prevented a Katrina, a tsunami, etc," our point is that he doesn't. A coastal city below sea level. Is God required to bless every short-sighted, often self-serving decision humans make? And the post pointed out that God's rule even includes control over natural forces. Man's rule doesn't. Our first parents, nonetheless, chose man's rule.

A significant difference between Jehovahs Witnesses and traditional churches is that we don't feel God's aim is to reform or "Christianize" this system of things. Rather, this system of things is destined for ultimate demolition (since it is all based upon Adam's rebellion with it's implied boast that humans don't need God's rule) and is to be replaced by God's own government. This is what Christians are to proclaim today - a better system of things to come.

To be sure, applying Bible principles will make the world a marginally better place, but today's world is based upon disobedience, rebellion, and sin. Bible principles are the "new wine" that will not go into the inflexible "old wineskins." "New wineskins" are needed, and we believe the "new system," an earth ruled over by God's Kingdom, to be the "new wineskins."

Tobias Fong

You present a good argument, but I still hold onto my opinions of the matter.

Maybe God is responsible, maybe He is not. But one thing I'm sure of, He did NOT do it to punish anybody, be it the Blacks, Iraq War, abortions or homosexuals. That's ridiculous. If He really wanted to, He could just destroy the whole of America, or the whole world. And by abusing His name to pass judgement on these people is going against His word. Who are we to interpret natural disasters as whose punishments? Are we not to judge?

Despite being Christian, I sure hold an entirely different view from them. And you're right, most atheists use this fact to argue against Christianity. We're shooting ourselves in the foot and further dividing the community by making unwise comments like that.

Though, I might buy your argument that Adam was our ancestor, I'm still not convinced that God had meant for Earth to be Eden, or for Earth to come under the rule of New Jerusalem...but I have to study for final year exams so I can't spend much time researching for an argument, which I could be wrong, anyway. TT__TT

DT

I think Jason's comment re: Hell is quite revealing. The upcoming justice he's so comforted by will be in the form of the eternal torture, burning and suffering of the guilty? It seems to me this would be a gross injustice, going against even our supposedly 'sinful' nature, as evidenced by the recent outrage over government sponsored torture here in the US.

That Christians would be comforted in the knowledge of, and even looking forward to, the future agony of others (good or evil) seems to be a huge contradiction.

On this point, I have a huge amount of respect for Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm not myself a JW (I have family who are), and while I believe that all religions are equally untrue, I think the JWs throwing out the ridiculous idea of Hellfire deserves praise.

While the idea that justice through eternal torture really excuses one from reasonable discourse, the JWs teaching that divine justice is meted out through a final extermination is, at the very least, a debatable issue.

In other words, I could find a debate on the merits of the death penalty to be nuanced and useful, with good points most likely being made by both sides. But I don't think someone wanting to argue for the merits of torture as a just punishment for wrongdoing would find anyone willing to take up such a fatuous argument.

Jason Chamberlain

Tom --

Are you saying that there is anyone who has not willfully sinned?

I think that my eschatology is likely not that much different than yours. My reading of 2 Peter and Revelation tell me that Christ is going to return in victory, the whole Earth is due to be destroyed by fire, and the New Jerusalem will be over the earth. Those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will get to enjoy it forever in their resurrected bodies.

I agree that God doesn't prevent a Katrina. However, He certainly could, right? I agree that building New Orleans was incredibly short-sighted. My point is that God is sovereign enough to have prevented the destruction of Katrina. Therefore, to some degree He has control over whether or not the storm ravaged the town the way it did. I think that we actually agree, but we seem to be talking past each other.

tom sheepandgoats

DT:

"I think the JWs throwing out the ridiculous idea of Hellfire deserves praise."

They threw it out because the Bible doesn't teach it. They also threw it out long ago, at the movement's modern-day beginning. Thus, C.T. Russell was known during his lifetime as the man who "turned the hose on hell and put out the fire."

tom sheepandgoats

Jason: I agree, it is mostly semantics we debate over. With one exception - we do not agree that the earth will be destroyed. What bad thing did it do for that to happen?

If you, as a landlord, have tenants that trash your property, you toss them out on their ear. You don't burn down the house. We think God will toss the unruly tenants and keep the earth, which will realize its true potential for beauty under His government.

tom sheepandgoats

Tobias:

Those final year exams are bears, aren't they?

Tobias Fong

No, they're demons. Just joking.

Jason Chamberlain

Tom,

Sorry to be so long in responding. Any chance you could have comments emailed?

At any rate, when I read 2 Peter I read it with the same idea of a decrepit shopping center that simply needs to be razed before anything useful can be built on the property. What do you do with all the fire imagery in chapter 3?

tom sheepandgoats

If, by the fire imagery, you really mean your illustration of razing a decrepit shopping center so that something useful may replace it, I have no problem with it. When the end of this system comes, perhaps much of human building and infrastructure will come down with it. But the earth itself will endure, we feel, since it is the home God created for man in the first place.

What is your take on the heavens, that along with the earth, is spoken of as being reserved for fire in 2 Peter? Is that to be literally burned up as well?

Jason Chamberlain

To me, the most straightforward reading of 2 Peter 3 tells me that all of creation is going to be burned up and rebuilt as good. I see creation and restoration as a mega-theme of the Bible. Man messed up Eden with sin, but God is going to purify all of creation to make things right again. This is similar to the flood narrative in Genesis.

Bill in Detroit

Jason, not all 'fire' is literal.

The comparison ("by the same word")made in vs 6 & 7 is in trouble if the understanding is to be literal because in the destruction of Noah's time, the heavens were not destroyed.

Jason Chamberlain

Bill -- I don't understand how there is a problem with "by the same word." The Word is God's sovereign decree over His creation that upholds everything and will someday destroy it to create the New Jerusalem. Just because He did not destroy the heavens in Noah's time has no bearing on whether He will do it later.

ChrisL

Hi Jason -- To fully understand any Bible passage, it's vital to consider other scriptures that bear on the point. All scripture, being God's Word, agrees with itself, so we must make sure any interpretation is in "scriptural context" and does not disagree with other portions of the Bible. For example, Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NIV) says "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever" and Proverbs 2:21-22 (NIV): "For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it." And then there is all of Psalm 37 and many others. These help clarify what we read in 2 Peter and Revelation. Clearly, the earth "remains". It is the wicked who are removed, leaving the blameless on a cleansed earth, just like in Noah's day--which is the very point Peter was making in v5-7.

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